Censorship, hegemony, state power

Andy Daitsman adaitsma at mail.cc.trincoll.edu
Thu Feb 9 01:02:32 MST 1995

Although I still disagree with Don about the link between Lunes and the
Padilla affair, I'd much rather pull out the point where we agree and use
that to pose a theoretical question:

Don wrote:
>   You're right, Cuba does have some damn fine film makers (and one really
>good songwriter). Its amazing to think what Cuban culture might be today if
>the best and brightest writers weren't in Mexico (and Miami).

I think I know why the good Cuban filmmakers have stayed, and why the good
writers have left.  I would say that the state has demonstrated a great deal
more tolerance towards diversity of expression in cinema than in literature.
 But why would the state take this attitude?  Isn't cinema potentially more
subversive to hegemony than literature?  It reaches a broader audience with
greater ease, and it can hit that audience with an immediate emotional
punch.  Literature is different; the audience must work to decipher a
literary text; not only must they sit and read the book, but they must then
spend time afterwards to consider the text's meaning.

Overall, I have the impression that repressive states tend to regulate the
visual media with more vigor than they do the print media (excepting
newspapers).  That is certainly the case with the authoritarian Latin
American regimes of the 60s, 70s and 80s.  This tendency, if true, would
support a structuralist interpretation of hegemony.  Cinema has certain
structural characteristics that make it a more suitable medium for
propaganda, and therefore the state has a more clearly felt interest in
suppressing or controlling it.

Yet Cuban cinema is relatively free.  Not only have comparatively few
filmmakers gone into exile (the only ones of note I can think of are Ichaso
and Almendros), but the cinematic production on the isalnd is of remarkable
high quality, and consistently confronts controversial issues head on.
"Strawberry and Chocolate" is only the most recent example of this; in fact,
Gutierrez Alea's entire opus reveals a constant willingness to critique the
current state of the revolution.  Go all the way back to "Death of a
Bureaucrat," "Memories" itself, "Up to a Point," all these films contain
real and often acute criticisms of revolutionary society.  But other
directors as well have used ICAIC (the Cuban state-run film institute) as a
vehicle for producing thoughtfully critical films.  I'm thinking
particularly of Sara Gomez's brilliant and often overlooked "One Way or
Another," but the works of Jesus Diaz or Juan Carlos Tabio (who co-directed
"Strawberry") could just as easily be cited here.

In fact, I know of only two Cuban films that have been overtly censored:
"PM", which as Don mentioned was banned in 1961, and "Alice in Wonderland"
(but the literal translation "in the Village of Marvels" sums up the film
better), which was banned in the early 90s.  As I said, Cuban cinema is
"relatively" free.

Cuban literature, on the other hand, is a wasteland.  Except for
"Inconsolable Memories," I can't really think of too much that has been
produced on the island that's actually worth reading.  Especially since
1968.  And Desnoes himself lives in New York, last I heard.  The explanation
for this, as Don suggests, has to be that writers chafe much more under the
regulations of the state.

Why?  Is it simply that ICAIC has carved out a bureaucratic space for
itself, shielded by the international acclaim for its films, that makes it
off-limits to Stalinist challenges?  Or can cultural studies provide us with
some clues as to why the state would allow a relatively open cinema while
cracking down hard on literature?

I'm all ears...


>   I'm glad I screwed up on the chronology. Contentious discussion of the
>concrete is like a breath of fresh air. No offense to the theoreticians out
>                                             Don Kenner


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