In this section, we publish short reviews of books on Latin American media. These reviews will be valuable to people who are seeking to learn about Latin American media because very few published resources exist on the subject, and they are not widely known or available. We also hope to introduce some books which are not completely about Latin America, but contain interesting sections that are relevant or pertinent to Latin America. Following the grand tradition of our beloved New York Review of Books, these reviews are also excuses for engaging in critical discourse.
We should point out that these reviews are completely independent of the book authors and publishers, and the views represent only those of the reviewers.
CHRONICLE OF THE GUAYAKI INDIANS
By Pierre Clastres. Translation & Foreword by Paul Auster. Zone Books: New York, USA. ISBN 0-942299-77-9.
This book was written in French (under the title Chronique des indiens Guyaki) by the late anthropologist Pierre Clastres. It may never have appeared in English had the translator not been Paul Auster, an accomplished novelist today but still an unknown, underpaid translator when he did the translation in 1977. The story of the translation project was recounted by Auster in the preface.
Here are Paul Auster's feelings towards the book:
"It is, I believe, nearly impossible not to love this book. The care and patience with which it is written, the incisiveness of its observations, its humor, its intellectual rigor, its compassion - all these qualities reinforce one another to make it an important, memorable work. The Chronicle is not some dry academic study of "life among the savages," not some report from an alien world in which the reporter neglects to take his own presence into account. It is the true story of a man's experiences, and it asks nothing but the most essential questions: how is information communicated to an anthropologist, what kinds of transactions take place between one culture and another, under what circumstances might secrets be kept. In delineating this unknown civilization for us, Clastres writes with the cunning of a good novelist. His attention to detail is scrupulous and exacting; his ability to synthesize his thoughts into bold, coherent statements is often breathtaking. He is that rare scholar who does not hesitate to write in the first person, and the result is not just a portrait of the people he is studying, but a portrait of himself."
One reason why we liked the book is the sentence that we have put in italics in the above quotation. Another reason that we liked the book is that this is not simply ethnographic study. As dry as the descriptions might seem, the personality of the author creeps in, but not in self-pity. In Pierre Clastres' own words,
"Although I have been back to Paraguay several times, I have never seen the Guayaki Indians again. I have not had the heart to. What could I possibly find there? When I arrived at Arroyo Moroti, they had numbered about a hundred. When I left a year later, there were no more than seventy-five of them. The others had died, eaten away by illness and tuberculosis, killed by lack of proper care, by lack of everything. And the survivors? They were like unclaimed objects: hopelessly forced to leave their pre-history, they had been thrown into a history that had nothing to do with them except to destroy them.
And the truth of the matter is that all this was a very slight thing: just one more page of the monotonous census - with more and more precise dates, places and figures - recording the disappearance of the last Indian tribes. What has become of the valiant Atchei hunters? At last word, obtained in 1968, there were no more than thirty of them. But what difference do numbers make when they and all the other tribes are condemned? The whole enterprise that began in the fifteenth century is now coming to an end; an entire continent will soon be rid of its first inhabitants, and this part of the globe will truly be able to proclaim itself a "New World." "So many cities razed, so many nations exterminated, so many peoples cut down by the sword, and the richest and most beautiful part of the world overthrown for the sake of pearls and pepper! Mechanical victories." So Montaigne hailed the conquest of America by Western civilization."
(posted by Roland Soong 12/31/98)
THE CULTURES OF GLOBALIZATION
Fredric Jameson and Masao Miyoshi (eds.). Duke University Press: Durham, North Carolina. ISBN 0-8223-2169-6
This book is a collection of essays about globalization of the cultural, economic and political realms of life. The essays utilize a variety of theoretical approaches, including linguistics, economics, sociology, political science, philosophy, anthropology, legal studies and cultural studies, to cover a variety of topics, including eurocentrism, media, free trade, environmentalism, literature, modernity, racism and global culture.
In this review, we will focus on the essay by Alberto Moreiras titled 'Global Fragments: A Second Latinamericanism.' What is Latinamericanism? This is defined as 'the set or the sum total of engaged representations providing a viable knowledge of the Latin American enunciation.' Within this definition, Moreiras discerns two distinct veins of Latinamericanism.
