I’ve been thinking a lot recently about constructing social circles and “constructed families”. This is mostly because I’m at the stage of having to create a completely new local social circle from scratch in my new home of New Hampshire (which is not exactly proving easy). Also, I’ve discovered that ‘creating a circle of caring friends’ is the goal of the protagonist in the ancient Roman novel I’m writing, and I’m busy going seeding through earlier chapters the roots of this desire.
Derek Jarman created a series of short films for the Pet Shop Boys’ first world tour all the way back in 1989. They were projected behind Chris and Neil during their performances. For the song “Heart”, Jarman filmed a group of people (of many different shapes, ages, and colors) out at a disco. In the video, they dance in a circle with happy abandon as the camera remains fixed, spinning along as a focused partner. The edits cut between the dancers, some going to the left, others to the right, all smiling and joyous, but always in motion, and always connecting with the camera. Behind them, the world spins in a blur.
A little over halfway through the video, the camera pulls back to show us the whole dance floor. New faces are introduced, including Jarman himself, who are now no longer spinning in isolation. All are still individuals, however, and identifiable. The focus remains. It’s a big, colorful party in a club. A bit naff, a bit dated, but with so many different kinds of people all having fun with no observable hang-ups or self-consciousness. And all still engaging with the camera while dancing in sheer bliss.
This video has played in a loop in my head for 25 years. It’s not only what’s always on my mind when I hear this song, but I internalized it long ago as an allegorical image of what an ideal social circle looks like. I infuse it with narrative and see the people as distinct individuals. I’ve daydreamed of being in that disco. It may not be the trendiest or hippest place, but it welcomes all kinds. There is no agenda except enjoyment. And no one is self-conscious or awkward. Every person is together and having fun, and each person allows me, the camera, to share in their dizzying joy.
I’ve experienced snippets of this social ideal in my life, with close circles of friends in high school, college, my movie theater job, grad school, and especially on archaeological projects. Happily, many of the individual ties of friendship remain strong from these past groupings, but these localized circles all now belong to a historical era. Looking back over my writing projects I’ve come to the conclusion– surprisingly recently– that my stories all deal in some way with attempts at creating social circles (whether by immortal Greek gods or a dysfunctional theater company in 1933 Berlin). That’s always been my own goal. And as I struggle now, in a new life chapter, to create (from scratch) a constructed family of local friends, I’ve been coming back to Jarman’s video again and again, and the promise of joyous social circle of open, happy friends it suggests. I hope it happens for me in New Hampshire. I know it will happen for my protagonist in the 3rd century CE.