‘Prosthetic memories are memories that circulate publically, are not organically based, but are nevertheless experienced with one’s own body – by means of a wide range of cultural technologies – and as such, become part of one’s personal archive of experience. ’ (Landsberg, 1997: 66)
How the two forms of live performances; the William Yang's 'Friends of Dorothy’ and the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, contributed to the circulation of prosthetic memories?
Today, the availability of mass culture have made it convenient for people regardless of their gender, race and ethnicity to share collective memories. Prosthetic memories deal with the formation and potentials of privately felt civic remembrances. Mass cultural forms like television and cinema are based on the understanding of the historical experiences of others. The results in the shape of public cultural memory called the prosthetic memory. The spread of prosthetic memories through live performances assists in better comprehension of the society. In this paper, two live performances of the William Yang's 'Friends of Dorothy’ and the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, shall be discussed in order to assess their contribution to the circulation of prosthetic memories.
Alison Landsberg highlights in her theory of prosthetic memory that we need to interact with the memories in order to experience the memories. During the live performances, there established a connection between the individual memories of a spectator in relation to his social and personal experiences and the memories being built through the watching of live performance. This connection draws the similarities between the live performance and the personal life of the spectator. The live performance thus makes a place in the memory of the spectator. Such performances may not, sometime, relate to the personal memories of the spectator, however, they help the spectator to cement the live performance in his subconscious along with his own personal memories of life. As correctly argued by the Alison Landsberg in her discussion at “America, the Holocaust, and the Mass Culture of Memory,” that, in order to extend the life span of the living memories of an individual, an alternative mode of archiving the historical stories must be available, that should include the personal past and the collective public (Landsberg, 1997). An analysis of certain live performances or dramas indicates that specific type of effects may provoke the spectator’s memories. It may happen sometime that the live performances or dramas are not in accordance with the national or regional narratives. Such performances are not easily accepted by the audience as part of their memories in accordance with the moral and social bindings, however, being strange and altogether different in nature, they become part of the spectator’s memories and more so, part of national and international collective public recollections. Alison Landsberg argue that memories can be constructed or implanted in the minds of audience through live performances or television dramas or through social network available today. Media can implant the type of memory they want the audience to have in their minds and thus, affect the personal memories of the audience as well. Mass media formulates the prosthetic memory that indirectly improvises the existing memory of the spectators or improves the memory or creates a bad impression about certain happening around the world. Prosthetic memories thus formed enable the spectator to experience understanding of the events happening around the world. The understanding of experiences viewed in live performances become the part of personal memories of the spectators and they feel like as if they have lived through the age of live performance. The viewing of such live performances become the part of the personal archive of experience and memories and establishes the connection between the past and present memory bank of the audience ((Landsberg, 1997).
Myra McDonald while talking about the cultural memory in a television programme says: “Television regularly forges cultural memories through its celebration of heritage and national commemorations, it’s recycling of programmes across generational divides, its forays into ‘history’, and its sometimes incestuous invoking of its own role in the construction of a national past.” It is important to note that in such programmes, one version of the national past are shown to the audience, but there are other factors that influence the effects of these programmes. Television drama sometime provide space to the individuals whereby the can establish a link between their past and the performance in the drama (MacDonald, 2006).
Memory construction through viewing of live performance depends upon the contents of the performance witnesses and the triggering of the personal memories by the performance. If the performance is successful in triggering the personal memory bank of the spectator, there establishes the connection and the new memories become part of subconscious. Prosthetic memory is thus a two way process in which memories can mix up between the personal archive of memories and those left as residue as a result of live performance or television drama recollections (Columbia University Press, 2014). It is important to realize that a prosthetic memory can form part of the personal memory bank of the spectator due to its linkage with the memories of the individual, however, it is not possible for the personal memory of the spectator to become part of prosthetic memory. Prosthetic memories are thus the memories that are not part of the living experience, instead, they are circulated publically to make them part of the personal memories of the people. Prosthetic memories are not the inherited experience but they are projected to form part of one’s personal memory. Prosthetic memory compels the viewers to think that they have experienced the live event and they should own it, internalize it. However, these events shown during the live performance or television drama, may cause the stimulation in the memories of the audience and may be stored with a different reference thus degrading the performance meanings. The extent to which the prosthetic memory can be incorporated into the personal memory is limited by the allowance given by the individual’s senses, emotions and own memories (Columbia University Press, 2014).
