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submitted by Eric Miller in May 1999     
for the course, Media Rituals   
at the University of Pennsylvania.   
(This paper is approximately 30 pages.)   

This was a term paper:    
also see the mid-term paper.   


The Use of a Mass-Media Object 
in a Face-to-Face Ritual: 
The Case of Television Sets
in Restaurants and Bars


I.  Introduction............................................................................1   

II.  Definitions   
The Real......................................................................................1   

III.  The Event    
Ritual:  The Feast in General....................................................5   
Ritual:  Patronizing Restaurants and Bars..............................7   

IV.  The Object    
Ritual Objects:  Objects in General.........................................11   
Ritual Objects:  Television Sets................................................13   

V.  The Use of Television Sets in Restaurants and Bars.......14   

VI.  Special Case:  The Use of Television Sets in 'Strip Joints'.....22   

VII.  Conclusion........................................................................29   

 I. Introduction   

In The Myth of The Eternal Return, Mircea Eliade writes of the human being's "thirst for the real and his terror of 'losing' himself by letting himself be overwhelmed by the meaninglessness of profane existence."1  This paper looks at the use of television sets in restaurants and bars.  I will be arguing that the use of television sets in restaurants and bars represents an attempt, by the people who design and offer such environments, to provide real experience, and that (certain) members of the public are eager to inhabit such environments and are willing to pay to do so because these environments do provide real experience for them, that is, such environments help them to avoid the "meaninglessness of profane existence."   

In the course of presenting this point of view, I will define a number of terms and ask (and begin to answer) a number of questions, including:  What is the real?  What is ritual?  Is ritual salvageable as an analytic construct outside the realm of religion proper?  In what senses can eating and drinking, and patronizing restaurants and bars in particular, be considered a ritual?  That is, under what conditions are these activities increasingly ritualistic?  Then I will consider the object used in the ritual.  I will ask:  What, if anything, is common to all ritual objects (objects used in the service of ritual)?  What are the particular qualities of the television set in this context?  Finally, I will look at a special case: the use of televisions in a bar which happens to be what is known in the vernacular as a 'strip joint.'  Here I will ask: What results, ritually-speaking, from the co-presence of drinking, television, and live erotic dance?   

II.  Definitions   

The Real   

Of course, there are an infinite number of possible answers to the question, what is "real"?  However, some generalizations can be made.  The real is related to the serious, basic, important, crucial, significant, meaningful, true, vital, etc.  The real tends to be transcendent over the vagaries of time and space, and independent of the transient natures of matter and of individual life.  If something is real, it is so in any context, it is independent of context.  People depend on the real; it is a point of reference; they orient their thinking and acting in terms of it.  Due in part to faith and habit, the real is not questioned.   

Some people associate the real with the spiritual and the sacred.  Some consider certain divine figures to be real.  In The Elementary Forms of Religious Life(a work to which I will refer numerous times in this paper), Emile Durkheim presents the idea that what is real to a people are: each other, their community, their conceptual categories, their ideals, and their common past, including their ancestors.  According to this theory, people project divinity and sacredness onto symbols of these aspects of society:  "Religious forces are in fact only transfigured collective forces."2  "The idea of society is the soul of religion...  Religious forces are human forces, moral forces...  Collective feelings become conscious of themselves only by settling upon external objects."3  These collectively-exalted objects, beings, concepts, and symbols are what a people consider real.   According to this definition, an individual who has never experienced society cannot know the real, as he/she cannot alone transcend his/her personal subjectivity and ego.   


Ritual can be defined as practices by which people put themselves in contact with the real.  There are many ways to elaborate upon this idea.  For ritual to be meaningful to a person, participation must be voluntary, even yearned for.4  If one is forced to go through the motions of a ritual, from the participant's point of view, this is not ritual, but forced labor.  If one chooses to refrain from engaging in the ritual activity, one must keep in mind that this may result in being excluded from the community altogether.   

Definers of ritual frequently stress the formulaic, patterned, and invariable nature of the activity.  "Rituals tend to be stylized, repetitive, stereotyped."5   Indeed, when people find a method that works for them, they seem to like to follow that method closely: perhaps it gives people a sense of security and power to feel that by repeating certain exact steps, the desired result can be guaranteed.  The idea that the practice has been handed down over the generations, that it has not been made up by the present participants, is important to many practitioners and definers of ritual.  The fact that participants have not themselves created the liturgy (or canon) may, according to some points of view, increase the possibility that participants will be able to the transcend their subjective selves through the activity: the indexical nature of the ritual event (the ways in which the liturgy is enacted) gives opportunity for individual expression.  Also, following in the exact footsteps of ancestors--perhaps in the sense of imitative magic--helps to put one in communion with those ancestors, which, I am positing, is a large part of what ritual is about.  There are other, perhaps less positive, ways to look at the imposition of ritual conventions.  For example:   

The conditions permitting some men to establish conventions by issuing directives to which other men must conform may be relatively recent, for they may rest upon differential control of strategic resources, and there was probably little opportunity for such differentiation to develop before the appearance of plant and animal cultivation ten thousand or so years go...  Ritual, in the very structure of which authority and acquiescence are implicit,  was the primordial means by which men, divested of genetically determined order, established the conventions by which they order themselves.6
People engagein rituals: "Dramas have audiences, rituals have congregations.  audiences watch, a congregation participates."7  Many definers of ritual stress the importance of the bodily presence and actions of participants.8  Rituals tend to occur at special places.9  Or, they tend to make a place special: "Rituals...impose logical necessity upon the vagrant affairs of the world."10  To conduct a ritual is to process the present time and space, and to incorporate it into a tradition.   

Although a ritual may be conducted in response to a special event, many rituals are conducted on a regular basis.  Ritual "is the act by which society makes itself, and remakes itself, periodically."11  At periodical assemblies, group members   

can renew their common  faith by making a public demonstration of it together.  To strengthen emotions that would dissipate if left alone, the one thing needful is to bring all those who share them into more intimate and more dynamic relationship.12
Rites serve...to maintain the vitality of those beliefs, and to prevent the memory from being obliterated--in other words, to revitalize the most essential elements of the collective consciousness and conscience.  Through this rite, the group periodically revitalizes the sense it has of itself and its unity; the nature of the individuals as social beings is strengthened at the same time.  The glorious moments that are made to live again before their eyes, and with which they feel in accord, bring about a sense of confidence.  One is more sure in one's faith when one sees how far into the past it goes and what great things it has inspired.13
Rituals are often dramatic and suspenseful:   
Effective rituals build uncertainty about the fate of the group in advance of a ritual outcome, and express this uncertainty in bodily terms.  In a good ritual there is doubt (it may be real or manufactured) about how the ritual will come out.14
A successful or efficacious ritual "multiplies connections among bodies" and "brings the group to a new sense of itself as a corporate body."15  It is often very difficult to judge whether a ritual has been successful in these terms.  Often people engage in ritual-like activities which they do not necessarily think of as rituals: "ritual" is a very abstract term.  And, often people are not aware of having been transformed, or do not want to think or talk about it.  In such cases, the researcher must fall back on examining the physical facts: "In effective rituals, well-defined outcomes are rendered in bodily terms."16   

I think there can be a good deal of value to considering the degree to which, and the ways in which, modern day non-religious activities (such as dining out) are ritualistic.  However, I believe it is key to good, grounded scholarship to remain aware that in the real world, people often do not think in abstractions.  For example, last Sunday, a friend said to me, "I am going to church."  She did not say, "I am going to engage in a ritual."  It is an interesting question as to why people tend to resist abstract thinking.  Perhaps some people associate abstract thinking with analytical introspection, and self-examination tends to make many people nervous (some things are not to be questioned!).  People sometimes tend to not want to acknowledge that they are making choices: to be aware of choice-making is to be aware of alternatives, and the prospect of opening a can of worms can make people fear that they will lose their ability to function.  Many people are skeptical about the use of abstractions and classify it as a type of idle speculation.  More than one person has told me that academic abstract talk is primarily a means of obfuscating what one is really feeling and doing.17   

In summary then,   

Religious representations are collective representations that express collective realities; rites are ways of action that are born only in the midst of assembled groups and whose purpose is to evoke, maintain, or recreate certain mental states of those groups.18
What is real is the group and its products, and these things can best be appreciated when the group assembles.  The assembly isthe ritual.   

