HOMENAJE A LAS MINISERIES

Ya es de noche, después de la cena, y toca relajarse: es la hora de elegir una película en cualquiera de las plataformas a la que una está suscrita. Esto significa emplear aproximadamente dos horas en absorber una historia, dejando de lado los quince minutos (o más) que puede llevar seleccionar una película mínimamente atractiva, a menos que se haya preseleccionado y colocado en la lista correspondiente. Si sabes de una película que realmente quieres ver, tanto mejor; si no, en este punto comienzas a preguntarte si tienes la resistencia para aguantar ciento veinte minutos de un guión posiblemente mediocre con una dirección y actuaciones superficiales, la típica película con una calificación de 6 a 6’5 en IMDB. Ahí es cuando te preguntas ¿por qué no ver un episodio de una serie? Sesenta minutos como máximo y luego temprano a la cama, tal vez para leer un rato; o quedarte en el sofá a disfrutar de un videojuego. Cuatro horas y cuatro episodios después, te preguntas a dónde se ha ido el tiempo y si te despertarás a tiempo cuando suene la alarma…

¿Por qué es más fácil ver cuatro episodios de una serie en lugar de un largometraje, que siempre será más breve? Por la misma razón que es más fácil leer sesenta páginas de una novela que un relato de veinte páginas. Todas las narraciones requieren un esfuerzo para dominar las reglas de su mundo ficticio, se trate de un micro cuento o de un serial inacabable de veinte temporadas. Aplicado a un texto corto este esfuerzo no es productivo porque se gasta en poco tiempo. Con un texto más largo, sucede lo contrario: una vez que se comprenden las reglas narrativas básicas, la narración en sí puede degustarse muchas páginas o muchas horas, sin esfuerzo adicional. Cuando elegimos una serie en lugar de una película, o una novela en lugar de un relato, estamos maximizando la utilidad del esfuerzo que hacemos para entrar en sus mundos imaginarios. Cuando la película de dos horas termina, tenemos que comenzar el proceso de nuevo con otra película. Con una serie, el mismo esfuerzo se extiende horas, días, semanas y más, sin inversión adicional. Además, ver una serie también resuelve el problema de qué ver los días siguientes, hasta que la serie termine o su atractivo disminuya para el espectador. En resumen, una persona que ve una película diferente todos los días, o que lee un cuento diferente a diario, debe estar dispuesta a gastar mucha energía imaginativa, mientras que alguien que usa dos horas al día para ver la misma serie durante un mes, o leer la misma novela, solo se involucra en una historia, sin importar cuán compleja sea la trama y las subtramas.

No me gustan las series por la misma razón que no me gustan las novelas de más de 400 páginas: debe haber un límite, creo, al tiempo que estoy dispuesta a invertir en una sola historia. Por las razones que he explicado, no me gustan demasiado los cuentos, que generalmente me impacientan incluso cuando tienen solo unas pocas páginas. Me gustan las películas, pero cada vez me resulta más difícil encontrar guiones que me interesen y, por ello raras veces estoy dispuesta a invertir dos horas de mi tiempo en ver un largometraje, especialmente si estoy leyendo un libro atractivo. A menos que viaje en un tren, avión o autocar, o que lea por trabajo, no leo más de dos horas seguidas por placer, lo que significa que para mí la película de la noche está en competencia directa con cualquier libro que pueda estar leyendo. Por lo general, el libro gana.

Una solución para aquellos a quienes, como a mí, no les gustan las series y están empezando a odiar las películas es ver miniseries. La diferencia entre una serie y una miniserie no es tan fácil de establecer. En principio, una miniserie está limitada a una temporada; de hecho, la palabra ‘temporada’ ni siquiera debería aplicarse a este tipo de narración, ya que una serie solo tiene ‘temporadas’ si es propiamente una serie, no una miniserie. Para confundir aún más las cosas, no es fácil distinguir entre miniserie y serie por número de episodios: por poner un ejemplo, la brillante miniserie Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) consta de catorce episodios, mientras que la no menos brillante serie Sherlock (2010-2017) consta de quince episodios distribuidos en cuatro temporadas. Tal vez en lugar de ‘miniserie’, deberíamos usar la etiqueta de ‘serie de una temporada’, aunque esto contradiga mi argumentación anterior. La Academia de Artes y Ciencias de la Televisión de los Estados Unidos, que otorga los Emmy, prefiere la etiqueta ‘serie limitada’, y parece que en el Reino Unido la palabra serie se usa tanto para minis como para series más largas.

En cuanto a la duración de los episodios, hay miniseries de solo dos episodios que son más cortas que la magnífica película de Steven Spielberg Schindler’s List (1993), de 195 minutos. El límite superior está marcado por el máximo que puede durar una temporada, aunque diría que quince episodios son suficientes. Los episodios pueden durar de veinte a noventa minutos, si bien la mayoría dura de cuarenta y cinco a sesenta minutos, por lo que el número de episodios no es una indicación de la duración real de una miniserie. Se dice que War and Remembrance (1988-1989) es la miniserie más larga, con sus 27 horas (en 12 episodios); ¡su primer episodio dura 150 minutos! Para agregar más datos, las dos miniseries de ficción de mayor rango en IMDB calificadas con un 9,4 (dejando de lado las miniseries documentales) son muy diferentes en cuanto a duración: Band of Brothers (2001) dura 594 minutos, Chernobyl (2019) solo 330.

La miniserie nació mucho antes de la palabra en sí, que apareció a principios de la década de 1960 (1963, según el diccionario Merriam Webster), con la adaptación serializada de novelas. En The Classic Serial on Television and Radio (2001), Robert Giddings y Keith Selby atribuyen a John Reith, el inventor británico de la radiodifusión de servicio público, la idea de usar la cadena de radio de la BBC para representar obras de teatro en la década de 1930, hábito que generó una moda centrada en los clásicos literarios y populares del siglo XIX. Esta moda se trasladó más tarde a la televisión. Giddings y Selby señalan (p. 19) que la adaptación en 1951 por parte de BBC Television de la novela The Warden de Anthony Trollope en seis episodios fue la primera miniserie; fue seguida en 1952 por Pride and Prejudice. Según Francis Wheen’s Television (1985), el inmenso éxito en los Estados Unidos, en 1960-1970, del serial británico The Forsyte Saga (1967), basado en las novelas de John Galsworthy, “inspiró la miniserie estadounidense”, también a menudo basada en novelas, tanto clásicas como best-sellers.

Siento usar mis recuerdos personales, pero sucede que mi infancia y adolescencia se solapan con el período en el que las miniserie estadounidenses y las británicas florecieron. El año clave fue 1976. Fue entonces cuando la adaptación de la BBC de las novelas de Robert Graves I, Claudius (1934) y Claudius the God (1935) como I, Claudius, y la versión de ABC del best-seller de Irvin Shaw Rich Man, Poor Man (1969) llegó a la pantalla de televisión con una fuerza de huracán que recuerdo perfectamente. Tenía diez años cuando Hombre rico, hombre pobre fue emitida por TVE, en 1977, y doce cuando Yo, Claudio fue vista por fin en España en 1978, y sí recuerdo su impacto con toda claridad. No recuerdo haber visto la exitosa miniserie anglo-italiana Jesús de Nazaret (1977, dirigida por Franco Zefirelli), emitida por TVE en 1979, pero ciertamente recuerdo el enorme fenómeno en el que se convirtió Roots (1977), o Raíces, basada en la novela de Alex Hailey (1976), en ese mismo año de 1979. Luego vinieron otras adaptaciones de la BBC (me quedé impresionadísima con la versión de 1978 de la BBC de Wuthering Heights, que vi a los trece años, antes de leer la novela de Emily Brontë) y los éxitos de la década de 1980: Shōgun (1980), adaptación de la novela de James Clavell; The Thorn Birds (1983) basada en la novela romántica de Colleen McCullough; y la trilogía de miniseries North and South (1985, 1986, 1994), basada en las novelas de John Jakes.

La miniserie que posiblemente alteró más profundamente cómo se debía gestionar la adaptación literaria fue Brideshead Revisited (1981) de Granada Television/ITV, basada en la novela de 1945 de Evelyn Waugh. Esta serie de once episodios, que lanzó la carrera de Jeremy Irons, se emitió en España en 1983. Tenía yo dieciséis años entonces y recuerdo estar completamente encantada con todo lo que mostraba. Curiosamente, Televisión Española emitió originalmente Brideshead en su segundo canal, que solo llegaba a una minoría de espectadores y luego le dio una segunda oportunidad en su canal principal en 1984. Eran los tiempos previos a la aparición de los canales privados (en la década de 1990) y mucho antes de las plataformas de streaming, cuando todos veían la misma serie. Brideshead Revisited tiene poco que ver con todas las otras miniseries que he mencionado, siendo una exploración bastante sutil del desajuste entre Charles Ryder y la rica pero decadente familia de su amigo Sebastian Flyte. También es una crónica bastante nostálgica del final de las grandes casas aristocráticas británicas (el magnífico Castillo Howard fue la ubicación principal), y como tal un precursor de la novela mucho más crítica de Kazuo Ishiguro The Remains of the Day (1989). Era yo entonces una adolescente fácilmente impresionable y creí a pies juntillas que la cultura inglesa era tan fina y elegante como Brideshead mostraba, lo cual no era el caso. Tampoco capté el profundo clasismo, que vi con toda crudeza cuando enseñé la novela una década después a estudiantes de primer año que no le vieron la gracia.

Repasando estos días las listas de las mejores miniseries actuales, es decir, de los últimos diez años, concluyo que este tipo de narración está floreciendo de nuevo, aunque también está siendo sobrevalorada. Disfruté enormemente de The Queen’s Gambit (2020), según la novela de Walter Tevis (1983), pero encontré The Night Manager (2016), basada en la novela de John le Carré (1993), muy poco merecedora de su éxito. Un problema que afecta a las miniseries es que las plataformas no distinguen en sus menús entre ellas y las series de varias temporadas, con lo cual es fácil perderse las menos publicitadas. La imposibilidad de suscribirse a todos los servicios de streaming significa además que los espectadores se pierden constantemente las series de las que podrían disfrutar. Esta iba a ser originalmente una entrada con una lista de grandes miniseries recientes, pero yo misma tengo acceso a una selección muy limitada. Este es un tema para otro post, por supuesto, pero me pregunto si la proliferación de plataformas está haciendo que la piratería vuelva a crecer, una vez que los espectadores que se apañan bien con los ordenadores han llegado a la conclusión de que no hay forma de mantenerse al día con el flujo incesante de productos audiovisuales atractivos.

Terminaré sugiriendo que la miniserie podría acabar matando la adaptación cinematográfica de novelas para el cine, probablemente sea una buena noticia. Una película de dos horas nunca puede acomodar los eventos de una novela de extensión media y mucho menos los de cualquier novela de más de 400 páginas. La miniserie, que es siempre más flexible, parece ser, por lo tanto, un vehículo mucho más adecuado para adaptar novelas, como ya demostró la hermosa versión de Orgullo y prejuicio (1995) de la BBC. La mala noticia asociada a esta tendencia es la tentación de prolongar la miniserie para una segunda temporada y más allá, con la esperanza de convertirla en una serie propiamente dicha basada en el atractivo de un personaje o una trama. Un ejemplo es The Handmaid’s Tale (2017-) ya en su quinta temporada, mucho más allá de la novela original de Margaret Atwood. Los showrunners intentan explotar el atractivo de todas las series populares, pero es bueno saber cuándo hay que detenerse, y este es el rasgo que más aprecio de las miniseries.