The two examples being discussed in this paper and their contribution to the collection of prosthetic memories are bigger events of the history and have had profound effects on the prosthetic memories of the audience.
William Yang’s Friends of Dorothy broadcasted on ABC1 as a documentary, exploring Sydney’s gay scene with close reference on the AIDS epidemic has been a major turnaround movie of its time. It changed the way people thought about the gays earlier. It was run as a television documentary and depicted the exciting celebration of Sydney’s Mardi Gras, that was a contrast to the dark memories of 1980s AIDS epidemic. William Yang through his documentary questions the account of memories both personal and public that if they are purchasable, transferable or implantable. Yang’s documentary has projected the cause of LGBT community by describing his own experiences as a member of gay community. The documentary of the “Friends of Dorothy” tells the stories of the Sydney LGBT community. The stories are brave, wild, cheeky and compassionate stories. William Yang describes his own experiences of Sydney in the early 70s that was a period of major social change (Grehan, 2014). In the words of William Yang “I never consciously came out as a gay man, I was swept out by events at the time.” Yang has seen the development of a gay activist culture in the 70s and further cementing of the gay scene in the 80s. He has lived through the shocking effects of AIDS in the early 90s when he lost his very dear friends; Peter Tully and David McDiarmid. The film’s world premier was held during the Mardi Gras Film Festival 2014. The film has left long lasting imprints on the memories of the viewers and has been a major contribution to the circulation of prosthetic memories. Due to projection of subject that is not considered legal and legitimate in most part of the world, the movie got famous because of its conflicting subject and thus left the huge impression on the audience. The movie as such is a great contribution to the circulation of prosthetic memories.
The Sydney Mardi Gras Parade which commemorates the 1978 protest is one of the biggest tourist events of Australia where hundreds of thousands of people gather each year and celebrate the event. The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, is an annual parade that celebrates the diversity and acceptance of LGBT rights, and commemorates the event of the 1978 gay rights protest. On 24 June, 1978, about 500 people gathered on Oxford Street to demand the end to discrimination against the homosexuals in employment and housing. They also demanded repelling of anti-homosexual laws. The numbers of protestor rose to above 2000 and police was forced to break the march. 53 of the protestors were arrested and lost their jobs as the homosexuality was a crime in New South Wales at that time. In the remembrance of the same day, Sydney Mardi Gras is an annual parade of LGBT and celebrated as a festival in Sydney, Australia. It starts on second Thursday of each February and ends on first Saturday of March. The festival is attended by people from Australia and all over the world. It comprise a Sydney Mardi Gras parade and party, harbour party, Bondi Beach drag races, film festival and an academic discussion panel on LGBT thinking. It is followed by a fair day that attracts approximately 70,000 people to the occasion. It is one the biggest tourist drawcards in Australia and the parade and dance parties attract the tourist from around the world. The event takes it inspirations from the gay right march of 1978 in which many protestors were arrested by the New South Wales police. The parade has a political flavour as many politicians also join the parade to show solidarity with the LGBT community (Mardigras, 2014). There are also people from Australian Army and Police in uniform, part of LGBT community who participate in the parade. The event is a combination of small events and is recognized world over as the legitimate LGBT parade. Witnessing such an event as live performance or even watching the same on television, adds to the prosthetic memories of the audience and contribution of the event to the circulation of prosthetic memories is exceptionally great. Any spectator who has a chance to witness the festival and attend the parade and other functions of the festival cannot remain aloof from the colourfulness of the festival and develops a great deal of prosthetic memories. Such an international event organized at such a huge scale has its far reaching effects on the personal memories of the audience and the participants. There are no questions about the contribution of Sydney Mardi Gras Parade to the circulation of prosthetic memories.
Both the performance selected for assessing their contributions to the circulation of prosthetic memories are related to the subjects that are not welcomed in most parts of the world. However, the conflicting themes that are different from routine get the maximum audience and popularity. Such movies do contribute heavily to the circulation of prosthetic memories. Both the performances have been successful in increasing the prosthetic memories of the audience.
MacDonald, Myra. (2006). Performing Memory of Television: Documentary and the 1960s.
Landsberg, Alison. (1997). America, the Holocaust, and the Mass Culture of Memory: Towards a Radical Politics of Empathy.
Grehan, Helena. (2014). Stillness and Intrigue in the North and Sadness by William Young.
Mardigras. (2014). Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Grass; 36th Anniversary.
Columbia University Press. (2014). Prosthetic Memory.