The banging of pots and pans
This blog has talked a lot about how sound and noise has been used to control people, to punish people, to torture people (see previous posts.) But sound/noise also functions as a tool for social protest. Let me explain.
The other night I was reading Julian Barnes’ novel, “The Porcupine”. It is a novel set in the aftermath of the fall of the USSR, in an unnamed, ‘fictional’ socialist republic, where the former Great Leader has been deposed and is facing a trial.
In the very first pages of the book Barnes describes a street protest by a group of women:
“Though some wore fur-fabric coats, most had come dressed according to instructions. Or rather, not dressed: they looked as if they had just arrived from the kitchen. … Into the deep placket of her apron, or into her coat pocket if more formally clad, each woman had stuck a large kitchen implement: an aluminum ladle, a wooden spoon, occasionally a sharpening steel or even, as if at some level a note of menace was required, a weighty carving fork.”
“The demonstration began at six o’clock, the hour when the women were traditionally in the kitchen preparing the dinner. …
As the organizers, a group of six women from the Metalurg complex, left the cobbled square and took their first steps on to the tarmacked boulevard with its two sets of darkly shining tramlines, the first aluminum ladle was struck against its saucepan. For a few moments, as others joined in with respectful timidity, the noise kept a slow, pausing beat, an eery funeral music of the kitchen. But when the bulk of protestors took up the call, those first instances of solemn order disappeared, the silences were filled with the sound of new strikings from the rear, until the precincts of the cathedral, where people now came to seek God in quiet prayer, were crammed with urgent domestic noise…. The noise grew fat, and huddled over the women as they set off, a noise none in the city had ever heard before, one made more potent by its strangeness and lack of rhythm; it was insistent, oppressive, sharper than mourning. … [they march to the parliament buildings and gather outside] The noise eased through the railings in front of the parliament building, stalked up the broad steps and battered down the gilded double doors. It respected no procedural laws or rules of debate as it clattered into the Chamber of Deputies….”
“There was no decline into words, for they had heard nothing but words and words and words – inedible, indigestible words – for months and months. They spoke with metal, though not with the metal that usually spoke on such occasions, the metal that left martyrs. They spoke without words, they argued, bellowed, demanded and reasoned without words, they pleaded and wept without words.” (2)
His description reminded me of similar protests held in Montreal in the spring of 2012. Thousands of people of all ages came out into the streets of Montreal, banging their casseroles (pots and pans) to protest against the provincial government of the time. (You can read a brief article about these casserole protests here.)
Even the Guardian of England covered the story, and this link includes part of a black and white video about the protests.
It is such a brilliant tactic: make noise with kitchen utensils. Simple, loud, fun, annoying – a way to get people involved at a very basic level. (And, as this blog continuously debates, ‘noise’ made by choice is more than ‘noise’ – it can be music, it can be social protest, in can be ironic, it can be music.)
This blogger points out that people all across Canada (Les Anglais as he calls us) came out in their streets to bang their pots and pans in solidarity with the protestors in Quebec. (He has several clips from these other protests on his post.)
Here you can see a video of the casserole protests in Montreal.
Here you can hear a CBC interview with the person credited with initiating the casserole protests in Montreal.
And here you can read about an Android app that helped people track where the casseroles were taking place.
But this idea did not originate in Montreal. This type of protest has taken place all around the world. In Spanish-American countries like Argentina, etc., they are known as “cacerolozo”.
And here is footage of a cacerolozo taking place in Argentina.
And of course they have taken place in other parts of the world too. Here is one in Iceland.
Where did this simple yet powerful idea start? Colin Snider at “Americas South and North” provides a very good history of the role of pots and pans in social protest. He notes that the use of pots and pans in street protests started amongst conservative protestors in Brazil in the 1960s.
At this blog posting, Katherine Sedgwick suggests that the use of pots and pans for protesting originated in Chile in the 1970s, to protest against a lack of food. And here is a link to a news report about a recent Chilean pots and pans protest, held by students in 2011.
Sedgwick goes on to note a link from the casseroles to a much older tradition: “the medieval French custom of ‘le charivari’ – banging pots and pans as a wedding celebration.” Check out the rest of her post to see more details.
And check here for the Wikipedia entry on charivari. Very interesting reading! Someone should do some more research into this use of noise! I wonder if Alain Corbin, who wrote such a massive book on village bells did any research on charivari? There is no mention of it in the index of “Village Bells”. But there is a reference to charivari in Corbin’s book “The Life of an Unknown: The Rediscovered World of a Clog Maker in Nineteenth Century France”.
And if you want to read an article about the role of charivari in Shakespeare’s “Othello”, click here!
And, continuing down this road of history, click here to read about a charivari ‘gone wrong’ in Manitoba in 1909!