434. Innocence (VI)
There is something different about fairground folk, carnival people, and jobbing actors. There was a time when we could include music hall and Vaudeville entertainers as well, but their time is long gone. Even the repertory theatre actors, the people who used to scrabble around for their last pennies to feed the gas meter in their studio apartment, even they have gone. The theatre is quasi-nationalised now, the actors and support staff have he/him in their biographies and the regional theatres subsist on government grants; nobody is really entertained that way anymore and what goes on mainly aims to put on ideologically-correct plays for education bureaucrats to coo over.
Yet this world—slightly seedy and rundown—always had its own power: carnies, music hall performers, and rep actors lived in a marginal and semi-criminal world apart from mainstream society. These groups belonged to no class and never settled, they always moved and lived in their own parallel society and perhaps the best way to describe this society was “sketchy”. I think we all know the sensation at the funfair or the circus, we are there to have fun and yet there is also the palpable sensation that we might disappear into the wrong tent, be imprisoned in a blue chest covered with stars, and, at the right time, released and turned into sausages for the midgets.
Carnivals, circuses, and musical halls exist in a world that is liminal, to resort to that much over-used word—these are evening activities that exist in no normal social space. Hence the people involved in these activities are genuine outsiders, they belong nowhere; and they can move in any social space they choose. Travelling funfairs—with rides that look about right to decapitate the unwary—still exist, barley; and the rides and trucks are always painted with vibrant neon colours; they stud each attraction with a buxom blonde with Kylie Minogue’s face and top hat and red tails, below will be a Union Jack and a lion. “Love me bird. Love me country. Love me lion. Simple as.” Rather as with Trump and his golden apartments, these rides celebrate glamour—and glamour literally means “enchantment”. Mainstream tastemakers are too uptight to endorse such obviously attractive qualities, the need to counter-signal normal standards rules supreme.
It is in these interstitial places that you go to have your fortune told, probably by a gypsy—beware the curse; and you can lose yourself in the hall of mirrors, and learn that what you think is reality is really topsy-turvy—top philosophers agree with carnies, “It’s a topsy-turvy world in no mistake, guv’nor. Just look in the mirror.” At the seaside pier, you can meet the Punch and Judy man; and this is an old ritual, maybe older than Christianity. It is an initiatory performance and the man who does it—traditionally called “the professor”—is a shaman.
Punch and Judy used to be performed in the churchyard after a holiday service, it was the esoteric component to the festival. Punch and Judy contend—Yin and Yang contend—and unexpressed violence is manifested, the professor who has a puppet on each hand is the hidden demiurge behind the interplay. As Guénon observed, the carnival is a time for authorised inversion and transgression; and the violent Punch represents the joyous destruction within all men that exalts in women, sausages, and the beating stick.
In modernity the world I have described has almost vanished, the world where a “professor” could hobnob with royalty or kids off a council estate or the bank manager with equal ease—probably Punch and Judy will be preserved by some government grant that mandates Punch must be black in 45% of performances, such targets being made by the resentful. In a time when everything is inverted—clown world—the real jokers have no place. Yet this world—the possibility you could run away to join the circus—served a real need, a need unmet in an age without glamour or magic.