Espero que vosotros también las disfrutéis.

Publico una entrada una vez a la semana (sígueme en @SaraMartinUAB). ¡Los comentarios son muy bienvenidos! Descárgate los volúmenes anuales de https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328 y visita mi sitio web https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/. La versión en inglés del blog está disponible en https://blogs.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

UN GÉNERO FANTASMA: EL EXTRAÑO CASO DEL TECNOTHRILLER

El que debería escribir esta entrada hoy es mi estudiante de doctorado Pascal Lemaire ya que ha elegido tratar el tecnothriller como su tema de investigación. Sin embargo, yo misma tengo curiosidad por algunos de las cuestiones que está planteando sobre este género, así que aquí estoy.

Allá por 2014 Pascal publicó en Hélice un excelente artículo que es la base de su disertación, iniciada este curso académico. En “Ain’t no technothriller in here, sir!» (II.3, marzo de 2014, 50-71) se ocupó del hecho de que tanto autores como críticos niegan que el tecnothriller realmente exista como género, a pesar de que esta es una etiqueta con la que la mayoría de los lectores de ficción popular están familiarizados. Pascal pone a prueba la hipótesis en su artículo de que «El Tecno-Thriller (sic) es una ficción narrativa ambientada en el pasado cercano o en un futuro cercano sobre la violencia en un contexto político ejercida con tecnologías avanzadas», y aunque, como sucede con cualquier definición de género, pronto surgen las excepciones, logra nombrar una lista sustancial de autores y novelas relacionadas con el género y establecer algunos sub-géneros clave (guerra submarina, ficción de la Tercera Guerra Mundial, la historia del Comandante y la novela sobre el Comando). Su conclusión es que el tecnothriller existe al mismo nivel que, por ejemplo, existe la chick-lit, es decir, tanto como una etiqueta comercial como un conjunto de características que se fusionan en un género que la mayoría de los lectores pueden identificar. También afirma que “el paquete entero” sobrevive y debe estudiarse como “un testimonio de algunos de los aspectos culturales del último cuarto del siglo XX hasta nuestros días”. Tal como explicó a su tribunal de seguimiento anual la semana pasada, a pesar de ser un lector muy buen conocedor del género, lo está abordando de manera crítica; no quiere reivindicar todos sus valores, sino asegurarse de que la crítica académica actual ya no pase por alto la existencia del tecnothriller.

Mientras debatíamos estos asuntos en nuestra última tutoría, recordé el trabajo revolucionario que Janice Radway hizo a principios de la década de 1980, cuando su enfoque sobre la novela rosa basado en la respuesta de las lectoras resultó en su estudio indispensable Reading the Romance (1984). Hasta entonces, la ficción romántica era un vergonzante secreto en la escritura y la lectura de las mujeres, ya que la crítica feminista consideraba el género como un vástago de la ideología patriarcal (lo es, sin duda). Radway, sin embargo, demostró que las lectoras de novela rosa entienden bien cómo los textos de los que disfrutan se posicionan en relación con el patriarcado, sabiendo de sobras cómo se relacionan la fantasía romántica y la sumisión sexista. Sus preferencias han remodelado gradualmente el género hacia una discusión más abierta de los contextos en los que el feminismo ofrece a las mujeres esperanza y consuelo como el romance parece ofrecer. Hoy, en resumen, ninguna crítica feminista trata a las lectoras de novela rosa de la manera condescendiente en que solían ser tratadas en el pasado y, al revés, muchas autoras han incorporado narrativas de empoderamiento en sus obras que ciertamente pueden llamarse feministas.

La contradicción que Pascal explorará, así pues, es por qué el tecnothriller, un género que ha estado subiendo a la cima de las listas de los libros más vendidos durante décadas, está siendo ignorado por todos los estudiosos, mientras que la novela rosa, un género que solía ser marginal, ha recibido tanta atención. La respuesta, como puede verse, se halla en mi propia frase: los géneros considerados marginales y que se dirigen a públicos no mayoritarios se ven ahora como objetos legítimos de estudio académico, pero todavía no sabemos qué hacer con los autores que más venden y que se dirigen a públicos de gran tamaño (en cualquier género). Ahora se pueden encontrar libros como el de Deborah Philips Women’s Fiction, 1945-2005: Writing Romance (2014), pero hasta donde yo sé nadie ha escrito una tesis sobre Danielle Steel, posiblemente la autora más popular del género junto con Barbara Cartland. Hay mucha bibliografía sobre novela rosa y muchos recursos académicos para estudiarla pero todavía entendemos muy mal el fenómeno del autor súper-ventas y no sabemos cómo argumentar que los autores pueden ser participantes clave en un género o en toda la ficción a pesar de carecer de mérito literario. Será más fácil para Pascal escribir sobre todo el género del tecnothriller, en resumen, que justificar escribir una disertación solo sobre Tom Clancy, el autor más conocido del género después de su padre fundador, Michael Crichton.

Otros asuntos complican el acercamiento al tecnothriller. Suponiendo que Pascal eligiera seguir los pasos de Janice Randway y llevar a cabo un trabajo de campo entre los lectores de tecnothrillers, su trabajo no sería igualmente bienvenido por la sencilla razón de que la mayoría de los lectores de este género son hombres blancos heterosexuales cisgénero. Este no es un grupo demográfico muy popular en estos días entre los académicos. Hace apenas unos días tuve que explicarle por enésima vez a una compañera feminista que escribo sobre ese tipo de autores masculinos porque quiero saber qué están haciendo. Encuentro maravillosa la progresión de las mujeres en todas las áreas de la literatura, y me alegra ver cómo el enfoque más inclusivo está dando como resultado la buena acogida de muchos autores trans y no binarios, pero aun así quiero saber más sobre los hombres tradicionalmente binarios porque están produciendo cantidades masivas de ficción leída principalmente por hombres, y por lo tanto generando una ideología de género de la que quiero ser consciente. Se puede ignorar todo esto sólo a riesgo de no entender cómo funciona el mundo. Del mismo modo, el tecnothriller necesita ser explorado porque sus narrativas basadas en tramas que exaltan la tecnología atraen principalmente a hombres cisgénero, heterosexuales, blancos y, ¿adivinen qué?, esta es la categoría de persona que tiene el poder hoy en día en el hogar donde nació el género, los Estados Unidos, y en muchas otras naciones clave del mundo. Cuando el Presidente Ronald Reagan afirmó que una novela de Tom Clancy le había dado mejor información que los informes de la CIA, algún académico debería haber escuchado y comenzar a prestar atención a este género. No era ninguna broma.

Aparte de la baja popularidad de los lectores a los que se dirige el tecnothriller entre los académicos de hoy, el género también es tratado como un brote bastardo por la comunidad centrada en la ciencia ficción, desaire que es más difícil de explicar. Daré por sentado que los tecnothrillers comienzan con The Andromeda Strain [La amenaza de Andrómeda] (1969) de Michael Crichton y dejaré a Pascal una explicación más matizada de los orígenes del género. Esta novela narra los frenéticos esfuerzos de un grupo de científicos estadounidenses para detener la propagación de un virus extraterrestre mortal que llega a la Tierra junto con los restos de un satélite militar. La página de Wikipedia afirma que “las reseñas de The Andromeda Strain fueron abrumadoramente positivas, y la novela fue un éxito de ventas en América, estableciendo a Michael Crichton como un respetado novelista y escritor de ciencia ficción”. Esto no es cierto en lo que respecta a ser un respetado escritor de CF. Crichton nunca fue nominado para un Hugo, y su única nominación para una Nebula fue para la película Westworld (1973), que escribió y dirigió.

Posiblemente, la condición de autor súper-ventas de Crichton lo alejó de la mayoría de los fans de la ciencia ficción y de los autores del género que luchan por tener un mínimo impacto, y también contribuyó a la alienación de otros escritores de tecnothriller del fándom y a su ninguneo en el circuito de premios de la CF, a pesar de que parece más que claro que el tecnothriller es un subgénero de la CF, particularmente cercano a su rama militar. Más allá de si los autores que más venden necesitan fándom o premios, hay otro problema. Hace un tiempo estuve pensando en escribir un libro sobre Crichton pero la tarea pasó a ser imposible una vez me di cuenta de que sus valores ideológicos son ahora obsoletos en muchos sentidos, especialmente en lo que respecta al género identitario; el proyecto quedó en nada después de mi lectura de Prey [Presa] (2002). Bromeando un poco con su otro título más conocido, Jurassic Park [Parque Jurásico] (1990), diría que Crichton es ahora un dinosaurio; si os fijáis, ya nadie lo menciona en relación con la franquicia cinematográfica iniciada por la película de Spielberg de 1993, una señal segura de que ya no se le respeta. Elizabeth Trembley publicó en 1996 Michael Crichton: A Critical Companion, pero no veo a nadie dispuesto a actualizar este volumen, como yo misma pensé en hacer.

Ahora bien, si Crichton es una patata demasiado caliente hoy en día, imaginad la dificultad de tratar de una lista de autores principalmente interesados en la tecnología relacionada con la guerra y en convertir ese interés en materia de historias emocionantes para entretener a blancos adultos de ideología poco progre. Debo decir que no soy lectora de tecnothrillers (aunque he visto toneladas de películas basadas en ellos, o que son tecnothrillers por derecho propio) y tal vez estoy asumiendo erróneamente como la mayoría de mis compañeros académicos que como su postura es tecnófila y de derechas no vale la pena analizarla y mucho menos defenderla. Sin embargo, suponiendo que este sea el caso (a pesar de que el propio Crichton fue muy crítico con el mal uso de la ciencia y el impacto de las tecno-corporaciones), y que los hermanos e hijos de Tom Clancy son, en el peor de los casos, supremacistas blancos y militaristas acérrimos, ¿no deberíamos estar al caso de lo que están escribiendo? Hay algo más. Como estoy aprendiendo de Pascal, los escritores de tecnothrillers tienen una muy buena comprensión de los problemas geopolíticos, mientras que los escritores realistas literarios insisten en representar la vida personal de las gentes de clase media al margen de todo conflicto nacional o internacional. Supongo que muchos lectores encuentran los tecnothrillers didácticos y, como Ronald Reagan, están aprendiendo de ellos lecciones que ningún otro escritor está proporcionando. Tal vez, y esto es algo que Pascal debe investigar, podría valer la pena aprender algunas de estas lecciones y no asumir, como hacemos, que son basura.

Si un género logra sobrevivir en ausencia de fándom, premios especializados y atención académica, e incluso sigue apareciendo en la lista de los libros más vendidos después de décadas, esto significa que vale la pena estudiarlo. Como especialista que escribe sobre ciencia ficción escrita por hombres cuyos valores no siempre comparto, me parece absolutamente necesario explorar lo que interesa a la mayoría de los lectores masculinos. Simplemente no es cierto que la mayoría esté leyendo ahora tanta ficción escrita por hombres como por mujeres, ni que la ideología de género haya impactado la escritura de los hombres (y sus lecturas) tanto como ha impactado la de las mujeres. Podríamos tener la impresión de que el mundo de la ficción ahora está acomodando sin problemas los profundos cambios en la ideología de género que hemos visto en las últimas décadas, pero creo que este no es el caso en absoluto y que así como algunas mujeres aman apasionadamente la ficción romántica del tipo más tradicional, algunos hombres siguen siendo sin duda adictos a los tecnothrillers. Si guardan silencio sobre su adicción es simplemente porque nadie se interesa por sus preferencias. Me alegro, entonces, de que Pascal Lemaire se preocupe con un interés verdaderamente académico por la ficción escrita por hombres de ideología muy diferente de la suya propia. Estoy muy interesada en lo que está descubriendo y espero que muchos otros lectores también lo estén.

