We once made a full-size inflatable circus tent that could fit over two hundred people inside. It was floorless, a dome constructed from long panels of black plastic with a clear skylight at the apex, and weighted down around its circumference with chain taped into the plastic. We made our pattern for it from the skin of half an orange. Once it was inflated, people entered by lifting up one side and swiftly getting in. From without, it looked like a titanic trash bag, but inside the atmosphere was strangely transformed and the outside world seemed far away. It could be used to create a magical performance environment in any setting with a flat, spacious area. Though it served us well on many occasions, we did encounter some challenges with it. On account of its great surface area, any amount of wind tended to buffet it or knock it over. On one occasion, we set it up atop a mountain in West Virginia, but the hundreds of feet of extension cord delivering the electricity to the fan diluted the power enough that we were barely able to inflate it. The acoustics inside were interesting—there was a central point in which an echo could be heard from all sides—but the noise of the fan made it necessary to speak loudly when addressing a group. Finally, it trapped heat, which could make it uncomfortable in the summer. All the same, it was incredibly cheap for a movable structure of its size, and demanded attention wherever we deployed it.
When we unfurled our circus tent at an anarchist convergence following a tour of the Midwest, our friends demanded to learn how to make their own inflatables. Some went to scare up the necessary supplies, while others gathered around to discuss what we could make.
The ideas came quickly:
“Something people can get inside of.”
“A prop for a performance.”
“Something to make a presence when we go into town for Food Not Bombs.”
“An inflatable stage.”
“An inflatable television…”
“…that we can get inside…”
“…and be TV stars!”
It was settled. This time we weren’t just making idle threats, we were actually going to blow up a television. Three hours later we were putting the finishing touches on a black and clear model, American-made, with a twenty-seven-foot screen. Despite its size, it packed down into a milk crate for the ride downtown, so we brought along the circus tent for good measure and threw in a few 100-foot extension cords.
The cooler of Food Not Bombs spaghetti hit the sidewalk. Public electrical outlets were located. The fan blades began to churn. Two massive forms began to rise from the concrete like whales surfacing in slow motion.
Food Not Bombs was serving in a public plaza that happened to be across the street from the city’s event coliseum. As we ate, played music, and goofed off in our television, its vast flashing signs reminded us of that other world. One of those pop stars so famous as to go by her first name alone was to perform that night. Thousands of people were about to pay as much apiece to see her as the seventy of us had spent on food all week. It was a vivid juxtaposition of modes of life, and we thought it a fortuitous chance to interact with the masses.
By the time the line of consumers had formed, we had been improvising together for some hours on our homemade musical instruments and were eager to invite the newcomers to join in. But as soon as we prepared to wheel our jerry-rigged drum machine across the street, the audio-van of the local corporate rock station pulled up on the sidewalk and cranked up its volume. The subtle sounds of the drum machine were lost in the din of blaring commercials.
It was war. Mustering our entire array of bucket drums, whistles, boviphonic ohm cannons, and other sonic weapons, we converged in all our numbers in the middle of the street beside the van and the column of concert-goers. Dancing and yelling ardently, we drowned out their sound system, and created what must have been a startling spectacle for the spectators, who looked on as though they’d never seen people enjoying themselves in public without buying tickets first.
Inspired, a few of us went to get the inflatable television from our base camp across the street. We found another outlet on the wall of the coliseum, and plugged in the fan, only to be scolded by some petty administrator before our conversation piece was fully inflated. Not to be denied, we plugged into an outlet on our side of the street, and ran extension cords all the way across it, holding the official at bay with references to our unintelligibly-worded permit. He went off in a huff, and a raging dance party commenced around and inside the television.
Soon, corporate music fans were making their way up to us in twos and threes; our weirdness and excitement were simply irresistible. Before the evening was through, several of them had joined us in dancing inside the television, and some had even elected to spend the night doing so instead of entering the coliseum. Never underestimate the power of outlandish props and shenanigans—the masses want to join you in the streets, but they know it’s not their revolution unless they can dance.