Some time ago, (2003 in fact!) I posted asking for information about the economic impact of markets fairs and festivals. Some time later, (2006) I made a separate post about so-called Anti-Social Behaviour, that touched in passing on a phenomenon known as Charivari. I was intrigued therefore to discover a research project at City University in London, that focussed on economic outcomes from such events, but in one of the academic papers linked also to some of those other ideas inherent in Charivari.
Throughout the academic literature, carnivals and festivals are associated – by historians and anthropologists alike – with altered social forms, excitement, even danger. Opinion is divided over whether the carnival is a locus for radical transgression, or simply an escape valve for revolutionary energy, which acts to reinforce the status quo (Cohen 1993; Waterman 1998; Webb 2005). Either way, attention is drawn to the tendency for popular festivals and carnivals, in many parts of the world, and in many historical periods, to be characterised by risqué reversals of hierarchy, ludic mimicry, flamboyant and celebratory cultural expression, and a sanctioned overstepping of conventional rules and norms of behaviour. Arguably, carnival is also associated with spontaneity, and with a sense of being carried away by the momentum of the event through improvised action and kinetic excitement. Although many carnival arts involve meticulous attention to form, structure, even ritual, there remains a strong feeling that participation is more than can be conveyed through an account of moves, music and costume. The element of risk, of unpredictability – not, in any sense, of anarchy, but of an altered understanding of authority, whether actual or imagined – is at the heart of the experience of carnival.
There are also links here with the idea of the feast of the Lord of Misrule
This is misnamed a feast, being full of annoyance; since going out-of-doors is burdensome, and staying within doors is not undisturbed. For the common vagrants and the jugglers of the stage, dividing themselves into squads and hordes, hang about every house. The gates of public officials they besiege with especial persistence, actually shouting and clapping their hands until he that is beleaguered within, exhausted, throws out to them whatever money he has and even what is not his own. And these mendicants going from door to door follow one after another, and, until late in the evening, there is no relief from this nuisance. For crowd succeeds crowd, and shout, shout, and loss, loss.
This fear of the reversal of power, of disturbance of the common good runs deep. After all, we can't have public officials made fun of can we?