Disconcerting Television / Claudia Cadelo

I’m sitting at the computer with the TV on in the background — sometimes I’m a little masochistic — and suddenly my attention is grabbed by a list: iPod, iPhone, DVD, cell phones and flash memories. The announcer explains that kids these days are experts at working these technological implements. I think about the kids in front of my house and can’t imagine them “controlling” an iPhone. I’m sure they’ve never seen one.

The program is Hurón Azul–Blue Ferret–and the subject is informal access to information, particularly audiovisuals. And what a title! In Cuba today information is divided between formal and informal. When did the official media cease to exist? I didn’t know. The program consists of short interviews where specialists give their opinions. I’d be delighted to be able to say they talked about everything, but as far as opinions go, they said almost nothing. I admire my capacity to still be surprised by the level of censorship, zealotry, and muzzling on display on our formal (?!) National Television.

The announcer explained to us how the independent consumption of information is so widespread that people can’t “distinguish” among the different possibilities. A gentleman said that the public is used to seeing monstrous things. According to them the productions with the widest circulation don’t exhibit artistic or cultural qualities and the young people prefer–a capital sin–entertaining shows and soap operas. To qualify this reactionary point of view, someone intervened and said, “I have the freedom to watch what I want.” But as it might contribute to his self-improvement if he watches other things, the institution does have the responsibility to provide them. The climax came when the gentleman protested that there are people who pass on information–unfortunately–without any control. According to him it should be against the law, there need to be controls on the circulation of alternative material.

I almost fell off my chair. Control over the flow of information in Cuba? My God! Indeed, we are in an information blackout, fifty years behind the times and without too many possibilities. The press, radio, television answer directly to the Communist Party Central Committee. There isn’t the slightest chance of there being any competition to the State’s mass media and they have the cynicism to want more control? The independent press is harassed by the government and the dream of access to any kind of public space is a chimera.

How could they control it any more? It’s ridiculous. In addition, it always seems to me a city-focused program, from a tiny Havana that encompasses Siboney to Vedado, excluding the miserable dying suburbs full of people who have never even seen a flash memory. How can they talk about audiovisuals and DVD equipment–one of those interviewed called it “the monstrous DVD” if he saw an iPad–when most of the countryside doesn’t even have telephone lines? Who would think that an institution is responsible for the soap operas and serials that I want to see? Or that there must be a policy of controlling the consumer even when they’re not watching television? What century is Cuban television living in?

That the new technologies have arrived, there is now no doubt, because they themselves say it’s so. But it’s thanks to the tenacity of the Cuban people in accessing everything the government has tried to steal from us. Though it’s still a newly hatched phenomenon on this island, I honestly don’t think they have the slightest chance of stopping it.

It’s hard to find two high points in the same show, but when the announcer concluded with the emphatic phrase, “Technology, the universal right of our time,” I fell off my chair for a second time.

15 February 2011