III.  The Event    

Ritual:  The Feast in General   

Eating and drinking together is a universal means of creating and/or exhibiting social solidarity.  "Sharing food is held to signify 'togetherness,' an equivalence among members of a group that defines and reaffirms insiders as socially similar."19   

The body is perpetually being remade.  The food one eats to some degree becomes one's body.  If one eats alongside others, from the same platter, in a sense one becomes similar to one's fellow eaters, who are incorporating similar food.  Moreover, eating and drinking involve the opening of an orifice (the mouth, leading to the digestive tract).  As such, eating and drinking is a time of physical boundary-relaxation, boundary-blurring, with the outside world.  People who engage in this activity together can be said to some degree to be experiencing a state of communitas together.20  This is particularly so in the case of people ingesting intoxicating drink together: together they alter their states of consciousnesses, and although each has his/her unique internal experience, much is shared when individuals get drunk together.   

For a family, the common meal confirms and deepens the biological relationships between individuals: "Food consumption in the form of the family meal serves to 'socially construct'--that is, in a sense, to produce--the family and cement the relationships within it."21  For co-ingestors who are not family members, the eating event functions to make them more like members of the same family.  For one thing, trust develops amongst people who eat together successfully, as eating is a time of physical vulnerability.   

In addition to involving connection with other humans, eating has also often functioned as a means of relating with divine figures.  In numerous traditional cultures, people present food to, and believe they eat alongside of, divine figures: "The burnt offering ritual sometimes led to the sacrificial meal, during which the cultic community consumed food in the presence of the deity.  By admitting man to his table, the god became bound to the community in a special relationship."22   

Also, many cultures feature the idea of eating and drinking the god, or the symbol of the god.  Jesus took the opportunity of the Passover meal to tell his followers that henceforth sanctified bread and wine would literally be his body and blood.  "The inhabitants of Cerem, an island in the Indonesian archipelago, tell the story of a quasi-divine young girl whose body produced tubers after it was cut up and buried.  These tubers are believed to harbor a divine substance that is transmitted to those who eat them."23  Sometimes the ingesting of the divine substance is said to bestow  immortality.  For examples: "According to Chinese Taoist beliefs, the peach of immortality grows in a fairyland called Hsi Hua.  Gilgamesh, the Mesopotamian hero, embarked on a relentless search for immortality, and finally succeeded in locating a plant that was said to frustrate death by restoring youth to one who ate it.  Gilgamesh's hopes, however, were dashed when a serpent stole the precious plant."24  Following Durkheim's theory, this talk of eating and divinity and immortality is simply an (often unconscious) code for imagining the perpetuation of the social group.  In all of these ways, then, eating and drinking together can be seen as ritual activities, that is, as ways of putting oneself in contact with, and partaking of, the real.   

Ritual:  Patronizing Restaurants and Bars   

In a 1992 survey, USA adults claimed to "eat out" 5 times a week (260 per year).  In an equivalent British study, people claimed to eat out slightly less, approximately 4 times a week (208 per year).25  According to the USA National Restaurant Association, almost half of all adults (46 percent) were restaurant patrons on a typical day during 1997 (180 eating out events per year).  The restaurant share of the food dollar that year was 44.3%.  Restaurant industry sales are forecast to advance 4.6 percent in 1999.26  It is unclear whether these figures include eating at academic, business, and other cafeterias; certainly they do not include such things as buying a sandwich at a deli.  In any case, it is clear that eating outside the home is a very common activity, and one that is growing.   

Eating is a utilitarian, biological necessity.  However, the way in which one eats is a social construct, and in this paper I am calling that construct a ritual.  What then, are some of the differences between the 'eating at home ritual' and the 'eating in a restaurant ritual'?   

The ideal of the nuclear family, which perhaps reached its height of social popularity in the USA in the 1950s, involved the idea of the wife cooking for the family and providing a meal for her husband and their children upon his return from the workplace and the children's return from school.  "The cooked dinner symbolizes the home, a husband's relation to it, his wife's place in it, and their relationship to one another."27  As the nuclear family has opened up (50% divorce rate, increasing numbers of women in the workplace, etc.), people's eating habits have likewise changed, especially in regard to snacking and eating out:   

Nearly twenty years ago [1980], the French sociologist Claude Fischler...announced the decline of the organized, ritualized meal in Western  societies.  The finding that members of American urban middle-class families could have as many as twenty 'food-contacts' a day led Fischler to conclude that the increase in 'snacking and nibbling' was ushering in the 'empire of  snacks.'  'Meals,' he wrote, 'are being increasingly eroded by or reduced to snacks.28
Indeed, people seem to snack and eat out--often alone--a great deal more than they used to.  This trend has been developing for a long time.  In pre-modern times, eating out was associated with travel.  In general, this activity was considered related to being uprooted from one's home and kinship group.   
It would not be possible to argue that there was no market for food outside the home before modern times, but it was a relatively undeveloped market and most food would have been provided within a framework of social obligation rather than as a commercial transaction...  With the breakdown of feudalism and the growth of towns, many more were free to travel either locally or over large distances.29
Mennell (1992) argues that the restaurant as a social institution was to some  degree a product of the French Revolution...The social upheaval and its   consequences for the collapse of the French aristocracy increased the availability of skilled professional cooks, who had formerly worked only for specific aristocratic houses.  They opened dining rooms where they continued  to prepare food to the highest standards (haute cuisine), this time for those  who could pay.30   

What then happens when one goes to a restaurant today?  In Dining Out,Joanne Finkelstein makes the case that going to restaurants is an "uncivilized" activity to the extent that people go to restaurants where they are forced to act in circumscribed ways.  She resents that people's desires for certain atmospheres (the family restaurant, the romantic restaurant, etc.) are exploited, that their desire for emotional environments is commodified and sold back to them.  She is against the unquestioning acceptance of patterned social experiences and behaviors, and thus perhaps against the idea of ritual itself--especially against the idea that the liturgy of a ritual is encoded by someone other than the present participants.  She wants each person to always act as an individual and to lead "an examined life."  This is a very idealistic, almost puritanical approach, one that is certainly out of tune with the masses.  The fact is, "The restaurant is part of the entertainment industry in Westernized societies and is concerned with the marketing of emotions, desires, states of mind."31  And many citizens seem to like it that way.  Being able to select and then experience a type of entertainment adds a sense of dependability to their lives.  Most people do not seem to mind that the types of entertainment available are extremely limited, and that, moreover, people are encouraged to be passive consumers, rather than creators, of culture.  Perhaps this is because they have been programmed to believe that there is no practical alternative.32  In The McDonaldization of Society,Ritzer points out four pillars of the commercial eating experience (and of present-day public/commercial life in general): efficiency, calculability, predictability, control.33  These elements are there for the consumers, as well as for the providers, of the experience.   

The pattern of the typical eating out experience in a Western-type restaurant includes the following steps:   

    1)  One enters the establishment and either seats oneself or is seated by a worker.  The consumer is expected to ascertain which of these options is  appropriate and to act accordingly.  Sometimes a textual sign gives instructions.   

