Look around.
January 16, 2009 8:02 PM   Subscribe

"The Mass Observation movement was founded by a group of 1930s' British intellectuals who believed the most revealing way to document an event was to document the peripheral activities surrounding it. The Mass Observers carried out their greatest project on May 12th, 1937, when they dispatched more than 200 observers throughout London to monitor the coronation of King George VI." This coming Tuesday, the folks at Januarythe20th.com are attempting to create a day of Mass Observation in the United States.
posted by TheWash (18 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
That's a neat idea...
posted by voltairemodern at 8:13 PM on January 16, 2009

Are we coronating a king on January the 20th?
posted by tomas316 at 8:18 PM on January 16, 2009

King Jeb I, rising scion of the Bush dynasty.
posted by voltairemodern at 8:21 PM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just planned on doing a lot of field recording on inauguration, but maybe I'll contribute to this, too.
posted by azarbayejani at 8:35 PM on January 16, 2009

I'm going to read a newspaper sans tense neck.
posted by Mblue at 9:06 PM on January 16, 2009

tomas316 writes "Are we coronating a king on January the 20th?"

Coronation is a noun; the corresponding verb is "to crown". And no, we're getting rid of a President who thought he was a king.
posted by orthogonality at 9:17 PM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I fear comparing Obama to George VI, crowned when England was still the predominant power on the world stage, who died fifteen years later no longer Emperor of India or King of Ireland, in a Britain eclipsed as a power by the US and still under wartime rationing seven years after the end of the war.
posted by orthogonality at 9:27 PM on January 16, 2009

The 1937 day is referenced frequently in Tim Moore's highly readable trip 'round the British Monopoly board (or rather, the London streets depicted on the board) Do Not Pass Go.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:28 PM on January 16, 2009

I think that is pretty amazing. But then realize, in a lot of ways this is going to be documented more fully, and from as many perspectives as possible already.

Imagine the Flickr feeds from individuals as they go about their day up to, during, and after the inauguration. Not just photos of Obama from 1500 different angles, but photos individuals are taking of their entire individual and unique adventures. What 8 years ago would have comprised of a persons scrap book labeled "my trip to DC" would now be posted to their flickr, facebook, myspace and other social networks. The twitter stream would be amazing to watch also.

Even if people aren't actively participating in the event, I think there will be a motivation to try to document where they were, what was going on around them as the event was going on. In some ways people have been for ages, but the medium for sharing just hasn't had such a low barrier to entry.

Think about the visual historians goldmine that would be the flickr archive of every photo taken on january 20th, 2009. It is mind blowing really.
posted by mrzarquon at 11:17 PM on January 16, 2009

Is there a guide on how to do this, or do you just... um... observe?
posted by heathkit at 12:05 AM on January 17, 2009

..and then there were the Nazi rallies for Hitler and those around it...
posted by Postroad at 4:50 AM on January 17, 2009

I'd thought about putting together a post on Mass Observation for a while but was too lazy. I think one of the most interesting aspects was the regular diary keepers they had rather than individual events like this. A TV drama, Housewife, 49, was made a while back with a cracking performance from Victoria Wood as one of the working-class women who wrote a diary. Heartily recommend watching that if you get the chance (it's on torrent sites).
posted by Abiezer at 7:46 AM on January 17, 2009

I learned about MO recently and thought it would make a great post. I'm glad now that I didn't do it because I doubt I'd have realized the 1/20 connection.
posted by DU at 8:39 AM on January 17, 2009

Are we coronating a king on January the 20th?

You know, this transition has a little more of that "Hooray, the King is dead! Long live the King!" feel to it than other transitions in my memory.

I mean, I* hated Bush before hating Bush sold out and went mainstream. Anymore, one can't switch on the cable news or click a WaPo link without finding some arbiter of accepted opinion opining about how awful Bush was. The mood has emboldened plenty of ex-lackeys, too.

The zeitgeist. Creepy.

*Given the forum, you're probably cool like that, too.
posted by notyou at 9:01 AM on January 17, 2009

There was a great article about the original movement and its founders that ran in the New Yorker awhile back.
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:26 AM on January 17, 2009

Mass Observation is an invaluable resource for cultural history. I'm glad to see it on the main page.

I read Worktowners at Blackpool for a seminar paper I wrote on cinema in the Thirties, and it was fascinating. One excerpt, however, will haunt me forever for its indifference to a social problem mostly unacknowledged at the time - date rape.

Heavy wind this night. Sand blowing. Along a strip of sandhills quarter of a mile, [observer] came across only one sign of life, a squawk, perhaps of assent; could not find the girl who had uttered it because of the dimness and the wind. Later [another observer] reported that he almost stepped on a couple in the same spot, heard girl's voice sobbing, 'Oh, Ted, Ted. Oh, what are you doing?'

I will always wonder what happened to that poor girl.
posted by winna at 10:32 AM on January 17, 2009

The U of Sussex has a new entry point to their Mass Observation archives, a link to which is found deep within the main link in this FPP. Interesting stuff!
posted by Rumple at 9:09 PM on January 26, 2009

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