Friday, May 29, 2009

Spain is different

It's Friday night, which means I'm watching my favorite TV show from Spain, Donde estas, corazon? which lasts literally FIVE hours and is comprised of a panel - or firing squad if you are facing them - of gossip columnists/paparazzi/society commentators and a moderator, the delicious, closeted, youthful Jaime Cantizano, interviewing a stream of people in the news.

Tonight's show brings to mind the tourism slogan coined by bloody dictator Francisco Franco's Minister of Tourism Manuel Fraga, "Spain is different." He is now a nonagenarian drooling Fascist inexplicably believed to be a convinced democrat and still serving in the local government of Galicia, his home region under the aegis of the allegedly constitutional right-wing party he founded. 

Normally the first person is more famous, prestigious, and/or the subject of the most notorious scandal of the week's news cycle. As the evening wears on, we see what in Spain are called frikis, from the English freak. By the end of the night it can get pretty dirty as well, with centerfolds and the like appearing to talk about their sex lives. And by that time of the night I have been asleep for hours. 

The show has a series of familiar tropes and performative moments -- all in predictably poor taste -- that reassuringly recur week after week. A video recap is shown framing the guest, who is asked softball questions by Cantizano, then the panelists gradually ask more aggressive questions, putting the interviewee more and more on the defensive. There is a lot of screaming and interrupting going on, but nothing out of the ordinary if you have sat a dinner table with family members of Hispanic descent. But I digress. They have a number of dysfunctional multi-generational family disputes that recur on the show, but the accusations get grislier as the years go by. 

Tonight we have a new family saga starring Junior, the Filipino former ye ye singing sensation now grieving widow of national sweetheart Rocio Durcal. Known as La Señora, she was admired for her ideal family life and was a former child star who gained fame as a ranchera singer drawing thousands throughout Latin America. Junior is being sued by his children over the Estate and also by a disgruntled domestic worker, with allegations of alcohol abuse, sexual harassment, and financial misdeeds. 

Rocio Durcal singing one of my favorite songs, ever, Gata bajo la lluvia

Later in the show they are promising an interview with the disowned daughter of the late El Fary, a Lilliputian Cuban heel-wearing mutton-chop side-burned former taxi driver who pursued his dream of being a rumba singer until he became a singing sensation with his songs about "moros" (Moors - a pejorative term for North Africans commonly-used in Spain) or his signature hit "Torito Bravo," an ode to a bull used to impregnate cows, complete with ribald lyrics that are a none-too-subtle paean to Spanish machismo. El Fary's eldest daughter was literally ejected from her father's funeral two years ago. She is now back to promote her cover and centerfold in Interviu Spain's version of Playboy magazine. Still seeking revenge even beyond the grave, the disowned daughter is proudly asserting that her machista father would be humiliated and outraged by her nudity. She's claiming that it's mere coincidence that the lurid photos appear on the second anniversary of her father's demise. 

El Fary singing Torito Bravo

Another feature is the "telefono de aludidos" the number posted on the screen to entice people not in the room being named in the conversation to call in and respond. Often the gossip journalists are getting texts or calls from people whose lives are being talked about. This makes it quite exciting, as you never know who is going to call in. Better than a live telenovela, you see breakups, marriage proposals, grave accusations of spousal abuse, financial misdeeds, paternity scandals, record and book launches, tearful reconciliations, you name the drama, they have it - live! 

Tonight Toñi, the hot blooded Cougar half of the world-renowned Gypsy duo, Azucar Moreno, bitch slapped her cancer-stricken sister for breaking up the group, took a phone call from her young ex-boyfriend who she dumped for being too jealous, and sang a new song a capella that graphically and melodramatically described her passion for another ex lover. OLE! During her interview, the young boy toy called in and they engaged in a violent and dramatic fight. Azucar Moreno made it big when they won the fabulous Eurovision singing competition, and they plied every possible stereotype of the Spanish Gypsy, the passionate hot-blooded Andalusian woman, and the tourist image of Spain as a hedonistic paradise of sun, sex, food, drink, all with maniacally happy natives.

Azucar Moreno in the 1990s when they were still speaking to each other, doing a cover of the classic salsa sensual song Devorame otra vez

After the first bombshell guest, other journalists join the panel to discuss the weeks' news in a round table format. This is great because it gives you a gloss on the weekly plethora of gossip and society magazines. These are led by the old school, large format, deluxe HOLA which features the royals, Hollywood actors, and prestigious personalities shown as they'd like to be seen. HOLA is the mouthpiece of the Monarchy and is known for buying lurid photos in order to prevent them from being published, thereby earning undying loyalty from the high and mighty. They pay large sums for exclusive interviews or events such as weddings, baptisms, and first communions. All published photos are photoshopped though they need to finesse their technique since often it's not consistent. Sometimes I think some catty person purposely screws it up to snidely reveal a hint of the real person behind the rose colored lens of HOLA. 

