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Ehrenreich: We need to have fun

By : Nadeska Alexis

Author and social critic Barbara Ehrenreich speaks Sept. 7 in the FA-Watters Theater.

Where has all the fun gone? That’s the question posed by Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy.

Ehrenreich, a social activist and author of books such as Nickel and Dimed, spoke Sept. 7 on campus as part of the University’s Evolutionary Studies program. She shared insights on the importance of group celebration and festivities in the human life, tracing their significance throughout history as tools for encouraging solidarity and provoking joy among people, especially those fighting oppression.

Ehrenreich sees the steady decline of these once-popular group-bonding rituals as one of the major reasons for the growing epidemic of depression in America.

Having to haul yourself to the office every morning isn’t necessarily an ode to your bad work habits, Ehrenreich said, but simply a reflection of our natural tendency to crave socialization and group festivities instead. People have become forced to see work as their default occupation in life through social discipline. “We sit in cars, bars, stare at the TV — and think that the cure for loneliness is Prozac,” she said.

“Living in cubicle world, with no real interaction with people outside your family, withers the imagination,” she said.

We have lost the “collective joy” of group celebrations. “I remember rock concerts, parties and protests — marching and feeling a connection with thousands of strangers in the street,” she said. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be something the new generation will experience, she said.

“I identify with what she’s saying,” said Bruce Cameron, a teacher at the Adolescent Day Treatment Center in Binghamton. “Kids today isolate themselves. Even with their iPods, there isn’t the same group-ness today as there was during that era where pop music influenced the Civil Rights movement. We’ve lost something along the way.”

Ehrenreich’s emphasis on the need for group celebrations to combat the humdrum activities of daily life provoked some thought in her audience.

“So what makes a good party?” asked one listener.

Solutions could include revamping the format of some institutionalized group festivities such as proms, which Ehrenreich jokes promote even more social anxiety with awkwardly formatted couple dancing.

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Last Updated: 10/14/08