WHEN EVEN THE MOST COURAGEOUS CRY…

During the last decades, literary and media studies have merged, and enriched themselves with tools originally belonging to other disciplines: Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology, Political Sciences, Musicology, and many others...  
Out of their colaboration, in fact, a new discipline was born ─that of Cultural Studies, which builds upon the seminal idea, * that every cultural product and element, responds to a certain social need, and reflects ─in a certain way, too, our social reality.*

Under this multidisciplinarian umbrella, the careful and experienced analysis of popular fiction ─like that of Pedro Infante's movies in Mexico,  offers us a privileged channel to unveiling and understanding our deeper reality ─our "true reality", as Carlos Bousoño would say.
.
       The present paper illustrates the point, better than a thick volume of theoretical frameworks.

Abstract

During the last decades, literary and media studies have merged, and enriched themselves with tools originally belonging to other disciplines: Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology, Political Sciences, Musicology, and many others…
Out of their colaboration, in fact, a new discipline was born ─that of Cultural Studies, which builds upon the seminal idea, * that every cultural product and element, responds to a certain social need, and reflects ─in a certain way, too, our social reality.*

Under this multidisciplinarian umbrella, the careful and experienced analysis of popular fiction ─like that of Pedro Infante’s movies in Mexico, offers us a privileged channel to unveiling and understanding our deeper reality ─our “true reality”, as Carlos Bousoño would say.
.
The present paper illustrates the point, better than a thick volume of theoretical frameworks.

Paper

PAPER PRESENTED AT THE CONFERENCE:

VIEJAS IDEAS, NUEVAS CREENCIAS: MÉXICO HACIA EL SIGLO XXI: LA LITERATURA COMO TRANSGRESORA DE LAS FRONTERAS DE IDENTIDAD”

[“OLD IDEAS, NEW BELIEFS: MEXICO TOWARDS THE XXI CENTURY: LITERATURE AND ITS TRANSGRESSION OF IDENTITY BORDERS”],

ORGANIZED BY UNIVERSIDAD AUTÓNOMA METROPOLITANA (U.A.M., MÉXICO) AND THE UNIV. OF LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY (U.S.A.),

IN JULY, 1995, IN THE BUILDING THAT HOUSED THE FIRST PRINTING PRESS IN THE AMERICAS, MEXICO CITY, D.F.

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VERSION CORRECTED BY AUTHOR:

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THE “” OF

WHEN THE COURAGEOUS WEEP.

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“──This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights:
He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses,
and they will run in front of his chariots.
Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands, and commanders of fifties,
and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest;
and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.
He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.
He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants.
He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants.
Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use.
He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.
When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen,
but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
But the people refused to listen to Samuel.
“No!”, they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations!─ 1

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CONTENTS:

I- TECHNICAL INFORMATION

II- SYNOPSIS

III-ANALYSIS IN THE LIGHT OF CULTURAL STUDIES


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I- FILM’S TECHNICAL INFORMATION

Film:                    When the Courageous Weep.

Director:                Ismael Rodríguez.

Producer:              “Producciones Rodríguez” ( Rodríguez Productions).

Owner:                 “Películas Rodríguez” (Rodríguez Films).

Year:                      1946.

Adaptation:             .

Screenplay:              Ismael Rodríguez, Rogelio A. González, Arturo Manrique “Panseco”, and Luis Carmona Valiño.

The screenplay was based on Pepe Peña’s radio story program, which in turn was inspired by a traditional ballad from the people of Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico.

Protagonists:           [Agapito Treviño, “Caballo blanco” (White Horse)] and Blanca Estela Pavón (Cristina).

Antagonists:            Manuel Mendoza (Colonel José Luis Arteche), and Virginia Serret (Chabela).

Co-protagonists:      Antonio R. Frausto (Don Isauro), and Joaquín Roche (Pinolillo).

Co-antagonists:       Ramón Vallarino (Edmundo, Cristina’s brother), and Eduardo Casado (General Manuel Arteche).

According to García Riera (“Historia documental del cine mexicano” [A Documental History of Mexican Cinema], volume III; Mexico, Era, s.d.; p. 22), just after this particular film, Infante and Pavón became established as the “people’s couple” ─most loved by the nation’s public─.

