Thursday, March 15, 2012

The night I realised there won't be animal costumes in heaven

My animal friends at Golden Plains

I recently spent a long weekend camping at a music festival in the Victorian countryside, lapping up noone's-heard-of-them-bands in between bouts of sunshine and cider. It was pretty great, I have to say.

Over the weekend, it occurred to me it's been a while since I'd done this, you know, been to a music festival. Possibly because I started so young (Manly Youth Fest, age 14), I outgrew the drunken, sweaty, standing all day thing not long after I left school. Even now I still prefer to see bands play headline shows to fans who know every chord change and can sing every lyric.

But I'd heard Golden Plains was different, refusing to take on commercial sponsors and proudly boasting a (their words, not mine) “No Dickhead Policy”. So I went along.

As expected, the place was crawling with inner city hipsters, their heads crowned with flowers, bare feet stomping in the dust, hands gripping every boutique beer known to man; everyone was too happy to cause any trouble.

What I didn't expect, however, was the volume of novelty costumes among festival-goers. There were penguins, pandas and kangaroo, giraffes and lions, while others donned feather headdresses, capes and (unfortunately), neon, sparkly lycra. It made for quite the spectacle.

I started to wonder: why? It's not like you'd get away with wearing this gear anywhere else, let alone want to, so what is going on?

I couldn't really figure it out until the last night, when I became one of them.

We were about to leave our camp site to watch some bands when I noticed the flashing solar-powered fairy lights hanging from our tent. In a moment of abandon that I can't really explain, I decided to take them down and wrap them around me.

As we danced our way down to hear Charles Bradley, a funk/soul performer in the style of James Brown, people kept stopping me.

“Hey, you're on fire!”, one girl yelled. “Happy Christmas!” said another.

Down in the amphitheatre, a man in penguin suit stopped to high-five me like we were kindred spirits. I suddenly realised I was in a secret club: the costume-wearing gang.

But the thing which surprised me most was not my newfound entry into this previously secret club, but just how liberated I felt. Wrapped in the fairy lights, I danced like no one was watching. I was a flailing, flashing weirdo, and I didn't care. I felt invincible.

I wanted to share the experience, so I took the lights off and gave them to my friend. He started dancing wildly, while I tried to keep up the energy, minus my super powers. But without the lights, I felt exposed.

I commented to my friend how wearing the lights made me lose all my inhibitions.

“It's like a kind of mask,” he said.

It was. People stared at me, but I had no fear. It was like I'd crossed some threshold I didn't even know existed.

Suddenly I realised why the army make soldiers wear a uniform, and why police have hats and women wear make-up.

Costumes give you pre-constructed persona to assume, they hem you in, force your personality to conform to an expectation. It feels safe and easy. You're just what people are expecting, so you can let go.

“Oh, she's the crazy girl wearing the lights,” people are thinking, so you give yourself permission to be the crazy girl wearing the lights.

It got me thinking: Imagine if we stopped needing masks and costumes to give ourselves permission to be who we actually are?

Obviously there are negative side effects to uniform, with the potential for a dehumanisation and loss of inhibitions leading to irrational, dangerous and in the worst case, fatal behaviour.

But the effect of animal costumes and lycra is much more positive: people feel confident, they embrace the weird and let go of the fear.

The bible tells us it turns out that all of us are paralysed by the fear of man. And we look for these little ways to escape, to be free the little voice in our heads which says “you're not worthy”.

That night at the festival, wrapped in lights just made me long for the time when all our masks and insecurities will be wiped away, the day when there will be no hiding, no shame and no fear. And that was the night I realised, there probably won't be animal costumes in heaven.

2 comments:

jtul. said...

A great post! It gave me goosbumps :) thank you!

sophg said...

Thanks for reading. Means a lot, you being a literati and all :)