Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Every now and then, a small amount of people will go and sit on stage and a variable amount of people will go and sit on chairs and watch the first small amount of people sitting on chairs, talking to one another. This will happen for a period ranging from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, and it will usually be located in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, or somewhere else. The event will often begin with the name of the city in which it is occuring, and conclude with the word 'festival'.

There was a time when I used to love going to events where a small amount of people sat on chairs on stage, and I joined a larger amount of people watching the smaller amount of people sitting on chairs. That time was a Wednesday, I think, and it was at the TINA festival in 2003 or 2004. Then I discovered that the small amount of people sitting on chairs on stage very often had little to say for themselves, and the questions that they were answering were almost as bad. Usually, the answers could have been from one to five words long, but the people on stage often preferred not to answer the questions, but instead go on one hundred to five hundred word rants about something else. Sit a person down and ask them "how do you make money from art?" "Can art change the world?" "Should art make use of modern scientific discoveries?" and they would probably say things like "Get paid for it", "Yes", and "I don't care." Sit that person down in amongst a small group of other people, on a stage, with a larger group of people in front of them, and all of a sudden, they'd say something else entirely. Something probably longer, and definitely more boring.

The word 'festival' implies 'festivity', but there isn't much that is festive about a festival these days*. More like compulsive: it's rare to go to a festival event because you actually want to. More likely, you are going to the festival event because your partner wants to; or a friend wants to; or a friend is interested in a person participating in the event but not the event itself; or a friend is interested in another person who is interested in a person who is participating in the event, and wants the company; or a friend of a friend's friend who you are interested in has got free tickets to an event that doesn't sound particularly interesting; or you want to take your mother or your brother or your sister to an event in order to fill out the time while they are visiting you. Festivals operate more by social obligation than honest desire; more by compulsion more than actual interest.

Occasionally, a festival might even feature a celebrity speaker, and that celebrity speaker might draw large crowds, but the event itself will be wholly underwhelming. It will simply prove that celebrities are neither better or worse than other people at sitting down on chairs amongst small groups of people while larger groups of people look at them.

All in all, the experience of modern festivals makes you long for something more simple and primal. Maybe going and jumping up and down full of a stadium of shouty people while scantily clad shiny men kick symbolic objects through metaphorical phallic poles, for instance. Then again, maybe I'll just invent a festival of my own, where random parts of Melbourne will be required by law to go and sit in specific but unrelated locations in front of a small but disparate collection of people for small amounts of time (all to be determined by a game of 'Eeny, Meeny, Minie, Mo' and the telephone book.) It will be called 'The Melbourne Completely and Utterly Pointless and Nonsensical Statistically Insignificant Festival of Ordinariness.'

Come one, come all! I hear they're signing up one of the Daddos!

*By way of comparison, some fringe festival events are pretty festy.


Dan the VespaMan said...

You should apply for federal funding for this Tim. How much? $30mil? $40mil? There's an election around the corner and they don't want to look like a bunch of philistines.

Mitzi G Burger said...

As long as it's not BYO chair, I'm there.

Agreed: more festivity at non-fringe festivals, please.

TimT said...

'Initial expressions of interest from the public have been overwhelming!'

Cam Black said...

Bravo! I concur with the sentiments of this essay. :-)

hyman@israel said...

*Festivals operate more by social obligation than honest desire*-agreed. last one i visited just coz my friends insisted, as for me i would never visit such event as i find it totally pointless

bruce said...

We could set up building in each town where our moral betters could hold regular displays of their superiority. Let's call them School(s) of Arts.

TimT said...

You call the government and I'll arrange the references, we'll get the funding out of them.

ras said...

Most of Melbourne seem to go Festivals just because its on, because Melbournians will turn up to the opening of an envelope.

I've never been to a TINA event. Mostly because I didnt like the people running it, and if I wanted a conversation with an elitist Hippie I could talk to my younger sister.

I like film festivals and music festivals and comedy festivals... where there's performance going on.

TimT said...

I sniggered a lot at this -

because Melbournians will turn up to the opening of an envelope.

Which was embarassing, because I was on the phone to mum while reading it.

Yeah, the emphasis in festivals should probably be performance rather than abstruse theorising.

Email: timhtrain - at -

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