Carnival marches, satirical demonstrations, surrealist banners, bizarre slogans, memes, graffiti… and congas, several congas.
In the last decade, this has been the formal repertoire of a subversion based on surprise (it is precisely about catching us on the wrong foot), which does not obey the typical verticalism of the parties or the usual parliamentary oppositions. At first glance, they seem to be amusing performances; parodies aimed at shaking up politics in post-political times or reactivating democracy in post-democratic times.
Confrontations born in parallel to an authoritarian drift that is spreading around the world under different, if not opposing, ideological alibis, embraced just at that point where capitalism and democracy are busy with the paperwork of their divorce. We are thus faced with revolts launched against the various versions of those regimes that political sociology has taken to calling “illiberal.”
They go against all flags and spare no one. In the broad spectrum of their targets, these movements one day shoot at neoliberalism and another at Chinese capital-communism, one day at Arab oil theocracies and another at the Russian oligarchic regime, one day at the updating of colonialism and another at the detritus of Sandinism. And at male chauvinism, climate change, animal abuse, poverty, war, anything that is put in front of us.
Trying to frame them ideologically in conventional terms seems an impossible task (for the champions of the culture war in Spain, perhaps it would be enough to denigrate them as “posmos,” proving once again their thirty-year delay in this debate). All things considered, what defines these practices is not so much what they reaffirm, but against whom they are directed: here the enemy justifies the means. Perhaps that is why they do not move in the utopias of great causes, but in the more rugged terrain of the consequences of these models now under suspicion and their respective failures. It is in the action and not in their objectives, in the form and not in the substance, where we find their keys.
Some lewd graffiti against women’s false sizes next to a store in Barcelona (“Size 38 is too tight for my pussy”). A conga in eastern Cuba chanting a list of shortages, denouncing blackouts or directly challenging the forces of law and order (“Hey police, fuck you”). A choreography on the first floor of a Trump Tower in New York. Another dance in front of the Congress in Santiago de Chile…
On the Internet, not a second goes by without bursting the networks with parody accounts, memes and other interventions that shake up the old agitprop in these times of “Do It Yourself.” Here, and now, we can all be designers, communicators and activists of our own slogans.
In English, these initiatives already have a term to describe them: Monstrations. And it was the Russian sociologist Alexei Yurchak who first drew my attention to them in his essay included in the collective book El ensayo empieza aquí (Caniche, 2021). Aside from offering a range of these practices, or understanding them as savage politics growing at the limits of liberalism, Yurchak emphasized their dissociation from confrontation, from that chiaroscuro that reduces problems to a Western movie unfailingly heading for the final battle between the two Russias, the two Spains, the two Americas, the “with me or against me,” the “fatherland or death,” the highly profitable demolition of ambiguity.
In line with Ironía on, an essay by Santiago Gerchunoff, it is possible to observe in them that they locate the agora on the outskirts of politics. Through a network conversation that, to the cascade of images of current affairs, would add its corresponding cataract of opinions. A liberalism on the defensive that can only survive as a talk show that is public because it needs to be staged: that is, to have an audience.
There are still two important issues to which these disturbances point at. The first one is directly connected to the bandied about concept of collapse of the elites. Perhaps because they project a cultural war without gurus and a future without messianism, reaching a magnitude that these intellectual elites cannot explain, nor can the political ones represent, nor the economic ones buy. The second speaks to us of a post-Cold War politics, just in a world in which not a few analysts, at the drop of a hat, cling to the wild card of its eternal return.
How do the political powers respond to all this?
Well, on the one hand, by stigmatizing these movements as minor disturbances. On the other hand, and here lies their great contradiction, by persecuting and repressing them. We have just seen an example of this in Moscow, in the middle of the invasion of Ukraine, in the so-called march of the blank banners. We saw another example a little earlier in Havana, capital of a country where the communist party faces every day the paradox of governing a society that is already post-communist. There, a group of 300 young people stood up in front of the Ministry of Culture proposing a dialogue with the authorities that never took place. In both cases, society extended a blank page that demanded to be completed for the sake of a new social contract. And in both cases, the authorities had no response other than repression.
If writers are terrified by the blank page, governments seem to be terrified by these blank banners which, as they are unable to fill them with the language of the new times, they dedicate themselves to crushing them with the style of the old. The funny thing is that those same governments have allowed themselves to be dragged along by the conga until they saturate us with their own tweets, their live transmissions, the selfies of their presidents, ministers and their retinue of sycophants. They are always ready to impose their absurdities to make more evident their autism with respect to the society they claim to represent.
Faced with their parallel reality, these marches respond with an augmented reality that dislocate the powers that be. And yes, we know that they will not succeed in overthrowing these governments, but at least they will burst their incredible and obscene bubble.
Originally published in El Confidencial, July 3, 2022.