Popular Culture and Politics:
A good way to discover the ties between Argentine politics and culture is simply to ask the person standing next you. In the US politics is one of the three forbidden polite conversation topics, alongside religion and your yearly salary. In Argentina however, ask a local for their opinion on a political issue and you’ll likely still be there a few hours later. Politics, popular culture and democracy in Argentina are inextricably intertwined, far more so than their North American counterparts at least.
In the United States politicians are more prominently identified by their moral values and political values. They maintain a safe distance from most aspects of popular culture such as music, sport and entertainment. When a politician does make the awkward attempt to embrace popular culture the result is somewhat disastrous, take for example Dick Cheney’s unfortunate attempt to rap. Instead, politicians are most seen in restrained stately settings even in popular culture such as throwing the opening pitch at a baseball game. More often however, they are found in satirical cartoons of the butt of a late night talk-show joke. Isolated incidents of cross over between pop culture and politics have occurred in the US such as actors taking on political positions (Arnie and Jesse Ventura are two of the more successful). Another example of this crossover can be found in religious circles where larger than life leaders have turned their faith into an element of popular culture. Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton’s opinions are valued almost as much, if not more, than those of local politicians. There is also a disconnect between the accessibility of politicians and their constituents and though sad but true most American’s cannot name their elected representatives.
By comparison, Argentine politics and popular culture are intrinsically interwoven. It seems that politics and democracy rely heavily on popular culture for structural support sustenance. Soccer clubs are one of the primary means of identity formation in Argentina. As such, knowing the soccer club allegiances of all the prominent politicians is one of the first things you unavoidably read about in local Argentine news papers, and people have been known to cast their votes accordingly. This makes it difficult to discern whether votes are cast based on political agendas or soccer club affiliation, case in point Mauricio Macri’s pending run-off election with Education Minister Daniel Filmus. Both of these candidates have cunningly played to the subconscious allegiances of their voters, as Macri’s campaign posters bear Boca’s signature blue and yellow, while Filmus has chosen the national blue and white combination for his campaign propaganda. Politicians also use soccer to appeal to their constituents by attending important games and even kicking the ball around with players.
In Argentina politics is largely ingrained into everyday life. One of the mainstays of the culture are highly conducive to debate and discussion on all topics but particularly politics. The people take a very active and vocal role in politics and value the ability to do so; protests are an almost daily occurrence. In this way the people hold the government more accountable here and call for immediate and severe actions when politics is no longer working in their favor. For example, in the wake of the peso crisis in 2001, people took to the streets with pots and pans, clamoring for a change in regime and an end to their Cavallo-induced economic woes. The president at the time, De la Rua, had to flee the Casa Rosada in a helicopter, whereas in the U.S. following our great national tragedy of 9/11, the people rallied blindly behind our leaders in an amazing, if not unfounded, feat of support. The culture here fosters involvement in politics. Even a superficial comparison between the distances separating the people from the seat of the president offers interesting insight: in Washington the White House is nestled securely among fences, sprawling lawns, blockaded streets, and automatic rifle-toting guards, but in Buenos Aires the Casa Rosada is accessible by at least two metro stops, has roads running within 20 feet of its walls, and sits at the head of the plaza of choice for protesters.
Politics also exerts an influence over popular culture, albeit not as strong as the converse relationship. Soccer, particularly on the international level of competition, has been used for years by presidents as a means for reaching out and uniting the population. The junta used the World Cup of 1978, hosted by Argentina, as a distraction from the domestic troubles and state terrorism of that time period. The quintessential political-pop culture crossover success story is that of Eva Peron. An icon in Argentina even today, she began as a popular entertainment figure, and, given her humble background, knew how to relate to the masses. Once she rose to political prowess, she maintained her connection to the people through her charity works, such as youth soccer organizations. As with most prominent politicians Evita understood the importance of soccer and how to use the popular sport to her political advantage.
Perhaps countries like the United States should learn a lesson from their more politically involved South American counterparts. In the US the people work for the government, but in Argentina, the government works for the people. This stark contrast is the essence of democracy, of which the United States is supposedly a pioneer. Countries like Argentina take the fundamentals of politics seriously, and demand the most from the people representing them. The highs and lows of Argentina’s history have given people the unyielding desire to participate in their future. Culture and especially popular culture almost equally important to Argentines and as such politicians do not try change popular culture too much because they know how important it is. Instead, politicians use popular culture to their advantage and to gain more support. As such, politics and popular culture go hand in hand in Argentina, and this seems to have a positive effect on democracy. If popular culture means that politicians are held more accountable maybe someone should teach Dick Cheney how to rap.