1984: Back to No Future

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“People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them.”
– James Baldwin

1984 has already happened and it wasn’t quite like George Orwell’s version. Instead, the Cold War is in full swing. In the West, Reagan, Thatcher and Kohl are in power. Behind the iron curtain, a succession of Soviet leaders, each greyer and older than the one before, rule the communist East. The Americans have invented a new weapon with a further reach than any nuclear warhead or neutron bomb. It can change hearts and minds in just three minutes and is feared by every totalitarian regime on the planet. This is the age of the music video. The HQ of this new armament is not the Pentagon, but MTV, and to celebrate this new soft-power ascendancy, the first MTV music awards are hosted in 1984.

Gob Squad travel back in time to this mythical year to confront themselves as teenagers, the principal targets of this media revolution. From the perspective of their childhood bedrooms they discover themselves, enchanted and mesmerized by these new musical moving images.
They see a time where they were still in search of an identity, rehearsing versions of themselves in search of possible futures, shaping their own histories. Their search takes place against the backdrop of a terrifying and simplistic geopolitical climate of ”Communism versus Capitalism”. Globalisation continues to blossom, enabled by satellite technology, home computing and video cameras. In the West, a “lifestyle” mentality takes hold in daily aerobics workouts on breakfast television, whilst economic upheaval affects millions. Decades later, internet blogs would describe 1984 as “the best year in pop history”, the year when Michael Jackson’s Thriller video triumphantly reached TV sets across the planet. Apple Computer spent a million dollars on a bombastic commercial to launch the Macintosh, referencing Orwell by depicting a revolutionary athlete smashing a Big Brother screen and declaring “why 1984 won’t be like 1984”. But this view was in fact all a matter of perspective.

As the performers remember and reconstruct themselves and the media fantasies of that time, they also start to dismantle what may have been written into the programming code underlying this colourful world of commercial pop. Were these teenagers masters and mistresses of their own bodies, their own fates and their own abilities to control and shape things? Or were they ready-made templates, destined to follow a bigger plan? With the knowledge of today, they question what they were drawn to back then and ask if it is possible to go back and re-programme their own story? Or at least see with different eyes? Who and what is missing from the picture?

In a research phase for the production, four international residencies took place in Bangalore/ Mumbai (India), Leipzig (Germany), New York (USA) and Shanghai (China). Thank you to all participants for their input and the mind-expanding exchange.