Friday, 22 June 2007

Polònia – the proof that Catalans are special

Catalans can be difficult to joke with since they tend to be very proud people. If you feel that local culture is taken too seriously here, the satiric TV show Polònia proves that they also have the capacity to laugh at themselves. The program is a must for anyone interested in learning more about the Catalan society of today.

Catalonia is one of the richest Spanish autonomous regions. Although Madrid is doing a good job in making itself more attractive for international business, for many industries Barcelona is still the preferred location in Spain. Few other regions can match our tourism offer of a modern big city surrounded by attractive beaches as well as mountains, so Catalans have quite a few things to boast about.

However, for many foreigners living here, their pride often comes across as exaggerated nationalism. While we meet a society where Catalan clearly dominates media and all public institutions, many local people still see the their culture and language as threatened. With some of them, any comment which can be interpreted as critical provokes a strong defensive position. If you have a need to tell a Catalan that they could be more punctual or better organized, you will immediately learn how much worse people from the rest of Spain are in those aspects. If you find flaws in the way trains and air traffic works, the problems, of course, stem from the fact that these services are controlled not from here, but from Madrid, and that the decision makers spend all money in the capital.

Most likely for the different language, people from other parts of Spain call Catalans polacos, Poles, which is the reason why one of the most popular TV-shows about society here is called Polònia. What I really like about this program is that it does not deal with Catalonia as a tender plant which needs to be protected to be able to flourish in the future, but as a existing fact, strong enough to withstand critical remarks or even being laughed at.

I warmly recommend Polònia to any tourist who speaks Spanish and wants some flavour to the Catalan fet diferencial. Just like in daily life here, the program is built on constant linguistic jumps depending on each person’s background. Characters from Catalonia speak Catalan and, as can be expected, politicians are the main target. Socialist José Montilla, the president of the generalitat is easy to make fun of since Catalan is not his native tongue.

His predecessor, fellow socialist Pasqual Maragall, also shows up on a weekly basis. Barely had he left his position as president, before he started to criticize the most notable achievement during his term in office, the estatut, a charter for local independence in Catalonia. His new project is to build a European platform to in practice show that Catalonia does not depend on Spain to merit a prominent position in the world. I like his positively formulated message, but his total lack of modesty makes him a very easy target. Artur Mas, leader of the opposition CiU, is one of the many politicians who gets a simplified presentation, constantly being against whatever the Catalan government says. Finally, among the non-politicians, super-chef Ferran Adrià with his experimental cuisine and slightly odd voice is a perfect background for a caricature.

In the sketches spoken in Castillano, His Majesty the King Juan Carlos and his family make frequent appearances, usually in quite good-hearted jokes. The ghost of the old general Franco tends to be treated with the lack of respect that you can expect Catalans to feel for him and I certainly do not disagree. Mariano Rajoy, the opposition leader from PP has a neutral solid look and a good voice which could make him a difficult target. Again, a repeated funny hand movement and his notoriously negative rhetorics adds all the input which a comedian needs to build a funny character. His predecessor as the PP chairman and former prime minister, José Maria Aznar, receives a tougher treatment, especially since this formerly serious politician recently defended people’s rights to drive by car although they have drunk a bit.

Politicians world-wide have a tendency to avoid guilt of anything bad. Catalan politics has had its share of corruption scandals, as if to prove that things are not always good just because they are regional or local. On June 10, in his column in La Vanguardia, Toni Soler, the director of Polònia, pointed out that politicians seem to interpret his program in quite contradictory ways. Before it existed, some of them complained that Catalonia needed more satire for people to take regional politics seriously.

Now, when such a show not only exists but enjoys viewer numbers close to one million people, in a region of seven million in total, the message is the opposite. When the rate of blank votes and people who abstained from voting went up in recent local elections, some politicians tried to blame this on Polònia’s trivializaton of politics.

Why do not politicians worry more about their own behaviour and less about how it subsequently is interpreted in satire? For me, this TV show is one of the most sophisticated parts of the Catalan culture and it makes understand why I feel proud to form part of society here, in Polònia.

No comments: