The Secret Policeman’s Ball is back. After a hiatus of over fifteen years, the comic fundraiser for Amnesty International is returning.
The event was first organized in 1976, as human rights were high on the international agenda, thanks in large part to a series of military takeovers in the Southern Cone (Chile, 1973; Uruguay, 1973; Argentina, 1976).
In “Chase Heads Policeman’s Ball Bill”, the BBC quotes Amnesty’s UK director Kate Allen as saying “The reason we brought back The Secret Policeman’s Ball is that it’s never been more important to stand up for human rights. They are coming under threat in ways that we hadn’t anticipated.”
I take the return of this event as yet another sign both of a new era of rights discourse, and also of the distance between this era and the previous one.
We’re no longer, in fact, in an era of secret policemen, the leaden-footed apparatchiks of the Eastern Bloc or the national security state that could be so easily parodied by Monty Python et al. (A parody that no doubt drew on second world war folk memory, in which the dictator’s genitalia are offered up for derision.)
But what era are we in? And why did the previous rights discourse fail, it seems, so disastrously to anticipate it?