February 12, 2008

¿Qué pasaría en Venezuela si no existiera Globovisión?

Quico says: Nobody who reads this blog regularly could mistake us for fans of Globovisión, Venezuela's 24-hour opposition news station.

For years Katy and I have been taking potshots at Globo's frequently amateurish and breathlessly partisan reporting, at its role in keeping oppo supporters cooped up in a claustrophobic little bubble of know-nothing anti-Chávez fundamentalism, its inability to reach out to NiNis and its general tendency to play into Chávez's polarization strategy.

It's straightforward: Globo sucks. In many ways, the government has a lot to be grateful for: a more effective counter-propaganda arm would have made its life much more difficult than Globo has.

Which is why I'd always assumed chavismo would just let Globo do its thing: Venezuela's swing demographic (low-income, politically uncommitted people) don't watch Globo, and if they did, they'd probably go running straight back into the chavista fold.

Anyway, the point is moot: Globo only broadcasts free-to-air in Caracas and Valencia these days. For most Venezuelans, the station's already off the air. Why would the government tarnish its democratic credentials even further by shutting Globo down for good?

Five words: Ud. lo vio por Globovision - the station's deadly 30-second agitprop spots.

Set to music, with no commentary, You saw it on Globovision spots are short, sharp and devastating. A kind of Greatest Hits of the craziest, most degenerate and demonstrably false things Chávez and his cronies have said, they're like communicational hand grenades lobbed straight at the heart of chavismo's discursive authoritarianism.

Lets look at a few.

In this one, Globo recalls Chávez's charming recent boast about his coca-paste based breakfast routine:

Here, Chávez blatantly distorts TV audience numbers:

In this one Iris Varela flat out denies the existence of any videos showing people shooting from motorbikes inside UCV ahead of last year's referendum - except Globo has the videos.

And here Chávez swears "on his mother" that he will never back FARC over and against the democratically elected government of Colombia:

You can see plenty more on YouTube: here, here, here, and (my favorite) here.

Personally, I think these spots are brilliant. Usted lo vio por Globovisión points a camera straight into the dark heart of chavista intellectual bankruptcy. It's compelling viewing.

Insofar as government-friendly intellectuals try to articulate a reasoned critique of Ud. lo vio - and, frankly, that isn't very far - they focus on the way the clips decontextualize the information they present. But that's exactly backward. Context - additional information that makes an initial message more meaningful - is what these clips are all about.

It is in the context of his earlier promise (por mi madre) never to back the guerrilla that Chávez's recent U-Turn becomes fully meaningful. It is in the context of the photographic evidence of motorcycle gunmen at the UCV campus that Iris Varela's flat denial morphs from a claim that may or may not be true into clear evidence of a whopper. You want context? These clips are chock full of context!

But this kind of calm, collected critique is the exception. For the most part, the clips make doctrinaire chavistas really, really mad. As in ranting-and-raving furious. At times, the rants that result get breathtakingly silly. Take José Acosta over at Aporrea who - without a hint of irony - launches an angry tirade against Globovisión for giving the impression that Chávez uses drugs by...showing a video of Chávez bragging about using drugs! (This stuff has been brilliantly satirized by Laureano Márquez.)

Acosta's essay then dissolves into the standard chavista conspiracy theory about the State Department, the CIA and something he calls "the Jewish Mossad." Charming.

In the end, what makes these people mad is that Ud. lo vio torpedoes Chávez's ultimate power fantasy: his deranged will to set reality by decree.

It's their role in resisting the imposition of a docile, partisan truth that gives these clips their unique power. They're our last line of defense, our final recourse against the total deformation of our public sphere. No other format could make the point as powerfully.

"NO!" the clips shout, "reality is not made of plasticine! You cannot bend it to your will or set it by decree! Eurasia has not always been at war with Eastasia! We can prove it, damn it!"

Ud. lo vio por Globovision may be the last vestige of political democracy that still operates in Venezuela. In a normal democracy, politicians face a series of incentives to avoid saying things that are crazy, or brazenly contradictory, or easily-demonstrably false. Questions get raised in parliament. Pundits go to town on you. Your prestige and credibility suffer. If your fuck up happens to be against the law, you even face jail.

In Venezuela, these sanctions have withered into nothingness: either worn down by the chavista onslaught or idiotically surrendered by the abstentionist opposition Globovision did so much to engender. It doesn't matter how nutty their discourse gets, Chavez and his cronies face almost no consequence. Only the chance of earning a spot on the Ud. lo vio Gallery of Rogues acts to constrain them by now.

These clips are the last, weakly social sanction against the total debasement of our public life we have left. It really ain't much, but it's all we've got. Seeing the way chavismo has been gradually turning up the rhetorical heat on Globo, it's hard to know for how much longer.