Just say you’re ‘Mintoffian’ when starting any negotiation or argument

The Skinny | No. 65 – The Zookeeper’s Lament

What are we skinning? Arka ta’ Noe zookeeper Anton Cutajar’s half-hour rant against the appointment of Alison Bezzina as Animal Rights Commissioner, after she hinted at putting a stop to the lucrative practice of petting of wild animals at establishments such as Cutajar’s own.

Why are we skinning it? Because it resulted in a richly telling back-and-forth that put into focus both the island’s overarching sense of impunity, as empowered by both clientelism (implied or otherwise) and an unquestioned and deeply ingrained machismo.

Machismo? Isn’t the petting of animals a family-friendly and tender act? Petting doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Tell me about it. Okay, that came out wrong. But honestly, there’s very few ways in which it can possibly come out right.

I like visiting wild animals and zoos with my family, and I should be able to do it without having to travel outside of Malta’s shores. But there are problematic elements about zoos which our society is adapting to, and Bezzina has a right to respond to them within the ethical and legislative framework of her newly assigned role.

Has there been any shadiness in this regard that would justify a legalistic stance being taken by Bezzina? Well, there was the small matter of the petting of wild animals being banned at law following the release of a public consultation process early last month, only for it to be overturned in 24 hours due to… reasons.

Reasons being? We will never know for sure. But buried in the lumbering, fevered morass of Cutajar’s now-deleted half-hour rant is the implication that he would ‘write a letter to whomever he needs to…’ in order to get his way.

Oh. He also mentioned that he’s a ‘Mintoffian’ for… reasons.

‘Mintoffian’ is a loaded term, and can mean both everything and nothing unless further context is given. Right. Insofar as one can parse through the incoherent, semi-literate rambling that characterises the infamous rant, Cutajar appears to have thrown ‘Mintoffian’ in there to build himself up as some sort of unbeatable bulwark of strength who will not be defeated, nor budge from his position.

Impunity on the basis of identity politics, essentially. Yes. With a more sinister underbelly of potential clientelism thrown in to sweeten the deal.

How did the ‘other side’ react to the rant, then? With far less histrionics and a far more robust application of the legal parameters at play: Cutajar’s rant landed him a report with the cybercrime unit, and the Prime Minister’s wife Lydia Abela unequivocally condemned the rant.

Has Cutajar apologised since? Not really. He’s removed the video – likely in an attempt to escape the worst of any potential legal repercussions – and he’s posted another rambling diatribe in which he does his utmost to exonerate his motives but in which - in characteristic, emotionally and intellectually stunted macho fashion – he fails to mouth the simple words ‘I’m sorry, Alison’.