divendres, 22 de gener de 2010
The feast, an instrument of participation
Participating, feeling part of the community, can be complex in an urban society. The fiesta is a good instrument for voluntary identification, freely feeling part of the community.
Rituals express sentiments that are invisible in everyday life as a result of the behaviour imposed by social norms. Phrases like this are often used to express some of the added values that we feel in the fiesta, though many researchers have pointed this out before us. Edmund Leach considered that rituals could be understood as the representation of the dramas of a society, expressing its conflicts at the same time as covering them up. Claude Lévi-Strauss and especially Victor Turner were fascinated by the individual emotions that surface in ritual celebrations, clearly showing the communitas, the utopian idea of paradise, of a ideal threshold situation showing the creative force of the ritual process and in which there is a idealised social relationship that is apparently based on equality and solidarity.
The fiesta, all the different sorts of fiesta, is influenced one way or another by this concept, the transfiguration of each and every member of a community immersed in a collective dream in which rich and poor mix up who is rich and who is poor. The fiesta is a symbolic moment when the sage and the fool publicly show their similarity. The fiesta is a wonderful moment when day may become night and night day. It is a sacred time in which the communitas becomes perceptible, a threshold space where marginal expressions are permitted and where those on the margins of society have a role within the exceptional society of the fiesta.
We should not make the error of reducing the concept of the fiesta to a set of artistic events. The fiesta is not a festival, though they have many similar features. The most important aspect of the fiesta is participation. Because the fiesta is a representation of the society holding the fiesta, enlivening it, questioning its norms and revealing its conflicts and contradictions. There is no fiesta without some sort of transgression; the fiesta involves some degree of dissidence and is thus a spontaneous exercise of individual and collective freedom. A fiesta is an authentic fiesta when ordinary people take part, when they make it theirs. And the better a fiesta is, the harder it is for it to be controlled by those in power.
Meeting the challenge of holding genuine fiestas is usually a symptom of social stability and civil liberties. Carnival was even banned in the past, and a comparison has often been drawn between the intensity with which carnival was celebrated and the political situation of Spain at the moment. Promotion of fiestas by local government requires a serious commitment to collaboration with citizen organisations and to effective cultural participation. It is essential because of the important social functions of every fiesta.
Living myths belong to the oral world, where nothing is written. As mentioned above, ritual symbols reveal the tension between social norms and people's emotions. This psychic content of the symbol is what gives it its transformational value. This is the reason why fiestas are moments devoted to the permeability of rites. This is why we should take the trouble to think out a new ritual discourse for the fiesta, a contemporary discourse that can face up to the challenges facing our complex society.
There are other thought-provoking aspects. Our society has been defined as an opulent society that generates frustration in many of its individual members. The perverse phenomenon of the stigmatisation of poverty and of everything that seems humble or mediocre has led western society into a crisis, not into balance. It has never been fashionable to be poor, but not being a winner has never been so out of fashion. The relationship between government and the people seem to be going through a difficult moment in the western democracies, and this has led to frightening recent events, such as the revival of populism, lack of social mobilisation and lack of interest in public affairs. What is called "soft solidarity" has become widespread, but this requires little commitment. However, the movements representing an alternative to the current organisation of the systems of power are making their presence increasingly felt.
In every fiesta, to a greater or lesser extent, social relations become more flexible, allowing us to imagine new ways of understanding life within society. Fiestas have always helped to extend relationships beyond the nuclear family, and even beyond one's social group. And the fiesta still plays this role. The fiesta favours interaction between classes, genders, ages and ethnic groups, something that is now very valuable for our cities. Just as its artistic content represents an important instrument to make culture more democratic, the participative side of the fiesta makes it an important tool for spreading democratic values. At a moment when citizens seem to have lost confidence in the authorities, the fiesta's role as a factor favouring social cohesion and attenuating social conflict should not be forgotten.
A people's fiesta must, above all, be attractive to ordinary people. An elitist conception of the fiesta may mean it is of little interest to the people it is intended for. The people who go to the fiestas in Barcelona are mainly people from groups in the different neighbourhoods, from associations, from recreational groups, etc. They are people who show their creative capacity every year with a proven artistic criterion that should be respected. The informal groups of young people who form a group of "devils" and who participate in the "correfoc" give the fiesta its dynamic feel, its self-organisation, surprise and versatility. They give the fiesta its links with its roots, keeping its feet on the ground.
Coming up with a new conceptual framework for the fiesta may only require paying greater attention to what is present in our society and what is ironically questioned, contravened or disobeyed. Rethinking the fiesta may mean facing up to the fears of our times with contemporary forms of exorcism, such as irony, which has always been a charming attribute of intelligence. It may mean contravention to soothe individual and collective inhibitions.
"This cradle of fiestas" should thus not be treated lightly. The fiesta's content is not restricted to hedonism (something we should fight for in our stressful society), nor is it by any means the most important. How can one think of Pamplona without thinking of the fiestas de San Fermín, Valencia without the "fallas", or Barcelona without the fiestas ("Festa Major") in the districts of Sants, Gràcia, as well as the Festa de San Medir.
The fiesta helps people to feel part of the place they want to identify with, whether they were born there or not. And it allows people to identify in many different ways at the same time. People can feel they part of Gràcia during the Festa Major de Gràcia, and part of Barcelona during the Festa of the Mercè. And one can feel, for example, Catalan and Nigerian at the same time, especially if you participate actively in the social life of a community that deeply loves its traditions. And the more deeply rooted the traditions, the greater their component of transgression and irony, that is to say, the highly personal contributions that always enrich it in "seny" [sense] and "rauxa" [impulse].