A Fool Walks Into A Bar
The comedian, Stewart Lee, walks into a bar. Well, perhaps I mean the character Stewart Lee. I’m assuming he does. Maybe it’s a metaphor? Maybe we all walk into bars? Maybe the bar represents society and we are all, each of us, Stewart Lee?
The Feast of Fools may sound like what happens on the last night of the Tory Party Conference, or at a Parliamentary Labour Party gathering. It’s also true that in the Middle Ages, it used to be held around the same time as the Feast of Circumcision; these are all coincidences. The Lord of Misrule, the Abbot of Misreason, the Prince des Sots. Elected by a sort of Athenian democracy, but eligible to all plebeians, from peasants to subdeacons. Until the celebrations are over, the Fool is in charge now. Hierarchy is undermined, challenged, dismembered.
This traditional role is occupied by the satirist all year round, although starting at Halloween and giving up by the end of Christmas can usually result in fewer instances of angry, uninformed blog posts.
The Shakespearean fool hits upwards, criticising the rich and the powerful with wit and clarity that the protection of being a court jester affords. For Britain, today’s court is the European Court of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act, but the immediate future may morph the latter into some sort of British Bill of Rights to make it look like, post-Brexit, we are taking back control. However backwards and out of public control the reality of it is.
The most effective contrarian voice that seeks to engage society in dialogue and open public debate uses the vehicle of art, and of satire. The more successful you are, the more criticism you receive. In a democratic state with freedom of expression this is healthy, but the immediate future shrugs at us from outside a university campus. Students walk past in giant, all-encompassing plastic bubbles. You can see them struggling to breath as the oxygen depletes; their neo-Orwellian costumes gleam in the Promethean sun.
We’re not yet in an ideal world, nor is a utopia likely. A fool’s sacrifice is never only a symbolic one, free of a Wicker Man or a Purge. Obstacles spring up like Trumpian walls, but these are transient, Babylonian constructs, and they crumble when the Fool dances, and plays music. All of us should strive to be fools, because a fool is truly free. Joke, ridicule, laugh. Question, reexamine, repeat. The successful fools – to paraphrase Isaac Assimov – are no fools at all.
Anyway, Stewart Lee orders a glass of water. The barman places a slice of lemon in it of his own volition. Lee is livid.