Publico una entrada una vez a la semana (me puedes seguir en @SaraMartinUAB). ¡Los comentarios son muy bienvenidos! Te puedes descargar los volúmenes anuales aquí: https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. La versión en inglés del blog está disponible en https://blogs.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/en/. Encontrarás en mi web información sobre mis publicaciones y actividades: https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

SOBRE LOS QUE ACOSAN, LOS TIRANOS Y SU SENTIDO DEL PRIVILEGIO: ¡PARADLOS YA!

NOTA: comento que esta es la traducción de mi entrada en inglés “On bullies, tyrants, and their sense of entitlement: Stop them now”, y que no existe en castellano un equivalente exacto de ‘entitlement’ (ni de ‘bully’). ‘Entitlement’ se traduce a veces por ‘derecho’ y otras por ‘privilegio’, pero pienso que ‘to feel entitled’ debe traducirse por ‘creerse con derecho’ a lo que sea.

Mientras escribo, el armamento nuclear ruso ya está listo para atacar cualquier lugar del mundo y tanto los medios de comunicación como las redes sociales están debatiendo si el Presidente ruso Vladimir Putin podría eventualmente ordenar una ofensiva, y contra quién. Para asombro del mundo, los ucranianos siguen resistiendo y Kyiv no ha caído aún después de seis días de combates. Las tácticas de invasión convencionales están siendo desplegadas por los rusos con menos éxito de lo que esperaban, pero, al mismo tiempo, Putin aún no ha amenazado directamente a Ucrania con la devastación nuclear. En esta situación extremadamente volátil, mientras Putin pierde el respeto del pueblo ruso y de la mayoría de las personas en el mundo, el Presidente ucraniano Volodymyr Zelenskyy, un cómico que ganó las elecciones de 2019 prometiendo poner fin a la corrupción, se ha convertido en un gran líder, eligiendo quedarse en Kyiv en lugar de aceptar el rescate que ofrecieron los estadounidenses.

Quiero usar mi entrada de hoy para leer la agresión rusa contra Ucrania en términos de género, ya que soy una feminista que enseña e investiga en el marco de los Estudios de Género. El contraste entre Putin y Zelenskyy sirve para comparar dos tipos de hombre, demostrando que mientras que la masculinidad en general no es la culpable del tipo de brutal violencia que es la guerra, la masculinidad patriarcal es de hecho culpable de los peores crímenes contra la humanidad. Putin está siendo comparado en estos días con Adolf Hitler y como soy la autora de un libro llamado Masculinity and Patriarchal Villainy in British Fiction: From Hitler to Voldemort (2019), también tengo algunas ideas que compartir sobre el tirano ruso. La tesis que defendí en el libro es que el comportamiento atroz de Hitler fue la culminación de un patrón que vincula al villano ficticio y al villano de la vida real como representantes de la masculinidad patriarcal. La definí como el tipo de masculinidad machista, sexista, misógina, LGTBIQ+ fóbica, racista y generalmente segregacionista, solo interesada en acumular el mayor poder posible para probarse a sí misma.

El patriarcado—que no es lo mismo que la masculinidad sino un subconjunto hegemónico como han teorizado Raewyn Connell y Michael Kimmel—atrae a los hombres prometiéndoles una parte del poder que tienen los hombres hegemónicos. Aunque esta es una promesa hueca, muchos hombres caen en ella, creyendo que tienen derecho al poder patriarcal, pero encontrándose generalmente desempoderados, o menos empoderados de lo que desearían estar. Si su sentimiento de desempoderamiento es alto, ha explicado Kimmel, esto les lleva a atacar a otros menos empoderados que ellos, un comportamiento que explica la intimidación de los acosadores de todo tipo, el abuso relacionado con la pareja, la criminalidad aleatoria desde el asesinato en serie hasta el terrorismo, y así sucesivamente. Por lo general, los mecanismos de control, desde la presión de grupo hasta la intervención judicial, funcionan, y los aspirantes a tiranos acaban desempoderados de una manera u otra. En varios casos, sin embargo, los tiranos en ciernes se hacen fuertes en el poder utilizando la pura violencia, dentro de círculos criminales o políticos, hasta que simplemente no pueden ser detenidos; o se necesita un esfuerzo masivo—como la Segunda Guerra Mundial, tal vez la Tercera Guerra Mundial—para detenerlos.

Para el capítulo sobre Hitler en mi libro seguí a Kimmel pero también al biógrafo británico de Hitler Ian Kershaw, para dejar de lado las trivialidades biográficas y leer al Führer no como un individuo excepcional sino como un caso excepcional de villanía patriarcal que supera todos los controles contra el empoderamiento excesivo. Hitler, un hombre oscuro con muchos problemas personales, podría haber fracasado en sus planes de empoderarse si la sociedad alemana hubiera sido capaz de imponerle los controles necesarios. La situación, sin embargo, era tan frágil después de la derrota alemana en la Primera Guerra Mundial, la crisis de 1929, el ascenso del fascismo en Italia, etc., que en lugar de ser acorralado, Hitler fue respaldado. Recordemos que ganó una elección democrática legítima en 1933 antes de organizar el golpe que lo convirtió en el dictador total de Alemania. Este es un mecanismo que hemos visto en funcionamiento recientemente en los Estados Unidos, donde la democracia estadounidense casi murió el 6 de enero de 2021, después de que el Capitolio fuera asaltado por fascistas pro-Trump. Hitler, Trump o Putin, como se puede ver, no son importantes como individuos, como hombres. Lo que importa aquí es que los mecanismos democráticos estén en su lugar para que ningún tirano pueda levantarse. Estos hombres son la prueba de que el mecanismo para evitar que los villanos se empoderen en exceso a menudo falla, mucho más cuando, como sucede en Rusia, nunca han estado realmente en su lugar.

En el funcionamiento normal de las cosas, los hombres y mujeres que llegan al poder en los sistemas políticos democráticos están motivados por un sentido de servicio mezclado con la ambición personal de dejar su huella en la Historia. Por supuesto, todos desean empoderarse y actuar siguiendo sus propios principios e ideas sin obstáculos, pero se supone que la oposición y los votantes deben frenar ese instinto. La mayoría de los políticos en el mundo, a cualquier nivel, entienden que hay líneas rojas que no se pueden cruzar, aunque, obviamente, muchos las cruzan a diario para enriquecerse a través de la corrupción.

J.R.R. Tolkien habla en El Silmarillion y en El Señor de los Anillos de dos tipos de poder: el poder de creación y el poder de dominación. El primer tipo es buscado por las personas que piensan que pueden hacer el bien a título individual o colectivo, mientras que, como trasluce a través de los ejemplos tolkienianos de Morgoth y Sauron, el poder de dominación necesita expresarse a través de la opresión, la explotación y la sumisión violenta. Se necesita una alianza de seres divinos y elfos para poner a Morgoth en prisión para siempre (él es inmortal) y se necesita una segunda alianza de elfos, hombres, enanos y hobbits para expulsar a Sauron (otro inmortal) de Mordor. Tolkien había luchado en la Primera Guerra Mundial y entendía muy bien cómo procede la masculinidad patriarcal: su necesidad de empoderamiento es una necesidad de dominación, y se basa, aquí está la clave principal, en creerse con derecho a lo que uno desea.

Todo el mundo se siente con derecho a algo. Si se trata de la felicidad o de gobernar el mundo entero depende de la cuota de poder que tengamos. Una persona sin poder alguno, un esclavo, ni siquiera puede contemplar sentirse con derecho a nada, mientras que una persona con un fuerte sentido de derecho al poder hará cualquier cosa para aplastar a sus enemigos y rivales. Estamos viendo esta maquinaria en funcionamiento en los partidos nacionales de derecha españoles, con la repentina caída en desgracia del Presidente del PP, Pablo Casado, por atreverse a interferir con la Presidenta regional de Madrid, Isabel Ayuso, y en Vox, que promete empoderamiento a hombres y mujeres que sienten que están siendo maltratados por la opinión popular progresista y los partidos de izquierda.

Las mujeres, como se puede ver, sienten tanto sentido de derecho al poder como los hombres, pero el sexismo hasta ahora les ha impedido promulgar esa necesidad más allá de un cierto nivel (el de Margaret Thatcher como primera ministra de Gran Bretaña, 1979-1990). Si los hombres y las mujeres siempre hubieran sido tratados por igual, no estaría ahora hablando de masculinidad patriarcal sino de humanidad oligárquica. Sin embargo, el hecho es que el sentido del derecho al poder de las mujeres ha sido duramente suprimido a lo largo de la Historia. El feminismo ha liberado a muchas mujeres de sus grilletes, pero puede haber creado monstruos al invitar a todas las mujeres a defender sus decisiones; decisiones que lamentablemente también incluyen, como sabemos ahora, ser unas fascistas que aspiran a gobernar su territorio.

Si el sexismo no hubiera sido un factor importante en la Historia, así pues, no hay razón para suponer que nunca habría habido una Isolde Hitler, una Charlotte Trump, o una Natalia Putina desempeñando el mismo papel que sus homólogos masculinos de la vida real. Los matones prehistóricos, sin embargo, pronto descubrieron que los hombres violentos siempre tenían la ventaja, ya sea siendo ellos mismos directamente violentos u ordenando a otros que lo fueran; así impusieron en la Edad de Hierro el régimen patriarcal que ahora está llevando al cambio climático y al holocausto nuclear. Este régimen supremacista masculino basado en satisfacer el sentido del privilegio y el derecho, y la necesidad de empoderarse para la dominación de un cuadro selecto de hombres villanos sigue gobernando el mundo, a pesar de la existencia de muchas naciones pacíficas, en su mayoría gobernadas por hombres y mujeres que entienden que las guerras de conquista y expansión no han traído nada positivo en los últimos miles de años. Aunque solo fuera hipócritamente, dado su historial en Vietnam, Afganistán e Irak, los Estados Unidos cimentaron su reputación mundial sobre la base de que ninguna otra guerra de conquista debe ser tolerada. Expusieron su tesis masacrando a los ciudadanos de Hiroshima y Nagasaki con monstruosidades nucleares porque se sentían con derecho a poner fin a sus vidas, pero todavía sostienen el argumento de que a nadie más se le debe permitir promulgar un sentido similar del derecho sobre las vidas de los demás.

