Let’s talk about a concept called “collective effervescence.” It was coined by the French sociologist Émile Durkheim to explain what happens when people come together and do the same thing at the same time — laughing, crying, clapping, dancing, singing in unison, you name it. This joint activity triggers a euphoric response, unleashing a mental elixir that unites everyone who lived the moment together. Humans pull energy and profound meaning from the things we do in groups; researchers say collective effervescence wraps her sparkly mitts around our spirits in settings from churches to schools to protests to sports to plays to concerts to … yes, films.
I saw the Taylor Swift movie.
And look. I know this framework, a theory rooted in the study of religion, won’t do much to tamp down the rumors that us Swifties are participating in an elaborate international cult, but that’s OK. There’s no coming back from that theory considering all the video evidence of fans dancing in witchy circles.
At my screening of the Eras Tour concert at St. Petersburg’s AMC Sundial 12, no dance circles erupted. Chill fans milled around the lobby in concert tees and light Taylor Swift cosplay; I was “Folklore,” complete with the slouchy white cardigan, thank you for asking. We bought Taylor Swift popcorn buckets and soda cups, posed in front of posters, ordered cocktails laced with Pop Rocks candy and settled into the theater seats with an understanding:
This was not to be “Oppenheimer,” OK? This was not a setting in which to shush or scold. All fans knew this would be a 2-hour-and-48-minute, straight-laced “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” There would be spinning! Squealing! Great rejoicing! There would be collective effervescence!
The theater went dark. The camera panned over 70,000 people packed into California’s SoFi Stadium. Aided by a massive IMAX screen and booming surround sound, it was easy to forget we were not at a real concert.
The people behind us danced with impunity the entire time. A nearby woman scream-sang, rallying her neighbors with dictator fists. I realized I was overdoing applause for performers who were not there, slapping my hands like a caffeinated seal, and I became acutely self-conscious. Then I remembered everyone was doing it. And we were in the dark. And no one minded looking silly. By the end, my group was out of our seats twirling, too.
I adored this movie for two reasons, the first being practical. I attended the Eras Tour in Tampa and sat in floor seats; tragically, I am 5 feet tall. In some ways, I only watched the shirt in front of me. This movie, filmed over two concerts, served as a high-definition lens on the show’s stunning stagecraft, dancer abs and bodysuit beads. I now believe concert movies should be a requisite companion piece to every major tour.
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Moreover, though, the denizens of Theater 11 skated back into the lobby elated in a way that would have Durkheim nodding academically. “I feel so full,” a friend kept saying. And I thought, this. We need more of this. The success of all Swiftian endeavors reveals a thirst for social cohesion, urgent after the past few years. The business types are paying attention: At a recent event, Best Buy CEO Corie Barry said Americans are in a “funflation” era, turning away from in-home purchases and toward experience. Also: RIP DVDs.
“Oh no,” you are now groaning over coffee. “She’s going to talk about how the pandemic changed us.”
I know, and I apologize. But while COVID-19 initially stoked a sense of unity, we all know how that fell apart, how we abandoned “we’re all in this together” stickers to take aggressive sides. So many interactions post-pandemic feel heavy; maybe sharing moments of dorky, wholesome abandon with friends and strangers offers one small antidote.
Anyway, unlocking group jubilation isn’t really about Taylor Swift. Pick a jam band, a rec soccer team, a church choir, your favorite grab-bag of cuckoos who will dance in a circle. Join them. Now do it again. As Durkheim pointed out, if the collective action isn’t repeated, the effervescence loses its power. The directive is clear: We must spin in our proverbial circles again and again until the high catches like a sneeze and we just can’t, I’m so sorry, shake it off. See you at the Beyoncé movie.
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