In the first vein, 'Latinamericanist knowledge aspires to a particular form of disciplinary power that it inherits from the imperial state apparatus. It works as an instantiation of global agency, insofar as it ultimately wants to deliver its findings into some totality of allegedly neutral, universal knowledge of the world in all its differences and identities. Born out of an ideology of cultural difference, its fundamental thrust is to capture the Latin American difference in order to release it into the global epistemic grid. It therefore works as a machine of homogenization, even where it understands itself of promoting or preserving difference. Through Latinamericanist representation, Latin American differences are controlled and homogenized and put at the service of global representation.'
In the second vein, 'Latinamericanism can also conceivably expect to produce itself as an antirepresentational, anticonceptual apparatus whose main function would be that of arresting the tendential progress of epistemic representation toward total articulation. In this sense, Latinamericanism does not primarily work as a machine of epistemic homogenization, but rather against it: a disruptive force, or a wrench, in the epistemological apparatus, an anti-disciplinary instance or Hegelian "savage beast" whose desire does not go through an articulation of difference or identity, but rather through their constant disarticulations, through a radical appeal to an epistemic outside, to an exteriority that will not be turned into a mere fold of the imperial interior. In this sense, Latinamericanism seeks an articulation with alternative localities of knowledge production to form an alliance against historically constituted Latinamericanist representation and its attendant sociopolitical effects.'
The quotations above are meant to provide a flavor of the article. Even for a native English-speaker, the text may prove to be rather difficult reading material. The other essays in this collection are not any easier to read either. Such writing styles have raised criticism that these writers, who are often academics, deliberately employ obscurantist writing styles to form an exclusionary elitist community (joking referred to as the "New York Review of Each Other's Books" circle). In spite of the fact that their subject matter is most often popular culture, their writings are impenetrable to the consumers of popular culture.
The counterargument is that the conventional terms of discourse of popular culture are ossified. Their evocation will merely bring up a set of clichéd reactions and conditioned responses, which are not conducive to thinking in innovative and revolutionary ways. The use of more unusual and difficult prose styles is therefore a way of forcing the reader to work carefully through the arguments and positions. Having said that, it is now time to go back to see how to 'arrest the tendential progress of epistemic representation toward total articulation' ...
(posted by Roland Soong on 10/15/98)
By John Tomlinson. The John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, MD. 1991.
The book begins with a 1989 Christmas card published by Central Television, Birmingham. The photograph on the card shows an aboriginal family watching television in the open air somewhere near the Tanami desert in Australia. The accompanying text read "Dallas and Sale of the Century ... beamed to the Australian deserts by satellite." This picture might be taken to be a typical representation of cultural imperialism. Even within the context of this picture, there are many possible discourses, and the author has elected to dealt with four in detail: (1) media imperialism (2) national cultural identity (3) global capitalism and (4) cultural modernity.
By checking the index, we located the following discussions about the Latin American situation. First of all, as one might expect, any discussion of cultural imperialism in Latin America must surely touch upon the study How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic by Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart. This book was published in Chile in 1971 during the Allende regime; after the military coup in 1973, the book was publicly burned and the authors forced into exile.
Tomlinson nailed down How to Read Donald Duck into two basic theoretical moves: the identification of imperialist ideology and the theorization of its effects. In so far as the first point goes, a single text may convey multiple meanings to different people. The interpretation by Dorfman and Matellart can be characterized as interesting, plausible, even compelling, but not necessarily definitive and final, as other strong readings exist as well. The second point is more problematic, since the assumption is that reading Disney comics, watching Dallas and listening to Madonna are sufficient for the masses to unquestioningly adopt the imperialist worldview.
In other section of the book, Tomlinson quotes the article The Reception of Popular Television in Northeast Brazil by Irene Penacchioni: "It is midnight. The streets are almost empty. We arrive at the only central square. Immediately we are attracted by a strange, faint ray of light which from far way seems to be surrounded by ghost-like silhouettes. The light comes from a television set. We hear laughter ... And what do we see on the screen? Charlie Chaplin's bread dance from The Gold Rush. So all of us in the square are laughing at the same time about the same things." But how do we know for sure that they are laughing about the same things? All we know is that they are laughing, but for possibly very different reasons. If we stipulate that that there is some common understanding underneath culture, then it simply repudiates the notion of cultural imperialism.