Among Ismael Rodríguez’s films, we find such popular works as “Los Tres García” (The Three Garcias), “Vuelven los García” (The Return of the Garcias), “Los Tres huastecos” (The Three Huaxtecs -people born in a certain region, close to the Gulf of Mexico-), “Nosotros los pobres” (We, Poor People), “Ustedes los ricos” (You, Rich People), and “¡Ay, Jalisco, no te rajes!” (Oh, Jalisco, Don’t give up!) which even today are amongst everybody’s favourites (as the Anthropologist Dr. Néstor García Canclini stated at this same conference).

[LINK TO:

Title song of the film When the Courageous Weep, by Pedro Infante (source of the companion photo of this article) ]

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II-          SYNOPSIS

The film narrates the life of Agapito Treviño ─alias “Caballo Blanco” [“White horse”]─, who died around 1860 2 .

Prior to the beginning of the film:

Agapito’s mother, Rosita, was going to marry Isauro, but Manuel Arteche ─of the Federal Army─ steals her away. After being raped by the officer ─who later leaves her when pregnant─, she returns to her town, and finds everything changed during her absence: Isauro is married and has a daughter ─Chabela─. And the people, who do not know what happened to Rosita, reject her due to what they believe was her “improper behaviour”. Loving her as much as he did at the start, Isauro, the forsaken boyfriend, takes her into his home as though she were his sister, and adopts her son ─Agapito─ when she dies.

Years pass, and the boy becomes a brave, hard-working, skilfull, respectful, principled and grateful man… ─played, naturally, by Pedro Infante─; and he has earnt the respect of the people, in spite of growing up with the stigma surrounding his background. His integrity wins him the love of Cristina ─his virtuous girlfriend─, but also over that of his godfather’s daughter, Chabela ─who, wretched because he sees her only as a sister─, gives herself to Cristina’s irresponsible brother.

What transpires in the film:

Manuel Arteche arrives in the town ─the miscreant who dishonoured Agapito’s mother, and who is in fact his true biological father─ having become an irreproachable and loyal general. In time, his son Colonel José Luis also arrives. His arrival excites General Arteche, who ─tired of the corruption, bullying and incompetence of his subordinates─ is confident that with his son’s help, he will be able to bring order to the region and defend it against insurgents and outlaws. Nothing could be further from the truth: His son sold himself out to the insurgents, in exchange for being put in charge of the State of Nuevo León, and so that his father’s life would be spared, once the insurgents have taken over.

Both the federalists and the insurgents, pillage, burn, rape, kill, and are equally feared by the people ─and here the “people” are all those who are not involved in the struggle for power, the “good guys”─. Conversely, the “bad guys” marauding are voracious, destructive, and respect nothing. At one point, the insurgents destroy a village and kill the mother of “Pinolillo”, a seven year old boy, left an orphan. Agapito, our hero, decides to adopt and raise him to repay for what Don Isauro did for him.

The federalists ─the soldiers─ begin “conscripting” recruits and requisitioning all the horses they can find. They want to take Agapito, both because of the conscription, as well as to ruin his wedding plans with Cristina ─Colonel José Luis wants to have Agapito’s girlfriend, for himself─. Agapito, who understands this and considers the army a nest of miscreants protected by those in power, refuses and thus becomes a deserter ─a crime punishable by death─. He does not join the insurgents either, because he considers them just as thuggish as the soldiers, although they are not legally protected. Ultimately he flees on horseback to the mountains, where he joins a group of men similar to him, unjustly divested of everything and transformed into outlaws to provide for their families (it is noteworthy that they are only shown attacking abusive federalists).

The colonel courts Cristina, …while at the same time “maintaining relations” with the wretched Chabela; pledges his allegiance to his father, …and makes deals with the insurgents, but at least he is a brave and strong man, and loves his father very much. Cristina’s brother, on the other hand, is weak and irresponsible, and before the conscription can force him to join the federalists, he joins the insurgents ─without understanding the two are the same, and without caring that his mother and sister will be left deserted and destitute─. When he goes to town to deliver a message from the insurgents to Colonel José Luis, he sends his mother to the barracks to run the risky errand for him, so the colonel writes to the insurgents ordering them to kill him for his stupidity, recklessness and cowardice.

