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Ajma! Jaqq! Istra! and other sounds from the new Labour pépé

Labour’s ‘Courage to Vote’ ad on Friday evening’s Xarabank was a mischaracterised middle class that says more about Labour than about us voters.

Matthew Vella
26 February 2013, 12:00am
When one is compelled by the power of Labour
When one is compelled by the power of Labour
If Labour’s ‘Courage to Vote’ change-is-nigh electoral ad is to be believed, the middle-class households of the 9th, 10th, and 11th districts populated by dads reading the Financial Times on their day off, are fighting a new virus: their daughters are threatening to go red and vote Labour, and their hysterical mothers are waxing Menglish about it.

You will have probably watched this video a dozen times on Friday evening during Xarabank, and your reaction to it depends squarely on what your background is. If like me, you hail from Sliema (not Windsor Terrace blue, but close enough to Lazy Corner to know another world is out there even when geopolitics of this sort does not dent one’s snobbishness); and are privy to the prejudices of the class that ‘Courage’ claims to portray, you will have felt a slight glass-crunching sensation building up inside the oesophagus.

If, on the other hand, you belong to the class that has nothing to lose but gaudy chokers and gold chains, you probably found nouveau-Labour-pépé (NLPs) mildly amusing. Or at some other extreme, you hate the NLPs’ ksuhati, feel patronised and unrepresented by the ad. Quo vadis Lejber, you might think to yourself – I thought we was working class.

Were you, like me, plunged into some sort of psychological whirlpool at seeing this Joinwell kitchen-sink drama unfolding? You might have witnessed this kind of play during some family do – but if you recognised yourself with these inglizati, then you’re certainly not voting Labour.

For the past two months Labour politicos have been perfecting their English affectation in a bid to charm the Paul & Shark off the Nationalists. Konrad Mizzi chimes in with ‘shame on you, minister Faaahnaach’ while Joseph Muscat always allows a bipartisan 50-50 sprinkling on his soundbites, by saying “li l-pjan taghna tal-energija is credible and we will deliver.”

Has all this silver-tongued electioneering boiled down to this one stereotype? Not the scarf-waving wenches and their floppy-haired boyfriends with dodgy piercings – but brave young men and women brought up in the households where ‘Eddie’ was a byword for saintliness, where they cut their enamelled teeth in the hallowed corridors of the Sacred Heart Convent and St Edward’s College, who use words like ‘ajma’ and ‘jaqq’ when they must be disparaging about ‘you know, hux, that hamallu.’

So far, so pulit.

But this deliberate imagery has come at the expense of the less appealing, roughhewn working class that has been largely absent from both parties’ campaigns (tax cuts for the high earners, remember?). As one friend commented on Facebook, all Labour’s left to do is host a mass meeting in English.

It would seem ‘Courage’ is an appeal to a promising youth vote to ditch its blinkers. Kudos to that. People watching this ad will recognise what is happening in Malta: many former PN voters are going to switch because new Labour is convincing.

But does ‘Courage’ actually give people the courage to switch party allegiance? Is Labour simply boasting of its middle-class inroads? Or is it a characterisation of Labour’s secret fetish for the middle-class, betraying the working class that always formed its bedrock? I feel that there is a more painful diagnosis to be made.

Politics in Malta has always been more religion than shopping. Morally, the Nationalists are seen as having restored democracy at a time where liberty and freedom of expression were truly at stake, taking Malta into the EU with a modernised economy that moved away from Labour’s self-sufficiency and clunky nationalisation. Eddie Fenech Adami was the guiding light of this vision: free enterprise, European identity, strong government safety nets. These were strong values, not just electoral programmes.

This is where Joseph Muscat reinvented Labour’s extraordinary mission to win government from the ashes of the discredited Sant years: free enterprise for business, a newfound belief in Europe, maintain free education and healthcare, and waging war on the “clique” that Lawrence Gonzi is hostage to. Malta Taghna Lkoll sounds like an appealing and perhaps convincing package of unifying, patriotic zeal – whether you buy into it, or not. What’s sure is that the Nationalists are not selling it.

So when the young girl declares to her horrified mother that she has switched allegiance?

She has not taken leave of her senses by eloping with the red terror. She is propagating her Nationalist pedigree by refusing her mother’s arranged political marriage. And this freedom is borne of the values Fenech Adami propagated.

‘Courage’ may well be Labour’s invitation to take a bold step. It is also a statement on the changing fabric of Maltese society and the promise that lies in its youth to vote with their minds. But then again. it says something more about Labour.