Tomlinson also discussed the article The Fotonovela as a Tool for Class and Cultural Domination by C. Flora and J. Flora, who described the functions of fotonovelas: "The first serves to break down primary ties and integrate workers and peasants into an urban lifestyle. The second provides a mechanism of escape from real problems. The third encourages consumption of middle-class items." However, it is difficult to present a convincing case that all these fotonovela producers are paid lackeys and willing accomplices of the CIA and multinational corporations, and that their readers are unwitting dupes with no free will of their own. As in any other market analysis, the popularity of fotonovelas reflects the fact that they satisfy some basic needs among the readers.
(posted by Roland Soong on 9/14/98)
UNDERSTANDING GLOBAL NEWS
By Jaap van Ginneken. Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks, CA. ISBN 0-7619-5709-X.
As the process of global integration unfolds, there is a surging demand for more and more timely information from all over the world. The most common source of information are the global news services and television networks. In fact, it may be argued that global news networks such as CNN are an integral part of the global integration process.
Our understanding of other parts of the world are often formed and influenced by the news coverage. Unfortunately, it seems that our understanding of the countries, peoples, polities and cultures of many parts of the world are limited to only spectacular mega-disasters (e.g. Quito is shown only when there is an airplane crash) or sensationalist materials (the only time that we will see the Taiwan legislature at work is when the legislators are physically fighting with each other).
This book is about global news --- specifically, about how 'Western' news media covers 'non-Western news'. Obviously, this is a deep and broad subject that cannot even begin to be reviewed or summarized in this review. The chapter titles of this book are self-explanatory.
The issues described in this book are not restricted just to global news. Rather, this is a self-similar phenomenon that reproduces itself at many levels and scales. In the case of Latin America, there are regional news networks such as CBS Telenoticias, Conexión Financiera, ECO, and the Latin American CNN en Español. Whilst this is not a 'East-West' (nor 'North-South') confrontation, the network is based in one or more countries (e.g. Mexico). Again, the issues of objectivity, fairness, neutrality and accuracy may be raised with respect to the news coverage. Further down the scale, each country has its own national news networks (such as Todo Noticias and Crónica TV in Argentina, Globo News in Brazil) and national news programs. Yet, it is clear that the viewpoints most often reflect those of the capital cities (e.g. Mexico City, Santiago and Buenos Aires) which are the home bases. Again, the same issues are present. The contents of this book are therefore applicable to news media in general, both local and global.
This book is aimed at students of journalism and media studies, as well as the general public. Stylistically, the writing is crisp and clear, avoiding jargons and abstractions. The contents are carefully organized and the arguments are concise and pointed, but without being polemical. Reading this book was an immense pleasure for the reviewer.
(posted by Roland Soong on 8/31/98)
SPONSORED IDENTITIES: CULTURAL POLITICS IN PUERTO RICO
By Arlene M. Davila. Temple University Press, Philadelphia. 1997. ISBN 1-56639-549-6.
On July 25, 1898, United States troop forcibly took over Puerto Rico from Spain. In 1952, Puerto Rico attained commonwealth status, which conferred self-governing authority without political sovereignty. Now in the centenary of the association with the United States, Puerto Rico is about to choose its future. There are three major schools of thought: national independence, statehood and commonwealth status.
The fight over these different courses of actions is fortunately not conducted with knives and bullets. But the battle is intense in the political, economic and cultural arenas. In the political arena, the political parties battle to co-opt culture to propagate their agenda. In the economic arena, even the recent privatization sale of the Puerto Rican Telephone Company to US-based GTE became a cultural issue. But above all, in the business arena, corporations have found the cultural field to be a profitable means of promoting and selling their products. Regardless of their preferences on the future of Puerto Rico, most Puerto Ricans would consider themselves to have a distinct culture, marked by a unique mixture of Taino, Spanish, African and American influences. So culture is an issue dear to the hearts of Puerto Ricans.
This book contains a detailed study of the intertwined relationships among popular festivals, corporate sponsors and government institutions (specifically, the Institute for Puerto Rico Culture). Chapter V deals with the role of corporate sponsorship. Two examples were discussed in detail.