In the town, the people wonder where Chabela ─Don Isauro’s daughter─ is, and the old gossips spread the rumour that she ran away with her “almost brother” Agapito. So, when he and Cristina have everything prepared for the wedding, our hero must call it off, and “restore” Chabela’s “honour” by marrying her. He is not responsible of her disappearance, but in this way he wants to repay Don Isauro for what he did for him.

When the insurgents are about to hang Cristina’s brother ─as Colonel José Luis ordered them to─ Agapito manages to save him. And he keeps the letter showing the colonel betrayed the army. Cristina’s brother, thanks Agapito for saving his life, and promises to marry Chabela ─since if anybody is responsible for what happened, it is him─ so that Agapito can marry Cristina.

Everything is prepared for the new wedding, but then the federalists capture Agapito. He negotiates with Colonel José Luis, offering to give him the letter demonstrating his betrayal in exchange for his freedom. And just when it seems every obstacle and problem has been sorted out, General Arteche arrives, and finally discovers his son, the colonel, is a traitor…

The latter must die together with Agapito, but the general is only concerned about his reputation as an incorruptible military officer. Rather than allowing everyone to discover his son is a traitor, he gives him a pistol with which to kill himself. His son fires it… towards the ceiling, and tries to escape through the window; but the other soldiers catch him and the general is forced to a public recognition that his son is a traitor.

Dispensing with any further formalities or trials, the general orders the colonel and Agapito to be shot at sunrise the following day. Don Isauro ─the only one who knows that Arteche is going to execute both his sons─ wants to explain this to him, but the general refuses to receive him.

Finally the sun rises, and neither Don Isauro’s good intentions, another general’s intervention, nor the clamour of the people, succeed in making the general change his mind. Agapito, a man of courage, asks if he can give the firing squad the order to fire, so the general does not have to shoulder the blame for murdering his own son ─he means the colonel─, but when the colonel ones again tries to escape, his father shoots and kills him. At this point, Agapito discovers that Arteche is the man who dishonoured his mother ─and so …is really his father─; and that this “irreproachable” general, wants to have him shot without even reviewing the case…

Discovering that Agapito is also his son, does not prevent Arteche from preparing to kill him. Agapito, in self defense, fires accurately, but Cristina moves both to shield him and to spare him the pain of killing his own father. And so she dies in his arms on the day they were to be married. Agapito, with all this and in spite of his courage, begins to weep. As the film ends, we hear a traditional popular ballad: “When the courageous weep/ their pain gives sorrow…”

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III-         ANALYSIS IN LIGHT OF CULTURAL STUDIES

A-        Introduction.

When I decided to specialize in popular literature ─including many works now disseminated via mass media and internet─, I was quite convinced it was unlikely that eighty million Mexicans were idiots, and only a few intelligent. There had to be good reasons that could explain the preferences of a public that included ─although reluctant to recognize it─ the majority of university graduates and intellectuals. After some years of study, I was able to correctly typify and delineate, aesthetic and narrative reasons behind the success of some such works ─“telenovelas” (comparable in some ways to soap operas), comics, films, novels, songs…─, and not others. That said, I must add that there are sociological reasons behind their success, in addition to literary ones. Since analysis of the latter was difficult from a literary point of view, I set them aside, …until now.

My observations and comments, are based on the film “” (When even the Courageous cry). The film’s value and usefulness stems from the fact that, the view of the world it presents (its imago mundi), allows us to decodify our reality today with surprising efficiency in spite of the time elapsed since it was made (more than half a century). I have transcribed the first scene below, since it includes a number of indicators of the “imago mundi” I will explain later.

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When the Courageous Weep, first scene:

Context: Ravaged town (empty corrals, raped young girl, orphan boy, burnt shacks, dust and confusion).

──Bastards! Where’d they go! Where’d they go─ Cleofas, the town coward (comic character), cries.

* Cut to:

──Be patient, child, God will provide─ Uncle Laureano consoles the raped girl.

──I want my mommy─ cries Pinolillo, the boy whose mother just died.