    2)  Once seated, one is expected to stay put, relatively speaking.  Unless one is able to do so in a way that is clearly welcomed by other consumers, one is expected to keep to one's own table.   

    3)  Upon consulting the menu, the consumer is expected to order an item that is listed on the menu.  There is choice, but within a range that is defined by the written text.   

    4)  The consumer is expected to patiently and quietly wait for the food.   

    5)  Once the food arrives, the consumer is expected to use the proper utensils to consume the food in a timely fashion.   

    6)  Most important, the consumer must pay.  In fast-food restaurants and cafeterias, the payment part of the process comes before the food is given.  This practice prevents the drama of developing: will the consumer pay  properly?  A certain level of trust on behalf of the providers of the service is called for if payment is delayed until after the eating.   

    7)  Finally, the consumer is expected to leave a tip.  To do so exhibits mastery of self and situation: for one thing, it displays that one has satisfied one's bodily needs and has money left over.  It also is a display of kindness and generosity. 

At each step along the way, the consumer is evaluated regarding his/her social competence.  Self-containment is a very important part of this socialization process, except at the defined times in the defined ways (reading the menu, ordering, eating, and paying).  If at any time, the visitor exhibits disorientation, resistance, or incompetence to a sufficient degree, he/she may be asked to leave.  If one does not comply with such a request, typically the police will be called, and the full punitive power of the state will be applied to the transgressor.   

The consumer act--that is, the paying of money for something--can be considered a ritual (a partaking of the real) in that one is employing a socially-created mediated version of the body (money) in a socially-defined manner.  Money is a social construct, labeled in various ways as representative of and supported by the culture and its heroes (pictures of presidents are placed on on coins and paper money, for example).  It is almost a patriotic act to spend money, especially when it is being given from one citizen to another.  The business--and, to some degree, the soul--of America is business.   

People may still be said to eat with their social group, but the make-up and nature of that group has changed.  On the one hand, in 1999, one's social group often consists of one's self.  On the other hand, in public and commercial spaces, one's social group consists of all who are present and who are engaging in the common activity.  Although participation in such social groups may be momentary and superficial, what is lost in depth is to some degree gained in breadth: one can come into contact with a lot of people.  People eating at a restaurant do experience a degree of communion together.  Perhaps a solution to the lack of depth problem--if it is a problem--lies in encouraging and enabling people to deepen their contacts with co-participants (both those present in-the-flesh and those who may be present through electronic mediation), including providing ways for them to develop common interests together and to stay in touch with each other once the event is over.   

IV.  The Object    

Ritual Objects:  Objects in General   

If the purpose of ritual is to enable participants to come in contact with the real, it follows that any object used in a ritual would serve a purpose in that process.  How then, one must ask, can an object do this?   

One answer involves the object as relic of the real.  That is, the object must in some way be related to or derived from the real.  Two types of relationship are: proximity and similarity.  In folk Buddhism, relics fall into three categories:   

1)  Physical parts of the Buddha.   
2)  Objects used by the Buddha.   
3)  Reminders of the Buddha.34
One type of ritual object is the totem.  A totem is a figure conceived to be the founder of a group, and/or an object conceived to embody the group's spiritual essence.  Although totems in traditional Australian communities are usually particular plants and animals, they can also be human implements and traits, the seven directional orientations (the four directions, plus zenith, nadir, and center), colors, heavenly bodies, seasons, and weather conditions.35  The visual image of a totem is painted or engraved on a surface.  This image is then the visual symbol, the badge of the group: it is "a design that corresponds to the heraldic emblems of the civilized nations, and each person is authorized to wear it as proof of the identity of the family to which he belongs."36  "The totemic emblem is...the visible body of the god."37   

A fragment of a relic can contain the full power both of the whole relic and of the source from which it came:   

When a sacred being is subdivided, it remains wholly equal to itself in each of  its parts...  Since the part evokes the whole, it also evokes the same feelings as the whole.  A mere scrap of the flag represents the country as much as the flag  itself;  moreover, it is sacred in the same right and to the same degree.38
Totemic images are often painted or engraved on churingas.  Churingas are   
pieces of wood or bits of polished stone of various shapes but generally oval or oblong...  Some churingas are pierced at one end, with a string made from  human hair or opossum fur passed through the hole.  Those that are made of wood and pierced in this way serve the same purpose as those cult instruments to which the English ethnographers have given the name, "bull  roarers."  Held by the string from which they are suspended, they are rapidly whirled in the air so as to produce [a] sort of humming...; this deafening noise has ritual meaning and accompanies all religious ceremonies of any importance.39
In the course of the ritual, the object is put into motion and is used to make a sound, in this case, a loud, possibly disorienting sound.   
The churinga is inseparable from the ancestor who invented it; they sometimes have the same name.  When the bull roarer is sounded, the voice of the ancestor is said to be making itself heard.  But because each of these heroes is merged with the cult he is said to have instituted, he is thought to oversee the manner in which it is celebrated.  Not satisfied unless the faithful perform their duties exactly, he punishes those who are neglectful.  Thus he is considered the guardian of the rite as well as its founder, and for that reason he becomes invested with an authentically moral role.40
Through this ritual object, whenever it is displayed and put to use, the ancestors and divine figures of the group have a presence--a demanding as well as a protective and generous presence.  The churinga is "the collective treasury, the Holy Ark of the clan."41   This object is a two-way medium, enabling communication both to and from the group's real, founding, and divine figures.   

Churingas are kept in a sacred place, a sanctuary.  Women and uninitiated young men may not know the location of these storage areas.  Such individuals must never touch a churinga, and they may only set eyes on a churinga from a great distance.  Ritual objects--and the sacred/psychic qualities they embody--are often believed to be highly contagious.  Thus there is a perceived need to carefully regulate the use of these objects and shield them from the uninitiated and other profane elements.  Control over ritual objects gives oneself and one's colleagues a degree of power in the society at large.   

Ritual Objects:  Television Sets   

Television sets can quite easily be seen as receptors the real, and thus as ritual objects.42  Television sets (receiving sound and image by means of broadcast, cable, and satellite transmissions) can give people "the illusion of staying integrated in a secure society and of being linked to the world of the marvelous."43  In fact, "Television is the main medium by which most people today have a sense of shared participation and personal involvement in central events"44  "Television provides, perhaps for the first time since preindustrial religion, a strong cultural link, a shared daily ritual of highly compelling and informative content, between the elites and all other publics."45   

The television screen as a design material is in the tradition of glass (especially as it is used for windows, framed art, fish bowls, etc.).  This smooth, shiny surface serves both as an entranceway to the miraculous world on the other side, and also as a container of it.  In this sense, a television screen has much in common with a crystal ball. (In traditional cultures, shamans are sometimes put in charge of community television sets, which are thought to enable spirits to enter and leave the community.46)  A television screen is also in the tradition of the mirror and other reflective surfaces, such as still bodies of water.  The television screen is like the painter's canvas; large screens are like cave paintings, frescoes, and murals.  Television sets serve some of the same functions as the (outdoor) campfire and (indoor) hearthfire: they can be placed in a central spot around which people can gather (at least in a semi-circle), are embodiments of the group's technological achievements, and provide flickering light.   

The mass-media television image provides a good example of how a ritual object can be sub-divided and distributed to an infinite degree--in fact, as more individuals observe an image on more television sets, that image gains power.  Mass-media images displayed on television sets are most certainly encoded by people other than the ritual participants (viewers).  Just as Finkelstein protests the stereotypical nature of restaurant environments, many have protested the circumscribed nature of the mass-media television image, but in both cases, it is in part the circumscribed natures of these products that makes them ritualistic and valuable to many members of the public.   

