Truth is weirder than satire…

As I recall, the exact words were: ‘Shoot these bitches in the head one by one, facing each other’

As with so many famous one-liners, Mark Twain usually gets all the credit for the aphorism, ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’. (And fair enough: he did, after all, write those exact words in 1897).

But it was actually Lord Byron who had first uttered them around 70 years earlier, in Canto 14 of ‘Don Juan’: “‘Tis strange – but true; for truth is always strange, / Stranger than fiction…”

Nonetheless: at the risk of being disowned by my father – who, as some of you may know, subscribes to the view that: ‘Nobody does it better than Byron!’ - I’m going to go with the Mark Twain version, for this article.

Because unlike the great British Romantic poet: Twain also explains exactly WHY reality is sometimes so decidedly ‘unreal’. What he actually wrote was: “Truth is stranger than fiction, […] because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

He was quite right, you know. Consider, for instance, the following story (which headlined yesterday’s news all over the world):

‘Harry and Meghan’s California town ordered to evacuate over… mudslide fears!’ (I kid you not.)

I mean, how’s that for ‘life imitating art’? Honestly, though: if that were the synopsis of a fictionalised novel, based on the recent ‘Harry and Meghan’ debacle (with all its ‘mudslinging’, ‘muck-raking’ associations)… and the author actually chose to end it with Harry and Megan’s entire adoptive town, being literally ‘swept away by a cataclysmic deluge’ (and a MUDSLIDE, of all implausibly-appropriate things…)

Sorry, but it would just never work. No publisher would even touch it with a barge-pole: they’d say it’s ‘too allegorical’… too ‘reminiscent of Mediaeval Morality Plays’ (or Dante’s ‘Inferno’, for that matter), where the ‘punishment always fits the crime’…

Not, in a word, ‘realistic’ enough, to be ever be taken seriously; even as a work of fiction. But then, along comes Reality itself: and, hey presto! Suddenly, ‘shit starts getting real’….

And almost literally, too. Just one day after Harry’s memoirs went out on sale: the entire city of Montecito in California (Oprah Winfrey, and all) really IS facing mass-evacuation, on account of the threat of flash-floods, mudslides, and… well, the sort of cataclysmic horrors you’d expect from something like The Holy Bible (Sodom and Gomorrah spring to mind.)

So make no mistake: ‘truth’ can clearly get away with far, FAR more, in the way of implausibility, than ‘fiction’ could ever dream of…

But even the Harry-and-Meghan example simply pales to insignificance, compared with the second-most widely reported international ‘Breaking News’ story of the week: the one in which Maltese satirist Matt Bonanno was arrested and charged, with – again, I kid you not – ‘plotting to carpet-bomb the entire town of Bugibba (Gordon Pace Manche, and all) to oblivion’…

…which is – let’s face it - almost indistinguishable from the sort of satirical humour that Matt Bonanno himself is generally known for, anyway. So much so, that my next sentence practically writes itself, with no actual input from my end:


But in any case: I’m far too late for this particular party, to bother explaining all the reasons WHY this is such an astonishingly absurd – and alas, woefully ‘serious’ – state of affairs. Suffice it to say for now, that…

… when satirical comedians like Matt Bonanno ‘threaten’ to obliterate large urban centres such as Bugibba, by means of a military tactic commonly defined as: “a large area bombardment done in a progressive manner to inflict damage in every part of a selected area of land” (of the kind historically associated with Dresden, Berlin, Tokyo, and even Malta in WW2…)

.. well, it’s not unlike when the supporter of a local football team [Note: to avoid the otherwise certainty of criminal reprisals, ‘no names mentioned’] posts an online comment, before an all-important Premier League game, to the effect of: ‘OUR team is going to shit all over YOUR team, just you wait and see!” [followed, as always, by the inevitable ‘Lemon’ emoticon.]

Now: it doesn’t exactly follow, does it, that the football fan in question would be genuinely expecting those players to come out of their dressing rooms, and – instead of lining up for the team photo – somehow conspire to physically ‘defecate’ all over every single player of the opposing team? In front of crowd of several thousand supporters, by the way: including, no doubt, at least one inappropriately-kitted Tourism Minister? [Honestly, Clayton: what – if anything at all – were you even thinking?]

Leaving aside the sheer improbability of it all – for one thing, those players would have to synchronise their laxatives, so that they’d all take effect at precisely the same moment… and let’s face it: half of them probably can’t even synchronise their own passes on the football pitch... [Runs for cover, stage left].