──She’s sleeping, child─ Uncle Laureano consoles the boy.

──She’s not asleep… She’s dead!─ cries Pinolillo.

──No my boy, how could she be dead! And remember: Men don’t cry, my boy. Come on, be a man!─ says Uncle Laureano.

──Uncle, Where’d they go? Where’d they go?─ cuts in Cleofas.

──Where did they go, …who?─ asks Uncle Laureano.

──The rebels!─ says Cleofas.

──A rainbow…; that’s what you have become, ‘right!─ says Uncle Laureano with gentle irony.

──Why, Uncle?─ asks Cleofas.

──You show up after the storm, that’s why! They’re gone now!─ exclaims Uncle Laureano.

──There’s Agapito─ says Cleofas.

──Hmm […]

──What’s up, Cleofas […]! What’s up, Uncle Laureano! The rebels again, right?─ Agapito Treviño (Pedro Infante) salutes.

──Yes, my boy; but this time the barbarians really made a massacre─ Uncle Laureano explains with resignation.

──Bastards! ─says Agapito; his tone also shows he is used to it. He then turns to Cleofas and asks

──Please water the horse […]─, and he says to the boy, who is still crying,

──What’s the matter, Pinolillo, ‘you scared?─.

──I want my mommy!─ cries the boy.

──What, …?─ asks Agapito guessing the truth, but not daring to talk about what happened.

──He’s alone now─ explains Uncle Laureano.

──No, he’s not alone! He’s coming with me!─ says Agapito.

──God will repay you, my son!─ Uncle Laureano congratulates him.

* Cut to:

Soldiers are arriving on horseback.

──Now the federalists!─ says Uncle Laureano, resigned.

──Sergeant! [..Inspect..] the houses, see what you can find!─ the captain orders.

──Yes sir, captain. Let’s get to it guys!─ says the sargeant.

──The rebels?─ the captain asks the group comprised of Uncle Laureano, Agapito and Pinolillo (Cleofas is at the river with the horse).

──What do you think?─ answers Agapito. ──As soon as we heard the shots we came (sic) running. Bet they figured out we were coming and ran away─ says the captain with pride.

──Well, there they go now. If you want, you can get them… Or are you scared of them?─ hints Agapito with fake naivety.

──What’s your name?─ asks the captain imperiously.

──Agapito Treviño, at your service─ he responds.

──Something tells me you’re a rebel, my friend!  “Death” will get you!─ threatens the captain, aiming his pistol at him.

──No, no!─ cries the boy, Pinolillo, terrified. Agapito, who is holding him in his arms, takes hold of the gun barrel and slowly pushes it upwards.

──Don’t be scared, Pinoli’o! The gentleman and I are just playing. Look!─, he imitates the sound of a gunshot ─Bang!─, and laughs: Ha!

──You’re very courageous, my friend─ responds the amazed captain.

* Cut to:

The other soldiers bring Cleofas (the town coward) to the captain and the others.

──Outlaws! Should catch […] one […], no three or four […]; be men! […] Outlaws!─ grumbles Cleofas.

──What’s going on?─ asks the captain.

──Captain, I think this guy’s a rebel: He was taking the nag (horse)─ explains one of the soldiers.

──Don’t lie! I was already comin’ back!─ Cleofas says defending himself.

──This man here is from the town, and the animal is mine─ interjects Agapito.

──That’s right! Didn’t I say that? He put me in charge─ says Cleofas interrupting.

──Nice horse! Something tells me you’re a rebel, kid!─ says the captain looking with interest at the horse.

──Me! That wouldn’t be an excuse to take my nag, captain?─ says Agapito.

──You’re accusing me of being a thief!─ says the captain.

──No, of course not… So I’m free to leave, right? With your permission…─ says Agapito waggishly, and he leaves with his horse and the boy. A soldier points his pistol at him, and is about to shoot him without warning.

──Stop!─ exclaims the captain ─You don’t shoot courageous men from behind!─.

──Well now, you actually did a good thing there!─ Uncle Laureano congratulates him spontaneously.

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B-        A depiction of society, valued by the people.

