Disruptive Play Review

Disruptive Play: The Trickster in Politics and Culture

Book review by Mike Rotkin, PhD

Shepherd Siegel is a Banana Slug (UC Santa Cruz) alumnus. His new book, Disruptive Play: The Trickster in Politics and Culture, is a must read for anyone who thinks we need to build a movement that goes beyond challenging this or that politician (even that one!) to reorganize the direction our world is going. In a beautiful integration of scholarship and passionate advocacy, this former rock musician and engaged academic opens up to the reader the liberating role that irreverent and playful challenges have played in undermining oppressive social and cultural structures in history and today.

Siegel both defines and extolls what he means by “disruptive play” with stirring descriptions of the victories and defeats of tricksters in history. He carefully examines early human history; art movements like dada; political movements like Abbie Hoffman’s 1960’s anti-war demonstration to levitate the Pentagon; and the anti-World Trade Organization demonstrations in Seattle. Siegel helps us understand the critically important contribution that seemingly unproductive play makes to building successful movements to save our world from the insanity of the all-pervasive status quoassumptions.

Even more compelling is Siegel’s discussion of contemporary cultural phenomena such as the desert community created at Burning Man each year in Nevada, political tricksters like the Yes Men who challenged the complacency of HUD officials after Hurricane Katrina, and popular culture anti-heroes like the Simpsons and modern art disrupters like Banksy, whose over-$100-million painting self-destructed just as the auction hammer came down at Sotheby’s.

In a world where even children’s play is increasingly regimented and ultimately repressive, this exciting book allows the reader to recapture the joys of youthful free play and experience or re-experience those joyous moments of real community in the midst of serious political struggles and deadening cultural conformity. More importantly, it makes a compelling argument for integrating disruptive play in all of our political and cultural work and daily lives.

Disruptive Play: The Trickster in Politics and Culture(2018) is available through www.shepherdsiegel.com

Mike Rotkin is a Lecturer at UC Santa Cruz, and alumnus of the History of Consciousness Program (1991), a former five-time Mayor of the City of Santa Cruz, and was refused induction into the military in the 60s as he posed a “security threat” to the United States.

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