Today it’s been reported that George Galloway, British politician from 1987-2015, was glitter-bombed during a talk he gave last night at the University of Aberdeen. Galloway tweeted:
In the previous post, I drew attention to glitter as a material that emerged as significant in the collaging workshops. Through photographs of the workshops and quotations from academic research, I suggested that glitter was engaging; it engaged the girls and moved from tubs to paper to bodies to the desk and floor. In this sense, as Monica Swindle says, glitter doesn’t only mean or signify – it does. In this case, it creates affective relations between girls and the specificity of the material. It also has the capacity to move and travel. For example, artist teacher Clare Stanhope (Educational Studies, Goldsmiths) described the girls as getting carried away with the materiality of glitter.
Through Jane Bennett’s work, I indicated that this engagement between the girls and glitter might be understood as enchanting, and that enchantment might be a method that is deliberately cultivated. Such a strategy might place emphasis on play (see Blog Post, Collaging Workshops II: Play and Uncertainty). It might also, as Bennett suggests, ‘hone receptivity to the marvellous specificity of things’ (2001: 4).
What might be involved in paying attention to the ‘marvellous specificity’ of glitter? Put a slightly different way, what is the materiality of glitter? What are its material properties? What does it do?
Mary Celesete Kearney suggests that there is a close relationship between girls and sparkle in contemporary mainstream popular culture. In terms of its affectivity and enchantment, glitter might therefore be a materiality that particularly engages and moves these girls. I’m developing this idea in a chapter on these workshops in Engaging Futures.
However, glitter also has a purchase in alternative and activist culture. For example, according to Galloway, the people who glitter bombed him identified themselves as trans and anarchist. Similarly in the 2012 US election cycle, activists including those from LGBT organisations, glitter bombed Republican politicians, such as presidential candidate Mitt Romney and GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (see here).
While glitter may be enchanting for the girls I worked with, for Galloway, Romney and Gingrich at least, it is a material with more irritating material properties. Romney pressed charges on a Colorado student who glitter bombed him in protest against his ‘general political philosophy’ (see here). Following his encounter with glitter, Gingrich opined that ‘Glitter bombing is clearly an assault and should be treated as such. When someone reaches into a bag and throws something at you, how do you know if it is acid or something that stains permanently or something that can blind you? People have every right to their beliefs but no right to assault others’ (see here). Galloway also framed his glitter bombing in terms of an ‘attack’ on him. In these cases then, glitter affectively moves these older white men, but in more irksome and adverse ways.
Glitter bombing draws attention to how glitter, as a material, gets everywhere. Galloway tweeted that ‘I know have an unknown substance in my eyes and lungs’, and that he ‘needed a good shower’ to rid himself of the material and feel better, while one report of the glitter bombing of Romney describes how ‘a gay rights activist who said he was from the group “Glitterati” threw a cup of glitter over the former Massachusetts governor. The glitter poured over his hair, stuck to his face and shimmered from his navy blazer’ (see here).
This quality of glitter to get everywhere and to annoy is exploited by the Ship Your Enemies Glitter website. Initially started as a ‘bit of a joke’, two weeks later the founder Matthew Carpenter sold the site for US$85,000 (Hern 2015). While the site now offers various products, its original product is The OG Glitter Bomb:
Glitter bombing works through the particular agency or vibrancy of glitter. As a material, glitter can both go everywhere and stick to that which it might not be intended to (and indeed while it can stick to glue, this often involves large amounts of residue or waste and is only temporary). And it might also stick to that which might be repelled, irritated or annoyed by it, as well as that which might be enchanted by it.
It is worth noticing, then, how glitter - this seemingly silly or unremarkable mixture of tiny reflective pieces of plastic - gets entangled with bodies and moves them in certain ways.
Engaging: Attracting; Appealing; Enchanting; Connecting.
‘Enchantment is something that we encounter, that hits us, but it is also a comportment that can be fostered through deliberate strategies. One of these strategies might be to give greater expression to the sense of play, another to hone sensory receptivity to the marvellous specificity of things’ (Bennett 2001: 4).
‘sparkle is so ubiquitous in mainstream girls’ culture – and so absent in boys’ – it vies with pink as the primary signifier of youthful femininity. Thus, girlhood’s visual landscape, presented in far more subdued ways just 10 years ago, is now dominated by sparkly brilliance’ (Kearney 2015: 263).
‘To approach objects like stickers, Hello Kitty, and glitter solely in terms of their significations doesn’t tell us much about how they move girls or what happens affectively when they instead move boys or fail to move girls, what they do to bodies’
(Swindle 2011: 31).
Jane Bennett (2001) The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Mary Celeste Kearney (2015) ‘Sparkle: luminosity and post-girl power media’, Continuum, Vol. 29, Issue 2, pp. 263-273.
Monica Swindle (2011) ‘Feeling Girl, Girling Feeling: An Examination of "Girl" as Affect’, Rhizomes, Issue 22.