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§ 1       “Good guys”, “bad guys” and “outlaws”

The world in this work, is divided into “good guys” and “bad guys”. The “good guys” are those who like to live in peace, and do not transgress the collective values seriously or habitually. The “good guys” ─rich or poor, illiterate or well educated, all kinds of people─ ultimately conform the “people”, in a generic and positive sense. Don Isauro, for example, is not poor, but he is one of the “people” ─the viewers consider him one of their “own”─. The “bad guys” are the ones who divide up power or fight to get it. So, the federalists and the insurgents represent two sides of the same coin, since the only difference between them, is that the former must maintain an appearance of legality, while the latter need not: While the insurgents hang Edmundo observing no formalities and with alacrity, the federalists wait until sunrise and fulfill (although only partially) death sentence procedures and ritual.

In addition to the “good guys” and the “bad guys”, we find a third group, that of the “outlaws” (or thieves who do not work for the “bad guys”). Originally “good guys”, the abuse they suffered at the hands of the “bad guys” (who stripped them of all they had) positioned them outside the law. Therefore, they are not portrayed as truly guilty parties but rather as victims who barely manage to get by, stealing what they need to support their families. It is worth noting that in the film we see them taking from the federalists what these previously stole from others ─which diminishes their guilt─. In any case, the fact that they are thieves means the most they can hope for is the chance to give up that way of life ─like when Agapito and Cristina prepare to move far away, so that they might make a fresh start─.

We can begin, consequently, by saying that this work’s imago mundi, is simplistic and melodramatic. However, the fact that it continues to appeal to all levels of society and all age groups, demonstrates that its codification of reality remains “operative” today ─that the people still find it realistic, and ultimately useful for survival.

[Note added in 2014:

The following link to a recent TED Talk (2013) shows that things in Mexico have not improved since this paper was published, but have actually gone back to the pervasive lawlessness, systematic abuse of power, and permanent chaos, that characterized most of the XIX Century,  which this depicts.]─

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§ 2       The family pact

There is no question about the federalists’ or the insurgents’ guilt, and it is reinforced several times during the transcription of the first scene above. There is also no doubt that both groups stole from, and unjustly despoiled, the “people” ─the “good guys”─. When the latter manage to survive despite the rapacity of both groups, it is due to the way in which they help one another ─through the support-networks that grew from living together, and helping one another─: Don Isauro adopts Agapito, and Agapito adopts Pinolillo

That is: a) Given one should not expect good things from people locked in power struggles (could one expect the insurgents to organize a better government, for example?), and b) given that, at an individual level, the “good guys” cannot compete with the “bad guys” and win, …the only defense the good ones have is to support each other. This creates a network of mutual commitment and obligation, modeled on the “big Mexican family”.

Nevertheless, I am not referring to the nineteenth century European family model, given that, although blood ties can provide connections amongst the individual members, they are not indispensable ─as we saw with Don Isauro, Agapito and Pinolillo─. Basically, then, the “family” emerges as a core group of people, the primary function of which is the protection of each individual member of the group, to ensure the survival of both each and all of them. Therefore, a “family” understood in its broadest sense, might include a godfather, a stepchild, someone given shelter, a friend, a domestic servant, a neighbour, a priest ─and anyone who, due to living together with the others, accepts and deserves a commitment to mutual protection─. Evidently, reciprocal loyalty among the members in spite of changing external circumstances (and despite the good and bad of each of them), constitutes the defining element in this social unit. This gives rise to a situation in which, even when one of the members breaks away from the collective values, the others still think of him as part of the “family”, because partial or “imperfect” loyalty would disrupt the unity of the group as a whole, and endanger the survival of all. This is why Edmundo and Chabela continue to be part of the “family” and deserving of sacrifices by the others, in spite of their transgressions respecting the collective values and also the “family pact”.

Building and maintaining these kinds of relationships, therefore, comprise the only viable strategy to increase one’s chances of survival in a hostile “world”; and explains why so much importance is given to social events, social etiquette, household stability and human relationships in our country, for example.

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§ 3       Why does society tolerate bad people?

