23 February 2007

Back as usual

I just can't help a bitter smile when I remember a recent cover of the parody news magazine Barcelona, with the large headline: REACTIVATION — THE MIDDLE CLASS REGAINS ITS HISTORICAL LEVEL OF FASCISM. "Reactivation" is how the economic recovery of Argentina since 2002 is commonly called.

Barcelona mocks the traditional "fascism" of the Argentine middle (and upper) class for a reason. Back in the 1990s, the poor and underprivileged were simply forgotten, swept under the rug. With Argentina being in the First World and all, the poor were an anomaly and anything leftist/progressive was anathema. Then the crisis hit and the middle class found itself struggling not to become "one of them", only it didn't think of "them" because we couldn't possibly become like "them", as we the good, decent, hard-working people were born with better genes. Then the crisis exploded, it was everybody run for their lives, etc. etc.

But as things got better, the middle class couldn't stop but noticing that it was getting better for "them" as well, and they want "what?". A typical dialogue: "Did you learn they're giving them a raise?" "What do you mean, a raise? More welfare? Aren't they living off the state enough already?" "Oh no, but you know, they're parasites. They steal power and running water, they don't pay taxes, and on top of that they ask for more!" "Very true. They're living for free. And they're having children all the time, you know! Like cockroaches. They breed and lie down all day and then the government gives them money." "And don't even think of asking them to work for a living." "No way! They're lazy, they're all lazy, and their kids are like that too. It's in their genes." "And thieves and drugheads." "We're the fools, you know. We pay taxes so they can get drunk and watch TV." "Somebody should burn all those shantytowns."

The above is not made up. It's what I hear on a regular basis from certain (fortunately not all, not even most) middle-class people in my everyday environment. Some of them are such nice people that one has to wonder whether they think at all before they open their mouths to utter such barbarity, or whether the isolation between us, citizens of the same country and minds of the same culture, has erased the last traces of empathy in their brains.

Barcelona does comedy and satire, but the headlines are not always innocuous made-up funny phrases. Good satire is eye-opening, in that it sometimes exposes the rotten core of its subject for the public (which may include its subject) to see and think, and (if possible) learn. The Argentine middle class buys Barcelona and rightly laughs, and it's often laughing at itself.


  1. I was shocked by these views from the Dark Ages when I first arrived in this country; I was faintly amused by the frequent mention of clase media (us) and clase baja (obviously them and nothing to do with us)because I thought it was a classic case of Emperor had no clothes.

    Almost two years on, I have taken up a similarly ignorant stance as these people - I just explain (to myself) that they (the clase media, I could never dream of referring myself as part of that) still carry the genes of their Nazi forefathers who came here in boat loads and most remained unrepentent...

  2. I had hoped (perhaps rather naievely) that after the peso crisis, that Argentines would have done some deep introspection into the root causes of the country's problems (fiscal and sociological). But no.

    Instead, there seems to be a somewhat contradictory situation where the Kirchner government enjoys enormous popularity, yet his fiscal policies allow rampant inflation. This spiral of prices and wages can only end in another meltdown. Some scapegoat will have to be found to blame.

    I noticed, as did miss cupcake, the large price increases in supermarkets over the last few months. I guess nobody really believes the official INDEC inflation figure of 10% per year. What was the resolution of the recent demonstrations by INDEC employees alledging manipulation of the inflation numbers?

    As with most of South America, there is a pervasive fatalistic attitude that seems to extend throughout Argentine society. And accepting one's lot in life, albeit an accident of birth.

    My Argentine friends in BA literally don't see the cartoneros on the street (which is the closest they'll probably come to their poorer countrymen). I'm always sadened to see young school-aged boys wandering throught my neighborhood picking up the packaging of all the new toys that people are buying with the "boost" in the economy. I can only imagine how humiliating it must feel to be a teenager in this situation, without much hope of ever improving one's lot in life.

    Both Clarín and La Nación seem happy to print feel-good stories about how much better Argentina is than its South American neighbours, or how much like Europe it is. Where are the stories about the falling level of education, and the appaling level of corruption? Until there is a national dialogue, how can anything be expected to change?

    It's obvious that politicians seem more concerned with the redistribution of wealth into their own pockets. Some of the wealthier Argentines I have spoken to seem quite happy with they way things are, and don't desire for any change. After all, they didn't have much of their wealth tied up in pesos, and now find themselves even better off than previously.

    I guess I'm just sad for the Argentines that work for change but face a never ending uphill battle.

  3. Anonymous15:09

    What is happening in Argentina is a very typical scenario of most Latin American countries. It's sad to hear that a lot of people even today still have the mentality of "I'm better than you becuase I have money and I'm of european decendence".

    I have absolutely lost faith in all politicians, and in my own country, Puerto Rico, where corruption is also running amock and the education level has dramatically change for the worst. Where the rich get richer and the poorer get poorer.

