The Battle in Seattle

A tactical insight for this November's Carnivalesque Rebellion.

A Brief History of Revolution

The Spanish artist Marcelo Expósito traces the origins of the counter-globalization movement in his film Radical Imagination (Carnivals of Resistance). Expósito’s film explores a key aspect of the new movement: the carnival. As one of his interviewees put it, “It was common sense. Unless you create a space where people enjoy changing the world, a space of joy and conviviality, you are not going to change anything … We wanted to get away from a traditional confrontational protest situation and prefigure our imagined world in the moment of the protest itself.”

During the mid-1990s activists and revolutionaries increasingly began to question the joyless and stoic traditions handed down by the left. The idea that the new world was born in the here and now out of people’s joy and desire for a more human existence was counterposed to the transcendent notion that struggle would bring the promised land of happiness and equality tomorrow. Subcomandate Marcos, the influential spokesperson for the Zapatistas, explained this shift:

The revolution, in general, is no longer imagined according to socialist patterns of realism, that is as men and women stoically marching behind a waving red flag toward a luminous future. Rather it has become a sort of carnival.

Concurrent with this shift was a growing interest in the ideas of the Russian philosopher and literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin. Expósito’s film is structured around a series of quotes from Bakhtin’s Rabelais and His World. Bakhtin saw the carnival as a popular expression of subversion or a “world turned inside out” in which people could make fun of the systems of power that structured their everyday existence. This freedom allowed them to parody “normal life” – not just in an imaginary way but also in an embodied way that celebrated abundance and lived out feelings of pleasure in a temporary space without hierarchies.

From I Don’t Know Much about Revolution but I Know What I Like by Zanny Begg in the Winter 2010 issue of Overland.

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