Smack On The Bottom

The posters appeared all over Catalonia just before April 23rd - Sant Jordi's Day - in 1982, white letters on a red background: 'Molt aviat, a prendre pel cul!' ('Very soon, you can go sod yourself!'). It was too much for the Guardia Civil in Lleida, who arrested the people putting it up, and too much too for the mayor of Barcelona, who banned the offending message from the city's bulletin boards. A week later, the poster campaign culminated with the appearance on newstands everywhere of a Catalan-language satirical magazine called Cul de Sac. Put out by the once clandestine Botifarra Collective - headed by the now legendary graphic artist Alfonso López - it was apolitical, tasteless, cruel and very, very funny. Its first cover story was a take on the legend of Saint George (Catalonia's patron as well as England's) in which Jordi (aka 'The Saint') is a pimp who throws a wobbly when he finds out that his favourite whore, the princess, has been shagging the dragon for free. Other strips revealed the seedy side of Catalan and especially Barcelonan life: transvestites, drugs, and lurking fascists (the military had tried to take over Spain just the year before). There was also a wonderful skit on the Catalan Government's first linguistic normalisation campaign which featured a squeaky-clean pre-teen called Norma: Cul de Sac turned her into 'Sub-Norma' and had her sanctimoniously correcting the Catalan of gibbering lunatics and prostitutes' clients. In short, Cul de Sac gave that timorous, post-dictatorship Catalonia exactly what it needed: a good laugh. By lampooning the new Catalan and Spanish democratic institutions (and any other sacred cows that came to hand) Cul de Sac – being the Catalan equivalent of France's Charlie Hebdo or Spain's El Papus (which, though produced in Barcelona, was aimed at the mainstream Spanish market) - made Catalonia seem as normal as its neighbouring countries. The Catalan government, however, thought otherwise: although it subsidised all other Catalan-language magazines (given that most of the population back then was still illiterate in Catalan, it would take years for such publications to attract a profitable readership) it let Cul de Sac fall by the wayside until, within months, it had gone the way of all pulp. In fact, I had practically forgotten all about it until last month, when I met Alfonso López for the first time and he gave me a rare, indeed historical, copy of that first Sant Jordi issue. I'm keeping it in a (very) safe place: for my grandchildren, should I live long enough to have any.

Matthew Tree, Catalonia Today, Abril de 2012


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