Esto me lleva de nuevo al Presidente Putin, cuyo creerse con derecho a poseer Ucrania y posiblemente otras naciones de Europa—ha amenazado directamente a Finlandia y Suecia—ha despertado repentinamente, en un momento en que su poder sobre Rusia parece indiscutible y después de décadas presentándose internacionalmente como un déspota sin ambiciones imperiales. Especularé que Putin, de 69 años, está pasando por una crisis personal relacionada con su envejecimiento como hombre, dada su autopresentación ultra-masculina—creo que ese es el problema de fondo—pero estoy más interesada en cómo funcionan los mecanismos para controlar su comportamiento desbocado. El escenario de guerra en Ucrania va acompañado de otras medidas no militares en otros lugares: manifestaciones masivas, exclusión financiera, presión a China para que deje de respaldar la guerra, etc. Tanto la OTAN como la UE han descartado la confrontación militar, aunque veremos qué sucede si Putin pone un pie en Polonia. Dentro de Rusia, los manifestantes anti-Putin se arriesgan a ser detenidos y a sufrir castigos peores, los influencers publican mensajes contra la guerra constantemente, y los multimillonarios comienzan a quejarse. Sin embargo, no hay señales (¿todavía?) de un posible golpe de Estado: un diputado solitario, del Partido Comunista, fue el único que se opuso a la guerra en el abarrotado Parlamento de Rusia. Lo que está en juego, insisto, no es realmente cómo se debe detener a Putin, sino cómo se debe detener a cualquier villano de su tipo. Mañana podría ser Kim Jong-Un decidiendo invadir Corea del Sur y lanzar una ráfaga de misiles nucleares. Sin embargo, y aquí es donde la situación coge tintes aterradores porque en este momento, a menos que un hombre ruso honorable se tome en serio el problema de cómo frenar a Putin para siempre, no hay un mecanismo firme que le pueda parar los pies.

Tal como están las cosas ahora, Ucrania y tal vez el mundo están siendo sacrificados a las necesidades personales de un hombre patriarcal blanco al borde de la vejez que no se siente satisfecho con gobernar Rusia. Un general alemán fue despedido por argumentar en público que los temores de Putin de que Rusia no esté lo suficientemente segura si Ucrania se une a la OTAN o a la UE deben abordarse. Estoy de acuerdo en que sus temores deben ser abordados, pero no los relativos a Ucrania. Es urgente entender por qué uno de los hombres más poderosos de la Tierra se siente repentinamente tan desempoderado que necesita arremeter contra todos, tal vez acabando con el planeta. Lo que me hizo llorar tanto el domingo pasado, cuando escuché el anuncio de Putin sobre la preparación de su arsenal nuclear, no fue solo puro miedo sino ira contra la renuencia a aprender lecciones que tanto los Estudios de Género como el pasado histórico nos enseñan; preferimos presentar a monstruos como Hitler como una aberración desconcertante, cuando son de hecho patriarcas transparentes y fáciles de entender. Mientras cerramos los ojos a la naturaleza de la masculinidad patriarcal, tenemos que soportar que algunos idiotas arremetan contra el perfil supuestamente bajo que las feministas están manteniendo en esta guerra (hablo del TikToker @notpoliticalspeaking, ver https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-10560821/Man-SLAMMED-saying-unfair-men-fight-war-Ukraine-children-women-leave.html).

Luchad contra esa masculinidad patriarcal en las calles o en línea, pero detenedla por cualquier medio o ese monstruo patriarcal ruso destruirá a todas las demás personas en la Tierra. La situación es ahora mucho más grave que con Hitler, y mucho más urgente. El genocidio absolutamente espantoso que él cometió podría palidecer por comparación con el genocidio planetario que pronto podríamos presenciar, si es que alguien sobrevive.

Publico aquí una entrada semanal (me puedes seguir en @SaraMartinUAB). Los comentarios son muy bienvenidos. Los volúmenes anuales del blog están disponibles en https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Si te interesa echar un vistazo, mi web es https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

CANCIONES DE EMPODERAMIENTO: LAS MUJERES EN LA MÚSICA POPULAR DEL SIGLO XXI

Primero, una nota. Este es la primera entrada que publico en la fecha en que la he escrito después de cuatro meses de silencio, provocado por el ciberataque que afectó a la Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona el 11 de octubre de 2021 (el blog está alojado en los servidores de la UAB). Sabía que los textos no se iban a perder, ya que guardo copias separadas, pero en un momento dado creí que tendría que reconstruir todo el blog desde cero (once años publicando, más de 500 entradas). Esto no ha sucedido, pero aprendí una lección importante sobre la fragilidad de los medios digitales y lo efímeros que son. La semana pasada publiqué las doce entradas que escribí entre el 11 de octubre de 2021 y el 10 de enero de 2022. Las siguientes cinco semanas de silencio entre esa fecha y hoy se deben a que finalmente perdí el impulso de escribir sin imaginar un público lector. No sé quién me lee, y nunca he comprobado las estadísticas, pero me doy cuenta de que cada blog necesita una audiencia, aunque solo sea imaginaria. Gracias por estar ahí.

En esas cinco semanas he estado muy ocupada editando el décimo e-book que he publicado con estudiantes de la UAB (ver la lista completa aquí). El libro se llama Songs of Empowerment: Women in 21st Century Popular Music y se puede descargar de forma gratuita (en .pdf y .epub) del repositorio digital de la UAB. En sus más de 300 entretenidísimas páginas, el lector puede encontrar los análisis que los estudiantes han escrito de una selección de más de 60 canciones, cantadas por artistas actualmente activas que utilizan el inglés en sus letras. Cada ensayo consiste en una presentación biográfica de la artista, seguida de un comentario sobre la canción, centrado principalmente en la letra, y del video musical. Las canciones van desde 2000 (“Spinning Around” de Kylie Minogue) hasta 2021 (“Good Ones” de Charli XCX). El libro no es, sin embargo, una historia de las mujeres cantantes en el siglo XXI, sino una selección basada en las preferencias de las estudiantes. Es una especie de instantánea de cómo sonaba la música de las mujeres en el otoño de 2021, cuando enseñé la asignatura de la que deriva este libro digital. Y, sí, viene con una lista de Spotify, compilada por una de los estudiantes.

Esta es la primera vez que enseño un curso sobre música, y esto requiere algún tipo de justificación por ser, como soy, profesora de Literatura. Es obvio para mí que la mayoría de nosotros, nacidos en la década de 1960 y más tarde, que elegimos estudiar para obtener un título en Filología Inglesa o Estudios Ingleses lo hicimos (o lo hacemos) por un interés en la música anglófona. Siempre he sido una lectora entusiasta, pero mi iniciación en el inglés fue a través de las canciones que intentaba traducir minuciosamente tan pronto como compraba cualquier álbum nuevo. La música, sin embargo, básicamente pop y rock, nunca ha sido una parte integral de los Estudios Ingleses en España, y aunque constantemente me decía a mí misma que debería impartir un curso sobre este tema, procrastiné hasta que perdí la capacidad de trabajar mientras escuchaba música. Con el tiempo dedicado a la música reducido prácticamente a cero, decidí que la oportunidad de presentarme ante los estudiantes fingiendo que conocía las tendencias actuales se había esfumado. Esto cambió el año pasado cuando supervisé un maravilloso Trabajo de Fin de Grado de Andrea Delgado López sobre el video musical de Childish Gambino «This is America». Andrea también hizo unas prácticas de investigación conmigo que usamos para que ella produjera un libro breve llamado American Music Videos 2000-2020: Lessons about the Nation. Andrea escribió para cada uno de los veinticinco videos analizados un breve ensayo que presentaba a los cantantes, la canción y el video, y esto me dio la idea para el e-book.

Les presenté a mis estudiantes en la optativa ‘Estudios Culturales’ (2021-22) el libro electrónico proyectado, confesando cándidamente que no tenía idea de lo que estaba sucediendo en el mundo de la música popular en 2021. Tendrían que enseñarme. Como creía que no podíamos cubrir todo lo relevante en un solo volumen, nos centramos en las mujeres artistas, y me centraré el próximo año en los artistas masculinos con mis estudiantes de máster en un proyecto similar. Traje a clase una lista muy larga de unas cien mujeres cantantes, todas ellas activas, y les pedí a las estudiantes que eligieran dos cada una, como así hicieron, agregando algunas sugerencias nuevas. Les di, así pues, tanta libertad de elección como me fue posible, aunque me aseguré de que los nombres principales recibieran la debida atención (algunos, como St Vincent o Kacey Musgraves, no están, tampoco Alanis Morrissette). Extendí esta libertad de elección a las canciones, que los estudiantes seleccionaron en función de sus preferencias y también pensando en si la combinación de canción y video sería lo suficientemente productiva para sus ensayos. En una sesión de debate a final del curso, algunos me dijeron que había sido una gran dificultad combinar canciones y videos, ya que muchas canciones favoritas no tenían video musical, o porque encontraron los videos menos interesantes que las canciones. Me encantan los videos musicales, extraños hijos bastardos del cine y la publicidad, por lo que nunca consideré la opción de centrarnos sólo en la canción. Dada, además, nuestra falta de formación en música, temía que los estudiantes no pudieran escribir ni siquiera unos pocos cientos de palabras sobre letras que a menudo son muy básicas a nivel poético o literario.

Algo bastante peculiar ha sucedido en relación con la tesis principal detrás del libro. Originalmente, anuncié que organizaríamos las presentaciones en clase de las canciones y videos (utilizadas como ensayo o pre-borrador de los artículos) en torno a la cuestión de si las canciones que las cantantes pop cantan hoy en día son empoderadoras. Poco a poco, perdimos de vista esa pregunta, ya que nos preocupamos principalmente por cómo continuar las presentaciones sin internet en el aula debido al ciberataque. Nos interesamos tanto por las particularidades de cada cantante, desde la popularísima Jennifer Lopez hasta la estrella indie Mitski y tantas otras, que la noción de empoderamiento perdió el enfoque. La debatimos todo el tiempo indirectamente, principalmente comentando la autopresentación de las artistas y si sus decisiones podrían llamarse feministas y también otros temas como la raza o la clase; nos parecía que la depresión y el abuso, una constante en las biografías de la mayoría de los cantantes, eran de alguna manera antagonistas de cualquier noción de empoderamiento.

Sin embargo, a medida que revisaba el segundo borrador de los artículos, noté que las estudiantes no habían perdido en absoluto de vista la noción de empoderamiento, y de hecho habían abordado sus ensayos principalmente para explicar cómo esta no está en contradicción con que las mujeres hayan sido radicalmente desempoderadas por el patriarcado. Es decir, el hilo conductor del e-book es cómo las mujeres cantantes, a pesar de ser en algunos casos bastante poderosas, son sometidas constantemente a abusos (mentales, físicos, incluso comerciales) y deben enviarse mutuamente mensajes a favor del auto-empoderamiento. Este mensaje no es enviado, como asumí, por canciones que celebran la fuerza natural femenina, sino por canciones que admiten con franqueza que la fuerza a menudo nace de la vulnerabilidad. En ese sentido Madonna, aunque sigue siendo la Reina del Pop, no es representativa sino, más bien, Rihanna, cuyo rostro maltratado todos recordamos y, sin duda, Lady Gaga.

Aunque con variaciones, la mayoría de las canciones del libro (y, creedme, son una selección muy representativa) tienen el mismo discurso: la cantante describe cómo se enamoró de un hombre que resultó ser abusivo o simplemente decepcionante, a continuación habla de lo difícil que fue romper con este hombre debido al fuerte control del amor sobre su mente y cuerpo; y, finalmente, cómo esta experiencia trajo empoderamiento al enseñarle a la mujer que ella, y no un hombre, debe ser el centro de su propia vida. Descubrí que con pocas excepciones (como “I’m Gonna Getcha Good!” de Shania Twain y tal vez “WAP” de Cardi B y Megan Thee Stallion), la expresión del deseo heterosexual femenino hacia los hombres ha sido reemplazada por la expresión de una desilusión constante con el amor heterosexual y la masculinidad. Con las canciones, las mujeres no solo expresan sus sentimientos personales, sino que también tienen como objetivo brindar apoyo a otras mujeres, invitándolas a discutir sus propios puntos de vista sobre el amor. La clásica canción de amor con la tríada “Te amo”, “Te quiero”, “Te necesito” ha sido reemplazada por “Una vez te amé y te quise, pero ahora ya no te necesito”; “Sobreviviré” es ahora “Por supuesto que sobreviviré, ¿por qué no iba a hacerlo?” En segundo lugar, también hay un discurso paralelo sobre la feminidad, que por un lado expresa una gran admiración por la superioridad de las mujeres (“God is a Woman” de Ariana Grande, “I Am not a Woman, I’m a God” de Halsey) y al mismo tiempo un cierto reconocimiento de las imperfecciones (como en la canción homónima de Celine Dion), que deben ser aceptadas tal como son. No tengo espacio aquí para comentar cada una de las más de sesenta canciones (por favor, leed el libro) pero creo que estas son las líneas principales.