Moreover, "Rituals...forge images by which participants can think of themselves as an embracing unity," and television sets displaying mass-media images do this like few objects ever have.47  We, the people of the earth, experience ourselves as a group perhaps primarily through television, especially when the visual content is of an international nature (for example: the image of the globe as transmitted to television from a spaceship or satellite).  The television set might even be considered a totem of the earth's people, since the 60s.  Traditionally, totems "had to be from among those things which the men of the clan were most closely and habitually in contact."48  What object is more a part of the everyday life of the typical Western modern person than a television set?  What other object conjures such an immediate association with the world of the real, of the ideal, featuring images of wealth, celebrity, immortality (fame), stars?  Perhaps it is more accurate to compare a television set with the churinga, the ritual object upon which totemic images are painted and engraved.  Like churingas, when television sets are in use they produce movement and sound (a difference is that ritual participants set churingas and their totemic images in motion, whereas it is only the totemic images on televisions that move).   

V.  The Use of Television Sets in Restaurants and Bars   

As mentioned earlier in this paper, today's families tend to be more broken up, or opened up, than they used to be, say, in the 1950s.  Likewise, families eat meals together at home less than they did then.  When families do eat at home, they often have a television set on which members watch and/or listen.  Here are two typical laments over the link between television, eating, and family decline:   

A survey for market analysts...recently found that two-thirds of Britons eat their evening meal in front of the television and the trend is increasing.  The family meal is dying on its sofas.  All those end-of-the-day catch-ups.  All that witty banter.  Gone.49
People are acquiring the habit of eating distractedly before a television screen, replenishing their bodies in the street, or walking around their workplace with a sandwich in their hands.  This means that the most important moment of social renewal--on which families depend for their inner self-confidence, and on which serious friendships are built--is of increasingly marginal significance.50   

This state of affairs is often contrasted with an idealized vision of traditional (in this case, 'ethnic') face-to-face meal:   

[Consider] the traditional Chinese meal, in which the family and guests sit around a single dish, lifting small portions into their mouths...  The focus here is on hospitality and conversation...  Such meals are spiritual achievements and occasions of social renewal.  Contrast them with the snatched meals in an American diner, in which conversation barely exists, and the silence is filled with mindless pop music, and you will understand the danger to which young people in our society are now exposed.51
In the following statement, however, the author implies that the negative view of television may be a limited one:   
The supposed decline of the family meal is commonly linked in the minds of pundits with what they perceive in the great mass of the public as an unhealthy fondness for television.  Television viewing--often characterized as the quintessential unsociable (if not anti-social) pastime, the destroyer of conversation--has contributed greatly, it is claimed, not only to the decline of the family meal, but also, it is implied, to the break-up of communal living and the loosening of family ties.52
In fact, there are positive things to be said about eating, kinship, and television.  I submit that the citizens of the planet are adjusting to a new reality, the much-ridiculed and slow-to-arrive global village heralded by Marshall McLuhan.53  In today's age, to remain members of a nuclear family who do not watch television or go to restaurants is, to a degree, to be shut off from the new community that exists, at least in feeling, for many people.  In other words, people are now members of a larger social group, the members of which can especially well be sensed, if not yet accessed, in public/commercial eating places where electronic communication devices are in use.  The televisions of today are but a faint and already primitive precursor of the interactive telecommunicational devices increasingly in place in the growing number of Internet cafes popping up around the world.54   

According to Richard Buchanan, dean of the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University:   

In the early part of the twentieth century, designers were fundamentally concerned with visual symbols and artifacts. Today, they are focused on the interaction of people and their spaces.  Artifacts take on significance in a different way--through the relationships people create with the things around them.55
To many designers, decorators, and architects, television screens in restaurants are in the same class as carpet and wallpaper: screens are simply one more surface, and are often conceived of and installed by the square yard.56  Designers are interested in how people may interact with these surfaces.   

To conduct research for this paper, I observed perhaps twenty television-set-equipped restaurants in my hometown, New York City.  I received, from workers and customers, a variety of responses to my inquiries about what functions the televisions might be fulfilling.  One reply I often received from workers was that the televisions were there to amuse and distract customers while they were waiting for food: this made the face-to-face ritual go more smoothly.  Workers often assured me that they themselves do not watch the television sets: if they did they did watch, they said, they would be fired.  In a ritual, each must play his/her assigned part.   

In a number of Chinese restaurants, I noticed that the television sets were located near small shrines, but I could gather no data regarding possible connections between the television sets and the shrines.  One designer told me that televisions can entice customers to enter, and remain inside, an establishment.  One restaurant manager told me that she likes to show the television image and play soft rock music on the radio: to play the television sound would allow the television to dominate the room.  An executive in charge of a restaurant that featured a number of television sets told me that the mellow music that was playing served to unify the room and calm customers, while the multiple visual images were designed to excite them.  Mood management ("scripting") is clearly a subject on the minds of many leaders of ritual (in this case, owners, designers, and managers of restaurants).   

At a cafe that caters to Arabic-speaking taxi drivers, I noticed that the television set was showing an Arabic-language variety show.  The letters LBN showed on the lower left corner of the screen.  In response to my inquiry, I was told that this was a satellite program from the Lebanese Broadcast Network.  Such programming by 'ethnic' broadcasters may function to acclimate their 'ethnic' viewers to consumer economies and glossy entertainment; it also, I was told, helps treat home-sickness.   

There is a small black-and-white television set in Ray's newspaper store in the East Village (on Ave. A, between 7th Street and St. Mark's Place, across the street from Thompkins Square Park).  Ray's is just a storefront with a long counter inside: there is no seating.  They make milkshakes and serve a few food items.  Ray's is open 24 hours, and much of that time people gather and talk in front of Ray's: this stretch of sidewalk is the number one neighborhood hang-out spot. I noticed that the television set in Ray's was hardly ever turned on.  I asked Ray why.  "It's too busy," he said.  It seems that in this case the television set was there for the workers' sake, but that the face-to-face ritual of neighborhood customers talking to each other and to the workers made the object for the most part superfluous.   

Numerous restaurant customers told me that television sets functioned as an escape route if one got bored with the person one was eating with.  A waitress told me that, before she had worked at the restaurant, she had come there on dates and had appreciated the television set because when she and her date ran out of things to say, they could watch the television set and then talk about what they were seeing.  Here again, the ritual function of the television set seems to have been to supplement and even enhance the face-to-face ritual.  Where television sound was played loud, however, a number of customers complained to me that they could not talk to each other.  In such cases the television sets interfered with the face-to-face ritual.   

The most sensationally-television-equipped restaurant I visited was the Shula's Steakhouse in Philadelphia (36th & Chestnut Streets).  Shula's Steakhouse is a chain of restaurants, with franchises in a dozen US cities. I visited the Philadelphia franchise perhaps a dozen times this March, April, and May.  I visited at all times of the day, from breakfast to late-night drinking hours.  The mangers kindly permitted me to interview customers as they were leaving.  There are eighty large screens in this restaurant, including a grid of four of them which together make up a wall approximately six feet high and eight feet wide.   

There is a festive abundance of technology in the room, making it a spectacle.  A typical response to my questions was: "I enjoyed the excitement."  I heard one man saying to his friend, "Did you ever see so many TVs?  You can watch games from all over the world!"  Michael Wirth, one of the designers of the room, told me that he hoped that the screens and the programming would help "bring the world together" for customers.  Numerous customers indeed told me that they did feel more connected to the rest of the world due to the presence of the screens.  One worker told me he loved the screens because "the place is never empty."   

On the other hand, some older customers found it all too much: one elderly lady told me that the only thing she wants to see in a restaurant is her plate.  Another elderly individual once asked a waitress if there was anyplace she could sit in the restaurant where she would not have to look at a screen: sadly, the answer was, no.   

