14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 29 July 2015 — Twenty minutes after the start of the news, the only things they had announced were the anniversaries of historic events and obituaries. As if nothing has happened in the country now. For the evening prime time news, the world stopped fifty years ago and remains only something to remember and honor. Even the weather has mothballs. A “good night” concludes the broadcast and we viewers hold out unfounded hope for what could be the best part of the line-up. But nothing.
Cuban television is experiencing one of its worst moments. Programming oscillates between the stiffness of ideology and American programming taken without any regard for copyright. So, we go from a tearful documentary about the birth of Hugo Chavez, to the intrigue of the series Castle, where a murderer manages to escape at the last second. One channel re-broadcasts Machado Ventura’s soporific 26th of July speech, and on another some kids learn to cook recipes that could never be made in Cuba because of the lack of ingredients.
Bleeding-heart vampires alternate with martyrs fallen in who knows what battle. Soap operas of more than 100 episodes made in Brazil, Mexico or Colombia try to recover an audience that for the most part already knows that the bad guy married the good girl, because they already watched the series through the illegal “weekly packet.” Audience participation programs try to transmit freshness from a studio where even the applause is recorded and the dubbed music kills all the charm of a live performance.
Without any concept or order, TV is shaped by whatever comes to hand, what can be stolen from some foreign channel, and the stagnation of domestic productions
The comedy shows are not spared either, with the exception of the popular Vivir del Cuento (Surviving by Your Wits), the others range from vulgar to easy. Jokes copied from outside sources are the most abundant, given the impossibility of broadcasting on the small screen what really makes us laugh. Can you imagine a comic in front of the camera saying, “It happened once in hell that there were the presidents of the United States, Russia and Cuba…”? No, no you can’t. The humor we see on TV has become as boring as the news.
Without any concept or order, TV is shaped by whatever comes to hand, what can be stolen from some foreign channel, and the stagnation of domestic productions. The worst part comes when the domestic scripts try to compete with Hollywood, the Discovery Channel or History. That’s when they come out with these messes like “On the Trail,” where the police are always so right, honest and effective that you end up wondering how there can be so much crime in a country with such perfect police forces.
Nor are we saved by the sports broadcasts. You have to listen to the commentators who, for long minutes, assure you that the medal was stolen from some Cuban athlete “who did so well, but the referee favored the challenger,” while avoiding offering even one compliment to the hosts of some sporting event taking place abroad. The chauvinism takes the form of the pole, the ball, the bat or the hammer. The athletes become the spearhead of politics.
It’s been an hour since the end of the news broadcast and channel surfing confirms that Cuban television is a wreck. How many people, right now, are looking at one of the broadcasts on the national channels? I suspect very few.