The “Mahna Mahna” song by the late Piero Umiliani was first heard in a regrettably chaste sauna scene in the Italian mondo film Sweden: Heaven and Hell, which “documented” sex and drug hijinks among Sweden’s youth. The song was a minor hit, but later achieved earworm status when it was popularized by the Muppets and Sesame Street.
The song may have once celebrated an ersatz decadence, but it’s true purpose wasn’t revealed until it was unleashed on unsuspecting children. Its fans would have you believe it’s a harmless, nonsense song. The truth is that Mahna Mahna is nothing less than a tool of cultural repression.
In the Muppet sketch, an interloper dares to improvise on the scat motif of the song. He is subjected to the withering scorn of the Snowths until he surrenders his individuality and returns to the prescribed text. Durkheim saw deviance as an opportunity for the dominant culture to reinforce its values and norms. Here, the joie de vivre of the long-haired intruder is clearly a threat to the established order, and he must be forced to acquiesce.
The message couldn’t be clearer. Sing from the same hymn book, or be shunned for your transgression.
My stalwart research assistants and I reviewed thousands of Mahna Mahna covers, and the pattern is always the same. Exuberant free spirits express themselves until disapproving authority figures crush their Dionysian rapture and an insidious conformity is reestablished. The outlaw is brought to ground; stability is maintained.
“Firmin Crets” (Chris Van den Durpel) is a Belgian comedian whose independence and frightening hair are affronts to the New World Order. Here he rebels against Nicole and Hugo’s plan to impose global
boredom hegemony under the guise of their staid lounge act.
In the following tableaux of middle class hell, we see family patriarchy (allegedly) turned on its head — the young girl is ‘permitted’ to disapprove of her father’s singing. This is merely an illusion, a false flag operation in the ongoing culture wars. She has secretly yearned to humiliate Daddy all of her life, but the charade lasts a mere 2:12. Once the camera’s off he sends her to her room and withholds her allowance.
Junior, meanwhile, refuses to capitulate. He sneaks off at 1:15 to arrange a delivery of the hard narcotics that make his psychic survival possible.
Junior is our only hope for the future.