Friday September 26, 2008
Sept. 26/08: DNTO joins the crowd...
Welcome Friend, to my DNTO BLOG on the swanky fine new Definitely Not the Opera website! I'm Sook-Yin Lee. This week we explore how being in a crowd unleashes hidden aspects of your personality you wouldn’t as likely express on your lonesome.
As far as crowds go, I'm more of a loner. I like spending time by myself or with one or two friends at a time. I enjoy that direct line of communication rather than the more general ADD conversations I seem to get into at parties with lots of people. Now the thing that makes me uneasy about crowds is how easily you can get throngs of people riled up over a particular purpose. Sometimes it's destructive and other times that crowd dynamic can mobilize us to do good things en masse, but it's disturbing that it all seems to stem from a primal human instinct.
I was at Woodstock 3, the third incarnation of the famous 1969 music festival where hippies gathered in the name of peace, love and rock-n-roll. Only, the one I attended was three decades later - Woodstock 1999. It was held at an abandoned air force strip in the middle of nowhere. Basically it was a concrete slab of cement emanating heat in the middle of a sweltering hot summer. The tickets were expensive and so was the food. Water was five bucks a small bottle; there was no shade and no escape. Add droves of upper-middle class teenagers to the mix and it was a recipe for disaster!
I was there reporting for Much Music. All the media outlets were given elevated platforms to broadcast from near the stage. I knew something was up when a crowd destroyed the port-o-potties and started hurling fistfuls of poo at each other for fun. But the real insanity began during the Jimmy Hendrix Tribute set. The organizers decided it was a good idea to distribute lighters in the audience. First the crowd flicked them in true rock concert style and next they used them to light torches to tribal dance to. But then in the middle of a set by metal funk band Limp Bizkit, front man Fred Durst, commanded the audience to break stuff. So they did. And I found myself in the middle of a riot with a bird’s eye view. I could see the mob tearing apart the MTV platform, then the NBC platform and ours was next! The only reason why it wasn't happening to us was because the crowd crammed behind out platform couldn't see what the rest of the crowd was doing. The band was pulled off the stage, and we were told to abandon ship, but our area was covered in hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of TV gear. From the safety of the barricaded compound back stage, our boss screamed at us through our headphones to save the equipment. I loaded up my arms with gear and prayed to be invisible. As people rioted around me, I pushed my way through the crowd under my imaginary cloaking device that somehow lead me to safety.
That night Woodstock 3 was torched to the ground. There was violence and looting and four girls were raped during the concert. The morning after, I was met by a vision of hell on earth. In a sea of garbage, people with second-degree blisters on their faces squatted beneath the underside of a semi truck while drunk debutantes stripped their clothes for money on the top of an overturned hot dog stand. In the middle of the disaster zone, stood a 9-year-old boy, who rode his bike in from town. With a discarded mascara stick he found on the ground, he wrote the letters on a wall...F-U...I asked him what the third letter was. He said. N.