"Our collective sympathy for the victims is obviously a given. And yet the quest to unearth celebrity sex offenders has become a form of crude cultural entertainment–but it is less witch–hunt, more carnival, in the sense proposed by critic Mikhail Bakhtin. Here social hierarchies are profaned and subverted by normally suppressed voices. Thus, the marginalised become the focus, princes become paupers, and opposites combine (high and low, fact and fantasy, heaven and hell).
This circus is conducted with a grotesque, 'world–upside–down' energy and black humour, in which charivari–ritual chastising and humiliation, not least of sexual transgressions–is accompanied by raucous collective mirth. Ultimately, order is restored, but not before authority figures have taken a beating.
And so we witness the toppling of the powerful by a righteous mob, as men of a certain age and cultural authority–backed by a degree of establishment collusion–are brought low with a barely contained collective thrill. Sometimes it feels as if all the icons of our childhood have been outed as sexual deviants–revenge for every night of bad television endured during the 1970s."
(Hannah Betts, 7 December 2012, The Guardian)
"[Mikhail] Bakhtin's concept of carnival as a subversive, disruptive world–upside–down event in which the repressive views, lies, and hypocrisy of the officially run and dominated everyday world are unmasked provides a powerful theoretical concept for any study of Iranian popular theatrical and related musical forms. Bakhtin was concerned with polyvocality and the fact that from the onset of the European Renaissance the voices of the common people were increasingly not heard. The Islamic Republic's ban on the performance of improvisational comic theater would seem to support this theoretical stance with empirical evidence of official reaction. In the European context analyzed by Bakhtin, a writer, exemplified by Rabelais, enacts an important role because he or she reflects the voices of the low, the peasant, the outcast. In Bakhtin's view, the healthy voice of the low, which questions the high–the church and the state–is an important check on oppressive officials in a healthy society.
A full–fledged carnival–such as those in Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans–does not exist in the Iranian culture sphere. By carnival I mean a massive demonstration of excessive eating, drinking, and sexual and bodily exposure, popularly associated with Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, that does not occur within an Islamic/Iranian context. Threads and themes of carnivalesque and grotesque subversion, however, can be found woven through the fabric of the Iranian world. Here the needle that pricks the official religious, social, and political powers most is the traditional comic theater in its many guises.
In many ways siyah–bazi and ru–howzi embody Bakhtin's notions of the grotesque and the carnivalesque. Gholam–siyah, the blackface clown, the 'low Other,' always wins over his master: the world upside down. Gholam–siyah's extravagant clothing, movements, speech, and lower–class language demonstrate Bakhtin's dictum, 'the grotesque...cannot be separated from folk humor and carnival spirit' (Stallybrass and White 1986, 43). Gholam's bright red costume and conical hat, for example, are probably the closest thing to carnival costume in the entire Middle East. William O. Beeman, a scholar of Iranian linguistics, discusses the blackface clown: 'The clown distorts normal physical movement by jumping, running, flailing his arms, and twisting his body into odd shapes' (1981, 515). This is, of course, part of his repertoire, for sight gags make up much of the comedy of traditional comic theater. This grotesque twisting of the body is also part of the dancing that occurs in the comic theater, especially by the male characters."