The first example was Winston (with the familiar slogan "Winston y Puerto Rico --- no hay nada mejor"). In 1993, the brand controlled over 60% of the cigarette market. (According to the Los Medios y Mercados de Latinoamérica study, Winston has a 58% share in Puerto Rico in 1997). The author provided a detailed description of the successful formula used by Winston, especially through its involvement with national culture via advertising and sponsorship. Since federal regulations apply to tobacco advertising, there are no television commercials but plenty of print advertising, outdoor advertising and, most importantly, events marketing.
The other example in this book was Budweiser, which controlled 48.1% of the beer market in 1990. Events marketing is an important component of the advertising strategy. In 1993, Budweiser sponsored 206 events ranging from sports competitions to cultural festivals. (According to the Los Medios y Mercados de Latinoamérica study in 1997, Budweiser has in fact lost its lead to Coors, another US-based company that sponsored events (see photo, credit: D. Levy) extensively as well. Perhaps because of their involvement in the cultural arena, the tobacco and beer companies do not seem to have encountered the intense criticism that they experience on continental USA.
We are perhaps more accustomed to read about these issues from the viewpoints of advertisers and advertising agencies. For this reason, this book is a refreshing change, because it takes the viewpoints of cultural festival organizers, who need to find the cultural space to operate, even as they need the assistance and sponsorship of government agencies and corporations, without yielding their autonomy and mission.
(posted by Roland Soong on 8/13/98)
THE SOCIAL CONSCIENCE OF LATIN AMERICAN WRITING.
By Naomi Lindstrom. University of Texas Press: Austin, TX. 1998. ISBN 0-292-74699-7.
In Latin America, literature has long had a traditional role of being the battlefield of social, political, cultural and artistic forces. Indeed, the best known Latin American authors such as Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Isabel Allende, and Ariel Dorfman made their reputations through a blending of biting social criticism with a magical lyricism.
This book is divided into five chapters, dealing with five specific themes: dependency, postmodernism, testimonial narrative, mass media and gender issues. Given the nature of this web site, we are obviously most interested in the chapter on mass media. Since the subject is so expansive, the author has restricted the focus on how literary intellectual have interacted with mass media. The works of a number of writers (such as José Ortega y Gasset, Vicente Huidobro, Xavier Villaurrutia, Julio Cortázar) were discussed.
For us, the most interesting discussion is about the television program Sesame Street developed originally by the Children's Television Workshop in the USA. In Latin America, the show was adapted into local versions (Plaza Sésamo in Mexico and Praça Sésamo in Brazil) after extensive consultations with local experts. Nonetheless, the show was met with a storm of protest when aired. Lindstrom wrote: "The polemic over Sesame Street centered on the perception that, despite local production and cultural allusions, the underlying values and concepts were those of U.S. capitalism. Critics saw the show promoting an individualistic striving for personal advancement over others, an excessive dependence on authorities to guide and regulate everyday life, and a lack of community among the denizens of Sesame Street. By stressing the positive values of neatness, cheerful obedience, and productivity, the show seemed designed to produce hard-working individuals who would not be likely to band together and question society's fairness."
We wished that more room had been given to explore this episode. At the same time, we cannot help but think that if people thought that Sesame Street was problematic, then what about those long-lived, ever-popular shows such as Chespirito and its spin-offs? Would anyone think el chapúlin colorado was a role model for their children? Would you say el chavo's parents were caring and nurturing? What about the whole cast of other dysfunctional characters on Calle Ocho? Are these shows immune from the types of intense criticisms leveled at Sesame Street and Disney because they are Latin American? Or because lowbrow culture is deemed to be unworthy of discourse among highbrow intellectuals?
(posted by Roland Soong on 7/20/98)
CHALLENGES FOR INTERNATIONAL BROADCASTING / La Radioffusion Internationale Face à Ses Défis.
Edited by Howard Aster and Elzbieta Olechowska. Mosaic Press: Buffalo, NY. 1998.
