O Joseph Mio…

I don’t know what it is about performing artists these days. But no sooner do they achieve a modicum of international success in their chosen field – a recording contract here, a few live gigs with Michael Bolton there… who knows?

Maybe the occasional sell-out concert at the Carnegie Hall, or the New York Metropolitan Opera - than, hey presto! Success goes straight to their heads, and off they all go developing instant delusions of grandeur.

No, I can't quite understand it either. To hear some people talk, you'd almost think it was difficult to get top billing at the New York Met these days. But it's not so much the sheer self-aggrandisement that perplexes me. No, it's the way successful artists invariably decide to overstep the area of their own particular expertise, and start shooting their mouths off about all sorts of other issues, too.

So the next thing you know, that same bloke who was yowling away on stage the other day about 'O Sole Mio' (or some other brand of Italian 'candeggina') suddenly turns around and starts dispensing advice about... health insurance.

Something like: "Hi there. I'm rich. I'm famous. I sing songs about 'fresh bucato' and 'profumo di pulito'... Oh, and I'm also insured with Atlas..."

Excuse me for asking, but... what on earth gives world-class opera singers this impression that, just because we happen to like the way they sing (well, I do, at any rate)... we would automatically be interested to also know what they happen to... think?

And it's not just opera singers, mind you. Believe it or not, the world is simply brimming with people who seem to genuinely believe that their own opinions on anything under the sun will actually be... of interest to others.

I mean, honestly. Interest? In other people's opinions? Most preposterous thing I've ever heard. In fact I was so utterly flummoxed that I felt compelled to immediately write an opinion column about it. You know, just to inform you all what I happen to think about the view that what anyone else thinks might actually matter in the long run... which of course is patently absurd.

So let's start by picking out a celebrity name entirely at random... any old celebrity will do; let's face it, it's not exactly like we're overflowing with celebs anyway... so how about... Joseph Calleja?

What? No, not the licensed wholesaler from the lower part of Old Theatre Street, Valletta. I meant... the other Joseph Calleja. The one who's insured with Atlas. For it seems that, not content with constantly filling out all the world's major opera houses - and even overtaking Placido Domingo to the top spot in an international 'best opera singer' online poll - it seems that Joseph Calleja is (not unlike pretty much everybody else in this country of ours) also an world authority on...

...Maltese hunting.

So when a German television station decided to run a tiny little feature about the real-life experiences of German anti-hunting activists here in Malta - things like: getting beaten up by hunters who are afterwards let off with an €80-euro fine; or having blocks of stone smashed through the windscreens of their hired cars; or finding their countryside itinerary fouled with the rotting remains of animal carcasses strewn all over the place... well,  Joseph Calleja was quick as lightning to condemn those pesky, nosey interfering little foreign busybodies for having had the nerve to actually exercise their freedom of expression.

This is what Calleja said about it on his Facebook wall: "Whilst I deplore and condemn any form of poaching or illegal hunting, I equally condemn the way that Malta was portrayed in the German media on the RTL TV station..."

Are you getting this, RTL TV station of Germany? If not, please note that you have been tried in absentia in the court of Joseph Calleja's personal opinion, and unanimously found GUILTY (by one vote to zero) of the grave crime of expressing an opinion/viewpoint with which Mr Calleja disagrees. Wait, there's more. According to the same Joseph Calleja: if you must make a mini-documentary (or a news feature, or whatever) about the local hunting situation... well, at minimum your clip has to somehow also reflect absolutely everything else there is to know about Malta, too... whether or not it is in any way remotely connected to birds (and the shooting thereof).

Why? Because... always according to Joseph Calleja, please note... "(hunting) is not what Malta and the Maltese are about..." and "one can hardly generalise because some individuals go renegade and behave in an unacceptable manner..."

And let's face it, he does have a point. After all, if some individuals "go renegade" and "behave in an unacceptable manner" in another country - for instance, by hijacking ships off the Horn of Africa, and holding passengers, crew and cargo to ransom - well, using Calleja's logic it would be "totally unfair" to actually report the reality that is "Somali piracy" anywhere in the news.