Society is like a living organism. And based on this assumption, we can compare it to a tree that tolerates two different parasites. It tolerates one, because it keeps the other under control, given the tree itself cannot defend itself against either of them. Consequently, it allows the first to drain some of its strength, on the condition that it will prevent the second one from proliferating. If the first parasite were to deprive it of so much sunlight ─for example─ that its own survival were in danger, the tree would find a way to grow towards an area where the parasite could not follow, survival being the primary objective at all times. What the greediness of the parasite tries to forget, is that its own survival, depends on the survival of the tree, too.

It is understood, therefore, that there is some type of balance between the federalists and the insurgents ─between both parasites─. This is why the soldiers do not chase after the men who destroyed the town ─they could lose!─, and would rather look for scapegoats among the “good guys” and the “outlaws”. They must, since they need to preserve their appearance of legitimacy and “legality” ─the pact between the “tree” and the first “parasite” must be fulfilled─ to justify their share of power. If they requisition a horse at the same time, that is an added bonus. In spite of the appearance of legality, the people know what to expect from them, and Don Isauro would rather watch while the federalists search his home, to prevent them from taking something of value ─in their presence, even his daughter’s virtue is in danger─.

Another reason supporting the hegemony of the “family” fortress, stems from the way it may constitute the only chance for one of the “good guys” to escape under certain circumstances, from an unjust and undue application of the law, or from being targetted by crime; that is: …when one of their “relatives” is one of the “bad guys”. Thus the urgent necessity of informing General Arteche that Pedro Infante was his son, being the only way to save him from the firing squad. Now, this is possible because the “bad guys” are not foreigners, but Mexicans instead; …and relatives, godparents, or friends of one of the “good guys” ─ultimately members, though unsavoury ones, of one or another “family pact”─. This constitutes another reason why the “good guys” do not go after them. After all, if a mother cannot avoid the possibility of giving birth to a “black sheep”, neither can the people prevent the existence of “bad guys” ─people who, voluntarily, choose to turn their backs against the collective values─.

The final reason why the “good guys” do not rise up against the “bad guys”, is because they know that, if they were able to successfully wrest their power from them, the latter would be replaced by others who would prove to be equally despotic ─or even worse. In other words: The “people” know that, when there is a power vacuum, “insurgents”, “outlaws” and opportunists will all fight ferociously to become the new “owners” of “legality”; and  that therefore, in the end, the people will never be free of “parasites”. [Incidentally, this is exactly what has happened in Mexico from 2000-2013, a huge increase in all types of crime registering because of the open war between power groups, be them legal or illegal].

For all of the above reasons, the “people” cannot destroy the “bad guys”. So, having two groups of “bad guys”, although a costly burden for society, allows others (less scrupulous than the “good guys”) to limit their criminal activity.

According to traditional wisdom, there is no way this can change, since it stems from human nature, and is the natural result of the kinds of people those in power recruit: a) Either innocent bystanders forced to serve the “bad guys” by law, necessity or deception ─like the young men who are forced by the draft to serve as “cannon fodder”─, b) or unscrupulous mercenaries, willing to pay any price for wealth and power ─like the captain in the first scene, or Colonel Arteche─.

This discussion detailing how the “big Mexican family” is the only established system worth fighting for, is highlighted at the end, since the worst “villain” ─General Arteche─ is the one who places more importance on “law” than “family ties”, despite being, paradoxically, the federalist who is most disciplined, strict and “upstanding” ─almost the only one─. Let us not forget that he is not really all that upstanding, since if he were, he would not have gotten to where he is; and the fact that he raped Agapito’s mother, proves this. His son the colonel, is less “bad”, for two reasons: because although his ambition did lead him to betray his group, he guaranteed as best he could his father’s survival; and also because he wanted to live rather than die, when his father tried to force him to commit suicide. In popular literature, life is always ─regardless of problems and challenges─ the supreme value.

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§ 4       And the media, …informational?

As a side note, I would like to highlight that the information “media” are represented (minimally) by the town’s old gossips: They believe they have reliable “sources” ─just as the media say they do─; and believe they know the people they talk about ─just as they do─. But this is not the case: Naturally they make mistakes, frequently spread information that ─even if it were true─ only concerns those directly affected, and therefore end up causing greater damage.

