Seven, Volume 1 Issue 6, Fri., 9/27/01
How DCI Became Boring: A Controversial Expose
Disclaimer: In no way shape or form is this meant to be critical of the Garfield Cadets. [the opposite, in fact]
1. In the late 70's and 80's, DCI was full of corps that had a strong and consistent identity. Fans would go to drum corps shows, and know what to expect when they saw the Bridgemen (fun) ... the 27th Lancers (Danny Boy) ... the North Star (chrome wall) ... the VK (chaos) ... the Cavaliers etc. ... Although a corps would have a different show each year, the show was designed in the context of a consistent individual corps identity -- both musical and visual (even uniform design). The fan base of drum corps was strong and growing each year -- and they went berserk for their favorite corps!
2. Then the Garfield Cadets. Out of nowhere, a corps from the East Coast started kicking everyone's ass. This corps also had their own strong and consistent identity, which was fueled by innovative and genius show designers such as George Zingali, Thom Hannum et al. The two West Coast corps that had a virtual stranglehold on the DCI Championship for the previous 10 years (BD and SCV), were relegated to the status of bridesmaid ... literally overnight. However, visually, and musically, these corps were still very much "their own corps." There could be no confusing the SCV Bottle Dance ... with BD's "One More Time" ... with Garfield's drill ... with Bayonne's drum solo ... with Crossmen's capes. In short, everyone was doing their own thing, and the fans f*cking loved it.
3. Then came subjective judging ... and the Cadets kept winning DCI Championship titles. This was a problem, however. Now, the judging community was holding show design and performance under their own subjective microscope of what was "good" or "innovative." Under the previous objective judging system, the main focus of show designers could be, and was, to develop a great show for their corps, with very little concern about whether the individual judge with a clip board counting errors thought your approach to the drum, for example, was as artistic as Thom Hannums. So, back to the story. The Cadets kept winning, and winning, and winning. Then they would lose one. And they would win again ... and again ... and again.
4. Eventually, show designers started to figure out that the judges were rewarding them when their show design was similar to the Garfield Cadets -- what the DCI judging community had collectively decided was the "most innovative" and "successful." Corps started switching to white or cream colored pants, and marching and playing like the Cadets. Drum lines started playing less notes, and more in the musical style of Thom Hannum ... the ballad started to take over the concert piece, and everyone was running around like maniacs on the field, at the expense of cleanliness and musical difficulty. Cadets didn't do backsticking, or drum-to-drum ... so you didn't either. Any corps that didn't fit this competitive mold suddenly found themselves slipping down the competitive ranks, and maybe even out of finals (bye-bye, Bayonne...)
5. And then -- POOF. We had a homogenous activity. Everyone (who was left) was the same. Everyone. If your corps even tried to "hint" back at the days of having its' own identity ... it found itself washed up on the rocks, and sitting in the seats with the audience early in the evening on Finals night (92 SCV). For a time, YEA did not help this situation, as their well-intentioned solution to the problem was to try and remake other corps such as the Crossmen and Carolina Crown in the "successful" image of the Cadets ... they even gave them the same staff! Not only did DCI also fail to recognize this problem, but their judging community was encouraged, by the inherent nature of their own judging system, to continue to competitively doom corps (Madison) that tried to withstand this illogical drive towards "success" (as defined by the DCI subjective judging system).
6. And then what? The fan base started to decline dramatically. They were freakin bored. Kids saw no reason to march with any other corps than one that they perceived as having a snowball's chance at placing well at DCI, so they started to travel to corps (which subsequently forced open class corps to become solely "camp corps," and far, far less involved in their own local community) ... and the smaller corps started to fold as their membership dwindled. The "top 25" became an oxymoron -- there were not 25 top corps left, let alone the twenty-five "cream of the crop."
7. So, here we are. Tune in next time ... when the topic becomes ideas re: how we can turn this activity around ... and it has nothing to do with giving everyone a "10" in GE ... listening to Rosie O'Donnell ... or making it difficult for new corps to join the club.
1 Issue 6, Fri., 9/27/01