My point, however, is that: when football fans post that sort of thing… they’re not exactly expecting to be taken LITERALLY. And it’s probably just as well, too: for one thing, because I shudder to even imagine what the consequences would be, if something like that were to really happen (though I can very easily imagine how the ‘carpet-bombing’ of places like Valletta, Floriana, Hamrun or Paola, might suddenly become an entirely plausible scenario…)

And for another: because I’m fairly certain that there IS actually a law against ‘shitting on people’, somewhere in the Criminal Code – in fact it’s right there, in ‘Article Number Two’ (Groan!): “Thou shalt not publicly defecate upon others, under any circumstances whatsoever (unless thou art a pigeon, of course – or maybe a Maltese construction magnate – in which case, thou canst pretty much shit all over whatsoever, or whomsoever, thou pleaseth…)”

So if the rival supporter decided to take that taunt quite as literally, as the Malta Police Force are doing with Matt Bonnano’s Facebook post… its author would now be facing the possibility of up to two fines of E25,000 apiece! (Or whatever the equivalent penalty is, for ‘incitement to public defecation’)…

Because this is where ‘shit’ starts to get decidedly ‘unreal’: it’s not as though Matt Bonanno is even being charged with any crime that can be defined as ‘hate-speech’, or ‘incitement’ (to ‘violence’, ‘hatred’… or anything at all, really).

In fact, I wasn’t even joking when I wrote, above, that the police are taking the ‘carpet-bombing’ motif in wholehearted earnest. They did not charge Matt Bonanno with violating any ‘freedom of expression’ laws (or even libel, for that matter). Instead, they accused him of breaching Article 48(d): which “prohibits the use of electronic communication networks or apparatus for a purpose other than their intended use” [Note: whatever the heck THAT’s supposed to be; but never mind, for now]….”

… and – even more bizarrely – with breaching Article 49, which states that “individuals who use the internet to threaten to COMMIT A CRIME [my emphasis] are liable to a fine of €25,000…”

Effectively, then, Matt Bonanno really is being charged with ‘threatening to commit a crime’. And given that his actual words were: ‘Relocate River of Love to Buġibba, then carpet bomb. Two birds with one stone’… I make that ‘two crimes’, by my count.

Crime 1: the forcible relocation of NGO ‘River of Love’, and all its members, to another location – against their own desires and intentions; and through the implied use of physical coercion – for the express purpose of committing:

Crime 2: annihiliating them utterly… along with the rest of Bugibba’s civilian population (numbering, according to the latest census, 23,112) in what would effectively qualify as a WAR-CRIME, no less (and it would be ‘genocide’, too: if Bugibba counted as an entire nation, instead of a single town…)

In any case: both these nefarious needs, the police tell us, were genuinely ‘intended to be committed’ – which, by the way, would also require the assistance, and connivance, of other criminal accomplices: so we can also add ‘conspiring with others, with criminal intent’ to the charge-sheet…

…. not to mention ‘illicit arms trading’: for let’s face it… if Matt Bonanno seriously intends to bomb the living shit out of Bugibba: he’s going to need at least two, maybe three Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses, or Rockwell B-1 Lancers [note: he’d probably get by with just one Junckers 87 Stuka, of course… but then it wouldn’t be ‘carpet-bombing’, now would it?); as well as the same number of trained pilots, capable of actually flying them in tight formation. (And as we all saw in ‘Top Gun: Maverick’… that sort of thing costs a lot of money, you know).

And yet, ridiculous as it may all appear: that really IS the criminal case that the prosecution will now have to prove, in court, if it intends to secure a criminal conviction against Matt Bonanno.

And to date, I’m still not sure what worries me more. The fact that life is beginning to imitate art, in all the most surreal – and less laughable – aspects of ‘satire’; or the fact that the same Police Force which was so very quick, to take this aburd accusation ‘bis-serjeta’ kolla’… never actually acted at all, on reports of a much, MUCH more serious death threat: levelled against a group of young women, who had protested against Malta’s abortion ban in 2019.

As I recall, the exact words were: ‘Shoot these bitches in the head one by one, facing each other’.

And unlike any amount of ‘carpet-bombing’ that Matt Bonanno will ever be capable of inflicting upon Bugibba… that’s the sort of threat that – as recent experience has so tragically illustrated, for the umpteenth time – can quite easily be carried out.