Body and Dress in the Civilisation of Spectacles

AuthorFlorica Iuhas
PositionSenior Lecturer, PhD, Ecological University of Bucharest, Romania
European Integration - Realities and Perspectives 2012
Body and Dress in the Civilisation of Spectacles
Florica Iuha
Abstract: In traditionalist societies, as an individual who was an integral part of the cos mos a nd the
community to which he belonged, man would not view his body as a separate entity, as he would become
aware of his physical “rooting” in a limited networ k of c orrespondences and meanings. The main
characteristic of holistic societies was to “emphasize and use social totality” (Dumont, 1983, p. 263) to the
detriment of the indi vidual, whose body did not exis t as an element of individuality - as it would b e the case
later on, in modern societies, where individualism was primary and the body was a personalizing factor. In
the post-‘60s era, a new imagery of the body gained momentum, with a noted acceptance of individualism as
a social structure and the embrace of a positive (lay) view upon nature. After that decade, “the Western man
discovers that he has a body and this novelty follows its own route, whilst eliciting discourses and practices
that carry a mass-media aura” (Dumont, 1983, p. 7). With the help of media representations, we will herein
oppose two types of bodies a nd dress, as they are reflected in some ritualistic carnival f estivities nowadays:
the Carnival of Venice and the one in Rio de Janeiro; on the other hand, we will see to what extent the “play”
component of homo ludens has kept its dimension in the current society.
Keywords: dress; body; carnival; homo ludens; performance
1. Carnival as a Form of Play
As an integral part of man’s life, play has accompanied him throughout the development of
civilization. According to Johan Huizinga, “human civilization is born and grows through play and as
play” (Huizinga, 2007, p. 35). The need to play has to do with one’s “pleasure to play”, where “play
isn’t called for by a physical need and much less by moral duty. It is not a task. It is done during one’s
«spare time». It is only secondarily, due to the fact that it becomes a cultural function, that the notions
of obligation and duty come to associate with it” (Huizinga, p. 48).
Celebration is a shared joy; therefore, a characteristic of community. “Consecration, sacrifice, sacred
dances, sacred contests, representations, religious mysteries – all of them are part of celebration. Even
if the rites are bloody and the tests that the contestants are called to upon their initiation are cruel, and
even if the masks are scary, the whole takes place as a celebration. One’s «regular life» i s suspended.
Eating, partying, and all sorts of other extravagances accompany the celebration throughout its
duration” (Huizinga, 2007, p. 67).
In an essay titled Vom Wesen des Fetes (“On the Nature of Celebration”), Karl Kerény states that
“among the soul-related realities, celebration is an aspect in itself, which cannot be taken for anything
else in the world” (apud Huizinga, 2007, p. 67). Huizinga concludes that “by the nature of things, the
closest correlations exist between celebration and play”. The elimination of regular life; the tone of the
action, which is (mostly, but not necessarily) cheerful (since the celebration in itself can be serious);
the time and space limitation; the simultaneity of strict determinacy and genuine freedom – all these
are the main common traits of play and celebration” (Huizinga, 2007, p. 68).
Senior Lectur er, PhD, Ecological University of Bucharest, Romania, Address: 1 G Vasile Milea Blvd. Buc harest, Sector 6,
Romania, Tel: +4 0213167932, Fax: +4 0213166337, Corresponding author:

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