Cumulonimbus Crowds and Pollution at Nastyfest

I wanted to find out something about how groups of people work in a crowd, at a gig, club or a festival. What’s the difference between a good gig crowd and a horrible one? I started by reading a bit of theory. So, hold on to your hats, here goes…..

Sigmund Freud describes how, when people group together, in a crowd they behave differently to people acting individually. In theory, in a crowd, our minds merge together, our enthusiasm is amplified, we’re swept along absolutely immersed in the moment. This experience can be extremely positive, for example dancing in a club or at a gig. Here the crowd make the experience amazing. They are the main component of the atmosphere. But importantly, we have to be a part of this crowd, this clique, this group, this movement, this school of thought for the amazing experience to happen. If the music, or people, or space are horrible, or we don’t really get it, the night can be a disaster. In particular, if people are unfriendly, aggressive and make it clear that we are not part of the crowd, the experience can be traumatic. What I’m interested in is why we sometimes feel excluded, or what happens if we don’t want to part of the crowd?

Le Bon (not Simon!) discussed the idea that a crowd always has a kind of leader. The coolest, most powerful, most interesting character. The one that knows the DJs, the rockstars, the beautiful people. The jist of Le Bon’s argument is that individuals in any crowd space identify themselves with this leader. This person becomes an ideal ego, something to aspire to. These “leaders” are also performers. We watch their performance, perform our enthusiasm and thus participate in the crowd. I’d describe this kind of arrangement as a clique. As far as I’m concerned this is an unhealthy situation, and probably unsustainable.

I’m much more interested in convergence theory. In convergence theory a crowd is considered to be a group of like minded individuals. So, people who want to do similar stuff come together to form crowds and the enthusiasm is contagious.

These two theories create an unhealthy versus a healthy crowd. Le Bon’s is a spiky crowd. These “leaders” produce spikes, disruptions and discomfort. This type of crowd can also exclude other people in an aggressive and spiky way. On the other hand, the converged crowd is a soft crowd, like a cloud, in this crowd we can be playful, we can be part of it but this is about our own individual, and shared, priorities not about “leaders”. We could call these cumulonimbus crowds. They are big and fluffy. They grow quickly. They are beautiful and they can reach stratospheric heights.

Sometimes, though, a crowd needs spikes, in certain political situations we need a leader (Gandhi for example), in others an artist, or writer, or musician and their ideas form the catalyst for the crowd in the first place. But in a club, a gig, a festival, we need a cumulonimbus crowd. Inclusive, growing, not defined by peer pressure or by “leaders”. In this type of crowd, any degree of conformity should at least feel like a choice, not a requirement. This cloud of people is made up of smaller social groups that float around each other. Sometimes forming a bond. Sometimes not. In Social Network theory these groups look like molecules. They have atoms (individuals) connected by stronger or weaker bonds. Within the crowd/cloud these are like the water molecules floating around in the air.

A Social Network diagram

So, when you arrive at Nastyfest with your molecular mates, what do you see? A lovely fluffy floating crowd, that includes you – you can float around, be absorbed if you want to be, reformulate, mutate or evolve your molecule. Or are you confronted by cliquey spikes, posers, would be “leaders”, namedroppers and fashionistas. This is a serious environmental issue. As we know, too much pollution causes acid rain. All I can say, in this unfortunate situation is be a little cloud, float around, ignore the spikes, clouds can cope with a bit of pollution and still achieve great altitudes.

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