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(en) awsm.nz: Dil-do… or Dil-don’t?

Date Sun, 6 Mar 2016 11:35:21 +0200

George Orwell wrote in a 1945 essay called Funny but not Vulgar, “A thing is funny when it upsets the established order. Every joke is a tiny revolution”, and to many nothing was much funnier recently than seeing Economic Development Minister Stephen Joyce being hit in the face by a flying rubber sex toy, followed a few days later by Gerry Brownlee getting slimed. In the same essay, Orwell writes, “Whatever destroys dignity, and brings down the mighty from their seats, preferably with a bump, is funny. And the bigger they fall, the bigger the joke. It would be better fun to throw a custard pie at a bishop than at a curate”, and, in this regard, it may have been even more memorable and satisfying if it was Prime Minister John Key receiving the dildo in the face.

As fun as it was, should such acts have a place in an anarchist’s toolbox of direct action tactics? The first point to be noted is that in general, the mainstream media doesn’t give much, if any, coverage to alternative politics, and pranks and stunts are one way you can get views that are otherwise ignored into the mainstream media. The environmental group EarthFirst! have pointed this out saying, “The media need stories – they want to run them, especially the television media… You give them something different and they actually get excited about working on the story.” Who knows, people may even be moved to critically examine the object of attack.

Acts of humour can counteract the problem of the mainstream media pigeonholing or stereotyping those on the fringes of the left as loonies and rioters, and present an alternative image. Humour can also act as a counterpoint to those who view the left as strident and self-righteousness. Humour can get them on side.

A feature of anarchist action for a long time now has been its creativity and playfulness, more I would argue than any other political movement, and has throughout its history inspired, and been inspired, by movements such as the surrealists and the Situationists. The singer with the Dead Kennedys, Jello Biafra, said, “historically the ‘Merry Prankster’ has had a lot more to look forward to than the humourless politico who sits around moaning about ‘the struggle’”, and this can be an attractive side to anarchist politics. Certainly, if social media is anything to go by, the thrower of the sex toy met with wide acclaim and support, and I guess if people are laughing with you, they are not hating you.

At the mass protests against the G8 summit in Genoa in 2001, a group of protesters dressed in bright outfits and calling themselves the Pink and Silver bloc, labelled their methods of protesting with the term “tactical frivolity”. They carried out such acts as waving “magic fairy wands” at the police and training “radical cheerleaders” to lead chanting of anti-G8 slogans, as well as, perhaps most ambitiously, the deployment of a “revolutionary spaghetti catapult.” This had taken several weeks to build and was designed to “splatter the leaders with pasta”. The device failed to meet its intention to hit any of the leaders present, but, according to journalist Johann Hari writing in the Independent, they did succeed in causing mass laughter among the crowds.

Possibly the most famous thrower of things at establishment figures was the Belgian anarchist Noel Godin who was an admirer of the spirit, but not the acts, of the infamous 19th century French anarchist bomber Ravachol, and who described his sworn enemies as “authority, depressing laws, the return of the moral order, nuclear power, and any form of political power.”

Godin gained global attention in 1998 when him and his group successfully carried out an ambush on Bill Gates in Brussels, hitting him flat in the face with a custard pie. Godin described his goal as being to “entarter” those public figures he felt were particularly self-important and lacking a sense of humor, in other words people like Gates. According to Godin, a well-aimed pie can break through the victim’s public image and lay bare their true character. His targets were carefully selected. “Every victim has to be thoroughly justified,” he said in an interview with the UK newspaper The Observer.

According to Godin, custard pies are the weapons of “the weak and powerless”, with a well-aimed pie being able to shatter the pompous and vacuous public image of a celebrity in a matter of seconds. Like his victims, his weapons were chosen with meticulous care. “We only use the finest patisserie ordered at the last minute from small local bakers. Quality is everything. If things go wrong, we eat them”, he claimed.

The usefulness of such acts is open to debate. The message trying to be put across can be lost in the laughter surrounding the spectacle of “our betters” getting their come-uppance; and in this day and age of paranoid security, the consequences to the individual could be severe. Yet, one thing is certain, such acts demonstrate that people instinctively know that the correct channels appointed for us to protest are useless, and that using them may not actually get us anywhere. The powers that be like to tell us we live in a democracy and our voice is important, but the reality is that the parliament only gives a voice to the rich and the protection they need to enjoy their luxurious lifestyle at our expense.

Godin’s acts led to a number of copycat pie flingers around the globe so maybe we can we look forward to a flurry of flying sex toys aimed at our politicians. We can hope so. There is a lot of pleasure to be gained in seeing those inflicting miseries such as unemployment, poverty, cuts to social service, upon us, whining about being on the end of disrespect…and yet such acts are not going to change the system. Ultimately it will only change when it’s realized that throwing things at politicians is as useless as voting for them in the first place. It’s best to totally ignore them and organize ourselves in our communities and work places to protect our interests.

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