I asked a businessman how he had reacted to the screens: he told me he had just blanked them out, because he had been negotiating a business deal.  Another businessman told me that this was not a good place to conduct serious business: the screens were too distracting.  One customer told me that he preferred to control the images that he watched, and that he found these images too limited in scope.  Ritual in particular and society in general "fosters in us the sense of perpetual dependence"57: I believe that this individual was resisting this state of dependence.   

I asked one customer if the screens and sound had prevented him from talking with people: he told me that he had not come there to talk to people, but rather to watch some sports and have a drink.  One man told me, "This is not a place you want to take your mother."  One lady told me, "Well, its good if I want to sit down with my husband and son when they want to watch a game: we can do both at the same time."  The point is: individuals have many different types of rituals in mind: a space may be conducive to some and hostile to others.  This Shula's Steakhouse is in the delicate position of catering to two very different sets of clientele:  Locals know it as a sports bar.  However, it is located just off the lobby on the ground floor of a Sheraton Hotel, whose guests--many of them foreigners, businesspeople, and elderly people--come to the restaurant simply because it is in the hotel.   

As mentioned, Shula's Steakhouse plays almost all sports on its screens.  I counted at least ten different channels playing at once.  At home, one must move from channel to channel temporally; here, one moves from channel to channel spatially, through the movements of one's eyes and head.  During daylight hours, soft music is played: at night, typically the 'big game' is shown on the central video wall and the audio from that game fills the room.   

Sports is a very popular thing to show in restaurants and bars.  Why is this so?  Sports programming must encourage customers to spend money, or at least the managers of restaurants and bars must believe this: otherwise, why would they  invest so much money on equipment in order to show sports?  But, "What is it about sports that draws people to the screen?"58   Sloan has noted six needs that sports may serve:   

    1)  Belonging needs, filled by identifying with a (usually local) team.   
    2)  A diversion from daily routines of work and family life.   
    3)  Sports serve as a source of stimulation and excitement.   
    4)  It has been proposed that tension and aggression may be relieved   
    vicariously through sports.   
    5)  Sports as a source of entertainment.   
    6)  Individuals may vicariously gain a sense of achievement or   
    accomplishment through the victories of their team.59 
Items 1, 3, 5, and 6 can be seen as putting customers in contact with the real.   

The display of professional sports on a television set in a commercial space is a service: seeing such a thing reminds one that one is a customer and a consumer.  Sports remind people of the existence of rules and spatial and temporal boundaries, both in the game and in life.  "Sports events serve both to establish the continuity of time and to divide time into discreet units.  The sports calendar is predictable from year to year, thus lending continuity to time."60  "Sports provide us with an opportunity to perpetuate cultural norms and beliefs."61  "Despite the occurrence of violent outbursts at or surrounding sports, nonetheless, the larger and more persistent effect of the widespread existence of spectator sports is as a means of social control.  Social norms are reflected in the game we play and in what we say and hear about them."62  A social norm that the presentation of professional sports perhaps encourages is proper conduct of the ritual of eating and drinking out.  

In sports there is a clear winner and loser.  "The exhibition of human conflict in the raw has often been singled out as the stuff out of which all good drama is made": there is an immediately identifiable "hero in peril."63  "Conflict is one of the proven elements in the creation of high drama, and therefore, conflict and aggression intensify the sense of drama in sport."64  What's more, "If spectators believe that opponents in a game despise each one another, they tend to enjoy the game more."65  The violence and high spirits exhibited in sports may encourage customers to act in an extroverted fashion, possibly by exuberantly spending more money than they would have otherwise.  One naturally identifies with the players on the screen, and almost all of the professional athletes who appear on the screen are making a lot of money.  Spending money is an act of celebration and generosity.  Only losers worry about money.  Winners spend a lot and tip a lot.   Heroes give 110% at whatever they do--which is good news to waiters and bartenders who otherwise would have to settle for 15%.   

The experience at Shula's is one of immersion: most tables are absolutely surrounded by television sets.  I was reminded of promotional descriptions of large-screen cinema: "You won't be gazing at a movie screen--you'll find yourself swept right into the picture, surrounded by sight and sound."66  In response to my question about the volume level during a game, one customer told me enthusiastically, "It's like being ringside [at a boxing match]."   

One indelible image I have from observing at Shula's is the following: two men were sitting across from each other at a table, watching the same basketball game on television sets over each other's shoulders.  Thus, they could look at each other and at the game at the same time.  Upon seeing a great play by a favorite player, each man reached out across the table with his right hand and slapped the other's hand in celebration.  This was certainly an instance in which the ritual objects had enhanced the face-to-face ritual (the relationship between the two men as they ate and drank together).  Perhaps it also enhanced their relationship because it gave them a feeling of pleasure and accomplishment to be in this hi-tech environment, which they knew how to enjoy together.  One function of ritual is to make people feel "integrated with the cosmic rhythm and [be] validated by that integration."67  As another customer said to me, "Hey, the sixties are over!  You've got to change with the times: then you had a regular razor, now you've got an electric razor."   

Enjoyment of sports often involves a celebration of one's community (rooting for the home team).  One lady told me, "Last night it was too loud to eat, but I'm not from Philly, so..."  There is also, however, a universal sports fellowship: liking sports makes one a member of a club, makes one feel that one belongs, which, by the way, is a further inducement to spend money, to contribute to and support this institution of which one feels a part, and within which one aspires to be popular:   

It is possible for two people to discuss sports only if they share some assumptions, experiences, or beliefs about the subject.  They may disagree on particulars, but they must share a common frame of reference and a common set of experiences and concepts in order even to disagree.  This implicitly  agreed-upon perspective provides the background against which argument may take place.68
As mentioned above, sports events "are conversation pieces, and conversations about them, before, during, and after the event bring people together in an emotional rapport."69  In the meaninglessness of profane life, watching and discussing sports is a means of aligning oneself with the real and orienting oneself: "Being a sports fan is a way of defining oneself to others"--and to oneself.70   

There is a mythic quality to the athletic event and to athletic imagery.  Athletics is quite related to the following description of a ritual vision quest:   

When a boy is on the eve of being initiated...he has or believes he has visions,  extraordinary dreams...  He imagines himself flying through the air, moving  under the ground, jumping over valleys from one summit to the other, fighting and defeating giants and monsters.71
Shula's Steakhouse, in addition to being a technology center, is a shrine to Don Shula (who, incidentally, is still alive).  Don Shula is the totem of this restaurant.  The establishment's promotional literature proclaims him, "One of America's best," and "The NFL's winningest coach."  From time to time, a promotional videotape about Don Shula is played, and all are reminded of his accomplishments, including his having coached the only unbeaten team in NFL history, the 1972 Miami Dolphins.  On the walls and pillars of the room are framed relics (jerseys, photographs, letters...) from his career and from the careers of local sports heroes.  The ritual of coming to Shula's definitely puts one in contact with these great figures:   
Totemic centers are most often situated near a mountain, spring, or gorge where the animals that serve as the group's totem are found in abundance.  These totemic centers are the consecrated places where the clan holds its meetings.72
It is as if Shula is the coach and the workers, the local athletes, and the customers are his players.  Players (and I speak for myself, as I have also been a customer at Shula's) sometimes hope that some of the great coach's success will rub off on them, especially after one has made willing sacrifice and given one's all--that is, spent money, which is a mediated form of one's mind and body.73   

There is a certain pleasure and excitement to watching television in public.  After all, most of us have grown up experiencing television in the isolation of homes, if not rooms.  Bringing this activity out into the open and sharing it gives it a new dimension.   

VI.  Special Case:  The Use of Television Sets in 'Strip Joints'   

Sex is another activity that most people are used to engaging in in private: as with television viewing, there is also a twist to experiencing sex, or simulated sex, in a public/commercial setting.   

