The sound of flatulence...

The surprise victory of Joe Mangion seems to have fired a much-needed rocket up the artistic establishment’s backside… maybe a deliberate, conscious decision, by thousands of voters who propelled him – much like the fireworks he imitates so well – directly to the semi-finals

Fireworks man: Joe Mangion ‘beatboxes’ the sound of Maltese festa fireworks
Fireworks man: Joe Mangion ‘beatboxes’ the sound of Maltese festa fireworks

OK, let’s start with the obvious (which, by the way, is the obvious way to start, when you can’t actually think of a better intro):  I haven’t really been following ‘Malta’s Got Talent’ all that much, so far.

But that’s not to say I haven’t watched a single episode, or a single clip. A couple of weeks ago, for instance, I chanced upon an episode half-way: and - having missed the beginning of the act - what I saw on screen was… yeah, you probably guessed already.

It was the same act that went on to cause a minor furore last Sunday, by actually making it through to the semi-finals… at the expense of other, more ‘traditional’ displays of that ineffable, indefinable (and, quite frankly, entirely subjective) quality we call ‘talent’. (You know: singing; dancing; doing comic impersonations… that sort of thing.)

This, in turn, seems to have got everyone talking about the ‘decline and fall of Malta’s artistic standards’ (with ‘Bis-Serjeta’ even suggesting a ‘state funeral for the arts’…)

Perhaps more usefully, however, it may also have got people to question the specific criteria on which ‘talent’ even gets to be judged in the first place: not only on our own version of the international ‘XGT’ franchise (where ‘X’ represents the initial letter of the country hosting the show; and… well, you can work the rest out for yourselves)… but pretty much everywhere else in the known universe.

Questions like: is it ever wise to entrust a significant chunk of the judging process to the general public (as opposed to a panel of experts)?

Doesn’t this open up the possibility of a final decision influenced by… um…  ‘ex-ternal factors’: such as lobbying (as seems to have been the case here)… or even (in other cases) political bias, xenophobia, homophobia, etc…?

Besides: on what criteria can Mr Joe Public even make that kind of decision, anyway… if not on the basis of his own, purely idiosyncratic tastes?

And even then: isn’t that what ultimately counts, when it comes to the single most ineffable, indefinable aspect of them all: i.e., the part of ‘talent’ we refer to as ‘entertainment value’?

Conversely, we could also question the wisdom of leaving all the judging in the hands of ‘experts’… and please note, I’m not using those inverted commas to dispute, or in any way minimise, the expertise of MGT’s own panel of judges.

It’s just that…well… ‘singing’, ‘dancing’, and all the rest of the usual, traditional fare: that’s something a career in the music industry, or in the performing arts, - or in virtually any sphere that requires at least the ability to recognise ‘talent’ - can actually prepare you to evaluate.

But… imitating the sound of fireworks? What sort of credentials could even a lifetime career in the arts possibly equip you with, to take that sort of artistic decision?

No, no: make no mistake: the only people who could possibly judge Joseph Mangion on that performance, are the ones who share his evident passion for the sound, smell, and spectacle of the traditional Maltese fireworks display.

In other words, the ones who really do accept that Malta’s pyrotechnics culture is an integral (if not essential) component of the ‘local arts scene’… and that it I therefore right and fitting, for its centrality to our cultural heritage to be acknowledged in a local talent.

And… um… that is, in fact, exactly what happened last Sunday.

But it all happened later; and I’m still at the part when I had only just tuned into the act for the first time… without catching any of the introductory banter, and therefore without actually knowing what the hell Joseph Mangion was even trying to do.

My first reaction was: ‘Oh my God, is he really doing what I think he’s doing?’

And my second reaction was: ’Because if so… he’s pretty darn good at it, you know…’

Hey, let’s not be too judgmental.  It is no small feat to accurately replicate the precise sound, texture and intensity of human bowel movements… using only your vocal cords.

