Roughing Up Neoliberalism

If, as Peter Hallward suggests in The Guardian, the current protests in Montreal can be traced back to Quebec’s ‘Quiet Revolution’ of the 1960s perhaps we should think of them as a ‘noisy revolution’, for one of their many striking features has been the development of ‘Manifestation casseroles’ (‘casseroles résonnent’/’pots and pans protest’): the banging of pots and pans to protest the increasing hegemony of neoliberalism.

(It’s spread to the UK too)

Now there’s nothing new in making a noise on protests, of course. It’s a common tactic to bang, yell, whistle, drum and generally ‘make some noise’ when passing under a bridge or entering a resonant space, creating a cacophony of dissonant unity that fosters community among marchers, whilst also serving to intimidate the enemy (I’m indebted to discussions with Marie Thompson for this understanding of its dual operation). Nor is the use of pots and pans new – the Icelandic feminist movement Rauðsokkur (‘red stockings’) banged pots and pans at demonstrations, not least on the day of the women’s strike. But there’s another use of pots and pans that I want to focus on here: the tradition of the ‘rough band’.

I first came across this on Rob Youngs’ Electric Eden blog, in which he quoted George Ewart Evans’ Patterns Under the Plough:

The Rough Band played on occasions such as the above, a marriage which the village considered reprehensible, or in cases of adultery, incest, wife- or husband-beating. Although its playing was nearly always reserved for sexual offences, unpopularity of any sort sometimes called out Rough Music. In one Suffolk district it was used to “drum a man out of the village” if his offence had been a gross one… Whatever the offence, the punishment of Rough Music was both drastic and cruel. For this reason some argue that it is a very ancient custom whose dynamic is to be sought in pagan times when people believed that fertility was undivided and that the same power controlled the crops, the increase of animals and of human-kind…

Wikipedia, meanwhile, says this:

Rough music, also known as ran-tan or ran-tanning, is an English folk custom, a practice in which a humiliating and loud public punishment is inflicted upon one or more people who have violated the standards of the rest of the community.

I (half-jokingly) suggested in a comment under Youngs’ blog that rough banding might be used in ‘flash mob’ protests (not sure why I used that awful term), attracted by the way rough banding creates community and chases out the unwanted (even if that can be a hideous operation of the tyranny of the majority).

It’s pretty unlikely that there’s any direct influence on what’s happening in Montreal now, but there are some resonances. Neoliberalism is violating the standards of community (indeed, it is destroying community); and Montrealers are fighting back with noise. A noise that simultaneously creates a community and a noise that chases out the unwanted.

EDIT: A far more considered and theoretically interesting piece on rough music and casseroles résonnent by Jonathan Sterne can be found at sound studies. (4/6/12)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s