Geoffrey Fox

Reflections & Inquiries

Silly season


Not just in New Hampshire, but here in Spain too we’re living through carnival—gross exaggerations, outrageous gestures, obscenities and raucous foolishness. In Spain this happens not just at election time but every year during Lent, and has been happening ever since the middle ages, when dances and parodies and all manner of offensive behaviors from older pagan festivals got merged into this pseudo-Christian week of revelry. And in Spain, unlike large parts of the U.S. where the clowns disdain disguise and their threats of mayhem (“bomb the hell out of ISIS,” etc.) are meant to be taken seriously, people know that it’s just about letting off steam and that all the violence displayed is just play-acting.

Except when it’s not, when somebody, very serious and stern, takes it seriously and claims to be deeply offended by the silly lampooning. Maybe because they just don’t get it, or maybe because they hope their pretended indignation will distract people from the more serious problems that are the real  subject of the satires. And that’s what has just happened in Madrid, in the case of the puppeteers thrown in jail because of the bad behavior of their puppets.

In case you haven’t been following this, distracted as you may have been  by the boisterous clowns in the U.S. Republican primary, the puppeteers’ offense was that the puppet representing a corrupt and brutal cop (a frequent theme of carnival parodies) raised a sign saying “Gora Alka-ETA” to present as evidence against the poor puppet he was brutalizing.  “Gora” is Basque for “Long live!” and “Alka-ETA” is an absurd invention, merging the names of two very different terrorist groups, Al Qaeda and ETA. Further incriminating the puppeteers, their evil puppets mercilessly beat and rape female puppets, kill and eat children puppets, and hang the puppet of a judge! Just as such puppet shows have done forever and ever, pretty much the same as Punch and Judy in the English carnival tradition.

So the poor puppeteers are now charged not only with promoting terrorism (the non-existent “Alka-ETA” group) but with bad taste. But this time, the bad taste has happened during the progressive city government in Madrid of Manuela Carmena, so the right-wing “People’s Party” (PP, or Partido Popular) has now blown up its importance to accuse the mayor and her socialist allies of an outrageous assault on Catholic morals and bourgeois virtues. When bad taste, i.e., deliberate offensiveness, is the whole point of carnival, most famously in Valencia, where the PP  governed for more than twenty years. Why this sudden (feigned) indignation? It must be to distract attention from all the real (not carnival parodies) cases of corruption and brutality by politicians of the PP, more being uncovered every day. O tempora, o mores!

Puppet brutality? Scene from "Títeres desde abajo"