Downtown After Dark: Dark No More
Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!
A long run is not always clear from the beginning. For certain, bridging the distance starts, and continues, in small, ordinary steps. But the power of enthusiasm can slow with drudgery and diminishing returns.
Pretense is a powerful force in human affairs. It touches the functioning of friendships, families, social groups, communities – and even nations. One starts out pretending to be a head of household and then a parent. Then one day, others in one’s family enforce one’s provisional assumption of roles by pretending to act as if those roles are genuine and fitting – as if to say that one’s expression of duties conform in some way to conventional standards of behavior acceptable to one’s community.
In such a way, Fronts Street Arts, in Downtown Memphis, pretended to assert local cultural significance. And then gradually, others in the community pretended that in some regard it mattered. I pretended to be an impresario, a general director, a person with novel ideas about Downtown recovery in which average people played a part. Then, a few others, particularly very generous friends, pretended to act their parts in concert with my pretenses. Pretending made it so for a long six-year run for me personally. In the end, that community theater of group make believe was snuffed out by accumulated drudgery and divergent interests: new pretenses arose and were applied elsewhere.
Baby Boomers have a reputation as being all for themselves, at least that is what some of the generation wedged between the World War II generation and the Baby Boomers claim – as do those overly repentant Baby Boomers who have let a pendulum of irrationality swing wildly to the right. But Baby Boomers had a curious way of wrapping some kind of community or passionate political involvement into their self-interests. For thirty years, some of us have clearly not been as vigorously attached as before, but many Baby Boomers did act in their twenties. And some exemplary few continued to draw and maintain a consistent line of connection between their self-interests and the public interest.
A child of Baby Boomers might well ask himself, What might I do to enrich the public arena in ways that suit my self-interests and capabilities? Aside from commitments to professional public service and charity, what can younger generations do to effect change at the level of their own brick-and-mortar communities – the world they actually live in? Local seems, and is, so small, but it is everything in the aggregate. And nothing much happens for good locally without personal initiative and inventive group coordination and passion.
In movies and books, I cannot abide an otherwise good story that resolves itself with gunshots or an explosion. Those are cheap shots that do not build and do not satisfy: they change nothing for the better – they are a manufactured stop rather than a fruitful pretense forward. Contrary to rightist mythology, it is not the gun that is the great equalizer of mankind: it is creativity. That creativity can stand in solitary surroundings, but even on its own it tips the balance in favor of community good. Creativity is the thunderous sound that requires no ears to hear it. It is the blood pulsing through our veins. Creative individuals are the building blocks of community whether they like it or not. If they share their fire with others in common cause, concerted acts redound positively to posterity. Though these pretenses may end, perhaps in drudgery and diminishing returns – more often than not, they are much better stories than those that lead to gunshots and explosions.