Monday, January 09, 2017

The Kings Of Satire

In folklore, theatrical performance was historically the medium for satire. European culture provides ample evidence of the role played by satire from the days of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome to present times. It has remained a constant, a broadening of media in more recent times having made it ever more popular in the sense of it having both a strong public following and also of it being for the people. Satire, with its strain of social comment, has down the centuries provided the people with a voice, one of criticism and of attempts to affect attitudes and legislation.

Different societies are littered with examples. In England, for example, Geoffrey Chaucer used "The Canterbury Tales" to attack fourteenth-century church corruption. Miguel Cervantes' "Don Quixote" was in effect a satire on the whole notion of chivalry. His contemporary, William Shakespeare, used satire in various plays. "Love's Labour's Lost" devoted itself to an assault on the pedantry of the educated classes.

The performance was more important than written works in appealing to largely illiterate societies and expressing what the common people might be feeling. In Mallorca, illiteracy was more the norm than the exception at the end of the nineteenth century and into the early decades of the last century. It was within this societal context that purveyors of satire could gain the ears of the people. The glosadors were a principal medium for this.

Mallorcan and Catalan culture has a theatrical tradition that dates back to at least the middle of the twelfth century. The dances of demons were first noted at a banquet for the Count of Barcelona in 1150. Over time, this mediaeval theatre was to develop a format, with the conclusion of demons' performances being characterised by satirical verses aimed at political and public life. The format, depending on the demons' gang, is still intact. Last year at Muro's Sant Antoni event, for instance, the Grand Demon of the Sa Pedrera gang issued his annual warnings and his reflections on Catalonian independence and the trial of Princess Cristina. In terms of attacks on corruption, Mallorca's demons, it might be said, are following in the long-ago footsteps of Geoffrey Chaucer.

Carnival is one of the most obvious excuses for satirical expression. The parades, theatre in their own right, are occasions for donning attire and masks that point fun at politicians and others. This subversive aspect was just one reason why the Franco regime attempted, by no means always successfully, to outlaw Carnival.

The glosadors, who feature all-year round but who are key players in this month's Sant Antoni fiestas, have invoked the saint in emphasising their historical role in demanding justice, attacking authority and strengthening values. One "glosa" which was certainly being used in Franco's time calls on the saint to "liberate us" from the language of the glosador, whose role is that of a painter, using the same colour for a saint and for a demon. It is a satire on religious reverence accorded to saints combined with barbs against an unspecified demon. Given the context of the times, it might be possible to guess who the demon was.

There is a further satire, one which has just been acted out, as it is each year. The performance of Llorenç Moyà's "Adoration of the Three Kings" on 6 January in Palma's Ses Voltes park is an occasion, similar in a way to the demons, to issue warnings while also poking fun. Corruption was a target, and the local police force wasn't spared. The possible return of José Ramón Bauzá as leader of the Partido Popular was another. If he dares to bring back TIL (trilingual teaching), there'll be a missile heading his way. Other subjects were school bullying and housing: the dogs at the Son Reus pound have better lives than people who live in cold conditions at this time of the year in Palma's worst neighbourhoods.

There were invited amateurs, as there always are. One was the former tourism minister and potential rival to Bauzá as PP leader, Jaime Martínez, who uttered the words: "The government tells you 'no' ... what part of the 'no' do you not understand?" At least and for once, a politician wasn't taking himself too seriously.

This is a time of the year, because of the Adoration, the demons and glosadors of Sant Antoni, and Carnival in a few weeks time, when satire is at its height. And it isn't only apparent with the performances. Look out as well for the bonfires for Sant Antoni and Sant Sebastià. In Pollensa, where Sant Antoni has additional meaning because of its pine climb, political parties make a habit of using their bonfires to convey a message. There was one a few years ago that was a pyramid of 500 euro notes which represented the auditorium project that finally was never pursued, perhaps proving that satire and its criticism can sometimes be effective.

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