En clase otro tema que surgió de forma recurrente es cuánta presión deben soportar estas mujeres cantantes por parte de las redes sociales. Desde que los videos musicales se hicieron populares después del establecimiento de MTV a mediados de la década de 1980, las mujeres cantantes han tenido que aceptar una exposición constante de sus cuerpos a la mirada del público. Los grabaciones de los videos, las sesiones de fotos e incluso las actuaciones están sujetas, sin embargo, a un marco de tiempo limitado. Las redes sociales no lo están, lo que significa que las cantantes femeninas actuales deben publicar a diario sobre sus actividades, su apariencia y sus vidas privadas tratando de complacer a los fans, pero también luchando contra los haters. Hace apenas una semana, Charlie XCX anunció en Twitter que se está tomando un descanso de las redes sociales, cansada del monitoreo interminable y de los comentarios airados de sus propios fanáticos: “He estado lidiando bastante con mi salud mental en los últimos meses y obviamente esto hace que la negatividad y la crítica sean más difíciles de manejar cuando me encuentro con ellas, y por supuesto, sé que esta es una lucha común para la mayoría de las personas en estos tiempos”. Así es, de hecho, pero debido a cómo las líneas entre ser una celebridad y ser una artista pop se han difuminado, muchas mujeres cantantes como Charlie XCX están soportando un peso extra que pocos otros profesionales deben soportar. Me parece que la presión es mucho más ligera sobre los cantantes masculinos.

El próximo año, como he señalado, trataré en clase de los hombres en la música popular actual. Ya tengo una lista de nombres mayores y menores, y me estoy preparando para el aluvión de letras sexistas y misóginas, particularmente las que provienen del rap. Me digo, sin embargo, que estas letras deben ser analizadas, también los videos musicales, desde una perspectiva lo más constructiva posible. No sé, sin embargo, qué nos dirá el libro electrónico resultante. Solo espero que no se llame Songs of Entitlement/Canciones de privilegio, aunque mi temor más profundo es que ese sea su título.

Publico aquí una entrada semanal (me puedes seguir en @SaraMartinUAB). Los comentarios son muy bienvenidos. Los volúmenes anuales del blog están disponibles en https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Si te interesa echar un vistazo, mi web es https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

UNA MINI-HISTORIA DE LAS VOCES FEMENINAS (EN INGLÉS): EL S. XX

Esta es, sin duda, la entrada más extraña que he publicado, pero a la espera de que mis alumnos transformen esta lista en una lista de Spotify (como me prometieron), aquí está mi selección de canciones del siglo XX (en inglés) cantadas por mujeres. Actualmente estoy impartiendo un curso de Estudios Culturales sobre las mujeres en el pop, y en lugar de dar clases a mis alumnos sobre nombres y títulos correspondientes a noventa años de música femenina, he confeccionado esta lista y les invité a pasar parte de tres sesiones degustando la mercancía. Así conseguí, además, encontrar un uso interesante para los móviles en clase.

Por favor, no pienses, querid@ lector@, que la lista está disponible en otros sitios, o que fue compilada fácilmente. Revisé un montón de sitios web que decían ofrecer lo mejor de décadas específicas y llegué a una selección que, aunque seguramente muy imperfecta, espero que sirva de introducción. Como se puede apreciar, he colocado a las cantantes en orden por fecha de nacimiento. Aparecen en la década en la que tuvieron su primer éxito, con algunas excepciones (por ejemplo, Tina Turner, aunque fue famosa en los 60, aparece aquí en los 80, cuando realizó su glorioso regreso de la nada). La lista termina en 1999 porque mis alumnos están trabajando en un libro digital colectivo sobre las canciones del siglo XXI (en inglés) cantadas por mujeres, que se publicará el próximo enero. Por último, todas las canciones se pueden encontrar en YouTube, lo que tiene la ventaja de que se puede ver a las mujeres en cuestión para aprender (o recordar) mejor lo maravillosas artistas que todas ellas son.

1920-29: Del blues al jazz
Marion Harris (1896–1944), ‘I Ain’t Got Nobody’ (1916)
Mamie Smith (1883–1946), ‘Crazy Blues’ (1920)
Ethel Waters (1896–1977), ‘Stormy Weather’ (1933)
Ida Cox (1896–1967), ‘Wild Women Don’t Have The Blues’ (1924)
Gertrude Pridgett Rainey, a.k.a. Ma Rainey (1886–1939), ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ (1927), ‘Deep Moaning Blues’ (1928)
Bessie Smith (1892–1937), ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out’ (1929)
Clara Smith (1894–1935), ‘Troublesome Blues’ (1927)
Bertha «Chippie» Hill (1905–1950), ‘Trouble in Mind’ (1926)
Annette Hanshaw (1901–1985), ‘Am I Blue’ (1929)
Victoria Spivey (1906–1976), ‘How Do You Do It that Way?’ (1929)

1930-39: ‘Big band’, jazz, canciones de películas
Sippie Wallace (1898–1986), ‘I’m a Mighty Tight Woman’ (1937)
Jeanette MacDonald (1903–1965), ‘San Francisco’ (1936)
Blanche Calloway and her Boys (1904–1978), ‘I Need Loving’ (1934)
The Boswell Sisters: Martha (1905–1958), Connee (1907 –1976), y Helvetia «Vet» (1911–1988), ‘Cheek to Cheek’ (1934–5)
Martha Tilton (1915–2006), ‘And the Angels Sing’ (1939)
Billie Holiday (1915–1959), ‘Strange Fruit’ (1939)
Ella Fitzgerald (1917–1996), ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’ (1931, cover version 1956)
Bea Wain (1917–2017), ‘Heart and Soul’ (1939)
Judy Garland (1922–1969), ‘Over the Rainbow’ (1939)

1940-49: Más ‘blues’, ‘swing’ y melodías vocales
Alberta Hunter (1895–1984), ‘The Love I Have for You’ (1940)
Mahalia Jackson (1911–1972), ‘Move On Up A Little Higher’ (1947)
The Andrews Sisters: LaVerne Sophia (1911–1967), Maxene Anglyn (1916–1995), y Patricia Marie «Patty» (1918–2013), ‘Rum and Coca–Cola’ (1944)
Lena Horne (1917–2010), ‘Mad about the Boy’ (1941)
Helen Forrest (1918–1999), big band singer, ‘Skylark’ (1942)
Vera Lynn (1917–2020), ‘We’ll Meet Again’ (1943)
Anita O’Day (1919–2006), ‘Let Me Off Uptown’ (1941)
June Christy (1925–1990), ‘Tampico’ (1945)

1950-59: Inicios del pop
Dinah Shore (1916–1994), ‘Love and Marriage’ (1955)
Georgia Gibbs (1918–2006), ‘Kiss of Fire’ (1952)
Peggy Lee (1920–2002), ‘Fever’ (1958)
Sarah Lois Vaughan (1924–1990), ‘Misty’ (1959)
Doris Day (1922–2019), ‘Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be Will Be)’ (1956)
Dinah Washington (1924–1963), ‘What a Diff’rence a Day Makes!’ (1959)
Lita Roza (1926–2008), ‘Secret Love’ (1954)
Julie London (1926–2000), ‘Cry Me a River’ (1953, 1955)
Eartha Kitt (1927–2008), ‘Santa Baby’ (1953)
Patti Page (1927–2013), ‘How much is that doggie in the window?’ (1952)
Rosemary Clooney (1928–2002), ‘Tenderly’ (1952)
Connie Francis (1937 –), ‘Lipstick on your collar’ (1959)
Patsy Cline (1932–1963), ‘Walking after Midnight’ (1957)
Debbie Reynolds (1932–2016), ‘Tammy’ (1957)

1959-1969: Motown y los grupos de chicas
The Supremes 1959–1977 (Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard), ‘Where Did your Love Go?’ (1964)
The Ronettes 1950–1966 (Veronica Bennett (Ronnie Spector), Estelle Bennett, Nedra Talley), ‘Be My Baby’
Mary Wells (1943–1999), ‘My Guy’ (1964)

1970-79s: Folk, pop, rock, disco…
Petula Clark (1932–), ‘Downtown’ (1965)
Shirley Bassey (UK, 1937–), ‘Goldfinger’ (1965)
Etta James (1938–2012), ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ (1965)
Nico (1938–1988), with the Velvet Underground, ‘Sunday Morning’ (1967)
Dusty Springfield (1939–1999), ‘I Only Wanna Be with You’ (1964)
Grace Slick (1939–) (with Jefferson Starplane), ‘White Rabbit’ (1967)
Dionne Warwick (1940 –), ‘Do You Know the Way to San Jose?’ (1968)
Cass Elliot (1941–1974), with The Mamas & the Papas, ‘California Dreaming’ (1966)
Aretha Franklin (1942–2018), ‘Respect’ (1967)
Janis Joplin (1943–1970), ‘Me and Bobby Mc Gee’ (1970)
Brenda Lee (1944–), ‘I’m Sorry’ (1960)
Cher (1946–), with Sonny ‘I Got You Baby’ (1965)
Brenda Holloway (1946–), ‘Every Little Bit Hurts’ (1962)
Lesley Gore (1946–2015), ‘It’s My Party’ (1963)
Nina Simone (1933–2003), ‘Mississippi Goddam’ (1964)
Cilla Black (1943–2015), ‘You’re my World’ (1965)
Sandie Shaw (1947–), ‘Girl Don’t Come’ (1969)
Lulu (1948–), ‘To Sir with Love’ (1967)

1970-79s: Folk, pop, rock, disco…
Joan Baez (1941–), ‘Diamond and Rust’ (1975)
Carole King (1942–), ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ (1971)
Barbra Streisand (1942–), ‘The Way We Were’ (1974)
Joni Mitchell (1943–), ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ (1971)
Debbie Harry (frontwoman Blondie) (1945–), ‘Heart of Glass’ (1978)
Anni–Frid Lyngstad (1945–) and Agnetha Fältskog (1950–) (ABBA), ‘Waterloo’ (1974)
Carly Simon (1945–), ‘You’re So Vain’ (1971)
Linda Rondstadt (1945–), ‘Blue Bayou’ (1977)
Patti Smith (1946), ‘Because the Night’ (1978)
Dolly Parton (1946–), ‘I Will Always Love You’ (1974)
Emmylou Harris (1947–), ‘If I Could Only Win Your Love’ (1975)
Olivia Newton–John (1948–), ‘Hoplessly Devoted to You`(1979)
Donna Summer (1948–2012), ‘I Feel Love’ (1977)
Stevie Nicks (1948–) (con Fleetwood Mac), ‘Dreams’ (1977)
Bonnie Tyler (1951–), ‘It’s a Heartache’ (1977)
Kate Bush (1958–), ‘Wuthering Heights’ (1978)

