Cheerful Tidings...by Eduardo Galeano

Saul Thomas stthomas at SPAMmidway.uchicago.edu
Sun Dec 3 15:31:22 MST 2000


Cheerful Tidings...

Eduardo Galeano

Culture of imports, society of imposters, kingdom of the fatuous. Every
Latin American has to buy passage on the cruise ship to modernization. But
in the waters of the market, shipwrecks outnumber sailors. The foreign
debt, fattened beyond the bursting point, lets the minority stuff
themselves with ever-more-useless things. The magic wand of credit
facilitates the facade-fetish of our middle classes and the copyitis of our
upper classes, while television takes care of making real needs out of the
artificial demands that the North invents incessantly and projects so
successfully onto the South and the East. Ads proclaim that whoever does
not have does not exist; whoever has no car or designer shoes is a nobody;
garbage.

What about the millions of Latin Americans condemned to joblessness or
wages of hunger? For them, advertising doesn't stimulate demand, it
provokes violence. By snatching the things that make people feel real,
every mugger tries to become like his victim. TV gives full service: Not
only does it teach people to confuse the quality of life with the quantity
of things, it offers audiovisual courses on violence, with video games
providing supplementary study. Crime is the biggest thing ever to hit the
small screen. Strike before they strike you, warn the electronic toys. You
are alone. You alone can be trusted. Exploding cars, people blown away: You
too can kill.

In this fin de siecle world, which invites everyone to the banquet but
slams the door on the face of the majority, is simultaneously equalizing
and unequal. Never has the world been so unequal in the opportunities it
offers, but neither has it ever been so equalizing in the ideas and customs
it imposes. In this soulless world served up by the World Bank, the
International Monetary Fund and other free-money fundamentalists, which we
are obliged to accept as the only world possible, there are no peoples,
only markets; no citizens, only consumers; no nations, only companies; no
cities, only agglomerations; no human relations, only commercial competition.

Never has the world economy been less democratic; never has the world been
more scandalously unjust. Inequality has doubled in thirty years. In 1960,
the 20 percent of humanity that had the most was thirty times richer than
the 20 percent that had the least. By 1990 the difference between
prosperity and indigence had grown twofold, to sixty times. And at the
extreme of the extremes, between the richest of the rich and the poorest of
the poor, the abyss is even deeper, much deeper. Adding up the private
fortunes with obscene delight, year after year, in the pornofinancial pages
of Forbes and Fortune, it turns out that a hundred multimillionaires
currently own as much wealth as a billion and a half people.

There are those who measure economic inequality. The World Bank, which does
so much to increase inequality, recognizes the extent in its World
Development Report, and the United Nations confirms it in its Human
Development Report. Cultural equalizing, on the other hand, can't be
measured, though its disastrous advance is enough to make you blind. The
mass means of communication, best at human incommunication, preach
unanimous adoration of the values of consumer society and bestow on us the
right to choose between the same and the same, while creating a time frame
devoid of history and a seemingly universal space that tends to deny its
component parts all right to identity.

The world economy needs a consumer market in perpetual expansion so that
its profits will not tumble, but at the same time, and for the same reason,
it needs hands that work for garage-sale wages in countries of the South
and East of the planet. The second paradox is the daughter of the first:
The North dictates ever more imperious orders of consumption to the South
and East in order to multiply the number of consumers, but the number of
criminals multiplies much more quickly. The invitation to consumption is an
invitation to crime. You learn more about social contradictions from the
crime pages of the papers than from their coverage of labor or politics.
That's where they publish consumer society's cheerful tidings of death.


The Nation
January 1, 1996
(translated by Mark Fried)






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