U2 and the performance of (A numb) resistance

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As Pop Mart, the current U2 tour extravaganza, makes its way around the world, it seems an appropriate time in which to return to the Zoo TV tour of 1992–93. Much of the commentary of the time focused on the uneasy relationship between U2, their previous incarnation as ‘saviours’ of rock'n'roll and their criticism/complicity with television. Instead, this paper focuses on the performing persona developed by the singer Bono, notably The Fly and MacPhisto. The specific reasons for this are twofold: first, to investigate the possibility of resistance articulated on the intersecting planes of performance and persona; and, second, to assess the impact of performance theory within the frame of cultural studies work, particularly in regard to performance studies avowed concern with plotting the shift from theory to practice. The wider frame of this paper is with a more rigorous application of interdisciplinary methods, which have long been (in principle) a core component of cultural studies work. Diamond argues, that ‘performance in all its hybridity would seem to make the best case for interdisciplinary thinking ... [where] the critique of performance merges with performance of critique’ (1996: 7–8).

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This paper analyzes how the rock band U2 uses screens as central components of the experiences of their concerts. Examining moments from throughout their career, and emphasizing their recent ‘Innocence and Experience’ and ‘Experience and Innocence’ tours, this article argues that U2’s constant employment of technology is less about spectacle, and more about the constitution of ‘mediated environments’ that reflect and embody how people live in and through all manner of media, including screens. Drawing on conceptions of U2 as a band interested in problem-solving and innovation, I position their on-going engagements with technology as a processual search for ways to live productively alongside technology. I use media studies frameworks to argue U2 expresses a politics of ambivalence through their use of screens, one that cannot resolve the tensions between the communicative power of technology and its potential to erode social relationships. However, this politics of ambivalence – as expressed through their tours – is productive, in that it produces for attendees ways of thinking and interacting with screen technologies.Keywords: screens, mediation, technology, ambivalence, U2
When, in the mid?1990s, we inquire as to de Certeau's place in contemporary theory, we might well reflect on ?the circumstances? within which his ?science of singularities? initially resonated. Those circumstances, we note today, necessarily included and continue to include a ?for whom?? as well as a ?to what end?? Looking back at those circumstances from here, that is, from my teacherly?theorising?writerly perspective on ?new performance's? place within the Theatre and/or Performance Studies frame in the institution of higher education, it is tempting?initially (and nostalgically)?to declare that ?nothing much has changed?. Nothing much?except the ways in which the questions (concerning the relationship of writing to other practices) are put. But are not ?the ways [questions are put]?, ('where??, ?to whom??, ?how??, ?on behalf of whom and at what cost?'), almost everything? Or at least?pragmatist, poacher and bricoleur that I am?in ?new performance?, is not that inquiry in action itself almost enough: the authorisation in writing (under the heading of ?faire avec?), to consider getting on with it with difference in mind to be, effectively and in the event, a practice of theory? Optimistically, then, leaving (as pedagogue and ?new performance? spectator) part of my scepticism at the (performance workshop) door, I take de Certeau with me into the scene of ?new performance? invention and pedagogy, ready to acknowledge that the now?historical revolt against ?text?based performance? should give way, in the 1990s, to the inclusion of writing and other dramatic dialogues.