1980-89: empieza la era MTV
Tina Turner (1939–), ‘The Best’ (1988)
Grace Jones (1948–), ‘Slave to the Rhythm’ (1985)
Pat Benatar (1953–), ‘Love is a Battlefield’ (1984)
Cyndi Lauper (1953–), ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ (1979, 1983)
Annie Lennox (1954–), (with Eurythmics), ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’ (1983)
Chaka Khan (1954–), ‘Through the Fire’ (1984)
Gloria Stefan (1957–), ‘Conga’ (1988)
Siouxie Sioux (1957–) (frontwoman Siouxie and the Banshees), ‘Happy House’ (1980)
Madonna (1958–), ‘Like a Virgin’ (1984)
Belinda Carlyle (1958–) (lead singer The Go–Gos), ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’ (1978)
Sade Adu (1959–), ‘Smooth Operator’ (1984)
Suzanne Vega (1959–), ‘Luka’ (1987)
Alison Moyet (1961–) (with Yazoo), ‘Only You’ (1982)
Whitney Houston (1963–2012), ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ (1987)
Tracy Chapman (1964–), ‘Fast Car’ (1988)
Janet Jackson (1966–), ‘Rhythm Nation’ (1989)
Kylie Minogue (1968–), ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ (1987)

1990-99: antes de las redes sociales
Marie Fredriksson (1958–2019) (with Roxette), ‘It Must Have Been Love’ (1990)
P.J. Harvey (1959–), ‘Down by the Water’ (1995)
Melissa Etheridge (1961–), ‘Come to my Window’ (1993)
Björk (1965–), ‘Venus as a Boy’ (1993)
Sheryl Crow (1962–), ‘All I Wanna Do’ (1994)
Shania Twain (1965–), ‘That Don’t Impress me Much’ (1997)
Sinead O’Connor (1966–), ‘Nothing Compares 2U’ (1990)
Liz Phair (1967–), ‘Supernova’ (1994)
Toni Braxton (1967–), ‘Unbreak my Heart’ (1966)
Tori Amos (1967–), ‘Tear in Your Hand’ (1992)
Sarah McLachlan (1968–), ‘Angel’ (1999)
Anastacia (1968–), ‘I’m Outta Love’ (1999)
Lisa Loeb (1968–), ‘I Do’ (1997)
Celine Dion (1968–), ‘My Heart Will Go On’ (1997)
Gwen Stefani (1969–) (with No Doubt), ‘Just a Girl’ (1995)
Mariah Carey (1969–), ‘Hero’ (1993)
Jennifer Lopez (1969–), ‘If You Had my Love’ (1999)
Missy Elliot (1971–), ‘Sock It 2 Me’ (1997)
Alanis Morrisette (1974–), ‘You Oughta Know’ (1995)
Aaliyah (1979–2001), ‘You Are Love’ (1994)
Brandy (1979–), ‘I Wanna Be Down’ (1994)
Christina Aguilera (1980–), ‘Come On Over (All I Want is You’) (1999)
Britney Spears (1981–), ‘Baby One More Time’ (1998)

¡A disfrutar!

Publico aquí una entrada semanal (me puedes seguir en @SaraMartinUAB). Los comentarios son muy bienvenidos. Los volúmenes anuales del blog están disponibles en https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Si te interesa echar un vistazo, mi web es https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

BEING THE OTHER, THE OTHER BEING: MASCULINE INSECURITIES IN MATTHEW HAIG’S THE HUMANS AND BLAKE CROUCH’S DARK MATTER

This is the ten-minute talk I gave last week at the international conference of the Science Fiction Research Association, of which I spoke in my last post. Since we had been given such a short time, I used no secondary sources and focused directly on the two novels I discuss. I was a bit nervous that the paper would seem too informal but nobody complained. So, here it is, with a warning about spoilers.

The exploration of gender in science fiction mostly focuses on women and the LGTBI collective, overlooking heterosexual masculinity, even though most authors have that identity. I consider here what men’s recent science fiction says about this type of masculinity from a critical position informed by Masculinities Studies, though I’ll leave my theoretical framework aside because of time constraints. My focus are two novels set in the present: The Humans (of 2013) by English author Matthew Haig, and Dark Matter (of 2016) by American novelist Blake Crouch. Haig’s novel is a satire and Crouch’s a thriller but, despite their differences, both address a key issue for contemporary masculinity, namely, how to successfully combine the demands of an ambitious career with a pro-feminist family life.

These novels could be Gothic horror about the wife and teen son who gradually realize their husband and father is a stranger. Yet, both are first person narrations that use science fiction (in a light vein) to portray a male individual who needs to understand how men function in the contemporary world. In Haig’s novel, a nameless alien learns to be a caring human man by rejecting the behaviour of the uncaring workaholic it replaces. The family man in Crouch’s novel must defend his well-balanced masculinity from the assault by another uncaring workaholic, his own doppelgänger. Alien and family man have little in common but the authors’ message is similar. Both use science fiction to endorse a positive masculine model, focused on caring for women and children. Neither author explains, though, why a happy family life should involve sacrificing personal careers. In each case, the birth of a son transforms the lives of at least one parent into a less publicly rewarding existence. Arguably, both novels resist above all the impact of parenting on personal life.

In each novel, there is a talented woman who has chosen motherhood over her career but the situation of the husband, both gifted scientists, is different. In The Humans top Cambridge mathematician Andrew Martin is a selfish career man, and a disappointing husband and father, who cheats on his wife Isobel and lacks any empathy for his literally suicidal teen son Gulliver. In Dark Matter, Chicago physicist Jason Dessen is a happy family man, in love with his wife Daniela and in syntony with their son Charlie, unconcerned by having ditched his promising career. Each from their angle, Haig and Crouch are very critical of the workaholic career model that makes family life dysfunctional (or impossible) and that relegates women to a supporting role. In The Humans, workaholic Martin is killed when the alien narrator snatches his body. In Dark Matter Jason2, the doppelgänger, is dispatched for stealing Jason’s family life. In his gentle satire, Haig hints that an alien could be a better English family man than a human male, whereas Crouch has his happy American family man kill in a vicious way the workaholic he might have been.

Neither Haig nor Crouch, however, imagine their scientific male geniuses, for this is what Martin and Dessen are, combining their professions with a rich family life. For both, the arrival of a child at an early stage in their careers is a major crisis which forces them and their partners to make crucial choices. Andrew’s wife Isobel abandons her career as a historian to be a mother and to support her husband’s career, later taking up teaching. The unexpected pregnancy of Jason’s girlfriend Daniela makes them abandon their dream careers –hers as an artist, his in quantum physics–to become teachers, too. When each novel begins, the two couples are in their early forties and have been in their relationships for long: 20 years in Andrew and Isobel’s case, 15 in Jason and Daniela’s case. The novels narrate, then, a sort of mid-life crisis.

To give some more detail, Haig’s novel narrates the efforts of a Vonnadorian sent to Earth to stop Professor Martin from announcing his resolution of the Riemann Hypothesis, as this would fast-forward human progress in ways the aliens mistrust. Martin’s identity is wiped out and his body occupied by the nameless alien, who cannot easily adapt to his new life. The professor’s new oddball behaviour is, of course, attributed to a breakdown caused by overworking. On its side, the body-snatcher resists its orders to kill all who might know of Martin’s mathematical breakthrough. The alien refuses to kill Isobel and Gulliver, though he does murder the rival to whom a boastful Martin communicates his discovery. Taking a look at the many certificates of distinction in this man’s office, the alien feels “thankful to come from a place where personal success was meaningless” (89).

As the alien starts valuing Isobel and Gulliver, it discovers that Martin was totally focused on his career, that his wife was unhappy but unable to divorce him, and that Gulliver cannot cope with being the son of a genius. Enjoying the pleasures of caring for the boy and of being cared for by Isobel (since in its genderless home planet, family and love do not exist), the alien decided to become fully human. The attack of a second murderous alien, however, forces the alien to disclose its real identity. Gulliver takes the revelation well, even with relief. As the alien writes, there was no sentimental scene but the boy “seemed to accept me as an extraterrestrial life form far more easily than he had accepted me as a father” (264). Isobel, though, is shattered by the loss of her new happy family life. After this episode, Haig sends the alien abroad, still posing as Martin. But, being comedy, The Humans ends happily. When Gulliver invites his fake Dad back home, claiming that Isobel misses their life, the alien asks whether she misses the original or the alien Martin. “You,” Gulliver replies. “You’re the one who looked after us” (289). No more is needed.

In Dark Matter, Jason2 comes from the universe where Jason rejected fatherhood, and Daniela aborted. He built there the box that gives access to the multiverse. Successful but lonely, Jason2 starts seeking the life that Jason and Daniela enjoy with Charlie. As Jason comments, “If I represent the pinnacle of family success for all the Jason Dessens, Jason2 represents the professional and creative apex. We’re opposite poles of the same man, and I suppose it isn’t a coincidence that Jason2 sought out my life from the infinite possibilities available” (265). Jason2 kidnaps Jason and, wrongly assuming he will be thrilled to take his place as a single career man, swaps lives with him. In fact, Jason is shattered and only uses the box to get back home and terminate his usurper. Daniela and Charlie take Jason’s eventual revelation that they have been living (for a month) with Jason2 just with mild puzzlement. Yet, despite the reassurances of wife and son that Jason2 was not better than him, a certain doubt lingers. Since Jason’s family never really distrusts this other man (Daniela is, in fact, thrilled with their renewed passion), it appears that Jason is replaceable. Jason is robbed of his life but Jason2 is, on the whole, a good enough replacement, as if Jason’s roles as husband and father were just performances and not an expression of a deeply-felt identity.

To sum up, Haig and Crouch use science fiction to reject the workaholic male genius who refuses to be a good family man. Martin is flippantly replaced by an alien who is better at performing human masculinity than he ever was. As for Jason, by killing Jason2 he eliminates his workaholic self and regains his lost happy family life. Crouch, though, cannot wholly erase the impression that this man is replaceable because he can never prove that Jason is unique. Ultimately, whether a man is selfish or caring, his choices may make him vulnerable. In Haig’s and Crouch’s novels, the ‘other being’ embodies the choices not taken and men’s struggle to combine professional ambition and rewarding family life. It is, therefore, important to highlight science fiction’s contribution to the discussion of these male anxieties. I hope you agree!

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

IS SCIENCE FICTION RESPONSIBLE FOR IMAGINING THE FUTURE? POSSIBLY…

I’ve been attending these days in fits and starts the Science Fiction Research Association’s international conference, conditioned by the six-hour difference with Toronto, where the hosting institution (Seneca College) is located. Fifteen months into the pandemic I needn’t say how impossible it is to listen to anybody speak on Zoom, or similar, without either multitasking or disconnecting after five minutes. I may doodle like I’m possessed when I listen to papers delivered in person, but it is just beyond me to get used to streaming. I pity our poor students! And, no, unlike what you might expect, science-fiction conferences do not happen in an advanced virtual reality environment where we can project our ultra-realistic yet fantastic avatars, as if this were Ready Player One’s immersive universe OASIS. At most, you get funny backgrounds. A keynote speaker had chosen, for mysterious reasons, a gorgeous photo of a process of in vitro fecundation. Another was floating in outer space.

