“Words from readers” - When the New York Opera turns into a laboratory of climate inaction

On November 30, 2023, I attended the premiere of the opera Tannhäuser at the Metropolitan Opera in New York

“Words from readers” - When the New York Opera turns into a laboratory of climate inaction

On November 30, 2023, I attended the premiere of the opera Tannhäuser at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The opera was interrupted midway through the second act by environmental protesters who unfurled banners from balconies and shouted various slogans. I do not wish to take sides in the debate which seeks to determine whether this action is politically or morally justifiable and relevant, but rather to highlight a psychological dimension of the experience which seems to me often neglected.

Whatever our opinion regarding the legitimacy of this type of demonstration, I think that we can indeed make the following observation: by replaying on a reduced scale the mechanisms of collective (in)action in the fight against global warming, the interruption of the opera by the demonstrators allows us to put into particularly striking perspective our everyday behavior in the fight against global warming on a real scale. The interest of the reduced scale is that it puts this behavior into perspective in a much more striking way than a theoretical discourse.

When we are sitting and protesters stand up, start shouting and unfurling banners, our “default” option is to stay seated. This “default” option, however, sends us, in spite of ourselves, to the “opposite” camp, to the camp of those who are not fighting against global warming. This reference to the “bad” camp is all the more striking as several members of the “sitting” camp – to which we now belong – start shouting insults at the demonstrators and the environmentalist struggle. We then feel quite powerless (because we are assigned to a camp without having acted).

This may seem banal: the “default” option is not a neutral option when it comes to the climate emergency, because it is the option of inaction, which leads to disaster. What I am trying to point out, however, is that when we hear this “banality” in speeches, it hits us on an intellectual level and to some extent on an emotional level. However, in the case where one experiences the manifestation at the opera, this “banality” is replayed very intensely on a reduced scale (an opera hall rather than the entire planet).

The implications of our "default" choice and our inaction therefore appear much more striking to us thanks to this reduced-scale experience where the roles are taken on in a very concrete and figurative way (the demonstrators, the "seated", people who denigrate ecology by screaming, etc.). It is a true theatrical and miniature reconstruction of the world scene in the fight against global warming, which is particularly striking when you experience it.

Obviously, my proposal ("By replaying on a reduced scale the mechanisms of collective (in)action in the fight against global warming, the interruption of the opera by the demonstrators allows us to put into perspective in a particularly striking our everyday behavior in the fight against global warming on a real scale") is independent of my position regarding the legitimacy of these actions. The observation of the implementation of this psychological mechanism is neutral and does not imply any particular opinion concerning the legitimacy of this action.

Louis de Vogue, New York (United States)