This is a collection of papers and proceedings from an international conference held in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada in 1996. The languages used were English and French. Chapter 8 of the book contains a series of regional reports on media environments, including two Latin American countries: Argentina and Cuba. The report on Argentina contains the following interesting questions-and-answers (in French), to which we have appended some of our survey research data:
La connaissance des langues étrangères en Argentina est-elle
En ce qui concerne l'anglais, cette langue est obligatoire dès les premiers niveaux du secondaire. Dans les écoles privées, on l'enseigne dès le primaire. Parmi les autres langues enseigné, il y a le français et, à un niveau moins répondu, l'italien et l'allemand. De plus, certaines institutions de formation humaniste enseignent le grec et le latin.
Avec l'entrée en viguer du Marché Commun du Continent Sud (MERCOSUR), l'enseignement du portugais deviendra obligatoire dans les institutions scolaires.
Note: In the Los Medios y Mercados de Latinoamérica 1997 study, among persons 12-64 in Argentina, we found the following results. This points to the diffuculty in teaching language effectively in schools, which is not just an Argentine problem.
Level Understand Spoken English Read English Very Well 5% 5% Somewhat 19% 17% A little bit 22% 21% Not at all 54% 58%
Quel est le moyen privilégié par les Argentins pour entendre les
nouvelles internationales, régionales et locales?
Dans notre pays, la radio est le moyen de communication privilegié. D'après les sondages, plus de 60% de la population dit préférer la radio pour s'informer.
Note: In our Los Medios y Mercados de Latinoamérica 1997 study, we found that 59% of persons 12-64 in Argentina listen to radio news regularly, 93% watch television news regularly and 29% read the news sections in daily newspapers. This would make television, not radio, the most popular medium for news by far.
(posted by Roland Soong on 7/15/98)
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA RESEARCH: A CRITICAL SURVEY
Edited by John Corner, Philip Schlesinger and Roger Silverstone. Routledge: New York City. 1998. ISBN 0-415-18496-7.
Media research is an important component in social, political and cultural investigation. This book contains a number of articles about media research in various parts of the world. Chapter 8 of this book is titled "Media and Culture in Latin America" and is contributed by Elizabeth Fox. The author is an expert in Latin American media, a subject on which she has written or edited several books. This article has to be ranked as one of the most extensive and referenced articles on the subject.
Since the 1950s, many Latin American countries have gone through strikingly similar stages of political developments. In the 1950s and the 1960s, the model was often one based upon state intervention in the political economy of the nation. Nationalization of major industries became common practice. The state also extended its influence in the cultural sphere by promoting cultural nationalism, controlling media ownership and access, and regulating editorial contents. In the 1960s and 1970s, as the early interventionist governments failed to bring significant benefits even as social conflicts mounted, authoritarian dictatorships seized power in many countries. Dissidents were censored or exiled, while private media were encouraged or forced to collaborate with the regimes. In the 1980s and 1990s, democracy returned gradually. Today, media in most countries are commercial enterprises driven by profit motives.
Media research does not exist in a vacuum, because it surely must reflect the needs and interests of the times. Consider the subject of national content. In the 1950s, at the dawn of the television era, the issue for the nationalists was the invasion by foreign imperialist cultural powers. Later, the issue for the authoritarian regimes was editorial control for reasons of patriotism and anti-subversion. Today, the issue of national content is virtually non-existent, since the major Latin American countries have become significant exporters of television programming to all parts of the world. As the nature of the national content issue shifted over time, so followed media research.
In these times, the socially conscientious media researcher must confront some moral dilemmas. Thus, J. Martín-Barbero and Sonia Muñoz were quoted as asking: "What is the importance of studying soap operas in a country so painfully torn apart by suffering and violence as is Colombia today? What guarantee do we have that this study will not end up legitimizing the escapism of some and the profits of others?"
(posted by Roland Soong on 7/9/98)
HOME ALTARS OF MEXICO
By Dana Salvo. Essays by Ramón Gutiérrez, Salvatore Scalora, William H. Beezley and Amalia Mesa-Bains. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.
This is a collection of photographs of home altars taken in the central highlands and southern states of Mexico. There will be some who dismiss these ersatz altars to be remnants of superfluous and superstitious practices, but this book serves to document the tremendous diversity and influences found in these home altars. Whatever else can be said, there is no doubting the sincerity of the architects of these home altars.
