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Case #1836

A Lesson from the Tradition of Carnival Teaches Resistance to The Status Quo


This is a philsophical article about the position and perceived attitude of the “left” in America today, as analyzed by the author.  The (published) author has written several books about hope.  These are based on when the worst things that can happen to people do, there always seems to emerge hope in the resilience, the inventiveness, the bravery and occasionally the long-term subversion with which people respond. 

The author feels that America’s political “left” is, in significant numbers, furiously attached to hopelessness, to narratives of despair and decline, to belief in an omniscient them who always wins and a feeble us who always loses.  She says. “ I don’t believe that they represent the whole left; rather, it seems the self-appointed spokespeople for the left are both more privileged than the left as such and more attached to defeat. Defeat for the privileged means cynicism and an excuse for doing little or nothing; defeat for the oppressed means surrender to hideous or fatal conditions.”

The author continues: “I think of these naysayers as the Eeyore chorus, after the dismal donkey in Winnie-the-Pooh, and I run into them a lot. It may be that for those coming from the mainstream to the left the chance to tell the underside of the official version—that it's corrupt and destructive—seems like the work at hand. I come from the left, and my task is clearly telling the other, overlooked histories of hope, popular power, subversion and possibility. Which elicits a lot of grumbling from Eeyore's many reps.”

“To say that Carnival reconciles us to the status quo is to say that it affirms the world as it is. Carnival also reinforces joy and ownership of public space and a kind of confidence in coexisting with a wide array of strangers.”

The article from The Nation magazine goes on to give a background of Carnival and Mardi Gras and what these holidays, which are celebrated in a similar manner around the world, represent.  She emphasizes certain themes of commonality: community and the social aid and pleasure it provides for its members; the reinforcement of joy and ownership of public space and a kind of confidence in coexisting with a wide array of strangers; and in the case of post-Katrina New Orleans in 2006 and 2007, proof to the city that it had survived Katrina, that it had not died. The holidays have multiple historic underlying significance and it is positive about approaching and relating to the status quo.

In conclusion, the author says, “Of course our society's dominant culture of media and entertainment serves consumerism and the belief in our own powerlessness. But if the status quo is the world as it is, it also includes myriad subversions and strategies for survival, and these seem to me to also be reinforced by Carnival.”

“Carnival doesn't necessarily reconcile us to the status quo. But theories that defeat is inevitable, is our legacy, our history, and our future, do. We have arrived in a future that is itself science fiction: we have turned our planet into something far more turbulent and uncertain than anyone anticipated, and to survive it and bring it back to something livable will require a massive subversion of the status quo of corporate production and excess consumption, will require innovation, imagination and profound change. The defeatism that says there is nothing we can do or that we have no power sabotages our survival. It is pre-emptive surrender. "Status quo" in Latin means "the state in which," and the state things are usually in includes dominance, acquiescence, and refusal to bow down, in various mixes. More than ever we need Carnival at its most subversive to survive, and to make resistance a pleasure and an adventure rather than only struggle and grim duty. This is the revolution that Emma Goldman wanted to dance to, the one that draws people in. Don't bow down. To capital. Or to cliché or oversimplification or defeatism. Try rising up instead. It's more interesting.”

This is not an article with practical suggestions on approaching challenges and problems.  It is, rather, a philosophical reminder that hope can and should dominate despair – whether one does or does not participate in Carnival. “The tradition of Carnival teaches us that resistance to the status quo can be a pleasure and an adventure.”


Location: USA
Action: Education/P.R., Political
Setting: Developed World
Extent of Action: National
Issues: Corporate/Economic Abuses, Environment, Human Rights, Political, Worker Rights
Year(s): 2010
Outcome concept (promising but not tried)
Source: The Nation (magazine), March 1, 2010, p. 18


Prepared By: sl, 10/10
Rating: 0
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