My second primary fieldwork site for this paper was Wizzards, a 'strip joint' at 38th & Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia.  I visited this location half-a-dozen times in the course of the spring.  Although I attended at night twice, my favorite time was late afternoon, before large numbers of customers would arrive.  At this early hour, there was more of a chance to talk shop with the dancers and DJs.  Although I acted as a customer, watching the dancers and tipping them in the customary manner, I presented myself as a designer of video displays in public/commercial environments who was writing a paper on the topic, both of which claims are accurate.74   

The following is a brief verbal description the space, and of the ritual process, at Wizzards (for a visual description of the space, please see the diagram appended to this paper):  To enter, one walks down a set of stairs, opens a door, and steps into the large, dark room (the walls are black).  At the far end of the room, there is an oval bar/counter, approximately twenty yards long and ten yards wide.  Four large television sets hang from the ceiling beyond each corner of the oval bar.  One sits anywhere around the periphery of the bar.  Inside the bar area, the barmistresses stand.  At the center of the oval, there is a raised stage.  Three metal poles are placed on this stage: one in the center, and one on each side.  The performers dance around a pole for the duration of a song, then move to another pole.  (When there are numerous customers present, two or three dancers perform simultaneously; during quiet times, a single dancer is onstage.)   Regardless of where one sits and where the dancers move, one usually sees a television screen beyond a dancer.  The dancers shed all but three articles of clothing: a g-string and two high-heeled shoes.  After dancing for two or three songs, a dancer descends from the stage, exits the central bar/stage area, and visits with each individual customer for a few moments.  At this time, it is customary for one to place a dollar bill against the cleavage of the dancer.  The dancer then asks one if one would like to pay twenty dollars for a song-long lap dance, which is performed on a long couch behind a three-foot high railing along the right (as one enters the room) wall of the room.  (For a lap dance, the man sits with his legs together and the dancer sits on his lap, facing him, her legs apart.  Although I did not partake of any lap dancing, I managed to observe a number of sessions: one striking rule seems to be that the man has to keep his hands palm-down on the couch.)  The DJ booth is embedded in the left wall of the room: thus the DJ can at once see the stage, and beyond that, the lap dance area.  Finally, the DJ periodically announces the option of going to a private room with a dancer and a bottle of champagne.  (An additional, larger television, and another stage area, complete with pole, are placed between the room's entrance and the bar area).   

There are a number of parallels between physical aspects of the Wizzards room and other ritual spaces.  The subterranean and dark qualities of the Wizzards room make it reminiscent of a cave: "The earth's dark crevices are often perceived as the womb of an awesome feminine power.  By extension, darkness of any kind may be perceived as female."75  "The belief that caves are the original earth-wombs may have been responsible for the great cave sanctuaries of Paleolithic times in Europe."76  And the poles on the dance areas are evocative of axis mundi (links between the worlds).  The poles are also like trees: "Popular images of a goddess who is a source of life and fertility may show her seated under a tree or clinging to a branch with her hand."77   

Dance, with or without feasts and ritual objects, has in many cultures been part of ritual life:   

Dances are part of rituals that revere, that greet as a token of fellowship,  hospitality, or respect; that thank, entreat, placate, or offer penitence to human beings, as well as to ancestors and other supernatural deities.78   

In tribal communities, ancestors, both living and spiritual entities, are often  believed to watch a dance performance, and both categories of spectators may  even join the dancers, the latter doing so through possession."79   

Shamans could attune themselves to the spirits of the herds, and in so doing become aware of the pulsating rhythm that infuses all life.  They performed  the dance of the double spiral, of whirling into being, and whirling out again...   Male shamans dressed in skins and horns in identification with the God and the herd; but female priestesses presided naked, embodying the fertility of the  Goddess.80

This mention of a spiral dance reminded me of the way some of the dancers at Wizzards sometimes spiral around the poles.  For the record: I do not mean to romanticize the USA sex industry.  I am aware that a great deal of abuse of women goes on in this realm.  That said, I am not certain that public/commercial/ceremonial erotic dance and/or sex need be abusive.  One factor that would contribute to making the situation more wholesome would be for the performers to be in full control of the situation, financially and otherwise.  I personally feel badly if women feel forced to get breast implants, as implants can be expensive, inconvenient, and can cause health problems (many of the women who dance at Wizzards have implants).  However, I am aware that in many cultures there are traditional connections between sacred dance and ritual bodily mortification/scarification/transformation.  For example, in   
a Native-American ritual,   
Dancers were pierced through the breast or shoulder muscles and tethered  with thongs to the central pole or a ceremonial lodge alter.  Staring at the sun,  they danced without pause, pulling back until the flesh gave way.81  82
A ritual object in the previous reference is the sun.  In the following one, the ritual object is the moon:   
The men and women of Tanzania's Sandawe people dance by moonlight in the erotic Phek'umo rites to promote fertility.  Identifying with the moon, a supreme being believed to be both beneficial and destructive, they adopt stylized signs or moon stances; they also embrace tightly and mimic the act of sexual intercourse.  The dance, metaphorically at least, conducts supernatural beneficence.83
At Wizzards, the ritual objects in the heavens are the television sets.  Actually, in the course of my research, I came across numerous mentionings of ritual participants dancing around, with, facing, and in the midst of, ritual objects.84   

The combination of beckoning, semi-naked women, triumphant athletes, and alcohol, seems to create a fantasy environment for many male customers.  Pleasure receptors are filled on a number of levels.  The triumphant sports act is scoring, which often involves putting a puck or ball into a net or an end zone: the similarities of this with sexual penetration are obvious.  Thus, it seems that the ritual objects (the television sets showing sports images) and the dancers provide repetitions, on multiple sensory levels, of the essence of the face-to-face ritual of patronizing a restaurant or bar: the essential act consists of entering an ideal environment, be it a womb, an end zone, or any wish-come-true, food-and-drink-filled paradise.   

Usually the televisions at Wizzards are tuned to show sports, but in the afternoons, the dancers and barmistresses seem to have a say about what is on, and sometimes Jerry Springer, Montel Williams, or even a soap opera is on (they have closed captioning).  On one fascinatingly reflexive occasion, while a woman was dancing she was watching women dressed as 'sluts' duke it out on the Jerry Springer show.  The cool professional nature of the dancer contrasted with the (seemingly) out-of-control behavior exhibited on the television.  Generally, I conducted interviews with dancers in the few moments they would socialize with me as they came around for tips.  One dancer told me she liked the chiquaqua (in a series of commercials for Taco Bell): I found it interesting that she focused on this single animal image.  A number of dancers told me, "I watch the TVs while I am dancing so I don't get bored."  One dancer related, "One guy refused to give me a tip.  He said he was just watching TV.  He wouldn't tip any of us.  I told him not to be so ignorant.  He left."  One dancer said of the televisions: "They watch it sometimes.  I don't mind."  She seemed to be in competition with the television sets and the images on them.  Certainly, the level of production qualities and (usually) glossy professional entertainment presented on the television sets gives the dancers a high level to live up to.  Dancers and customers can see celebrities on screen.  They can partake of that world of (generally) real performers, where real money is made, and where one can have a real career.  The television images are brighter and clearer than the images of the dancers: the dancers are usually in the dark; lights flash on them irregularly.  The television sets as ritual objects seem to enhance the face-to-face ritual in the following way: they import into the situation aspects of the outside world and in doing so in a sense depersonalize the face-to-face situation, which is probably fine with the dancers.  Moreover, the televisions remind the men of the real world: including the realities of the need for civil and legal behavior, and of the realities that the dancers are working (performing), and thus of the need on their parts for limits to what they can and cannot do (for example, they must pay money on a regular basis).  In other words, one function of these ritual objects may be to orient the participants, so that they do not forget their proper public social selves in this realm of darkness, alcohol, and fantasy.   

