14ymedio, Havana, 17 August 2019 — A text published in the Granma newspaper has provoked a flood of responses and statements on the issues addressed by Cuban humor. Artists such as Ulises Toirac, Kike Quiñones, Iván Camejo and Eduardo del Llano have questioned an article in this official government press that laments that there are too many jokes against public officials. Marcos García, The Son of Teresa, has also jumped into the arena of controversy.
14ymedio: Do you think that the humor that is published in the national media is complacent, moderately critical or excessively disrespectful of public officials?
Marcos García: Yes but no. The humor that is visible in the Cuban media is complacent and it is moderately critical, but many concepts should be discussed to see if it is — or is not — excessively disrespectful of public officials.
As required on elementary school tests, I justify my answer. It is complacent because the media is directed by the State and there is the figure of the “advisor,” who does not advise, but censors. There is also the figure of “content director,” who is a person who has no damn idea of the means of communication for which he receives a salary, but is reliable in the eyes of the power structure. That official has the power to decide to which smokescreen the resources will be allocated, especially in matters of humor. Therefore, any joke that is made — at least in the state media — responds to an editorial policy that is known to or handled by only those who lead.
The aforementioned has obvious results, and one is that the humor that appears on television, radio, written press and even on the state websites responds to what — sometimes reluctantly — their own leaders have approved for release. That is why it is complacent and also, because of that, it is moderately critical.
To say if the humor in the Cuban media is “excessively disrespectful” or not, we should define what is meant by “excessive” and what we mean by “respect” when talking about public officials. In the media that is defined by the content directors and I doubt that they or their minions are interested in clarifying it.
14ymedio: Are there different levels of permissiveness with television humor, print newspapers, authorized digital media, theaters, cabarets and more or less private shows?
Marcos García: Yes, of course there are differences. In our country, the written press and the permitted digital media have their own “editorial policies” and I think they are quite outdated with regards to publishing humor.
I think that permissiveness in the matter of humor is not a concept that could be associated with those who lead. At least not in Cuban media. I am convinced that they are not and cannot be accused of permissiveness because, to begin with, the majority have no idea what it is and how communication works in humor. Add to that, that they are officials who watch over what is established from above, and in turn they themselves are monitored from above, from below and from all sides.
A high position that defends its share of power based only on political reliability cannot make good use of the critical elemental thinking that is needed to understand humor and its mechanisms. And let’s not talk about administrative capacity, because that’s “another eggplant.”
On the other hand, the theaters, cabarets, nightclubs and so on, function practically as fiefdoms in which the person in charge is not always the person who directs and in very few cases do those who do this have training.
Those places, like more or less private nightclubs, have to raise funds. Their needs are different from those that move to censorship on television. There they need money. That does not mean that they are “permissive,” but that they mostly turn a blind eye, which is something else.
Let us not forget that in almost every state nightclub in Cuba, the last word belongs to a soldier in civilian clothes who has passed a management course. If “permissiveness” with humor were one of their qualities, they would not be directing.
14ymedio: Sometimes comedians are subtle and appeal to second readings or double meaning. Do you think that censorship contributes to sharpen those resources and that, if the known limitations did not exist, humor would be more direct or coarser?
Marcos García: This question has no absolute answer. “Second readings” or “double meaning” are only communication resources. All the resources of humor are used more or less grossly or ingeniously depending on the intelligence, culture and economic needs of those who stand on stage. The public only looks for what interests them. If there are comedians who do gross humor, it is because there is an audience that pays to see them. If there are comedians who make more elaborate humor, it is because there is an audience that follows them. If the pooch exists or if there is social criticism, it is because there is an audience that is willing to pay the entrance fee to laugh at them. And vice versa.
On the other hand, censorship has something of Descartes. If you think about it, it exists. It would be ideal if we didn’t think about it, but …
The awareness of censorship might help refine resources to expose an idea by dodging prohibitions with grace and ingenuity.
But generally who stands or is appointed censor has no awareness of humor and does not master it nor has bothered to invest their time in understanding the mechanisms of laughter. They might have learned how a script is made, but they have not understood how it makes you laugh.
I am not going to tell you what they are doing wrong so as not to give them the chance to apply that knowledge, because if they knew how easy it is, then censorship would be effective and if censorship were effective… I don’t know… I can’t take it in.
14ymedio: Could you tell us about any personal experience (or the experience of someone else that you have direct knowledge of) in which some humorous manifestation has been prohibited?
Marcos García: All the comedians of my generation could see the television humor of Detrás de la Fachada and San Nicolás del Peladero, which are both considered referents of good humor. But almost all of us were very young and we laughed at what we often did not understand.
At least in my case — and I am sure it is the case of many more comedians — the one who really taught us to understand humor for the first time was the one person simply showed us every Sunday the humor of the first and great masters of comedy in the cinema: Armando Calderón.
Being a professional, I had the honor of meeting him and conversing with him several times.
One day I asked him what every Cuban would have wanted to know: is it true that he was sanctioned for having said that mythical phrase? No. He never said it.
A government leader — a military officer to be precise — had commented at a meeting that Cuban children should not be watching “that old codger talking nonsense” on television. At that meeting was a man who was president of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (ICRT): Nivaldo Herrera, an official appointed to his position by the State Council. Right there it was decided that Silent Comedy was over. When children asked why they never saw “friend Luzbrillante” or “friend Charles” or “Balloon Face and Blowtorch,” someone was in charge of putting out the rumor that Armando Calderón being drunk had said something that never in his life would he have allowed himself.
14ymedio: From a historical perspective, what does the controversy after the publication of the article in Granma suggest ?
Marcos García: Years ago there was a commander of infamous memory, Jorge Papito Serguera, who expelled many Cuban television artists starting a witch hunt in condemnation with other gentlemen who also enjoyed political reliability and who began the bitter “Five Grey Years” that did so much damage to Cuban culture. The policies of those gentlemen who came to hold high shares of power and were appointed by the Party still have followers in the halls of the ICRT.
Then came the unpleasant initial years of the Special Period, when a “leader” of as much weight as Carlos Aldana demanded in a speech on the Day of the Cuban press that censorship much exist and we should accept it as an ideological weapon. “Censorship yes! Censorship and good!” he read to the journalists gathered at the base of the Marti monument in the Revolution Square. His speech was broadcast on the television news and, therefore, he spoke to all Cubans. The following years were difficult for everyone, and following the policies of that subject exalted by the Party, Cuban television removed without prior notice the only humor programs: Los domingos no están contados (Sundays are Not Counted) and En Confianza (In Confidence).
Now, with reference to Granma newspaper and the innocent article we are talking about, I am very sorry for the flight this issue has taken. The opinion article that has provoked this debate has been published in the Official Organ of the Communist Party of Cuba. That is, it is understood that, more than a personal opinion, it is a partisan direction. That is very ugly, it is worrisome. Opening the door to intolerance once again. I can assure you that they have long been looking for ways to eliminate the only two programs that are now on Cuban TV. I know ink very well and this “comment” published in Granma seems like a warning.
14ymedio: Do you remember any personal anecdote that fits into the current controversy?
Marcos García: In 1989, a “fellow advisor” who then held a position at Radio Rebelde made me an offer that, if I presented him with a project for Radio Taino, he would give me the program. They gve me a contract, they gave me the courses of whatever it was so that I could enter the Cuban radio system and in Radio Taíno no less(!), which then started strongly… but with a condition, (what were you thinking, that it was offered to me for my pretty face?). I would have to use only the jokes and cartoons that appeared in Bohemia magazine, preferably the issues from before the Revolution … And why? I asked. Answer: Because with those jokes we aren’t courting problems.
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