Bring on the clowns

Bring on the clowns

Do you think that Alternattiva, or another third party, has a future if a radical constitutional, or at least electoral law reform does take place within the next few years?

In my perspective, a beautiful future still awaits Alternattiva, but not at all in terms of the power struggles clinched at election time. It will only come if Alternattiva can metamorphose itself backwards, from the conventional political party which it has become into a pressure group, or lobbying force capable of mocking itself as well as others. That was what it started its life as, not long after the 1987 watershed election.

I was then enthusiastic. It seemed that the new group would ensure the continued deployment in suitably adapted form even after the change of government of the sort of May '68 or 'Guerrilla'-style tactics concocted by Peppi (or, as he was then known, Joe) Azzopardi and the group known as Tan-Numri. I had been a kind of spiritual adviser to its leaders. Alternattiva at its birth seemed to signal awareness that we had entered, in Dahrendorf's phrase, the 'post-democratic age'. By that phrase, he meant an age dominated by ecological crisis and the challenges of informatics so that its problems can in practice be tackled more effectively not from within established political party structures but rather from outsider vantage points.

This approach hitches on to a long tradition of political activism without power seeking as its aim. This style of 'alternative' politics was initiated by monks, Buddhist or Christian, in the early centuries of our era, then renewed by St Francis and the Mendicant Orders in the Middle Ages, and taken up much less successfully by hippies, punks and the like in the 20th century.

How serious are you in this hymn of praise to the gurus who proffered social critique from extravagant or loose-cannon positions? It is true that you have written an essay on 'Circus Aesthetics' dedicated to European Court of Human Rights judge Vanni Bonello, in which you compared and contrasted the political antics of some of the greatest contemporary clowns, such as Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo and Roberto Benigni, with the learned judge's own approach to and appreciation of history. But are you willing to stake your reputation on the piece of unsolicited advice you are now giving Alternattiva - to take as its role-models the line of eccentrics that stretches from monks to punks?

I would be only too happy if any false laurels with which I may have been somewhat ludicrously crowned were removed, but I am very serious in recommending to the attention of politicians in general, and Alternattiva in particular, the internet sites of various clown groups.

For instance, CIRCA is the acronym of the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army. It was founded in 2003 in England and has served as a model for others both across the Channel and the Atlantic.

Recently the USA CIRCA went out to give its contribution to the Presidential campaign. When the clowns reached the trysting-point, it turned out that half were for Obama, the other half for Clinton. A feisty, fist fight broke out and there was quite a bit of corporal punishment, before a nearby tavern caught the collective eye of the clowns, and the thirsty troupe of big red-nosed canvassers disappeared unanimously inside.

They had made their point. The Obama-Clinton contest was descending to a level where it could damage the Democrat cause and help Republican contender John McCain - a point not completely irrelevant in some quarters closer to us.

Actually, in the US the Yes-Men (a duo of gentlemen whose baptismal names are Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno) began to operate in 1999, well before CIRCA. They specialise in parodies of the consumer society. For instance, they are at present campaigning so that the vote becomes a commercial object like any other, buyable and sellable, at market fixed prices. Again, the gimmick may be quite pertinent to what is now happening in Malta.

How are these political clown groups set up and organised?

CIRCA describes itself as made up of 'clowns that have run away from the anaemic safety of the circus and escaped the banality of kids' parties'. It aims 'to make clowning dangerous again... and give it back the social function it once had: its ability to disrupt, critique and heal society... Rebel Clowns are trained by CIRCA recruiting officers, using a variety of different exercises, training includes finding your inner clown, civil disobedience tactics, learning to be spontaneous and playful, practising clown gaggle manoeuvres and last but not least marching and drilling.'

Fr Peter Serracino Inglott was talking to Miriam Vincenti.

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