By sexually arousing men, the dancers in a sense bring them to life:   

Dance may be used as a medium to reverse a debilitating condition caused by the supernatural, or to prepare an individual or group to reach a religiously defined ideal state.85
The ability to feel lust, and to have an erection, can be a sign of health and virility for men.  This can be of real value to men; becoming sexually aroused is a form of partaking of the real.  And it may be some people's perceptions that it is not just the individual who is enlivened, but that the entire environment is affected:   
Not only can dance be performed to arouse the passion of a human lover, but it has sexual overtones in relationship to the forces of nature.  In the agricultural Chou society (ca. 111-222 b.c.), the wu, female shamans, danced for rain to seduce its spirit.86
In some instances, audience members are beckoned to join in the activity:   
Shamans and dervishes called their people to join them in the "Primum Movens," the rhythm of dance leading the group finally into the convulsive  ecstasy of the "Mysterius Tremendans," the oneness with the universe and with God.87
In the state of Pennsylvania, commercial and public sex is outlawed.  (I do not, however, believe that a logical distinction can be maintained between lap dancing and sex: lap dancing is certainly a sexual act.)  In any case, in the modern strip joint, group dance/sex is hardly encouraged or permitted: lap-dancing is a private, one-on-one activity.  The typical customer at a strip joint does not seem to desire a group ritual at all.  Sometimes men visit in small groups, but I never witnessed any communication between men who had arrived separately.  The men seem to tend to want a private experience with a dancer.  The more money one can pay, the more privacy with a dancer one can have.  This emphasis on private individual experience may in part be a construct imposed by society, especially as represented by the management of the strip joint, members of which may have come to the conclusion that this is the way to make the most money and maintain the most control over the customers and dancers.   

The television sets flash an endless series of  totemic images--athletes, mostly young virile-looking men, many of them wearing costumes featuring images of animals.  In a goddess culture, these images might represent the goddess's children, who might also be her consorts:   

The symbols of the Goddess...have a dreamlike, slippery quality.  One aspect slips into another.  She is constantly changing form and changing face.  Her  images do not define or pin down a set of attributes; they spark inspiration, creation, fertility of mind and spirit: "One thing becomes another, In the Mother...In the Mother..." (ritual chant for the Winter Solstice).88
A dramatic moment in the strip dance occurs when the dancer bears her breasts.  "The nurturing goddess is often associated with mother's milk."89  "She is the 'womb of all,' pouring forth milk for her offspring."90  She has "power over fertility of the soil, the fecundity of women, and a plentiful food supply.  She is mistress of animals."91  The erotic dancer as mother and priestess/shamaness is a very interesting concept:   
The numinous emotion has its ontogenetic basis in the relationship of the pre-verbal infant to its mother.  The child's experience of its mother has characteristics similar to those that Otto attributes to the worshipers experience of his God.  She is mysterious, tremendous, overpowering, loving, and frightening.  It is learning to trust her upon whom he depends utterly, that makes subsequent language learning and, for that matter, continuing socialization, possible.  This trust is learned in what Erikson calls "daily rituals  of nurturance and greeting," stereotyped interactions between mother and child taking place dependably at regular intervals, or at times specified by the child's needs.92   

Shortly after mother and baby are reunited at mother's breast--that is to say,  following the cruel separation at birth--a new rhythmic interaction between  mother and child develops.  The sucking is rhythmic, mother and child move together up and down in a rhythmic way while by another innate reflex action both arms and hands of the child make a pumping movement.  Several times I  hae experienced this rhythmic encounter of mother and bay as a joyous play, full of erotic overtones.93

My final day of fieldwork at Wizzards was Sunday, May 8.  I arrived shortly after the establishment opened at three o'clock in the afternoon.  The DJ, dancer, and barmistress were sitting together along the outside of the bar, chatting.  Upon seeing me they began to get up and move to their ritual positions.  I introduced myself and asked the DJ why sports were so often shown on the television sets.  "That's what men like," the (male) DJ answered.  His, and other proprietors', insistence on this point makes me wonder if this is really all that we like.  I asked the dancer if she might prefer music videos.  "No," she said, "they would throw my timing off."  (Music videos are performed and edited to the rhythm of their musical tracks: the sound in strip joints is typically supplied by a DJ playing audio recordings.)  The dancer good-naturedly insisted that she liked sports too.  The DJ said, "Well, do you want her to dance?"  I said I did.  The barmistress asked me what I would have.  I ordered my regular drink: club soda.  I paid, received the drink, and took a sip.  Then the dancer said, "You better give me a good tip!  It's Mother's Day, and I'm a mother!"  With that, she mounted the stage.  I noticed that she was wearing a white tank-top shirt with the large letters, "USA," emblazoned on the front.  The music came on: "Born in the USA."  From the television set beyond and above the dancer, images of fine young men--basketball players, sweating, running, jumping--beamed down towards me.  Staring straight at me, the dancer commenced.   

VII.  Conclusion   

I believe I have clearly shown that patronizing restaurants and bars can be seen as a ritual act, i.e., an act by which people can put themselves in contact with (versions of) the real.  I believe I have also shown that television sets in restaurants and bars can be seen as ritual objects.  However, as there is not generally very much suspense involved in watching television sets in restaurants and bars, this is not a very dramatic ritual.  It is a low-intensity ritual.  (The exception occurs when a program of great import is shown on the television sets.)  Under normal conditions, group cohesion is not generally achieved to any great extent; participants remain anonymous and only temporarily- and loosely-connected; the group's boundaries remains porous; and marked transformations of individuals and groups do not clearly occur.  Watching television sets in restaurants and bars, including strip joints, is just one of those everyday rituals that can give flavor to life and can give one a boost.  For the most part, it is a ritual of maintenance, not of transformation.   


1  Mircea Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return,trans. by William Trask, Bollington Series XLVI, Princeton, NJ: Princeton U. Press, 1954, p. 92.   

2   Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life,trans. by Karen Fields, NY: The Free Press, 1995, p. 327.  Originally published in 1912.   

3   Durkheim, p. 421.   

4   Eric Rothenbuhler, Ritual Communication: From Everyday Conversation to Mediated Ceremony,Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998., p. 27.   

5   Roy Rappaport, "The Obvious Aspects of Ritual," in Ecology, Meaning, and Religion,Richmond, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1979, p. 175.   

6   Rappaport, p. 197.   

7   Rappaport, p. 177.   

8   As the event under discussion (eating and drinking at restaurants and bars) is a face-to-face activity, there is no ambiguity about the presence of bodies.  However, with the advent of various types of interactive telecommunication, the question arises: What if people are represented in a common virtual space via (visual and other) electronic representations of themselves?  Is there an essential difference between the physical representation of oneself provided by one's body, by the dead layer of skin that covers most of the body's surface, and a projected/transmitted electronic (visual and other) representation of that surface and/or other aspects of one's self?  It may be that both the direct physical and the electronically-mediated can be considered as representations of the self, as masks/puppets/marionettes operated by the self.  (return to text)   

9   Rappaport, p. 176.   

10   Rappaport, p. 173.   

11   Durkheim, p. 425.   

12   Durkheim, p. 212.   

13   Durkheim, p. 379.   

14   Carolyn Marvin, "Media Rituals: Follow the Bodies," no date, p. 9.   

15   Marvin, p. 10.   

16   Marvin, p. 9.   

17   In the course of interviewing informants--workers and customers in restaurants and bars-- for this paper, I was able to mention the term 'ritual' only once (when speaking to a person I knew to be in academia).  I feared that if I used the term with 'regular' people, I would lose credibility and would be seen as a fool or a prying creep.  However, I was often able to ask, in more concrete language, about the issues involved.  For example, I sometimes asked variations of, "Did you feel a sense of connection with the other people in the room?"  and  "Did the television sets give you a sense of connection with the outside world?"   