Home altars are built for different purposes. Some altars are built to celebrate the Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) at the end of October and the first days of November. These altars are characterized by the syncretic mixing of Roman Catholic icons and statues with pre-Colombian animist symbols. Other altars are built to celebrate the Navidad (Christmas). These nacimientos are usually scenes of mangers with the figures of the Christ child, Joseph and Mary.
Now, it is traditional to lay out food (such as corn, squash beans, fruits, bread) , flowers (marigold flowers or zempoalxochitl), copal incense, candles and the like to invite the dead to join the living for the common union. These photographs show how modern tokens such as soft drinks (coca cola), decorative lights, cigarettes and the like have intruded into traditional practices. Most prominently, we found the presence of a television set next to the altar in eight of these photographs (yes, we looked for them!). For example, Plate 23 shows a shrine to Santa Rosa with a TV antenna standing like a cross beside the table. So has society reached a point where the proper invitation is to ask the dead to come in and watch television together?
(posted by Roland Soong on 6/19/98)
JUÁREZ: THE LABORATORY OF OUR FUTURE
By Charles Bowden. Preface by Noam Chomsky. Afterword by Eduardo Galeano. Photographs by Javier Aguilar, Jaime Bailleres, Gabriel Cardona, Julián Cardona, Alfredo Carrillo, Raúl Lodoza, Jaime Murrieta, Miguel Perea, Margarita Reyes, Ernesto Rodríguez, Manuel Sáenz, Lucio Soria Espino, Aurelio Suárez Núñez. Aperture: New York, 1998.
This book is a series of essays that are wrapped around photographs taken by a group of guerilla photographers working in the Mexican city of Juárez. These photographers are free-lancers who make their living (for very meagre pay) by recording the grim realities of daily life, thus risking retaliation from government officials, the police, the military, businessmen, the street gangs, the narco-traficantes and even the common people. In his acknowledgment, Charles Bowden, thanked the photographers "for their work and their dedication to the refreshing notion that caputring the world on film can help change the world."
The photographs present a relentless barrage of numbing images: a parade of murdered corpses, appalling living conditions in the colonias, people scavenging in garbage dumps, people trying to cross the Rio Grande illegally into El Paso, children trying to learn in makeshift schools, women in maquiladoras working long hours for a few dollars a day, ...
How did all this come about? In the foreword, Noam Chomsky makes the case that is only the natural consequence of the maquiladora policy which culminated with NAFTA, whereby multinational corporations set up offshore manufacturing facilities along the Mexican border, paying wages below subsistence level and unfettered by government interference (such as environmental and occupational safety regulations). In the afterword, Eduardo Galeano examined the Juárez-El Paso relationship as a metaphor of the South-North relationship, and questions whether the First World should serve as the model of aspiration for the Third World. While the foreword and the afterword deal with theoretical perspectives, Charles Bowden's matter-of-fact story of his own experiences in Juárez is more powerful and mesmerizing in many ways.
(posted by Roland Soong on 5/25/98)
By Carlos Monsiváis. Translated and introduced by John Kraniauskas. Verso: London/New York, 1997
This is a collection of essays from the Mexican essaying/chronicler Carlos Monsiváis. Given the prolific output that has been published by the author in newspapers, magazines and journalists, this is essentially a limited, but good, sampling. The twelve essays here cover esoteric themes such as the novelist Juan Rulfo, the movie star Dolores del Río, the comedians Cantinflas and Tin Tan and the cult healer Boy Fidencio.
Here, we will focus on Chapter 11, which is titled 'Red News': The Crime Pages in Mexico. This essay was originally published in the magazine Nexos. The first thing that is noted is that the notas rojas serve important social functions, and as a result their contents and forms change as the social conditions change.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, crime stories were not very popular. After all, the Mexican Revolution provided more than enough stories of battles, massacres, murders, corruption and betrayals. After the consolidation of the Revolution, crime stories became more popular.
On one hand, many of the most notorious crimes occurred among the rich and the famous. For example, Captain Oscar Lepe killed the film actor Agustín de Anda, who had boasted of enjoying his daughter (Miss Mexico) Ana Berta's first favors. Such crimes have the cathartic effect of enabling the common people to rejoice in their safety from the evils of fame, money and sex.
