April 2017        

Letter from Cuba

Ethical and moral contamination

Seán Joseph Clancy

At 6 p.m. on what is generally good enough weekday children’s television in Cuba there is a popular superhero series called “The Flash,” aimed at an audience primarily in the 6–12 age range.
     It is made in North America and shown here with English subtitles. Because of very high literacy rates, dubbing is thankfully not necessary, nor is it very common in any of the Cuban television genres.
     In what I, as a revolutionary parent, inspired by the beauty of what José Martí believed, consider was a grossly offensive—and by no means unique or casual—act of cultural counter-revolution, the subtitled translation of, for example, age-appropriate verbal exchanges between characters on last night’s episode, such as “I screwed up” or “Oh, no,” read in Spanish as “I just shit all over that” (cago por encima) and “Oh, shit” (mierda) . . .
     That such a thing could occur on the Fidel-inspired manifestation of an educational channel (Canal Educativo 1) is so far beyond ironic that it is hard not to simply smile, or to sigh in fatalistic resignation at an unstoppable avalanche and silently surrender to an unwelcome but higher power.
     I’m not quite there, though not beyond the smile, yet . . .
     The fact that these vulgar and inappropriate expressions were manipulations that did not remotely represent a true translation from the original material, which of itself warranted no such concerns, raises questions as important as, or more important than, the obvious “who allows the broadcasting of this kind of thing on children’s television?”
     In a nation dealing daily with what is a scenario of chronic domestic economic unmanageability, anarchy, and chaos, a savage and debilitating illegal blockade by the United States and a range of other not insignificant human-made and natural obstacles, a few profanities uttered in a script by a second-rate Batman early on a Thursday evening might not seem worthy of a second thought.
     However, one must first accept that only someone who has lived or lives here (and, sadly, what is a national reality is ever more exaggerated in the particular area where I live) could even remotely understand the extent to which the moral fibre of the nation was ripped to shreds by the so-called “special period” that followed the collapse of the socialist bloc and the grave consequences that we here still live daily.
     It was Chernobylesque; and the economic, social, ethical and moral contamination that seeped into the very fabric of what had been previously a relatively moral, sane and decent civil society has created horrible mutations that make everyday life in Cuba frustrating, sad, difficult, infuriating and depressing beyond belief by times.
     Having such a vile, venomous and bitter enemy lying offshore in wait to pounce means that there are valid reasons not to go into specific details here about even many of the more mundane or everyday manifestations of this toxic radiation. Giving an enemy ammunition to kill something that needs to be fixed from within would be as unwise as silently allowing certain things to pass unchallenged.
     Excessive, highly aggressive and overtly sexualised bad language has become the norm here. One hears it everywhere. I hear waiters, doctors, judges, tax inspectors, vets, farmers, scientists, politicians, military officials in and out of uniform, teachers, bank workers, carpenters, taxi-drivers, lawyers, sculptors and almost everyone else under forty years of age I come into contact with use the most extreme expressions in their everyday professional, social and personal discourses without any self-awareness of how abnormal this would be considered elsewhere, or without the raising of an eyebrow from their audiences, who equally respond in kind.
     And I really do mean the most extreme.
     I personally use bad language more frequently than I should. But I don’t want my six-year-old son swearing freely, or thinking that it is normal to do so everywhere and anywhere.
     And I don’t want him being subtly seduced into believing—even if they originally entered the Cuban reality through very real crisis-induced desperation—that it has become normal or acceptable to lie, cheat, manipulate, defraud, pilfer, undermine or thieve in order to get what you want.
     All of these form part of the everyday discourse here and often make life truly miserable.
     I consider and experience all as representations of as grave a threat to the integrity, viability and ultimate survival of the Revolutionary Project here as anything our imperialist foe has overtly or covertly endeavoured to do. Socialism is thus betrayed.
     If Uncle Sam had made the advances here that the internal and often subtle social, economic, moral, financial and personal counter-revolution has, Cuba would have been sipping Starbucks lattes, munching Dunkin’ Donuts, reintroducing rampant poverty, illiteracy and malnutrition for the “good of the economy,” and profiteering from the misery of our noble Palestinian brothers and sisters, many moons ago.
     Mischievously inserted vulgarities on children’s television are the thin edge of a very broad sword.
     They are also such a savage affront to the very essence of a beautiful legacy we have been left to aspire to by Martí, Fidel and a multitude of regional revolutionary giants and to the love I feel for my own beautiful son, that a brute like me will never convey in words why they induce such a profound and worrisome sadness . . .

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