    Most would like to see it become a state of the United States (Hope to God that never happens) others want it to be free, question is can we be? we are to dependent on the US, and unfortunately, that has created a lot of lazy people who are not even proud of their own culture but would rather asociate themselves with a country (the US) that looks down at them becuase we are mestizos.

    My fist love is an Argentine gentleman and two of my best friends are also from this country. It will be great to have a positive change in the whole of Latin America not just Argentine, but the more I see how things are, the more those hopes turn to false illusions.

  4. Anonymous11:32

    I suggest to everyone here (Including the blogger himself)that, before ripping your clothes crying how hipocryte argentines are regarding popular welfare, make some time to read what the Heritage Foundation, the AEI and other right wing think-thank of the USA have to say about social programmes, minimal wages, healthcare systems and such. I think we argentines share the same trait, optimistical or cinical alike: we cannot help but to keep the focal point in ourselves, either for praise or criticism.
    By the way, it used to be a real delight to read "miss cupcake" blog, but she seems to be suffering a strong case of what is described here: http://tangospam.typepad.com/tangospam_la_vida_con_deb/2007/01/why_do_you_want_2.html
    Sorry for my english.

  5. Wow, so many interesting comments! Let's see...

    The Argentine middle class is not descended from Nazis. Its "fascism" is simply a mixture of different prejudices and it goes back to the first colonization, plus layers and layers of bullshit accreted on top.

    I wouldn't call the economic recovery a "boost", in quotes. It's genuine growth, and it shows, and it's not a farce like in the 1990s, but its distribution is still terribly unequal.

    I don't understand Anonymous' last comment. I know this "middle class fascism" is common in the United States and many other places. I'm Argetina-centric because I choose to deal with local issues. Let the rest of the world manage that. I didn't speak of hypocrisy, either; the people I quoted didn't pretend to be sympathetic with the poor's lot. That's not the problem anyway.

    Thanks for reading!

  6. I like your site Pablo, it´s really good. Congrats!
    This is just to make a short support of Anon. Daniel´s words. He has very good points on Heritage Foundation, the AEI, etc and he was nice enough by not mentioning The School of the Americas. Those are the views from Dark Ages (sorry Miss Cupcake´s talks about nazi-genes in our blood; that sounds quite like a racist and ignorant remark to me)
    On the other hand I would like to draw Anon. Daniel´s attention to great liberal American minds like Jimmy Carter who constantly advocates for human rights, promotes peace programs etc. Just to mention one...
    The way I see this "fascism" issue is as a human issue of neither local or foreign exclusivity.
    My conclusion is: those who don´t laugh at the irony of the Barcelona title are taking too much caffeine (or need some vitamin P as YankiMike says)

  7. Pablo - my use of the word boost (in quotation marks), was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the sort of economic growth that the bus drivers in Rosario are hoping for (as opposed the real economic growth possibilities that the taxi drivers are compaining about ...).

  8. Anonymous05:14

    Please excuse my intrusion here.
    Stumbled upon your blog while googling for info/updates about the JLPT results in Argentina (I want them! Took level three last December as well, by the way. Found it extremely easy though, so I think I'll try to take the big jump and attempt level two this year... not sure I can, though).
    Back to my point, however... a fellow Argentinian and Japanese student with great English? What are the odds of finding one? I was surprised. :)
    Very interesting read.

  9. I'm glad to see a good discussion on Pablo's. And to one of the comment leavers who referred to my comment as racist and ignorant - I said precisely that myself in my original comment; it is called irony.

    The offence it caused to the particular reader and maybe others demonstrates, yet again, how a lot of people here are quite happy to do to others what they hate others do to them.

    My deliberately ignorant remark simply served as a mirror to these people and I guess the reflection from it isn't that nice, is it?

  10. Anonymous14:30

    I was born in Argentina and moved to Canada in my teenage years. Poverty in Argentina has always been there. People that are better off just ignore it, to keep with their daily life. Any comments they make it's to justify their actions, but there is no excusable reason to let other people live under the poverty line. Argentina does not have a social system or tax system to spread the wealth or educate properly children. The root of all problem is no education from the start. Teachers earn about 700 pesos per month = $230US, and children rather drop from school than go through a bad quality education (yes! it is suffering, I have done homework for 8 graders, and I can not believe the useless crap they teach them). Any manual labour is paid peanuts, enough to buy food, rent. Poor people do the manual labour almost for free, companies make millions from their miserable lives. When education /social sytem is broken, capitalism will make slaves of the ignorant. But do not be deceived, Peru is much worst, >50% of the population has no running water, electricity. Fascist talk may come and go, but the poor are still there. They get pregnant because of education, can not prevent it. Poor/rich/mestizos people have the same human genes, the only difference it's upbringing. They just get shut off of that oportunity from the start. my 2 cents.


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