On the other hand, other notorious crimes appeared to be completely random in the choice of victims with seemingly normal perpetrators. Thus, there was the infamous sex strangler Goyo Cárdenas, a 27-year-old chemistry student who killed four women and buried them in his garden. At the end of each day, the common person in the street can read about the latest crimes and rejoice that, while it could have just as well happened to him/her, no such awful thing happened to him/her this day.
In recent years, the crime pages have showered attention on organized crime, especially those involved in the drug trade. Names like Alberto Sicilia Falcón. Arturo Durazo Moreno, Rafael Caro Quintero, Ernesto Fonseca 'don Neto' and Adolfo de Jesús Constanzo have achieved legendary status. The messages from these contemporary morality plays are now unclear. Whilst these characters may come to a bad end, it is not clear that crime does not pay. The question is: Would you exchange a life of grinding poverty for a brief stint of power, wealth and, after the fall, fame?
(posted by Roland Soong on 5/21/98)
As one goes through all the media links from this web site, one may get the idea that everything is crass commercialism, self-advertising, promotions and sales. But there are some truly surprising gems here and there. We would list TV Cultura from Brazil as one. What television network would carry a page about the writer Clarice Lispector, including an entire bibliography as well as an audio file of her saying the words "Eu acho que, quando não escrevo, estou morta."?
(posted by Roland Soong on 4/10/98)
ROBBED OF HUMANITY: Lives of Guatemalan Street Children
By Nancy Leigh Tierney, Pangaea, St Paul, MN. ISBN 0-9630180-5-1
This is an excellent in-depth study of homeless children living in the streets of Guatemala. The book begins with an analysis of the historical, economic and social conditions that force children to live in the streets. The best part of the book contains a series of testimonial autobiographies from a number of street children interviewed by the author, addressing the reasons what brought them into the streets, how they cope with street life and what they see and hope for their future.
Whilst the presence of street children is visually evident everyday, the manner in which this social problem is treated (or not treated) depends on society's conceptualization of its causes and processes. Chapter Five of this book is titled The Construction of Social Indifference, Shaping Images of Street Children. The contribution of media coverage of street children is central to this social construction. On one hand, media coverage reflects what is believed to be the dominant view. On the other hand, media coverage may be responsible for orchestrating public opinion and setting the social agenda.
The author has collected a number of excerpts from articles from a number of major newspapers (El Gráfico, La Hora, El Nuevo Diario, La República, Siglo Ventiuno). These excerpts make for very interesting reading, primarily for the pathos. Overall, they present a picture of street children as roving gangs (maras) of glue-inhaling vandals and thieves who terrorize the citizenry and who are protected by the human rights commission. The standard litany of recommended solutions are tougher legislation, determined enforcement and even vigilantism in order to transform these delinquents into contributing and useful members of society. Given this atmosphere, it is small wonder that the street children problem persists since the structural causes are never seriously addressed.
This is not too say that all media coverage is cold-hearted and malicious. Here is a letter (Los Niños del Olvido, August 10, 1994) from a reader Ervin San Juan Yat to Eduardo Zarco, author of Prensa Libre's T-MAS column.
You know I work until very late and I have to cross the streets and avenues of this great city (if that is how you could describe it), and every night, somehow, I arrive saddened at my house, where my two children and wife await me ... When I mention this, it is because I cannot get used to seeing each night the children in the streets looking for a curb, a little corner where they can pass the night and, as you mention, young girls prostituting themselves.
One of these nights, between Seventh Avenue and Fifteenth Street, Zone 1, I found two of these children inside a cardboard box, trying to sleep and give each other warmth because it was already 12:15 in the morning. I stopped a moment and many things passed through my head ... the first thing that I thought of was my children who have a home, but these two children only had old, used rags. I approached and took out my camera and took some photos, but the flash woke them ... they sat up and stretched their small bodies in the intense cold of that hour. Their eyes were red ... their words were ... ' we have no clothes' ... 'we are hungry.' They were eight or nine years old.
I wanted in that moment to have something to eat to give them. I only had a few cents and I told them 'buy something', can you believe, at that hour ...
(posted by Roland Soong on 3/23/98)
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