Music Events as Contemporary Spectacle: U2’s ‘360°’ Tour - a collective experience of rock, rituals and resistance

Authors: Michael Williams*, University of Brighton
Topics: Cultural Geography
Keywords: Spectacle, community, identity, enchantment, resistance, rock music events
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Oakley, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This presentation examines the concept of spectacle in the context of a rock music event. In particular it is concerned with how rock music fans experience, create meaning from, and contribute to the creation of a spectacle, arguing that the spectators of U2’s ‘360°’tour (2009-2011) as human agents are more than passive consumers of commercial entertainment. Contrary to the pessimism of Debord’s (1994, 1998) notion of society as spectacle, U2’s events provided a sense of belonging and identity, an experience of enchantment, as well as opportunities for empowerment and resistance. Adopting a social constructionist philosophical position, my research draws on a blend of netnography, ethnography and critical sociology. Rich qualitative data were collected in three phases, including preliminary online research of selected U2-related websites, in-depth semi-structured interviews with U2’s fans, and their show director, and a qualitative content analysis of documentary material. Thematic analyses of the findings revealed that U2’s concerts gave individuals a sense of belonging to a global community of fans. They also provided an enchanting, liminal space, which offered transcendent experiences and increased fans’ awareness of certain socio-political issues, although this was highly regulated and choreographed. Despite the temporary and episodic nature of U2’s shows, the community was real for many of the fans, and was perpetuated online. However, the findings revealed a tension between the band’s desire to create an authentic spectacle, and the hyper-real experience that was necessary due to the scale of the event.

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