The politics of crack wrestling

You cannot call someone a ‘gbejna’ one minute, then become that someone’s ally and accomplice the next.... and all along expect nobody to notice. Sorry folks, but you’ve taken your little con just that little step too far

PD MP Marlene Farrugia
PD MP Marlene Farrugia

Once, long ago, I experienced a minor epiphany while watching a programme called ‘World of Wrestling’ on TV. It must have been a while ago, because it’s been a few years since I’ve owned a television set... and quite a few more since it would have even crossed my mind to watch (of all things) crack wrestling on it. But there you go. I used to watch ‘World of Wrestling’ on TV. (Note: I don’t exactly know why that felt like a confession, but it did.)

In any case: you will surely be familiar enough with the ‘World of Wrestling’ to appreciate the moment. There are two wrestlers in the ring – both attired to look like ‘The Gimp’ in Pulp Fiction, for some utterly obscure reason that I have never fully understood – and one of them has just been clobbered by the other and is lying on the mat in an apparent state of semi-concussion. He is not quite ‘out for the count’ yet... still making an effort to get onto his feet, though failing miserably... but what intrigued me was the behaviour of the other wrestler: the one who had just reduced his adversary to that pitiful state.

Let’s call him ‘Hulk Hogan’ – even if it almost certainly wasn’t Hulk – just for the sake of giving him a name.  Now: if this were a real wrestling match – of the kind that is held during the Olympics, for instance – Hulk Hogan would have been onto his adversary in a flash. There is no way a real wrestler would give so much time for an opponent to recover: the whole point (in real wrestling) would have been to pin him down to the mat as quickly as possible... because that is how wrestling encounters (real ones) are won.

Hulk, however, took his time. He gave his back to his floored opponent (something else a real wrestler would never, EVER do) and instead of just finishing off him off – which, at that point, he could very easily have done by simply sitting on him he delivered an impassioned oration to the spectators, though a microphone held to his mouth by some bikini-clad hostess or other.

In that speech, Hulk Hogan gave a meticulously detailed breakdown of all the moves that he was about to perform on his hapless, Gimp-like foe. I don’t remember all the details, but it was something like: ‘First I’m going to climb up on this corner-post over here. Then, I’m going to take a running jump across the ring, bounce off the ropes on that side, run back and bounce off the ropes on the opposite side, then do a triple backwards somersault and land with my knee directly in the back of his head.” (Only there was a lot more to it, and he was constantly interrupted by spectators throwing chairs and bottles into the ring. The whole scene lasted about 10 minutes. And at the end of it, Hulk proceeded to mark an ‘X’ on the back of the target head, using the bikini girl’s lipstick.)

And what do you know? After all that build-up, Hulk Hogan did exactly as he had indicated: he climbed onto the corner-post, bounced off the ropes, did his triple backward somersault, and... SPLAT! The Gimp ended up having to be airlifted to hospital, while a riot broke out in the stands.

And I remember sitting back in my armchair and thinking: HANG ON A SEC. Something doesn’t quite add up there. For one thing, if the Gimp was so utterly incapacitated that he didn’t even move an inch throughout the 10-minute speech... chances are he was already dead anyway.  Only we could all see he wasn’t: he was on his hands and knees all that time, going through all the usual (farcically exaggerated) motions of pretending to be too hurt to stand up... a bit like a footballer taking a dive in the penalty area, come to think of it.

Which also means that, just like everybody else in the arena... or for that matter, just like me, watching the show from a distance of thousands of miles – he would have heard Hulk going over his meticulous plan of annihilation, in all its precise detail. He would have known exactly what was going to happen, and how. And he had all the time in the world to take evasive action.

No matter how stunned or concussed our Gimp might have been... all he had to do to avoid being splatted was roll away from his current position. Even by just a few inches. That way, Hulk would have made contact with the mat instead of the back of his own head... probably kneecapping himself in the process.

And I have to admit: after that realisation, watching ‘World of Wrestling’ just wasn’t the same any more. I don’t like being conned, you know. I never did. And what I saw that day was as blatant a con as I had ever witnessed, in any area of life.