I have a whole section in this blog just related to the kinds of personalities that appear in HOLA, my absolutely favorite reading material. Of course, the other publications are far freer with printing unflattering stories and photos. In fact, my sister, mother, friends, and I enjoy comparing the week's stories in HOLA with how they are covered in other magazines. You see the unflattering photos, the un-retouched images, and the darker sides of the same news. The journalists on the panel work for the whole range of such publications, which only adds to the virulence of the attacks on each others' points of view. Some of them are the mouthpieces of famous people, like Chelo Garcia Cortes, the butch groupie/confidante of the late Rocio Jurado, of the hapless only son of the Baroness Thyssen, and of sinister Copla singer Isabel Pantoja. This gives her a lot of cache, because she gets the exclusives from her posse for HOLA. 

Isabel Pantoja on the cover of HOLA. In this exclusiva, she announces her breakup with a former mayor of an andalusian city jailed for a corruption scandal. 

Tonight's episode has truly been the trifecta of the pop culture that makes the Spain is different slogan come to life- Azucar Moreno, Junior and Rocio Durcal, and El Fary. 

Zapatista Tchochkes

This is a post from a fantastic blog about material culture, museums, art, and anthropology called Material World. Since it has to do with my interest in Collecting Shlock, I add it here.

Zapatista Tchochkes
Miriam Basilio, Assistant Prof. of Art History and Museum Studies, NYU

I recently visited San Cristobal de las Casas, in Chiapas, Mexico to take part in an academic workshop, and, although I had read and heard about the traffic in Zapatista souvenirs, knick-knacks, or tchotchkes there, was overwhelmed by their variety and number. The complex political motives that led to the Zapatista movement are not my subject here rather I am interested in the ways in which popular representations of this movement for self-determination circulate as objects for tourist consumption. What is our role as consumers? What does it mean to buy these objects? Just prior to my visit, the New York Times’ Frugal Traveler column published a piece promoting San Cristobal de las Casas as an ideal travel destination. Of course, this feeds this place into a cycle whereby those of us with relative wealth travel seeking this particular bargain, which then makes the place less inexpensive, more crowded, and less seemingly remote, and the new cheap and undiscovered place is…elsewhere.

One particular feature of this city, which the reporter underscored, is its proximity to a network of autonomous communities governed by the Zapatista movement. (For the account of a visit to one such community see: That even a few years ago, the US State Department warned US citizens against going there lends the region a seductive hint of danger for some travelers. Other Americans, sympathetic to the Zapatista cause, travel there to see for themselves the revolutionary changes being made on behalf of the Mexican people. But most of us are not experts on the political situation there, and our role is more ambiguous. Are we seeking the thrill of the supposedly off the beaten track? Romanticizing revolution? Empathetically yet somewhat voyeuristically witnessing others’ struggles, only to safely return to our lives of privilege? How do we negotiate these at times intersecting positions?

As Americans in particular, and at a time when we are being urged to consume as our patriotic duty, we shop. Is it out of a desire to support the revolution in Chiapas, to help locals in one of the poorest areas in Mexico to make a living, regardless of where the proceeds end up, or, buying souvenirs motivated by the basic tourist drive to return home and say “Look, I was there.” Despite the New York Times reporter’s breathless account of his trip to view a Zapatista community (easily accessible and cheap public transport) and his detailed description of the group’s self-presentation and scripted tour of their community, I was shocked by the “Zapatista tourism” infrastructure that existed in San Cristobal. Large bus tours were advertised, and private taxis may be hired as well.

Seemingly hard to access, yet openly advertised, the prospect of visiting such communities was thus paradoxically tantalizingly possible, and mysteriously remote. Goods produced to publicly assert sympathy for the Zapatistas, however, were openly sold everywhere. Ubiquitous at the local market beside Santo Domingo church were T-shirts in myriad designs: black star logos, the EZLN initials, women with bandanas tied across their faces, hair worn in braids, with slogans calling for women’s dignity, others featured male freedom fighters, faces covered in ski masks. Male and female dolls made of yarn wore indigenous garb from the region, with the ski masks, and carried tiny cardboard rifles. Handmade revolutionary Barbies and Kens, they also are sold as Lilliputian key chains. Cotton handkerchiefs had slogans praising Subcomandante Marcos and his portrait all hand embroidered. Small change purses and pouches were similarly embellished. I purchased a tote bag large enough to carry my MacBook, featuring a female freedom fighter and the slogan: Las mujeres con la dignidad rebelde (Women with rebel dignity) for myself.

There were a few stores in town that advertised themselves as cooperatives that sold the goods for the benefit of Zapatista communities, so I tried to buy most of my gifts there. However, I also felt torn and bought a few things from local women at the market. The coop stores had the greatest variety of products, posters, postcards with photos of Zapatista communities, often featuring the beautiful murals painted on many of their walls and buildings, and locally produced textiles or coffee. I regret not asking the people selling these things at both places where they were made, did they also keep them in their homes, who else was buying them, what did they think about them, when did they start to sell these objects, and more. But someone should.

Posted by Haidy L Geismar on April 17, 2009 9:23 PM
| Permalink | Posted to Notes from the Field | Objects and visual analyses