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Festival As A Method Of Social Deviance

Festival: Social Deviance or Social Control?

Certainly, a central activity in Renaissance England was the festival. These events, often held annually, attracted the attention of many people, particularly of the lower classes. An important question must be asked in regards to these festivals and their attraction. Why were they so popular?

An important aspect to examine is the realm of social deviance and subversion of the traditional authority. Clearly, as seen in the discussion of Carneval, the temporary subversion of rules and law is a major consideration in its importance and popularity. This importance is seen from both sides. On the part of the peasants, Carneval provides an opportunity to act in ways that one would normally not be allowed to act. Peasants became kings, and kings became peasants. Laws and rules were broken down for a short span. It was a time of merriment and revelry for the common folk.

Additionally, these events were necessary from the perspective of the rulers. By temporarily subverting rule (in a controlled manner), their authority would be asserted in a greater sense. There exists a necessity of both extremes of authority and lawlessness in order for both to exist. The definition of authority, in order for it to be legitimate, needs to be placed in contrast with the idea of lawlessness. In a sense, one ideal determines itself in the terms of the existence of the other, and vice-versa.

However, such a time of lawlessness and authoritative subversion does give rise to another important question. Given that these festivals offered the population a chance to see what life would be like when authority was placed into their hands – away from the control of the King – can these festivals be seen as a precursor to social change, or merely a way to temporarily subvert authority?

Either perspective takes into account a meaning more complex than a merely celebratory approach. Considering festivity as merely an escapist attempt to circumvent the traditional rule is to look at it from a simple and superficial viewpoint. To get at the crux of the importance behind Carneval and other festivals, one needs to look into the motivation and reasoning behind the festivals.

A strong argument can be made to support the notion that Carneval and other similar festivals were not a precursor to social change, but a method, by those in authoritative positions, to prevent the population from desiring social change. The theory of festival as a release of tension is quite relevant here.

In a way, these times of debauchery and subversion offered the general population a chance to release any and all pent-up energy that may otherwise be used to challenge the King’s authority through violence, revolution, or other unproductive and dangerous means. Often these festivals would involve games of skill, strength, and speed that would provide a means of release of energy and anger in a positive way. Not only would festival attendees have the opportunity to participate in these feats, but would receive reward and praise for doing so – a significant change from the possible execution or imprisonment which would most likely be garnered from the direction of such energies towards violent overthrow and demonstration.

Perhaps most importantly was the underlying principle behind the festival. The annual event was a time of merriment and fun. Those who participated in the festivals were entertained above all. They were times to eat, drink, and be merry, as the old saying goes. With this said, one can see the merriment as a way of pacification of those who came. Those in authority could benefit greatly from this pacification of the masses, in that with a happy population, there would naturally arise a significantly lessened threat of internal uprising and complaint.

The jester, or fool, character was often present. This character was the figurehead of the festival, and was a symbol of the authoritative subversion that the festival represented. The fool participated in public mockery and ridicule of authority figures and common folk alike. He would behave with excessively ridiculous manners, often to the amusement of the crowd. The humor that this character evoked would generally center towards the common realm, with reliance upon bodily and gross humor, and physical comedy, such as humorous violence. As far as verbal humor is concerned, there was a strong presence of the pun, a style of joke telling usually agreed to be of lower quality. This was the humor of the common folk.

On a seemingly related note, a time in which common people were allowed to feel a sense of authority and autonomy where it would normally not be the case allows them the chance to see what such control is like, and further appreciate those who wield this power. Authority over a multitude of people does not seem to be an easy position, and could easily be taken for granted by those who are on the receiving end of rule.

Clearly, the significance of festival as a means of social deviance is an important topic with many implications. While the possibility exists that these events may have contributed to the growing seeds of authority-centered discontent among the common population, festivals definitely do not appear to have been designed as such. In fact, the opposite is true. Festivals were means of thwarting social discontent by providing an array of opportunities to temporarily subvert the traditional authority of the realm.