As the “people” say: “Don’t believe everything you hear”, and question most of what is published… The key questions here are why: Why are they publishing this, and not that…? Why at this particular time, and not another…? Who benefits from it, or who are they afraid of and protecting themselves against…? We, Mexicans, are natural born skeptics, by necessity.

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§ 5       Demarcated territories

In the film, they show several demarcated territories (or areas): A free territory, a secure one, and those belonging to the different groups.

The town constitutes the free territory ─with freedom of movement─, because that is where all the “families” are. Likewise, it constitutes the area where all the characters know one another, meet and confront one another; and where the families can interact for the benefit of all concerned.

The secure territory, the place of refuge, where nobody can attack anybody else, is the religious sanctuary; where everyone goes including both men and women, federalists and insurgents, children and adults, the “good guys” and the “bad guys” ─which is why Cleofas, the cowardly outlaw, dares to steal a pistol from the federalist who is there praying, knowing it is the only place where he can do that with impunity. …Which is why he has to ask Infante’s forgiveness for doing it, since not even being the protagonist’s friend gives him the right to violate the security of the religious temple─. This is particularly noteworthy, since pilgrimages to the sanctuary are not really essential to the story, and almost all the characters disrupt the story line to meet there.

So, while the “family” is the only institution worth giving one’s life for, religion constitutes the common language that allows them to judge and assess their various actions in light of more reliable criteria than “legal” ones …, facilitating the repentance of the “bad guys” and the orderly coexistence of the “good guys”. Governments may come and go, crises and problems may arise and batter people, but only one thing gives cohesiveness to all the social groups over time in Mexico: Religion, which makes it a clear component of the national identity.

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§ 6       Happiness

The work contains some elements related to destiny, showing that we cycle through periods of abundance and hardship, happiness and difficulties, regardless of how vigorously we fight to avoid them. Therefore, this world view does not show that happiness depends on the absence of conflict, but rather on not allowing oneself to be brought down by problems.

We see this refusal to be brought down, for example, in the “good guys’” conviction, that sooner or later things will “collapse under their own weight”, that the “bad guys” will repent of their actions, or ─if they do not, be punished ─the future will make them pay for their wrongdoings: Life is a judge that can neither be bought off or threatened. What will General Arteche’s life be like after having killed his younger son and his other son’s fiancée…?

Also, this refusal to be brought down, is shown in the eternally good moods of the “good guys”, constituting the true key to their happiness.

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C-        Reality, fantasy, and their consequences

In this presentation I have outlined our people’s social wisdom, and a possible explanation of why Mexicans do not believe in the “media”, in governments ─“democratic” or otherwise─ (yet, without becoming Anarchist or Libertarian), or in those who offer them a “better” society.

I have here an Italian newspaper with the following subheading: “Mexico […]: The people remain calm in spite of the country’s collapse” 3 . Doubtless, this apparent passivity in the face of injustice and the abuse of power, is remarkable to foreigners and Mexicans alike. Some attempt to explain this using philosophies imported from other countries, and others attempt to do the same using factors related to the climate, geography and even biology. The cause of this “passivity”, in light of what we have discussed here, is much simpler; since it is based on the imago mundi we described, and which can be seen in many popular literary works, like the film we discussed.

The apparent passivity of the Mexican people, therefore, is not a lack of reaction to abuse, but rather an authentic reaction justified by their culture and history.

Like all world views, the one I have described today can be used to explain other realities, since ─according to our country’s popular wisdom─, someone who believes governments or democracies only fail in Mexico, is wrong. A few days ago historians proved that the efficient British government assassinated Lawrence of Arabia ─who had been so useful to them over the course of many years─, due to his political sympathies 4 . His death, was not an accident; as many Mexicans speculate that neither was the death in 1993 of a Catholic cardinal of a provincial city (Guadalajara). And what about reacting to the death of a presidential candidate like that of Luis Donaldo Colosio…? The country is so accustomed to “accidents” that it no longer believes in “assassinations”, either! We could say that Mexicans are wise, precisely because they are wary.

Other governments and countries appear to be better, and many Mexicans emigrate to them, only to return a few years later because human beings are the same everywhere ─as this image of the world shows, since were this not the case, no Mexicans would remain in our territory [the fact is that Mexican expats can be found all around the world…)]…─.

