Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Barbarians Through the Gates

Slobodna Dalmacija has adapted to decreasing literacy level of its readership and full-page articles are rare these days. So, when one such article appears, this deserves at least a mention in this blog today's edition the article, written by Zlatko Gall, famous Split rock critic, dealt with latest production of popular musical Karolina Riječka (Karolina Rijecka), currently at stage of Ivan pl. Zajc Theatre in Rijeka.

The production caught a great media attention in Croatia due to its star performer Severina Vučković (Severina Vuckovic), singer (affectionately known among her fans as Seve, Severina Nazionale or simply Severina) who holds the undisputed title of Croatia's most popular entertainer. Her popularity among Croatian masses, however, doesn't match her status among music critics and cultural commentators like Gall. The main reason for that isn't her lack of talent; it is her choice of music and the crowd she attracts. Severina did experiment with various images and music styles through the past decade or so, but her greatest triumphs are based on the musical style which is in many ways similar to Serbian "turbo folk" – brand of music made infamous by the fact that it was associated with the worst excesses of Milošević's (Milosevic's) regime. "Turbo folk" is popular in Croatia and the crowds that flock to Severina's concerts not only insult progressive and "enlightened" sentiments of Croatian rock critics but also upset the left-minded and liberal social commentators – people who listen to "turbo folk" are usually rural, poorly educated, right-wing and intolerant. Severina's popularity (and lack of popularity of "progressive" music like rock) is a sign that Croatia is still part of Balkans.

Having Severina as the major star in publicly funded theatre is even more disturbing for Gall, because it shows that the barbarians had pushed the last cultural boundaries. Severina brought not only crowds, but sponsors to the theatre, which could very well poison its financial independence and seriously affect its repertoire. Severina added insult to injury by stating that "Croatian theatres should concentrate on light-hearted entertainment"; in other words, forget "heavy, incomprehensible" stuff like Strindberg, Ibsen, Sartre, Tennessee Williams or Mamet. Gall responds to such ideas with a incredibly venomous article in which he mentions notorious drug dealers as members of Croatian jet-sets and uses the word "sponzoruša" (sponzorusa) - another post-Communist addition to vocabulary which describes women who are one notch below "courtesans" in more polite society – in order to describe what kind of women become stars in the system that made Severina into undisputed superstar.

I tend to agree with most of Gall's observations. To say that I Severina isn't my cup of tea is an understatement. Whenever I see her face on TV, I switch the channel. I don't listen to radio-stations playing her music.

But Gall in this article went really overboard and his choice of arguments makes his case against Severina weak. Namely, he attacked Mani Gotovac, Rijeka theatre manager, for her response to those critical of her hiring Severina. According to Gotovac, Croatian culture shouldn't shy away from embracing "our own Marylin Monroes and Madonnas". According to Gall, Severina doesn't have anything in common with Marylin "who was primarily actress, and rather talented one" and Madonna "who always, and especially now, provided top quality entertainment in her projects".

This is where Gall lost any credibility. Calling Madonna "talented" and associating word "quality" to her latest hits, while calling Severina "an icon of poor taste" is the telling example of intellectual snobbery. Madonna might be talentless hack, but her songs are playing on MTV instead of Narodni Radio, so that makes her better than Severina? I know at least two things in which Severina beats Madonna. First, she looks better than Madonna. Second, she never took part in atrocities like Swept Away.


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