And yes, I know it’s something we all think we can do ourselves – be honest now: who hasn’t ever ‘blown a raspberry’, at least once in his life? – but to let it rip so naturally an effortlessly, live on stage… and to even distinguish between the unique auditory qualities of different types of flatulence, too (displaying, in the process, such a masterful grasp of the sheer complexity of the human digestive system…)

That takes some talent, you know. So much talent, in fact, that… heck: even now, that I belatedly realise I had originally got it all wrong: watching the clip again, I am still just as impressed by the achievement, despite knowing full well that it was all along unintentional.

Consider for instance, the initial ‘phut’-sound that indicates (because, alas, we all now know what he was really doing) the launch of a petard that is destined to explode as an overhead firework…

… to my ears, that sounded (and still sounds) like a perfect vocalisation of a very specific type of fart: one that, in Maltese, would be referred to as a ‘fiswa’.

And I use that word with pride, too: because few other languages in the world can boast terminology that is so phonetically accurate, it can capture not just the word’s meaning: but also its precise sound, quality, and even – dare I say it - smell.

The closest English can possibly come to that is… S.B.D (‘Silent But Deadly’). But while that does indeed attempt to capture both auditory and olfactory qualities… it doesn’t really count, because: a) it’s three words, not one; b) without contesting the ‘deadly’ part… a ‘fiswa’ isn’t really ‘silent’, is it? and; c) the all-important onomatopoeia is somehow lost in the translation….

But that was the just the beginning. Like the petard it was along meant to be, that ‘fiswa’ promptly erupted into a whole series of other, equally impressive examples of imitation ‘chamber music’: starting with the most recognisable fart-sound of them all.

This time, the English language does possess an entirely apt word to describe it: it’s called a ‘prip’.

And what makes that word so effective, is that it could be used only one – to describe that sudden (mostly involuntary) escape of wind, that usually occurs when trying  to keep a much larger one in for too long – or else, you can repeat it several times in sequence, to emulate the rapid machine-gun fire of several ‘prips’ being involuntarily let off at once. (‘Prip-pip-prip-pip’, etc.)

So there he was, our future semi-finalist of Malta’s Got Talent: ‘prip-pip-prip-pipping’ away, with great gusto, on stage… and that, of course, was before even he got to the Grand Finale: the ‘kaxxa infernali’, which cannot realistically be described in any language, because… well, let’s just say it’s the sound a herd of hippopotami might make, while on a strict diet of beans, cauliflower and Jerusalem artichokes…

So I need hardly add that, by the end of the act, I was on my feet cheering. Never mind ‘talent’; that’s sheer genius, that is.

Because not only was the impression itself so utterly realistic… but you could even interpret it as a classic raspberry-blow, right in the face of the ‘panel of experts’ themselves.

And that elevates Joseph Mangion’s performance onto a whole new symbolic plane: suddenly, it becomes a bold (albeit cheeky) gesture of defiance, against an establishment which has somehow imposed its own aesthetic standards onto the entire global performing arts scene… and which can (no offence to MGT’s own judges, or anything) be conceivably accused of ‘mass-producing generations of Beyonce-soundalikes’ (or, at least, of moulding popular tastes according to predetermined - and highly subjective - patterns…

As such, you could almost compare it to the sudden, violent irruption of The Sex Pistols, more than 30 years ago, onto a mid-1970s rock scene that had become far too musically self-indulgent for its own good…

But let’s not get too carried away. Point is: I was (initially, anyway) just a little disappointed to discover that I had, as usual, read slightly too much into things… that: no, actually… Joseph Mangion wasn’t really expressing his own sentiments about ‘the global hegemonisation of the performing arts, through corporate franchises like XGT’, directly to the judges’ faces….

Or at least: maybe not intentionally. Because at the end of the day: it still remains a rather accurate description of what his he actually did last Sunday.

If nothing else, his surprise victory seems to have fired a much-needed rocket up the artistic establishment’s backside… and if it wasn’t fully intentional, on his own part: it may well have been a very deliberate, conscious decision, on the part of the thousands of voters who propelled him – much like the fireworks he imitates so well - directly to the semi-finals….

Either way: as for myself, I am now officially rooting for the fart… I mean, firework impersonator, all the way. Long may the sound of flatulence prevail…