‘Mum, I think I’m going into Labour’

Bear with me, as I delve into the biology of ‘Courage to Vote’, because there is something ultimately happening inside the very bodies of these first-time voters, isn’t there?

They are being asked to commit what their Nationalist-worshipping parents might believe is a ‘mortal sin’, taste the forbidden fruit, drop acid, jump on a merchant vessel to the Indian subcontinent… vote Labour.

In the ad, the daughter who will vote Labour shocks her mother (a convincing performance – I’d hazard she votes for Zammit Dimech) but has shaken her dad out of complacency, because he too confides secretly with her that he will go red. It’s like a coming-out drama – ‘Mum, I’m gay! Mum, I’m converting to Islam! Mum, I’m dropping out of law’ – it’s that very bodily experience of confronting parents with the horror of what you are about to declare.

So why should voting Labour even carry such aversion in this household, and why is Labour keen to forcefully depict the courage it takes to vote for them? Should not ‘Courage’ be a positive spin-off from Malta Taghna Lkoll, or does it betray the inferiority with which Labour perceives itself within these bourgeois environs?

So on one hand, the advert wears its honesty on its sleeve: vote Labour after 25 years of almost uninterrupted Nationalist government, declaring it publicly under pain of ostracisation, “an act of courage” for PN voters who want buy into Muscat’s aspirational message.

But then its earnestness really misfires with the subjects it claims to represent.

They might feel mischaracterised as hysterical and dogmatic, rendered ridiculous by the Menglish patois and excessive code-switching (“Se nivvota according to what is right, taf because how you’ve always voted istra”) which is conversely, used to mock ‘Sliema sorts’ as effete, effeminate, well-dressed knobs.

‘Courage’ seems to depict an authentic situation where the PN is bleeding support from pale-blue and true-blue households. But it employs such a brazen stereotype: dad reads the business news, Gianni-like landscapes and objets d’art adorn white-plastered walls, pearl-wearing mum is poring over a laptop and box-file and some papers, suggesting she actually does some brainy pottering of her own.

A virus or a thrill?

Ultimately, in eliciting the horrific aversion that voting Labour elicits in ‘Courage mum’, this ad carries with it two fantastic aspects of the horror genre – on one hand, it cautions PN households that they cannot shield their children from voting Labour; on the other, just as we seek out excitement in watching a horror movie, we are called on to seek out Labour as a new thrill that confronts the “dumb reasons” not to vote for them.

In William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, the Macneil household is attacked by a demon once worshipped in the Middle East, taking physical control of the youngest daughter. Its unexplained invitation stuns the atheist family, but ultimately the film warns us that evil can be lurking everywhere. Similarly, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is an aristocratic and culturally savvy vampire who establishes his lairs in upmarket London, and infects women of good standing with his lycanthropic virus. Again, nobody is safe.

So what does the Labour-possessed ‘Courage’ daughter do to us? Does it warn Nationalist voters that their nubile daughters are toying with a Labour vote, threatening the peace inside their conservative, FT-reading households?

Or does it invite them to take a controlled thrill by voting Labour, to confront the anti-Labour prejudice?

The happy ending suggests the latter. ‘Stoic John’ dad seemingly keeps out of the mother-daughter feud. When the daughter tells him she is “happy to be voting Labour”, he gives a furtive look around and then whispers “me too” to the delight of his rebellious offspring – but for Chrissakes, are we about to roll a spliff or exercise our democratic right to vote?

These seem to be the kind of daughters that NLP dads want: party-cide, not patricide.

Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.
I am one of those who did not vote at the last election. However this time I am voting PL. I believe that when the same government remains in power for 25 years it becomes corrupt, arrogant and dictatorial. As the saying goes "A new broom sweeps clean".
I am one of those who did not vote at the last election. However this time I am voting PL. I believe that when the same government remains in power for 25 years it becomes corrupt, arrogant and dictatorial. As the saying goes "A new broom sweeps clean".
were I to roll a spliff it wouldn't have shaken the family as my announcement to vote Labour did; completely identify with "rebellious" girl. This ad was just a deja-vu
Janice Sant
I hail from a Nationalist family and I still think that the PL advert reflects the truth; perhaps without the ' inglishhh accent. Of course today I've had enough of GonziPN and am yearning for the day when I will vote against GonziPN: when I get fed up with PL I'll vote someone else but definitely not the same people who have been in government for more than 5 years!
You know, Jomic? You've really hit a chord there. The PL's campaign has such a feel-good factor that it's tempting to be drawn into it, yet when you think about it it is euphoric to the point of being fake. I'll be thinking on that one. Thanks.
Rebecca Muscat
Josmic , you gave an exact picture of a PN supporter with your hypocrisy .
Rebecca Muscat
Jomic , you gave an exact picture of the PN supporter with your hypocrisy .
Christina Barbara
@Jomic. I am not voting Nationalist because as Jomic rightly said the choice is between poses and blatant lies and people spending money wisely. I come from a working class staunch Nationalist family but I am not going to vote Nationalist because beyond their endless posing and blatant lies there is just more posing and blatant lies. Never again PN!
Mela Mhux bhali Jomic ghax ghandi sebgha miit sena biex jasal 9 ta marzu hu nivvota bil- qalb lil Joseph Muscat ghal l-ewwel darba!! bhal ma ivvota kontra bil qalb Gonzi ghal dawl u l-ilma!!
I hail from Mellieha which, during my younger days, was regarded as 'ta' wara l-muntanji.' The welfare state created by Lejber got rid of poverty and put money in the pockets of the citiziens so that a huge middle class was created with a sound economy tied to nothing and nobody except the citizens themselves. Most 'nouveau riches' thus created, forgot all their background, their morals and their ethics and embarked in a wave of 'money no problem' attitude, but not only. They also embarked on the theme 'the end justifies the means.' So the most important thing was to become rich and, hence, powerful and keep up with the Joneses! The result is what we are getting now. Corruption, filthy, evil, amoral and unethical politics, and debt which someone, someday, somehow has to pay back! Unless we change direction, the worse is still to come. The Maya were right. There is in the world, at present, the beginning of a new era which, in most countries is slowly bwcoming a positive one. Italy with Beppegrillo and his 5 Stelle movement is the first positive outcome in Europe. Would the PL follow suit, at least in the basics? Who knows? GonziPN is surely not complying in the least and wants to continue with the present disaster.
Manuel Scicluna
@Jomic So you haven't noticed Gonzi's lies, spewed out time and again, over the last 20 odd years?
This might be a little out of point but Jomic is right about one point. If you give a 100 Euros to a certain party they very well might spend it differently. They might give a huge boost to the economy by building a Bridge to Nowhere, a Roofless Theatre, a Valletta Fissure.. Oh wait that wasn't 100 euros but over 80 million, right?
Raymond Mintoff
@Jomic "You can give two people a 100 Euro each to spend and they will spend them differently. " That is where you are 100% right, give gonzipn a €100 and they will turn it into a €150 deficit. In 8 years gonzipn did not balance 1 single budget plus it increased national debt by 25%. How right you are Jonic, people spend it differently especially when it is not heir money. In fact gonzi admitted that its the Mrs who takes care of their housold finances, not even his wife trusts him.
Mark Vella
The majority of Middle of the middle class people will always vote PN. yOU DONT BLAME THEM. The PN Government has decreased income tax, gave rebates to parents sending children to private schools, put Malta in the EU (which many in Labour are still against), will reduce tax on inherited property etc...This is something you understand even by hearing people in the street. It is always Labourites speaking against the PN that you hear in shops because many of them are lower middle class people or working class who are not educated. Last time I was in Church and even there I heard Labourite women talking against the PN. The more these people make themselves heard the more the middle-class will vote PN.
I am not voting Labour not because I have blinkered eyes or I come from a middle class family or tal-pepe. I come from a working family who's parents were both Labour. I have eyes to notice the fake and coreographed poses and speech that Joseph Muscat presents to those infront of him and have the brains to notice the cunning campaign he is driving of touching the emotions of people. I want a government who really knows how to plan and drive an economy. You can give two people a 100 Euro each to spend and they will spend them differently. One would spend them wisely and the other would waste them and end poorer. That is what we have to decide upon on 9th March and not on fake poses and blatant lies.
Raymond Mintoff
Matthew like you I hail from Sliema and there was nothing in the acting that does'nt really go in certain households and quarters. The vid hit a sore spot because unfortunately certain Sliema residents who love to wedge a couple of english words in a sentence, or maltese for all it matters believe they are God's gift to Malta and being nationalist is as natural as cats eat fish. With regards anybody within a Sliema circle who has the courage to say he/she will vote labour finds him/herself ostracised and given the cold shoulder. Sliema is gonzipn's last bastion but presently it is in the balance and labour might just make inroads there.
Yanika Chetcuti
This is a positive move in the process of liberation from rigidly held outdated social structures of Malta's younger generation's. It has been long in coming, and has now found the "now" space to express itself. This is unshackling the younger generation from the mistakes and idiosyncrasies we grew up with.