18   Durkheim, p. 9.   

19   Steven Mennell, Anne Murcott, & Anneke H. Van Otterloo, The Sociology of Food: Eating, Diet, and Culture,London: Sage Publications, 1992, p. 115.   

20   Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure,Chicago: Aldine Publishing Co., 1969, p. 96.   

21   Roger Dickinson & Simon Leader, "Ask the Family," in Consuming Passions: Food in the Age of Anxiety, Sian Griffiths & Jennifer Wallace, eds., Manchester: Manchester U. Press, 1998, p. 126.   

22   Mircea Eliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion,16 volumes, NY: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1987,   
p. 391 (vol. 5).   

23   Eliade, 1987, p. 392 (vol. 5).   

24   Eliade, 1987, p. 392 (vol. 5).   

25  Beardsworth, p. 116.   

26  1999 USA National Restaurant Association Pocket Factbook.   

27  Mennell, p. 118.   

28   Cited in Dickinson,  p.124.   

29  Alan Beardsworth & Teresa Keil, Sociology on the Menu: An Invitation to the Study of Food and Society,London: Routledge, 1997, p. 105.   

30   Beardsworth, p. 107.   

31   Beardsworth,  p.129.   

32   The coming of interactive telecommunication is beginning to change the horizon, but most widely-deployed applications remain supportive of the paradigm of citizen as consumer.  The degree to which people can use interactive telecommunication to encourage and enable active participation in social groups remains to be seen.   

33   George Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society: An Investigation into the Changing Character of Contemporary Social Life, Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press, 1996, p. 3.   

34   Eliade, 1987, p. 466 (vol. 15).   

35   Eliade, 1987, p. 575 (vol. 14).   

36   Durkheim, p. 111.   

37   Durkheim, p. 223.   

38   Durkheim, p. 230.   

39   Durkheim, p. 118.   

40   Durkheim, p. 288.   

41   Durkheim, p. 121.   

42   For the purposes of the present discussion, only television sets (video monitors) are being considered.  However, the projected video image (produced by video projectors) also fits nicely into the argument: I am thinking of performances I have seen in which video images were projected onto the bodies of live performers, producing a tatoo-like effect.  Totem images are often tattooed onto the surface of the human body.   

43   Catherine Bell, Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions,Oxford: Oxford U. Press, 1997,    
p. 246.   

44   Bell, p. 246.   

45   George Gerbner, L. Gross, M. Morgan & N. Signorelli, "Charting the Mainstream: Television's Contributions to Political Orientations," Journal of Communication,32 (2), pp. 100-127, 1982, p. 102.  As cited in Rothenbuhler, p. 86.   

46   Gary Gransberg, Jack Steinbring & John Hamer, "New Magic for Old: TV in Cree Culture," in Journal of Communication,Autumn 1977, p. 154.   

47   Bell, p. 235.   

48   Durkheim, p. 235.   

49   Nicholas Roe, The Independent,25 Sept 97.  As cited in Dickinson, p. 124.   

50   Roger Scruton, The Times,17 June 96.  As cited in Dickinson, p. 123.   

51   Scruton.  As cited in Dickinson, p. 123.   

52   Dickinson, p. 128.   

53   One reason that McLuhan's vision of the global village has been partially discredited is that many people have realized that oral-centric cultures often maintain a great deal of information regulation and secrecy.  This is in contrast to McLuhan's presentation of the oral way of life as being open and free.   

54   This paper is limited to the discussion of possible ritual dimensions of mass-media objects: possible ritual dimensions of interactive telecommunicational objects will be the subject of an upcoming essay.  (return to text)   

55   Richard Buchanan, "Design Becomes the Liberal Art of Our Tech Culture," in Perspective(online journal of IIDA, The International Interior Design Association), Winter 99.  http://iida.org   

56   A company called Electronic Ink now sells a material not much thicker than paper that can wirelessly receive and display electronic images and text.  Flag patterns and clothing designs can be transmitted to these sheets.  http://eink.com   

57   Durkheim, p. 208.   

58   Dolf Zillman & Jennings Bryant, Selective Exposure to Communication, Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1985, p. 6.   

59   L. R. Sloan, "The Function and Impact of Sports for Fans," in Sports, Games, and Play, J. H. Goldstein, ed., Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1979, p. 250.   

60   Peter B. Crabb & Jeffrey H. Goldstein, "The Social Psychology of Watching Sports: From Ilium to Living Room," in Responding to the Screen: Reception and Reaction Processes,Jennings Bryant and Dolf Zillman, eds., Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1991, p. 369.   

61   Crabb, p. 368.   

62   Crabb, p. 369.   

63   Zillman, 1985, p. 6.   

64   Crabb, p. 364.   

65   Dolf Zillman, Jennings Bryant & B. Sapolsky, "The Enjoyment of Watching Sport Contests," in Sports, Games, and Play, J. H. Goldstein, ed., Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1979, p. 310.   

66   John Belton, Widescreen Cinema, Cambridge, MA: Harvard U. Press, 1992 , p. 188.   

67   Eliade, 1954, p. 25.   

68   Crabb, p. 367.   

69   Gregory P. Stone, "Sport as a Community Representation," in Handbook of Social Science of Sport, G. Luschen &  G. Sage, eds., Champaign, Illinois: Stipes, 1981, p. 222.   

70   Crabb, p. 369.   

71   Durkheim, p. 164.   

72   Durkheim, p. 236.   

73   Arjun Appadurai, "Commodities and the Politics of Value," in The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective,Arjun Appadurai, ed., Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press, 1986, p. 24.   

74   I managed to interview only one customer of a strip joint: a middle-aged gentleman (Hank Freeman) who had visited such an establishment a single time many years ago.  He had found the ritual meaningless, and mainly remembered feeling sorry for the dancers, who had struck him as being bored.  Therefore, whatever I have to say in the following pages about the attitudes and opinions of male customers about strip joints must be based solely on my knowledge of my own experience.   

75   Eliade, 1987, p. 306 (vol. 4).   

76   Eliade, 1987, p. 304 (vol. 4).   

77   Eliade, 1987, p. 306 (vol. 4).   

78  Eliade, 1987, p. 206 (vol. 4).   

79   Eliade, 1987, p. 207 (vol. 4).   

80   Starhawk, The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess, NY: Harper & Row, 1979, p. 3.   

81   Eliade, 1987, p. 207 (vol. 4).   

82   In response to my expression of sympathy about having to dance in high-heeled shoes, one dancer told me of the leg and foot exercises she does.   

83   Eliade, 1987, p. 207 (vol. 4).   

84   Durkheim, p. 133.   

85   Eliade, 1987, p. 207 (vol. 4).   

86   Judith Lynne Hanna, Dance, Sex, and Gender: Signs of Identity, Dominance, Defiance, and Desire, Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 1988, p. 70.   

87   Joost A. M. Meerloo, The Dance: From Ritual to Rock and Roll, Ballet to Ballroom,Philadelphia: Chilton, 1960, p. 22.   

88   Starhawk, p. 9.   

89   Eliade, 1987, p. 41  (vol. 6).   

90   Atharaveda 12.1.1, 10, 12, 43.  As cited in Eliade, 1987, p. 303 (vol. 4).   

91   Eliade, 1987, p. 42  (vol. 6).   

92   Erik Erikson, "The Ritualisation of Ontogeny," in A Discussion of Ritualisation of Behavior in Animals and Man,Julian Huxley, organizer, London: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B, Biological Sciences, vol. 251, no. 772, 1966.  As cited in Rappaport, p. 212.   

93   Meerloo, p. 22.   


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