Throwing fish at a famous person

The dreary little drama being enacted by Blaine is such a perfect metaphor for the way we live now
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The Independent Online

What is he thinking, the man in the glass box, as he is suspended above London? It is said that the American illusionist David Blaine has taken a notebook in which he will keep a daily diary over the 44 days of his incarceration, but will his promising working conditions produce some worthwhile perceptions?

Unfortunately, Blaine does not appear to be a great communicator. He talks like a man on severe medication and his most famous interview was when he appeared on a morning TV show and said nothing. Almost certainly, his written work will be about as empty as the glass cage in which he now finds himself - a terrible shame since, if it were someone interesting up there (Germaine Greer, say, or Dr Jonathan Miller), the opportunity to meditate on the life seen beyond the glass as the body gets hungrier and colder would produce some fascinating results.

Presumably even David Blaine will be now be reflecting as to whether it was such a good idea to stage his latest stunt in Britain. He has described London as one of his favourite cities, and has said that our great capital was a logical site for his toughest challenge, but his prediction has proved to be more spookily accurate than even he can have known.

For what has fascinated the British most about Blaine's "experiment" has, predictably enough, been the question of how a man sitting in a glass box, viewable from every side, will go the lavatory - "properly", as we used to say. Journalists, who know how loo-obsessed the English can be, have investigated this question with admirable rigour. His PR team first of all claimed that David would not need to go at all since he had been on diet. Finding us unconvinced, they revealed that their man would be taking a few nappies with him, but this news produced quite the wrong response, with one leading commentator dubbing the great illusionist "Nappy Man". Finally, Blaine explained that, rather disgustingly, he would be taking some black plastic bags with him and a packet of Wet Ones, a product well known to parents of incontinent toddlers. Inevitably, the more scatologically obsessed spectators, watching his every movement, cheered and clapped when the first one took place.

That, it turns out has been one of the more harmless activities taking place below Blaine's box. Some of those who had gathered to watch him threw eggs at the glass. A man travelled across London in order to beat a loud drum every time the magician tried to sleep. Some fun-loving golfers teed off from Tower Bridge and took pot shots at him. A couple of women, in an eloquently British gesture, flashed their tits and then threw the remains of their fish and chips at him.

Gloomily wiping the yolk and chip fat from the glass box, Blaine's girlfriend Manon von Gerkan told the press that she found the behaviour of the crowd bizarre. In New York, people had cheered when David had stood on a plinth for a very long time; they had gasped and whooped when he had emerged from the block of ice in which he had been lying. In London, they bared their breasts, hit golf balls, threw food and clapped inappropriately when he went to the lavatory. "I find these people really strange," said Manon.

When the girlfriend of David Blaine says something is strange, one has to take it seriously, but there is another interpretation of what is going on here. In its way, the dreary little drama being enacted by Blaine and those watching his is such a perfect metaphor for the way we live now that, if Sky and the formerly-respectable Channel 4 were not sponsoring the event, it would have deserved an Arts Council grant.

A celebrity announces that he is to sit in a glass cage for more than six weeks, doing absolutely nothing. He is filmed, doing nothing, around the clock. The only possible point of interest to the view public will be when, or if, his body or mind begin to show serious ill effects. As an "experiment", it is as edifying as a public execution or a circus freak show used to be, and appeals to the same instincts.

The ordinary, gawping spectators will be expected to play their part, too. As they watch a famous person putting on the ultimate non-performance, one that is the purest essence of pointlessness, they are being invited to partake in a sort of quasi-religious experience of contemporary life, seeing a celebrity suffer on their behalf, for their pleasure and prurience.

What causes people to go and look at a man in a glass cage, to flash, hit golf balls and throw fish at him? A profound boredom with their own lives, presumably, or a need for some kind of thrill to sate their appetite for the unusual. It does not exactly show this favourite city of David Blaine's in an attractive light, but then it is probably better than encouraging the poor sap by applauding him.