Scott Gustin was stuck in a pandemic-induced funk and looking for reasons to feel good when he remembered one: The sound of more than 1,000 people cheering on opening night of a superhero blockbuster.
He returned to a nearly year-old audio recording on YouTube that documented the ecstatic crowd reaction to “Avengers: Endgame” inside Hollywood’s El Capitan Theatre. Ringing out above the cheers, laughter and gasps were the joyful whoops made by the spectator who captured the sounds on his phone, Charles Davis.
“It’s his reaction that gives me goosebumps as soon as the crowd erupts. Every time,” says Mr. Gustin of Greensboro, N.C. He wasn’t alone. When Mr. Gustin recently tweeted scenes from “Avengers: Endgame” spliced to match the recorded crowd reaction, his
thread triggered a flood of emotional responses. Many were rooted in something deeper than just Marvel fandom.
“Solidarity, community, connection to one another,” says Mr. Davis of Oxnard, Calif., describing why his recording was resonating in a new way. “That’s what people are yearning for, and it’s so much more meaningful now.”
Mass gatherings at movie theaters, concert venues and sports arenas were among the first things canceled because of coronavirus, and they could be the last to resume when the pandemic recedes. Many public-health officials have warned that large communal activities shouldn’t resume until 2021, or whenever a vaccine or other effective safety measures are in place. For now, people who miss being one among thousands of singing or screaming fans are trying to recapture that feeling vicariously by revisiting classic sporting events on TV, watching concert videos online and poring over event footage stored on their phones.
Sound designer Dallas Taylor, host of “Twenty Thousand Hertz,” a podcast that explores sound, is drawn to the recreated hum of crowded theme parks.
theme parks closed in March, he bought a new computer to hang out in the simulated environment of “Disneyland Adventures,” surrounded by voices of “fake people talking about happy things.”
“Sonically, our brains are so in tune with the frequencies of the human voice,” he says. Multiply that by tens of thousands of voices in a stadium crowd, and what we hear “is a roar of emotion, a roar of connection and humanity.”
The study of crowds, pioneered in the 19th century, long focused on their capacity for violence, and other dangerous impulses that spread like a contagion. More recently, research has shifted to crowds as a force for shared identity.
“In the crowd we make history in a way that we could normally never do on our own,” says Stephen Reicher, a professor of psychology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, who has researched the behavior of crowds at British soccer matches, religious pilgrimages in India and other mass events.
Now, in isolation, he says, “we are seeing a flowering of other forms of collectivity.” For example, the way city dwellers open their windows at regular times to make noise and cheer for medical professionals and other front-line workers.
Not everyone is eager to reassemble. Concerns about Covid-19 infection cause many people to recoil at the sight of dense pre-pandemic crowds. And live-event industries worry that such trepidation, along with long-term social-distancing restrictions, will prevent audiences from flocking back. It remains unclear when that test will come amid concerns about a second wave of the virus. Major League Baseball is apparently considering games in empty Arizona parks. Marquee summer music festivals such as Coachella and Bonnaroo have been rescheduled for the fall, while major touring stars including Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber have scratched 2020 concerts altogether.
Acts that once packed arenas and stadiums can now only offer proxy experiences. The Grateful Dead and Radiohead, for example, have taken to YouTube, where they are releasing archived concert videos in weekly installments. The new “Metallica Mondays” series has featured the band’s performances and shots of headbanging fans in Munich, San Francisco, Copenhagen and Paris. K-Pop group BTS recently streamed a full weekend’s worth of concert performances and fan gatherings from past years.
Fans of pro wrestling, which has been allowed to continue in Florida without live audiences, are getting used to hearing grunts and slaps in the ring minus the sound of spectators. Earlier this month, when World Wrestling Entertainment staged its 36th WrestleMania event in an empty facility, some home viewers played prerecorded crowd roars from YouTube during the pay-per-view broadcast.
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Maggie Seebeck, a 22-year-old senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, recently ordered a cap and gown to wear during a virtual graduation ceremony in her living room, not at McGuirk Alumni Stadium with 20,000 people attending.
While marooned at her parent’s house, she can’t go to concerts with friends in the clubs of Northampton, Mass., either. So she disappears into concert videos on YouTube, sometimes for several hours at a time. People-watching at Fleetwood Mac shows from the 1970s, and more recent concerts by Halsey, the 1975, and Florence and the Machine, she says, helps with the loneliness. Ms. Seebeck gravitates to sea-of-humanity spectacles such as the Glastonbury Festival, Britain’s largest music fest, which scratched its 50th anniversary installment in June, and wobbly phone-camera videos showing fans at the edges of the stage.
“You get that same motion as if you’re being jostled and looking through people’s heads,” she says. “It’s good to have that feeling of camaraderie, even though it’s not in real time and you’re not there.”
Write to John Jurgensen at email@example.com
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