The Blue Man Group: Populist Performance Art
How could I cite such a popular attraction as The Blue Man Group as a top artist of the 2000s? Because they are ambassadors for performance art and experimental music. Their performances are insanely energetic and delightful visual spectacles, with the ability to appeal to a very wide audience. While this may be enough for casual fans, there are some other layers of interest at work.
First of all, members of this group are highly rehearsed and tight performers. With so much canned music and lip syncing in popular music, it’s nice to watch music that takes some skill and precision to pull off. Second, the whole visual aesthetic is quite arresting. Here we have (generally three) dehumanized humans – monochrome and indistinguishable, like humans in dystopian films (like THX 1138). Their actions are childlike – curious and naïve aliens exploring our world. In another context, many viewers would simply dismiss this as “weird, artsy-fartsy stuff,” but the Group does it with such playful panache that it becomes palatable to the general public.
This is perhaps the most important power of The Blue Man Group – a power to inspire a mass audience. The Group plays instruments that look industrial and almost futuristic, until you realize that you could have made something similar at home. I can easily envision children creating homemade instruments after seeing the Group perform. Although this is nothing new (I made a “drum set” out of spare cans when I was 10), it reinforces that music can be made from anything. This is important especially in lower-income communities where children may want to make music, but cannot afford a violin, guitar, or turntables. In a way, it could spark more creative thinking in music-making.
The instruments can also spark an interest in science. The Drumbone, for example, is an extendable PVC pipe, demonstrating physics – tubes resonate, and tubes of greater lengths resonate at lower frequencies. Even though a performance might not inspire a viewer into becoming a physicist, at least when they take a physics course, they will have a frame of reference to the subject.
All presented as entertainment, The Blue Man Group slyly introduce audiences to performance art, music, instrument-building, and science. For people in the right frame of mind, the Blue Men will hopefully open doors into several other worlds to study or enjoy. The fact that something so potentially inaccessible and strange can become so wildly popular gives me hope for American culture.