Also according to this image of the world, a government that is apparently more stable, more just, is more damaging in the long term ─like General Arteche─, because his inflexibility stifles the defense-less (the “good guys”) by not providing a margin of error or leeway in the face of “legal” and “illegal” abuses. The people know that sooner or later all governments fall ─not one has lasted forever─; which is why it is dangerous to trust in them, and forget the survival strategies that have endured over history ─like the “family”. Trusting a particular government ─…regardless of how good it might be, it must necessarily be temporary─, makes individuals vulnerable to whoever inherits the power ─according to the Mexican popular wisdom, reflected in this film─.

All of this explains why it is said that Mexico is comprised of traditionalists who do not recognize themselves as such, governed by a handful of supposed liberals, who are not actually so, either.

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D-        Conclusions

It is illogical to believe that such an attitude came out of nowhere. Where, then, does it come from? In my opinion, from our recent history: The country’s precarious survival over the last century of the viceroyalty (1700-1810), and since its independence from Spain (1810 and onwards), allowed for the existence of a series of unstable governments, some of which lasted only a few hours ─and in truth, none being much better than the previous one─. Both national achievements ─the Independence and the Revolution─ were initiated by idealists who believed they could change human nature, and who lost their power to individuals who were more clever and less scrupulous than they were. At the same time, the “gang” (la “bola”) ─the revolution─ became institutionalized in our country, first as a way of life in the face of the crimes committed by the successive governments, and today as the dominant party, which is expected to return to power in the next elections [Note: It did return. In 2012…]. And this despite the fact that Mexico never ceased being a “democracy” ─for all intents and purposes, even our two “empires”, enjoyed a certain amount of popularity and general support─.

The enormous sacrifice and loss of human lives brought by the almost permanent revolution 5, “brought justice” …only to those few who benefitted from the change in statu quo ─according to a popular Mexican saying─. And under such circumstances, which stretched over almost three hundred years, a worldview arose based on survival, and which was unconscious, collective, suspicious of all politics (unless it was to “get rich… by wrongful acts”); and at the same time ─paradoxically─ caring, understanding, generous and realistic. Given that this worldview has provided a satisfactory explanation of our reality over the course of so many years, and not for just a few individuals, but for a large part of society, I believe, we can truly call it an ideology.

The world is experiencing an ideological crisis: One ideology ─the Marxist-Leninist─ has been defeated in practice, and the other ─Neo-Liberal Capitalism, which accepts no moral limitations on its actions─ is unstable ─according to many─ due to the social, ecological and economic destruction it is causing. But there is a third ideology ─the one we described, that of the Mexican “people”─, which continues to be viable. In good times and in bad ─which will always exist─, popular wisdom can help us deal more efficiently with whatever we have to go through.

And it is essential to talk about this today, when the worst economic and social crisis in memory, is only beginning. …Since even if this imago mundi does not resolve huge problems, at least it helps us understand why the works that reflect it, are preferred above all others in the area of popular literature!

“When the courageous weep,

their pain gives us an immense sorrow…;

because their integrity has been broken,

and their bravery as well.

When the courageous weep,

they blame the Sun [─that is: no one─],

while cowards blame their fate,

and the rest, blame an old love.


     1       The Book of Samuel, chapter 8, verses 11 to 18.

     2     In the television version of this film, the year was edited out, so we do not know if the hero lived in 180X or in 186X. Given the appearance of federalist soldiers, we will use 1860 as our historical reference.

     3     “Messico […], la gente comune non si scompone per il crollo del Paese: saggeza o follia?” ( Mexico […]: The people remain calm in spite of the country’s collapse: wisdom or madness?) ; Il Giornale (The Daily – Italian newspaper); April 10, 1995.  

    4     “The Mystery of the Death of Lawrence of Arabia Resolved”; “El Heraldo de México” (the Mexican Herald newspaper); July 5, 1995.

     5     In the Mexican Revolution alone ─initiated in 1910─, historians estimate nearly one million lives were lost (one out of every twenty); and this does not include the lives lost during the uprisings that took place between the War of Independence (1810-) and the government run by General Porfirio Díaz (ended in 1910, by the Revolution).


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About Blanca de Lizaur, PhD, MA, BA