The main theme of the conference has been ‘The Future as/of Inequality’, so you can be sure that there has been much talk of class (in my case of middle-class men’s fears of not doing well as family men). Even so, I would say that the main keywords, or buzzwords, in the sessions I have attended were ‘race’ and ‘dystopia’. I wish the papers had dealt with how utopia will be reached in a post-racial future civilization, but most dealt with the extension into a long-lasting dystopia of the same racial issues negatively affecting so many people today. The number of authors and main characters other than white has grown spectacularly in recent science fiction, but many (or even most) are battling conflicts so deeply rooted in current racism that no utopian horizon is emerging for anyone of any skin colour.

The most interesting panel I attended had contributions by two of the most admirable scholars in science fiction (yes, I said admirable because I admire them): Mark Bould and Sherryl Vint. This came after the keynote lecture by Lars Schmeink in which he described the connections between the current theorization of capitalism–such as surveillance capitalism, the concept popularized by Shoshana Zuboff in her eponymous book, and others, such as Susan Lettow’s biocapitalism–and current science fiction. I had a feeling of déjà vu, having heard plenty in the 1980s about how corporations might replace nations in the 21st century as de jure and de facto global organizations. William Gibson ranted all he wanted in his cyberpunk novels about the boundless power of zaibatsus, when it seemed that Japan would soon dominate the world (whatever happened to Japan?). And if I recall correctly, in Marge Piercy’s He, She and It (1991) the characters’ citizenship was granted by the corporations they worked for (as if I were an Autonomous University citizen rather than a citizen of the Spanish kingdom). But back to Bould and Vint: they discussed whether science fiction should and could operate beyond capitalism both in its means of production and the content of the stories. Their views were similar yet quite different. You’ll see.

There is something definitely hypocritical, I think, in telling tales of corporate dystopia while being published or broadcast by immense corporations. As Mark Bould insisted, science fiction should be free of commodification in order to be a true contributor to a future which could imagine life beyond corporate dystopia. Schmeink quoted Ursula Le Guin’s famous saying “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words”. This optimistic view appears to agree with Bould’s faith in science fiction but, of course, Le Guin does not explain how ‘the art of words’ can undermine the corporate monster from inside. We know that capitalism, in fact, can turn anything into a commodity, including resistance (the first example that has come to my mind is the fortune someone must have made selling t-shirts with the photo of Che Guevara).

Bould suggested something along the lines of perhaps turning science fiction into a kind of “collective folk art” as, to name an instance, ballads once were. Bould, who co-edited with British author China Miéville the volume Red Planets: Marxism and Science Fiction (2009), is surely aware of Miéville’s alternative proposal that authors are paid a salary by the state, which has always raised many eyebrows but seems fairer than having another job as you produce fiction in hippie-folkish (or Elizabethan aristo) style. Being myself an author paid by the Spanish state to write (also to teach, of course), I see Miéville’s point–though I wonder how authors would be selected, and if writing science fiction would be considered a merit. Anyway, Bould complained that “science fiction is everywhere but not evenly distributed” and called for an end to its commodification. My view, however, is that this goal is as difficult as making academic work truly open access, and not yet another corporate product (or what did you think it is?).

Sherryl Vint’s argumentation was more anti-corporation in the sense that she not only questioned how corporations force everything, including sf, to be commodified, but also how the nightmarish world that corporations have created has colonized sf’s imagination of the future and also our present. Her main target were the white, male, US billionaires whose visions of an ultra-monetized future we are all following like sheep to the slaughter, and how they are presenting those visions not as the opposite of the future science fiction has imagined but as its realization. To give you an example, Elon Musk is selling Neuralink–a project to connect human brains to computers–as the realization of Iain M. Banks’s neural laces in the Culture novels, calling himself a fan. Conveniently, though, Musk forgets that the Culture is a post-capitalist, post-scarcity civilization where guys like him would be socially ostracized. So, yes, I’m with Sherryl Vint in this urgent need to vehemently deny that the future to which Musk and company are dragging us is a utopian science-fictional future, and the only possible one. We must “resist the occupation of sf by all these corporations and alt-right groups”, she said, and reject all the “bad forms of using sf”. These are, I believe, dominant in the stylish but trashy sf served by the streaming platforms, cinema and videogames (less so in print fiction), overwhelmingly at the service of convincing earthlings that despite the unstoppable onslaught of climate change and other man-made disasters they must buy the latest i-phone and change their gas-powered car for a Tesla.

I have already expressed here several times that as academics we can contribute to altering the path of science fiction by writing about the works that promote positive change, and eschew the dystopian texts. I am, however, in a minority of one (or of very few), and run besides the risk of having nothing to write about if the sf I am reading and seeing these days continues in this dystopian vein. As plain consumers and as academics we can make demands on writers, showrunners, filmmakers and videogame designers to move beyond the ‘strong-hero-battles-corporation’ scenario, as we are managing to get better gender and racial inclusiveness. I’m sure that corporations are to blame a great deal for their insistence on destroying the planet as they sell us parasitical, useless objects and services but each of us contributes their share. Including myself. For instance, have spent this morning twenty euros to buy from Amazon Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel The Ministry of the Future, hypocritically ignoring that this contributes more to enriching Jeff Bezos than to furthering Robinson’s crusade for utopia (I don’t think, however, that Robinson would appreciate the idea of sf as a folk product).

I am working on something completely unrelated to sf, connected with recent American politics, and listening yesterday to Senator Cory Booker speak to Jimmy Kimmel, I realized what we’re missing and this man has in great quantities: positivity. Someone commented on YouTube that listening to Booker and to Donald Trump made you wonder how they could belong to the same species. Well, Trump is a main generator of dystopia whereas Booker has made a point of turning his personal sunniness into positive politics aimed at increasing US citizens’ welfare. I am not saying that Booker should write science fiction (or perhaps he should!): what I am saying is that science fiction has lost all its optimism and that generally speaking optimism is defended by very few (like Booker). Because of this science fiction is now an almost useless tool to fashion not only utopia but even a workable plan for the next decade. Hearing my twelve-year-old niece say recently that she does not want to have children because she herself has a very difficult future ahead breaks my heart. I wish I could tell her ‘don’t be silly, your future will be great!’ (I would never tell anyone ‘do have children’, that’s their choice!) but I just cannot illustrate this promise with any text, science fictional or otherwise. We seem to have lost in the attack against the false universalism of traditional sf the ability to build new worlds without inequality.

I’ll finish with a remark someone made in the conference: the problem is that we, middle-aged white baby boomers, do not want to give up our privileges and share our wealth with other generations and other nations. This is not a new discourse, but I was dismayed to hear it in a science-fiction conference because it is divisive and because Earth has resources to make everyone’s lives better, if only we get rid of the billionaires. I don’t mean killing them and using them for compost, as someone’s bad joke went, but putting a cap to personal earnings. One of the biggest lies of capitalism is that without the incentive of making money individuals do not exert their best talents–the defunct Soviet Union is often quoted as an example of how lack of personal gain-based initiative undermines nations. Yet, as long as the world is run by a cadre of billionaires (American or Chinese, I don’t care) and their corporations the future will be dominated by inequality. As for Le Guin’s words, someone did imagine what the future would be like without the absolute right of kings, but the problem is that we cannot imagine, having horrendously failed with communism, what will replace capitalism. She suggested smaller, rural communities with limited technology based on mutual aid, but I don’t quite see that. I see full automation generating income that guarantees universal freedom from the worst kind of jobs–but that for many is dystopia.

Let’s ask science-fiction writers to come up with new ideas, and help them to rethink the future. It is our duty, as much as theirs.

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

WOMEN, ROCK, AND THE EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: CELEBRATING VICTORIA DE ANGELIS

I have started working on the preparation of the Cultural Studies course that I am teaching next semester, and I am thinking these days about women in pop and rock (again, after a long time). About ten days ago the Eurovision song contest took place in Rotterdam, and like half the planet I was fascinated by the Italian winners, rock band Måneskin. However, my fascination was caused not only by their obvious talent and the appeal of frontman Damiano David, but also by the contrast between bass player Victoria de Angelis and the other women in the contest. That contrast is today my focus, together with the thoughts prompted by my reading of Kristin J. Lieb’s Gender, Branding, and the Modern Music Industry: The Social Construction of Female Popular Music Stars (2018, second edition).

I must thank my wonderful student Andrea Delgado López for having rekindled my interest in music, which I lost to a combination of things, one of them being my sudden inability to work with the music on when I hit 40 or thereabouts. Andrea has just finished an excellent BA dissertation on Childish Gambino’s music video “This is America”, and has allowed me to embark her on the project of producing an e-book entirely of her authorship with an analysis of 25 outstanding music videos (available in July). Her list for that project was the reason why I spent a happy day watching 50 music videos as I chronicled here a while ago. Andrea’s perceptive analyses of the videos made me see I need to get back on track and, as they say, there is nothing better than teaching a course to learn, so that’s what I intend to do with the help of my students. The idea is to consider in particular the current position of women in Anglophone pop, and produce an e-book though at this point I’m not sure whether I want it to be critical of what is wrong with women’s presence in that music genre or to seek positive examples. Perhaps both, depending, too, on what students prefer.

So, back to Eurovision. My husband and I are confirmed, though not fanatical Eurofans (we have seen The Story of Fire Saga twice, if that’s an indication of our commitment), and we watched the two semi-finals from beginning to end, feeling as usual disappointed with the elimination of particular favourites (Australia, really?). As we watched, we noticed what we’re calling the legacy of the ‘Eleni school’, after Eleni Foureira, the Cyprus representative in 2018 who did not win but became an instant hit with her song “Fuego”. Eleni’s act consisted of passing as a song of supposed female empowerment –with the memorable lines ‘Oh your love is like wild-wildfire/You got me pelican fly-fly-flyin’”– a song (written by men) about a woman’s sexual availability, a point underscored by her sexy dance routine and revealing outfit. This year many Elenis made it to the final: Elene Tsagrinou, also from Cyprus; Anxhela Peristeri from Albania; Hurricane from Serbia; Stefania from Greece, Natalia Gordienko from Moldova and Efendi from Azerbaijan; perhaps I should add Eden Alene from Israel. That’s seven entries in total and nine sexy ladies (Hurricane are three women) out of twenty-six countries, with no sexy men in sight except for Damiano. The other women who could be seen on stage also followed the sexy script (celebrating curviness, like Senhit from San Marino or Destiny from Malta, or chic, like Barbara Pravi from France), or ignored it (though I loved the backless dark blue dress of the Hoverphonic singer from Belgium). My point, though, is that only Victoria de Angelis was there playing an instrument and not just, basically, exhibiting herself. Apart, now that I recall from Daði og Gagnamagnið keyboard player Árný (though she was not really playing, I think).

So while everyone has gone bananas dissecting Damiano’s presence, his possible consumption of drugs during the show (sternly denied!), and how his upper-middle-class origins make him an ‘inauthentic’ rock idol, I was wondering about Victoria. I don’t use social networks so I have no idea how she presents herself there, and seeing how pretty this very young girl is, I assume there must be tons of comments about her looks, maybe photos she has posted herself. What interested me is that, as I read in an Italian Elle interview, her own idol is Sonic Youth’s bassist, guitarist and vocalist Kim Gordon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Gordon). I’ve never been a Sonic Youth fan but I appreciate Gordon’s enormous contribution, and I’m certainly looking forward to reading her memoir, Girl in a Band (2015). The De Angelis-Gordon connection is simply thrilling and I do hope that more women follow it to bring back the figure of the female rock musician, which seems to me to be a bit lost in these times of Elenis and of WAP rappers. Perhaps rock in general is a bit lost, and Måneskin won the contest out of a certain nostalgia, which could also explain Finland’s nice sixth position with Blind Channel’s Linkin-Park style song “Dark Side”.

