Controversy has erupted this week at the 53rd conference of the European Artform Committee (CAE), the body that rules on the classifications governing specific kinds of officially recognised European artforms. Every year, the body meets to re-define what is and is not an artform, and this year, it was the turn of flailing to be thrown into question.
‘Flailing’ may not be the first thing that springs to mind when we think of artforms, but in parts of Scandanvia and the Baltic states, flailing was traditionally considered a way to keep warm and has become a common pastime, with people competing in public displays, known as ‘flail-offs’.
The controversy apparently erupted on the judging panel when a faction emerged, intent on differentiating between the two recognised types of flailing, ‘uncontrolled’ and ‘controlled’.
Other panel members, protesting the distinction, asserted that there was ‘no such thing’ as controlled flailing. “It’s ridiculous,” said Sten Carlsen, the Danish representative. “Everybody knows that this so-called ‘controlled flailing’ is nothing other than dancing. Even my senile mother-in-law knows that.”
The faction’s counter-assertion held that all flailing involved some level of motor control, and that this was the necessary condition distinguishing it from involuntary or even autonomic motions such as ‘tics’, ‘spasms’, ‘shudders’ and ‘seizures’, none of which can be officially classified as artforms under the guidelines of the CAE.
“It takes years to learn to really flail, to do it with skill and flair,” the faction spokesman said, reading a statement prepared by members of the faction. “A person who attempts flailing without adequate knowledge of the appropriate techniques risks embarrassment, injury, even death.”
Carlsen’s argument against this classification rests in one simple idea. “It’s not rule-governed movement,” he explained. “To say that one can be taught how to flail, as if these are a set of known techniques that can be transferred from teacher to pupil or acquired through demonstration and practice, this is absurd.”
A faction member, speaking on condition of anonymity, asserts that Carlsen’s outspoken criticism of the move to distinguish between ‘uncontrolled’ and ‘controlled’ flailing was motivated by specific Danish interests which had remained undeclared. Anna Halvorsen, who was for three consecutive years the European champion, was recently stripped of her medals after the discovery that she, and others on the women’s team, all suffered disinhibition disorders – neurological conditions that allowed them to flail far more violently than other competitors. “There was a sense of total abandon. Their flailing gave you this impression of chaos and intensity that had won them favour with judges – and I was one of them,” our anonymous panel member confessed. “Discovering that Anna and two of the others suffered from disinhibitions disorders, this has had a devastating impact on the sport. It’s imperative to know who is really flailing, and who is just suffering from spasms.” Carlsen was quick to neutralise these allegations, however: “Anna is simply a naturally gifted flailer. There is no penalty for talent where I come from. The whipping violence of her body is sublime.”
There have also been allegations of ‘vote-buying’, with the other Scandanavian representatives (who are supporting the Danish protest) attempting to push key member states Spain and Britain (both of whom have powers of veto) to oppose the motion. Meanwhile, the Spanish delegate Pablo Borges – an unexpected ally of the Scandanavians – has weighed into the debate, controversially accusing American choreographer Mia Michaels of hit US TV show ‘So You Think You Can Dance?’ of being what he calls ‘the world’s number one ‘controlled flailing’ expert. “If there is something called ‘controlled flailing’ then she’s the queen of them all,” he said. “This ridiculous assertion that you can somehow include ‘controlled’ movements in the definition of flailing – well, why don't we just get that woman to come here to Geneva and teach us all. We’ll be flailing like controlled professionals in no time. I’m sure that would make all the judges weep like young girls.”
Mia Michaels has so far refused to offer any comment on the remark.
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