This because "it is indeed irresponsible to negatively portray a whole nation" only on the basis of the actions of only a few.

Got that, RTL? Malta is "not just about hunting"... so your documentary can't "just be about hunting", either. And of course, this applies equally to documentaries about the Sicilian mafia (or Basque separatists, or Islamic Jihadists, or any other group of individuals whose actions are not directly representative of the sum total of their country's identity).

After all, we all know that Sicily is about 'more than just the mafia'... so it's 'unfair' and irresponsible for a news item to focus exclusively on the mafia, without also talking about... um... Mt Etna, or pasta fagioli, or whatever.

Oh, and by the way, it is entirely irrelevant that the German anti-hunting activists in question were greeted throughout the Maltese countryside by the sight of Nazi swastikas on placards... as well as xenophobic slogans to the effect of: "Go back to your gas chambers, you filthy Nazi scum", etc.

Who cares if that sort of thing would be considered an instant news item in its own right anywhere else in Europe? That argument doesn't hold here, for two reasons: one, this is not 'anywhere else in Europe'; it's Malta, and we happen to enjoy a God-given right to simply insult any other nationality we like, without ever facing any consequence.

Two; it wasn't the entire 400,000 who make up the total population of Malta who were holding up those Nazi placards, or chanting those offensive slogans. No indeed. It was probably only around 10,000... which makes all the difference in the world.

And besides: as Calleja so aptly pointed out, if German anti-hunting activists actually got to see any of those sights... it's only because there is not enough room in the rest of country to hide them from public view. In his own words: "illegal hunting in Malta is simply more visible because of our small size (and) our island having no remote countryside." 

Well, that just about wraps it all up, doesn't it? So if you see anything that is untoward or unacceptable while holidaying in Malta... why, it can hardly be the fault of the person indulging in the unacceptable behaviour, can it? It is obviously the fault of the entire goddamn country, for not being big enough to render that sort of behaviour... invisible.

I mean, honestly: did we really need a world-renowned tenor to point out such a self-evident fact?

But in the best of operatic tradition, Calleja reserved his most rousing argument for the grand finale. "Perhaps RTL should have focused instead on the HUMAN immigration problem Malta is facing as Europe's most southern tip and help putting into much needed light the grave problems our country is facing..."

Erm: excuse me for asking, but... if a German television crew came to Malta to make a news feature specifically about the local hunting situation... then why in the world should they make a news feature about anything other than the local hunting situation, which is what they came to film in the first place?

By the same reasoning, I suppose the natural response to a film like 'Bowling for Columbine' (to name but one controversial documentary which is not about local hunting) would be to round on Michael Moore and accuse him of discriminately focusing only on one topic - American gun-crime - to the exclusion of all other completely unrelated subjects, such as... oh, anything really: 'endemic insect species of western Ethiopia's Abiyata National Park', perhaps? Or how about 'the plight of unemployed female stand-up comics in tsunami-stricken Bangladesh'?

Personally. I have no doubt there are plenty of valid reasons to criticise Michael Moore's output as a film-maker... or that of Bill Maher, or Werner Herzog, or for that matter RTS TV of Germany. But to criticise a media expose simply on the grounds that it didn't also mention an entirely unrelated topic of one's own preference... no offence, but that is just daft.

So on the off-chance that Joseph Calleja was thinking of a possible career change in this direction, my advice would be: stick to opera, Joseph. Leave the opinionated bullshit to other, less talented people (like me).

Dear Raphael, A hilarious article with bitter sweet anecdotes and a subtle humor (or is it sarcasm ) which says a lot about our character and overly sensitive nature to take offense at any hint of criticism. Or maybe it is our endearing trait to take ourselves too seriously and demand heads to roll when a bout of gentle leg pulling would suffice to get our point across. A nice read