I love movies about firefighters, about brave men that fear nothing and without a second’s hesitation embrace flames and collapsing buildings in order to save life. They, the firefighters are tough and yet respectful in front of the element, they know what they are dealing with, precaution first then life saving. I adore those humble heroes that for bad payment risk their lives for nothing else than a saved life. I don’t care about the endless row of children saved and passed to hysterical parents, not at all. What is amazing is when it is grown up, fully capable persons that are saved, men and women made helpless by smoke and flames as if that would be enough to transform us into non-reflective fools unable to make it to the exit.
Oh, and the bonding at the fire station. The dressing room conflicts, the muffled homoerotic/phobic ambience, narrations about childhood memories, the hero obviously being an orphan or for some mystical reason in constant pain, haunted by the past, humbled by the forces of nature yet to proud to give up, to resign or let go. Vulnerable, suffering, weakened still a man – yes, there is always a hero a soloist – that knows how to tackle the world and carries his ethical code like a medal. A man that can be trusted, a man that because he suffers, because he is weak, because he is wounded welcomes our suffering, our weaknesses and saves us from the rage of the elements.
The best part with movies however is that everybody knows its complete bogus, flimsy Hollywoodiana that nobody takes serious. What we really enjoy is to be deceived and we cherish our ability to go along. For some 90 minutes we agree to be completely and utterly taken away and brought along into the fires.
What is less agreeable is that lately I have had to experience endless rows of performances, even things that baptize themselves dance performances that function exactly like firefighter films, the only difference is that nobody appears to notice the disclaimer or OMG it’s been hidden away. It’s not there at all, Jezuz – can it be that not even the author knows it’s utter nonsense.
Time and again I have witnessed dance shows that remix the firefighter theme in a perfect manner, telling stories about lives surrounded by suffering and hardship, stories about lost childhood about pride and the conviction to make things in the world right. Confessions told directly through the fourth wall about not being enough, about being a loser that made it out of the gutter and now stand in front of us showing us real and authentic vulnerability. An authenticity that addresses any kind of conceptual framework with a bitchy pejorative tone, any real art, i.e. firefighter art can only have grown from the heart. The firefighter artist is somebody that has a calling, who doesn’t really want to but must, must accept himself as being the chosen one. Often the firefighter artist engage in solo works but the really smart ones surrounds themselves with a bunch of assistants, assistants that whilst the hero is in their saving lives, taking upon himself the suffering of others, are standing by on the ground ready with blankets and first aid kits, or perhaps a wireless microphone to be handed over to the hero to make a statement or why not sing a long to a sentimental pop song.
Check it out, the solo version is not a good idea since the heroic can be mistaken for commonplace self-performance replicating our general neoliberal day to day performance of endless commodified autobiography. And for god’s sake make sure not to make any jokes, be serious serious very serious, suffer suffer suffer, that’s the new cool the moment you make people laugh you are on thin ice and shit might just backfire on you and the audience might find you to be nihilistic, ironic or some simple sociopath. No no, be serious and make sure not to present to the audience anything skillful or amazing, just be vulnerable and suffer beautifully.
A couple of years ago the solo version was high fashion, it already used the stigmatized body as a front but ended up showing off, being a catwalk for idiosyncratic self-performance or a sort of portfolio of amazing abilities, especially things like singing opera in a bad yet cute manner. This stuff is so over and discarded as nihilist self-indulgence and not even half close to the romanticism approached today. Those solo performances, and so are firefighter performances, were not dance performances but performances dances, as they only used dance as ornamentation between stand up comedy like look what I can do extravaganza. They were and are performances dances because the dances were only there in order to feedback to the performers subject, not to the organization or structuring of movements. This is what dance does, it crosses out or brackets the subject and let’s the viewer experience movement as such. Performance dance instead uses dance as a kind of storefront to show the subject enhanced. Dance performances implies the display of whatever when performance dance celebrates a kind of proprietary subject.
Yet, the worst part of the now exploding genre of firefighter performance dance is not the dressing room confession parts but the part where the author slash hero enters the flames to save the poor souls of the audience members. Here the hero performs some sort of solo dance standing out like some Christ like character that takes upon himself the suffering and sins of others. He stands there on the spot and moves with a suffering face to the rhythm of the music as if he is taking upon himself the rage of the element, naked [metaphorically speaking] and without defenses, he is just human, he is sovereign, man in direct confrontation with nature, but his calling, his necessity forces him into the battle and he endures. He endures and makes it not out but becomes one with the element, he understands nature, he understands freed from rationale, from concept, construction, composition. He dances like a shaman being possessed by dance, allowing us others live safe lives, be saved from the forces of nature even if and especially as we are helpless and simple mortals.
Firefighter performances are the epitome of romanticism, it rests firmly on a sticky form of sentimentalism that draws from the past as a form of look a like game, draws from exoticism and reversed colonialism. It used without seconds thought the hopelessness in our lives as we know our world and its models of governance is drawing to a close. Firefighter art is an art that flourishes during times when critical and revolutionary political activity is weak, it plays on our desire for simplistic heroes and links to notions of redemption as a suffering and radiant exhibition of the flesh, it is a mixture between mysticism and pornography.
Fuck firefighter performances inhabited by heroes that redeem us, what we need is dance performances occupied by impersonal revolutionary spirits that confirm the withdrawing nature of the universal. Fuck firefighter performance, its desperate nihilism and obscene installation of finitude, what we need is an art true to the universe.