For many, many years, social confines dictated that anything that didn’t fit the norm should be hidden. Gays? in the closet, please. Immigrants? tuck them away in districts where we don’t see them. People with Down syndrome? they’d be much better off behind closed doors at home. Fortunately, those days, and they were many, are now part of history and, although there will always be some raving lunatic running free feeding the stigma or some party nostalgic for the privileges of bygone times, today, groups considered oppressed or disadvantaged now have more mechanisms to assert themselves than ever before. In other words, they can now live normal lives in the public sphere. And humor has played a big role as one of the tools making headway in this progression. You only have to see how the gay community have appropriated the term ‘queer’ to comprehend the power of laughter in deactivating the negative charges strapped to certain words.
The TV3 program Tabús’, now in its second season, is an example of how humor, which in the past, was designed to mock and marginalize, like Arévalo’s “little queer jokes”, has now given way to another style, combative and therapeutic, which instead of “laughing at” others, “laughs with” them. The mechanics of this fresh batch of shows remain the same: actor David Verdaguer spends several days living in close contact with members of a particular social group accustomed to being ostracized by society. And from the experience they share, and the first-hand accounts taking advantage of the shared complicity of living in close quarters, the actor prepares a monologue which he then delivers in the company of the protagonists of each show and their families.
Naturally, if Verdaguer were mocking his guests, he would probably need a riot squad to help him exit the theater intact. But what he does is voice harsh realities, poignantly and coupled with the consolation prize of laughter, to plant a mirror in front of his audience and allow them to see the reflection of their own prejudices. In this sense, the goal of his monologues is not to provide comedy with costumbrist overtones, but to pave the way so the public can walk in the shoes of individuals we wouldn’t normally see as the focal point of any media story. And, if they do appear as such, the treatment is generally that of discussing them as the problem.
In this second season, ‘Tabús’ deals with a broad spectrum of experiences and reflections by individuals who suffer from addiction; others who fit the anti-system tag, having chosen to live on the margins of society; women who cannot have children; porn industry workers, who are gradually finding themselves under greater scrutiny each day; people far removed from what society would classify as the norm for ‘beauty’; exceptionally gifted individuals (and whose gift all too often has become a cross they must bear); people who have found happiness outside the confines of monogamy; and the elderly.
The original format has been imported from Belgium’s Panenka production company, and has landed in Catalonia, versioned by El Terrat. Despite being an adaptation, the second season now available on TV3 addresses several social groups that, at least until now, had never been portrayed in other international editions of the factual TV series. The courage to tackle sensitive subjects with comedy has earned the show an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program. In 2020, the Catalan version, ‘Tabús’ won the Iris Jury Prize, awarded by the Spanish Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and also the Best Entertainment Show award, in this case presented by the International Zoom Festival. And above all, it was crowned prime time leader when it first aired, with an average of 467,000 viewers per episode.
There have always been those intolerant of others, and there probably always will be. ‘Tabús’ will hardly change the prejudices of those carrying baggage to fill any backpack, but this is a program clearly targeting those who, often with the best of intentions, fall into the trap of paternalistic treatment because, for them this difference is a trait of inferiority. They are those who contemplate an individual with functional diversity and think “poor thing …”. And perhaps they are completely unaware that this person has reached a remarkable milestone, and one that is forbidden to them: to laugh at oneself.