Vulgarity as a Resource (II) / Miriam Celaya

Rolando Pulido Poster

The recent case of censure against a reggaeton and all the virulent editorial campaign against it –through the official press- bring once again to the spotlight the topic of the cultural revolutionary politics and the controlling function of institutions. The absence of rights touches everyone, not just from the standpoint of artistic phenomenon (let’s generously refer to it as the reggaeton epidemic), but of the control equally exercised over cultural events, authors and the receiving public.

On the other hand, the fact that a subject with the rank of minister should devote his attention to mediocre work, and that an official academician should cast furious rays from her vain heights with pedantry almost as vulgar and coarse as the very song she criticizes, seems more a pose than the real intention to condemn what the cultural Olympus assumes to be an intolerable vulgarity. The confusion lies, then, in properly ascertaining the limits of vulgarity and limiting at the same time in what spheres of social life vulgarity will be allowed without it constituting a blemish in the purity of the “culture” of this people.

And I say this because I now come to realize such a host of memories about events that are vulgar, called and encouraged by the powers that be, that I find it difficult to see any consistency between the official discourse and its current claim to decency. I find it even more difficult to understand why the Culture Minister, sensitive as he is, has never acted against more severe cases of rudeness in which large groups of people engage. I maintain, for example, that the image of the aberrations of a multitude constitutes an unspeakable vulgarity; a crowd that offends, insults and attacks peaceful citizens expressing their dissent against the government, especially while dissidents elsewhere are referred to as “outraged”, and whose claims are said to be just. Yes, to be exact, our protesters are a group of women marching peacefully through the streets to church, gladioli in hand, calling for democratic changes and freedom. The vulgarity of the screaming hordes that attack them, which are, in addition, larger in their numbers, is extreme. If, besides that, we know that the mob has been organized and financed by the authorities, that vulgarity attains the category of crime.

I remember other similar hordes that more than 30 years ago reviled and beat any citizen just because he decided to emigrate via the Mariel boat lift or the Peruvian embassy. Those were the most vulgar and hateful scenes I have ever witnessed, and they were convened and powered by the Cuban government. The slogans at the time, “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, down with the bunch of worms”, “let the scum go!” and so on, were just as vulgar and low-classed as today’s “acts of repudiation”.

And speaking of rude slogans, who doesn’t remember Felipe Pérez Roque when he was the president of the FEU, (University Student Federation) youth prospectus of the quarry of corruption, who Mr. F., with so much hope and such perks, cultivated so long ago? Back then, the future Cuban Chancellor introduced a slogan so vulgar that I doubt has been surpassed to this day. The misguided young man would cry out from his rostrum: “Reagan wears a skirt, we wear pants, we have a commander whose cojones roar”….” A rude and submissive ode to the supposedly sacred testicles wrapped in olive green; the same ones in virtue of which, years later, produced the deposing of the idolater who composed that wretched rhyme.

Spurring the vulgarity of the masses has been one of the most useful methods to turn them into the dictatorship’s instrument of the mechanisms of control. What decent Cuban doesn’t shake in the presence of limitless, unbridled and multiplied riffraff, blessed and legitimized as a manifestation of revolutionary zeal?

I still remember and I regress to the long ago March of 1972, when I had my first experience in the school in the countryside in seventh grade. I was twelve, and one of the smallest kids in the camp “The Marquis”, in the fields of Güines. I endured, like other girls, the hard agricultural work on the muddy furrows, the damn thorns that dug into my hands, the sun, the hunger, the fatigue, the promiscuity in the huts with their horrible rebar and jute bunks, the punishment of the mosquitoes, the filthy outhouses, the cold baths, the remoteness of the parents, the lice epidemics that endangered the survival of my two long and very black braids. I thought about running away that first Sunday, when my parents arrived, but just a few days after our arrival at the camp, one of the girls decided to leave with her father, who went to visit one afternoon in mid-week. The girl walked quickly, holding her father’s hand, her wooden suitcase in hand. They immediately convened us as a group to follow her to shout in chorus: “Flunky, flunky, weakling, bitch” over and over again, while they followed her menacingly to the outskirts of the town. The camp director’s specific instructions were to show that girl who was afraid of hard labor the difference between a revolutionary girl and another one with “petty bourgeoisie residues”. There was so much violence in that act that it impressed me deeply. I swear I did not shout or follow them. I stood, rooted to the floor, scared, ashamed. Other girls also froze in terror. That day, I knew that I would not leave, for I was so afraid that they would do the same to me. That girl never returned to our school. Her parents had her transferred to a different one. Our high school’s name was “Forjadores del Futuro” (Forgers of the Future), life’s ironies. This present was our future then. After becoming an adult, I have often thought of the damage that such repudiation, both verbal and orchestrated by a very revolutionary teacher, must have caused the adolescent. I never heard about her or of that teacher. I hope that, if the teacher is still alive, she feels very ashamed of what she did.

For decades, decency became a lag, a kind of stubborn crust of the capitalist past that held back the development of “revolutionary intransigence.” The schools that proliferated in the coountryside from the very early 70’s and ended up being mandatory, multiplied these evils. Children, now separated from their families, lost the values that their parents had forged over generations. The coexistence and mixtures have resulted in uncontrolled sexual precocity, the multiplication of abortions, messy relationships, often between students and teachers, the loss of privacy, the blurring of the individual in a group, and the standardization of vulgarity. Whoever did not dare utter a curse were “flies”, prudish. You could not be out of tune with the group: all mixed-in, all alike, all vulgar. And those who were not, pretended to be in order to fit in or to avoid public ridicule.

Those waters brought this mud. The following years would be responsible for strengthening the vulgar egalitarianism which assumed the worst values as the best, and imposed them as the norm. We all know the results: today, vulgarity pervades almost every corner of Cuban culture. Any kid in grade school uses the grossest words with an ease that would be the envy of a truck driver, anybody expresses the worst insults in a bus, in a public place or in the middle of a simple dialogue with the lightness and grace typical of one who is reciting a sonnet by Lope de Vega. That is the standard in today’s Cuba, and one of the burdens that will be hardest to surmount in the near future, though now a stern professor and a minister are, surprisingly, stirring against the shocking vulgarity of a reggaeton that masterfully reflects to what level of blatant vulgarity the most cultured people* in our planet have sunk.

*Translator’s note: An oft-repeated claim of Fidel’s.

Translated by Norma Whiting

December 2, 2011