But like I said: it was a while ago. And I never watched the show again. The only reason I bring it up at all now, is because a very similar realisation occurred to me about Maltese politics, too. Unlike the above analogy, there was no one specific moment when the realisation truly hit home. It was more as though I subliminally suspected the con all along, and then started seeing evidence of it everywhere I looked.

Nonetheless, there were a few individual experiences that went into its concretisation. One was when I interviewed Karmenu Vella for this newspaper, when he was still a cabinet minister (and Parliament was still in the armoury of the Grandmaster’s Palace). The appointment was at Parliament’s cafeteria for MPs – no, I didn’t know they had one at the time either – and I found Vella sitting at a table with a bunch of other MPs from both sides of the House. Joe Debono Grech was one I remember clearly, and another was Clyde Puli. I joined the table and had a coffee, and what followed was an exchange of jokes and light-hearted banter, with lots of laughter and good-natured bonhomie. There was no trace of any animosity whatsoever. Not a growl, not a snarl, not even a sneer.

It was like a classic movie werewolf metamorphosis taking place off-screen: one second he was sitting there, joking and laughing along with the rest; next, we could all hear him howling and gnashing his teeth

It was almost as though I had caught them all with their gloves off in between rounds: forgetting for a moment the contrived aggression they would have to revert to, the moment they stepped back out into the ‘real world’.

Sure enough, sooner or later it was the turn of one of them (can’t remember which, but it was a Nationalist MP) to pop next door and say his little piece in Parliament... and I should have already mentioned that the debate was being broadcast aloud from a radio-set in the corner.

It was almost like a classic movie werewolf metamorphosis, taking place off-screen: one second he was sitting there, joking and laughing along with all the rest; next, we could all hear him howling, gnashing his teeth and baying for the Labour government’s blood in the room next door...  with his team-mates egging him on by loudly banging their fists on their desks. (Note: exactly why this is meant to show approval of what is being said... when all it really does is make it impossible to actually hear the speaker... is another of those things I’ve never fully understood. But never mind that for now.)

It was uncanny... and the uncanniest part of it was the reaction of the people he was now tearing into over the speakers. They just carried on joking and laughing as if it were the most normal, unremarkable thing in the world. In fact, they didn’t even stop to listen.

After that, I must say I found it consistently harder to ever take all those explosive, incendiary Parliamentary confrontations too seriously. Every time I hear an MP calling another MP a ‘gbejna’, or a ‘gidra’, or a ‘pizellu’... I just lean back and imagine those same two MPs cracking jokes over a cappuccino at half-time afterwards.

I felt much the same way this week, when both sides of the House agreed to give themselves a full pension after serving one term... after having disagreed about virtually everything else for decades (including some really basic things, like granting all citizens equal rights, etc). And OK, this in itself is nothing new: parliament had also unanimously agreed to grant itself full pensions over 20 years ago, when the prime minister was Eddie Fenech Adami. But what made this occasion stand out so much, was the sheer speed of the werewolf transformation... and also the fact that it actually took place onscreen.

Just moments before this rare display of sudden Parliamentary consensus, the two sides were at each other’s throats as usual, as they have been for the past 10 years or so: accusing each other of corruption, threatening each other with breaches of privilege, kicking up a giant ruckus over even the most trivial, insignificant issues... and then, they all take a swig from some bubbling magic potion or other, and... pouf! Instantly they transform before your eyes into the best of buddies: all smiles and friendly slaps on the back, as they help themselves to yet another privilege they so casually withhold from everybody else...

There is, however, an important difference from the earlier example. Back then, it was a reality I only got to see because I happened to be at that place, at that time. On this occasion, the con is perfectly visible to everyone who cares to look. You cannot call someone a ‘gbejna’ one minute, then become that someone’s ally and accomplice the next.... and all along expect nobody to notice.

Sorry, folks, but you’ve taken your little con just that little step too far. Now, it’s every bit as visible as the farcically staged ‘World of Wrestling’ universe. The only difference is that the standards of acting are slightly higher in crack wrestling than in Maltese politics... and trust me (I used to watch that show, remember?) that’s really not saying very much.

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