The Revolution Inside

From Latin American Odyssey, to a profound investigation of the Bolivarian revolution. Hugo Chavez says: Socialism or Death! Leftists rejoice, and Capitalists squeal. But what do the people of Venezuela think about all of this?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Luxury of Irony

I have a friend in Venezuela, a Belgian friend, from Belgium. He works with the indymedia there. Sounds like a pretty together one, too. Anyway, we were up really late drinking like westerners, and he got to showing me some of his work. He`s a videographer, and he`s made some pretty slick short videos about protests in Belgium... one was a bank action. The bank has interests in some company that produces depleted uranium products. So, a bunch of folks dressed up as biohazard folks and walked into the bank, loudly announcing that they were looking for radiation. It made the bank customers think twice, and the presence of cameras there made it less likely that bank personnel would overreact. In fact, they pretty much let them take their geiger counters around and look for radiation.

He put images together with some sort of funny music, and the result is entertaining, and makes the point about the bank`s involvement in less respectable enterprises.

But what we got to talking about was how he felt like this strategy, his favorite technique, wouldn`t work in Venezuela. He had been spending a week or two with a group of former gang members in Cumana, on the coast. They showed him their guns, let him stay there for a while, told him how this gangs to volunteer projects had turned their lives around. And he says to me: how do I make a short, ironic video, with funny music and shenanigans? That`s because you can`t. It would amount to making fun of them.

And it reminded me of some of the conversations and discussions I`d had in Central America, about how we, folks from privilege, just don`t get it, can`t see the reality. It`s not like everyones depressed all of the time, far from it. People are happy, they joke around, especially in Venezuela. In fact, folks are much less depressed then we are, certainly less likely to be clinically depressed. But the thing is, when people make their life changes down here, the stuff we want to report on, irony doesn`t make sense. Irony is a luxury of being disconnected with suffering. Laughing, on the other hand, is a solution to suffering.

I think the age of irony must die. It`s a solution for cynics, in order to deal with a big bloody world, a world that doesn`t work, especially when you are the beneficiary of some of this luxury (simply meaning you can go to work everyday, you have a car, you shop at a mall, all things that a lower middle class united statesian would take for granted. We´re not talking golden bathtubs and ivory doorknobs). When you´ve gotten an education, and you realize how messed up it all is, and you feel completely powerless, the only way you can acknowledge the situation is by smirking and shrugging it off, or making some wry, intelligent comment.

So, who is more worthy of respect: the cynical political science major with a great record collection, or the ugly street sweeper with 4 fingers on his right hand who doesn`t know too much about Machiavelli, but knows that nothing is going to change if he doesn`t do something. Though he doesn`t have much work, and he drinks too much in the evening, he goes to the campesino organizational meetings, because, you know, he just can`t see any way that things will be different for his children. He can`t see any other way.

Organizing is serious business. It doesn´t mean we can`t laugh, it`s just, when you see suffering, either you distance yourself from it, rationalize, analyze. Or you feel it, and then you have to do something about it. And then we work, in earnest, and save the cynicism for whatever`s on television.

Road Hungry

Out here, they practically grow on trees
You can find them everywhere, even when the landscape is otherwise barren.
It`s a shame there is no way to
Turn them into a crop, or harvest them somehow
And eat them up.

Kilometers are food for cars and bicycles, planes and feet
They eat them up. I guess there are people who have
Found a way to turn kilometers into food, but they own travel agencies
And bus companies. Taxi drivers eat kilometers.

There is no market for kilometers in the United States.
And so, they are left, scattered in the dust of a thousand other countries
In the New York Stock Exchange, there is no symbol for KMS, so that you could call
Your agent and buy low
Or sell high. The exchange rate isn`t that good, either.
1 mile equals 1.61 kilometers, but, the good thing is there`s
No trade policy that`s going to change it. We can be glad that people
Who come from a country where they use the metric system
Will never have to travel 5 times as far to go the same distance in the United States.