Hey Kiwanis! I hope you listen to this because I’m speaking for thousands of people right now. Your Zozobra needs some serious help, dudes. This year's burning of Old Man Gloom was totally whack.
First, let me give you some context.
I grew up making mini-Zozos in my elementary classes at Chaparral out of tissue paper and popsicle sticks. In high school, I flocked to second base just like everyone else. As a young adult, I convinced friends from other cities to visit Santa Fe specifically for the event, throwing BBQs and walking with giant mobs to Fort Marcy Park. I have been a loyal and passionate supporter of Shuster's masterpiece, crediting Zozo for being a prominent instigator for Meow Wolf's creation and subsequent central influence on our aesthetic.
In my world, Zozobra and Santa Fe are inseparable. They grow and morph together, reflect each other, interchangeable as two pieces of a single entity. And so, believe me, it pains me to say what I'm about to say. But somebody needs to.
This year's Zozobra sucked. And it is a perfect representation of how Santa Fe is traveling on a similar path.
- Let's just start off with the $20 ticket fiasco. Does raising the ticket price alienate many local Santa Feans who have attended this annual tradition for generations? Absolutely. Does raising the ticket price alienate young people? Absolutely. Does alienating the two most energetic demographics in this city have a negative effect on the health of the event? Uh, yeah, absolutely.
- Walking towards Fort Marcy at sundown used to carry a 'Tonight, we own this town!' sort of feeling. Mobs of people yelling across the street 'Viva La Fiesta!' and other mobs of people responding 'Qué Viva!' broadcasted the community’s camaraderie, like a secret-coded mantra that united otherwise compartmentalized sectors.
- These days, Santa Fe citizens aren't even allowed to walk through our own Plaza on our way to Zozobra. Cops surround the spiritual, symbolic, historical and actual center of town and act like it is their property. The police state is highly visible. Cops aren't just out and about; they are stationed, posted and unnecessarily swirling their bright-as-fuck lights. They give off the sense that we are all part of a giant crime scene. I understand the need for safety, but the situation has transcended into psychological abuse, throwing a wet blanket on the metaphorical fire before we even arrive at the park.
- This is a celebration, right? And when people celebrate, we should express with some amount of rowdiness, right? Walking into Fort Marcy this year felt lifeless and lacking passion. There was no sign of good, clean rowdiness. This is a serious problem with this city. At some point our city councilors and mayor and economic development and local businesses and local residents must realize that positive, legal, harmless rowdiness is a much-needed ingredient in the recipe of a healthy culture. Santa Fe has attempted at every turn to dampen rowdiness, as if it were a nasty virus that might scare away the tourists. You know what’s actually scaring away the tourists? The empty, lifeless, vapid, dull city that has emerged because of anti-rowdy policies.
- This year’s offering was so dull that I don't even wanna call it Zozo. It's more like 'The 88th Burning of Will Shuster's Zozobra.'
- Such a large portion of our city is culturally uneducated. We have newcomers pouring into this city without any knowledge, or care, for how we do things here. How sad it was to hear the hesitant and thin 'Burn Him' chants as we stood impatiently on the field, or the scattered and sprinkled responses to 'Viva la Fiesta.' It turns out, the majority of those who elected to fork over $20 for entry are also those who have little experience with the culture of Zozobra or Fiestas.
- Oh man, that star-spangled banner was terrible. Poor girls, not their fault. Just an embarrassing little detail to an altogether disastrous night.
- The wait for things to begin is just way too long. It’s another form of buzzkill, another rowdy release valve. Make people stand there listening to bad pop radio for two hours after the sun goes down? Yikes. We are tired, bored, pissed and embarrassed. The excitement is replaced with eye-rolling. The 'Qué Vivas' are replaced with 'Fuck this bullshit.'
- An MC makes sure to get on the mic and ask the crowd, 'Are you ready to burn him?' in a depressingly contrived attempt to rally some soft and canned form of rowdiness. This makes me realize that they realize that rowdiness is important to the success of their event, yet they go about first suppressing it and then attempting to unnaturally recreate it in an awkward capitalist way. And nobody is buying it.
- And then something happens that really irks me. The MC says, 'Alright, are you guys ready to burn him? Alright! Let's turn off the lights!' and then the stadium lights turn off. What?! Prompting the lights to go off?! Informing the crowd that the lights are going off before they do?! Wow, what a fucking awesome way to completely take the excitement out of the little anticipation that was left! Preempting the darkness with a warning eliminates one of the event's best opportunities to regain the crowd's rowdiness! The feeling of not knowing when the lights will go out and then BOOM! Darkness. And the crowd erupts! You know, just like every year prior? But I guess not this year. Probably has to do with a safety issue or some bullshit. Lame.
- And finally, the show starts—and nobody cares. It is so quiet and dead at the park that I can hear people mocking the event. More people are yelling comical expressions of frustration than the classic 'Burn Him' chant. Friends are apologizing to out-of-town guests for how lame it is: 'Sorry, guys; it’s not usually like this.'
- Wizard Man with cheap Coach House-style LED-shaft does some seriously silly theatrical prosecution of Zozobra. Just really crappy theater—embarrassingly bad and not even traditionally relevant. 'Accused of boring us with a bunch of useless and vacant choreography! GUILTY! Accused of ruining a tradition close to our hearts all in the name of safety, fear, and homogenization! GUILTY!'
- It was during the Gloomies that I realized, 'Wow, Zozobra is really lame all of a sudden,' like learning that Santa Claus isn’t real. Did we really need 30 Gloomies taking up 15 minutes just walking together down the steps? And when did Kiwanis start using 6-foot-tall teenage Gloomies? I could see their jeans under their white sheets.
- The Poi spinners with their glow-toys remind me that Kiwanis is seriously confused about the nature of their own event.
- And then there were the fire people. All 20 minutes of slow-moving, meandering, aimless fire people who obviously thought that their firewings were cooler than the audience did. Nobody cared at this point. Just burn him already, set off the fireworks and get me outta this place.
It's unfortunate, because I know how much work goes into this event. I know how much time and energy people volunteer to make it happen. But bad pacing is bad pacing, shitty storytelling is shitty storytelling, and an ailing event is an ailing event. Zozobra should no longer be given a free pass. The artistic and cultural integrity of our city's signature event is undeniably being compromised.
The burn itself was great. Always is. We love seeing that dude go up in flames. But I cant give Kiwainis credit for fire. Fire is God's coolness.
The talk of the town afterwards was consistent. We as a community feel a sense of ownership of this event. And this event represents something much larger than just burning away our gloom. Zozobra represents our Santa Fe. And unfortunately, last Thursday night spelled it out.
Zozobra/Santa Fe is:
- too expensive
- heavily policed
- outwardly presenting poor aesthetic
- way too slow
- ultimately really boring
- ignoring of significant, homegrown demographics (longtime locals, young people)
- absent of positive rowdiness
- too safe
- a caricature of itself.
Vince Kadlubek works with the local arts collective Meow Wolf.