As a woman in a rock band and a bass player, then, De Angelis is, so to speak, necessary because we have been engulfed by an absurd pop-music model that is too fixated on the sexy singer. I do not discard that De Angelis will also exploit herself or be herself exploited in that way, but my point is that she is not in Måneskin for her looks but, basically, because this is the band she put together (there are rumours she is the real leader). The proliferation of the Elenis is, on the other hand, an export to other geographical areas of a pernicious American model that is not only exploitative but also cruel with the women who do not fit the mould. Malta’s Destiny or Israel’s Netta Barzilai (the 2018 winner) cannot be said to have really broken away from that model, nor has American Lizzo, because they still insist on associating sexiness with the female pop singer (or rapper), a quality male performers needn’t worry about. If Damiano David wants to look sexy, that’s his choice, not an obligation.

Kristin J. Lieb used to be a journalist and a marketing and business development executive and she has an insiders’ view of how the pop industry works. Denying all forms of feminist empowerment through the self-sexualization of women, she is very clear in her book that the artist who remains fully clothed in music videos has the power, and the one who is seen half naked does not. As she notes, male pop stars belong in the former category, women in the latter. She also mentions how in promotional material the face is emphasized in the men’s case and the whole body in the women’s. And, the rawest thing for me, that the career of female acts is planned taking into account their ageing process –that is to say, if you’re wondering why suddenly a certain female artist is all over the place, this might be because her recording company thinks she will not age well and they want to recap their investment as quickly as possible. Before she is no longer fuckable, excuse my French. As for those who lack the looks (according, of course, to a very narrow view of what the ‘looks’ are) but have real musical talent, the industry still offers them a place –as composers of hit songs for the main acts. The idea that female pop artists are brands is not really new but what I had totally missed is that in the end the music is just a small part of a multifaceted brand promotion which touches on many other products. If you want to know about a first-rank brand and the rest, Leib explains, think of who you’d see promoting a line of clothing or a perfume.

Lieb is, I think, very much reductive for even though there is much in common in the presentation of the artists she considers (Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Katy Perry, Fergie) each has a tale to tell. Beyoncé, it is obvious, controls the game in ways which totally escape poor Spears (legally her father’s ward). She is also quite ambiguous about the role played by Madonna, for Lieb praises her for building a model of self-empowerment –being very harsh on Camille Paglia’s critique of the self-sexualization embedded in it– while at the same time reading almost with sarcasm Fergie’s sexy music videos, which are Madonna’s legacy as well. Lieb also tends to dismiss stars that still have much appeal among their followers and that are much loved outside the USA (like Kylie Minogue) and is not too respectful of the ones that fight hard to come back on her own terms (Fiona Apple). And she positively hates Katy Perry for being a serial cultural appropriator (Lieb loves Miley Cyrus). An added problem is that cultural studies age very quickly. Lieb’s book was issued in a second edition in 2018, but Billie Eilish and Dua Lipa are nowhere to be seen in it.

I do agree with Lieb that self-sexualization is not self-empowerment since you are still pandering to the male gaze but, after coming across De Angelis, my doubt is whether by exposing how the industry works we teach our students to resist the appeal of the current pop stars. Billie Eilish’s new bombshell look and lingerie photoshoot for British Vogue have a far more direct impact on young girls than any crusty discussion by feminist academics of whether she is right to exhibit herself like that (thinking of her fans). I did want to begin my course with the Eilish cover and ask my students how they feel about her sudden abandonment of her signature baggy clothes, but perhaps that will be too prim and counterproductive. Perhaps I should begin instead with a photo of Victoria de Angelis in all her bass-playing glory as an example of other careers women can have in music. And talk about Kim Gordon, still very much active though older, at 66, than Madonna (62), and not botoxed like her. It’s funny how Lieb speaks of the pop star’s obligation to be sexy and young but does not comment on how Madonna’s and J. Lo’s artificial youth conditions older women’s view of themselves even when they do not even care for these singers. The sight of ‘la Lopez’, 51, pole-dancing during the 2020 Superbowl gave me the creeps. Imagine Luis Miguel, also 51, doing that…

Leib blames all this madness on the rise of MTV, when, as the Buggles sang ‘video killed the radio star’. She also highlights digital piracy, the rise of the social media and of the streaming platforms, which require stars to be ubiquitous brands in order to make the money lost when sales of CDs collapsed. The market, of course, is the same for men, but they still get to age naturally and keep their clothes on in all music genres, which shows that gender is shaping music branding indeed. I see, however, no way out of this since the girls who ultimately buy the music and the products endorsed by the female stars (not really the boys, right?) have also opted for an intensive self-sexualization as the young boys look less and less attractive. I hope my students give me some clues about how to break out of this vicious circle.

Enjoy MÃ¥neskin, thank you Victoria!


I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

VIRGINIA AND NELLIE: THE WOMAN WITH NO ROOM OF HER OWN

This past Sant Jordi I was given as a present Alicia Giménez Bartlett’s Una habitación ajena (A Room not of One’s Own), originally issued in 1997 and now re-issued in a new, revised edition published to coincide with the 80th anniversary of Virginia Woolf’s death in 1941 (she was born in 1882). Bartlett’s title alludes, of course, to Woolf’s long essay “A Room of One’s Own” (1929), in which the author argues that women have not been free to write as well as they could because they have lacked a room of one’s own (but recall how Jane Austen wrote great novels half-hidden in a corner of her family’s living room). The bit that is usually neglected in quotations is that the three times Woolf mentions this coveted room she also mentions money, specifically 500 pounds a year, which apparently come from work rather than rent (or maybe not). In short, calling her view with irony ‘an opinion upon one minor point’, Woolf writes that ‘a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’. What Bartlett adds is that a woman writer must also have servants, whether she likes it or not.

Bartlett novelizes in her book the stormy relationship between Woolf and her two servants, Lottie Hope and Nellie Boxall, above all with Nellie. She takes up in this way the implicit challenge thrown by Woolf herself. In December 1929, Woolf candidly wrote in her diary that ‘If I were reading this diary, if it were a book that came my way, I think I should seize with greed on the portrait of Nelly (sic), and make a story–perhaps make the whole story revolve around that–it would amuse me. Her character–our efforts to get rid of her–our reconciliations’. The researcher that Bartlett invents for her novel tells us that Woolf made frequent mention in a rather acerbic tone of her clashes with Nellie (whose name she always misspelled), her cook and main housekeeper between 1916 and 1934. Bartlett imagines that Nellie learned to keep a diary from observing her mistress and, so, her novel intercalates the observations of the present-day researcher with this diary, and with dramatized chapters written in the third person. Bartlett swears in her author’s note that all the petty misencounters depicted in her novel did happen, as attested by Woolf’s own eight-volume diary. They were all based, according to Bartlett, on Nellie’s progressive realization that her masters’ left-wing political beliefs did not result in generosity towards their servants, whom, in short, they exploited (she was paid only £20 a year). This is a thesis similar to what Alison Light maintains in her study Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: An Intimate History of Domestic Life in Bloomsbury (2007), though she cautions that the Marxist reading is in a way an anachronism, as few employers thought of servants as labour, seeing them instead as persons they kept.

Nellie started working at the Woolfs’ in the middle of World War I, which is a major point of inflexion in the history of domestic service. Last year I read, as background to my teaching of Victorian Literature, Judith Flanders’ The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed (2004), Karen Foy’s Life in the Victorian Kitchen (2014), and Fiona McDonald’s Victorian Servants, a Very Peculiar History (2010). I learned from them that Victorian middle-class households were complex machineries with high maintenance needs requiring from one to twenty servants, depending on the owner’s status. The Stephens, Virginia’s parents (Leslie and Julia), had ten servants, which means that Woolf and her siblings grew up with all their personal needs catered for. The daily lives of Victorian servants were gruelling affairs, with constant hard-core chores from morning to evening, and no leisure except one afternoon off, a whole day if they were lucky. Pay was never high, and they always depended on the whims of masters and mistresses who could dismiss servants with no severance payment, and with no references though without these getting a new position was impossibly hard. Servants who grew sick or grew old always depended on the charity of their employers. And, of course, only upper servants in rich households (governesses, housekeepers, butlers) could expect to have a room of their own to sleep in; the rest shared cramped accommodation, usually in cold attics. Nellie, indeed, complains all the time about having to share a room with Lottie. When she finally has a room to herself, Virginia feels free to intrude whenever she pleases. A major row erupts, precisely, when an annoyed Nellie orders her mistress to leave her room. Such insolence!

No wonder, then, that as World War I progressed and the need for factory labour grew in the UK, more and more young women chose to abandon employment as servants. Besides, with prices rising throughout the 1920s and with the constant turmoil of the general strikes called by the unions, eventually the middle classes found themselves unable to employ domestic help beyond one or two persons, as was the Woolfs’ case. A surprising aspect of Bartlett’s novel is her description of the Woolfs’ diverse homes–Monk’s House and Asham House in Sussex, and Hogarth House in London’s Gordon Square–as not particularly comfortable. It is hard for us to imagine middle-class persons living in homes with no hot water and no central heating, but that was common. Bartlett’s Nellie complains all the time about being cold and about having to shift lots of coal constantly. The Woolfs never purchased the modern conveniences appearing in the early 20th century (vacuum cleaners, for instance, were commercialized in 1905). When, tired of their constant bickering and of her frequent threats to leave their service, Virginia curtly dismissed Nellie, she was happy to find a position with a couple who did have all the latest gadgets: actors Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester. She remained with them until 1939, choosing not to follow them to the USA. Instead, she retired to her native village, Farncombe in Surrey, and purchased there a home of her own, where she lived with fellow servant Lottie, until her death in 1965.

I don’t think that Woolf’s relationship with Nellie is extraordinary. What is extraordinary is that it is documented in detail on the mistress’ side and that this mistress happened to be a progressive feminist who believed in women’s independence. For those of us coming from the working-classes the contradictions of middle-class feminism have always been easy to spot, like the glaring absence of domestic service from English fiction. TV series Upstairs, Downstairs (1971-75) and Downtown Abbey (2010-15, plus the two films, 2019 and 2021), together with Kazuo Ishiguro’s marvellous novel The Remains of the Day (1989), have appeased our curiosity about the lives of the servants in upper-class households. Yet, there is still much to say about the middle-class’ uncomfortable relationship with its servants in the vein of what Bartlett does. Neither Virginia nor her sister Vanessa knew how to cook. Both, Alison Light writes, ‘were irked by keeping servants but resigned to it’. Their resignation has to do with the loss of privacy that became in the early 20th century an integral part of personal life. For the generation of their parents using domestic service was not an issue, but for Woolf’s generation that bond became awkward, an unwanted intrusion in lives that felt exposed because they did not abide by standard social rules. Women like Virginia and Vanessa felt dependent and hated the burden of that feeling. In fact, Virginia would eventually learn to cook to be her own mistress and eat as she pleased. This crucial transition in the lives of middle-class women, from dependent to independent mistress of the house, has not been sufficiently narrated, though. There must be millions of Nellies (and of Virginias) waiting for their tale to be told.

Obviously, middle-class working women have never become independent because we still need domestic help. The servants are gone and, unlike what was promised, domestic appliances have not done away with housework, no matter how much they have simplified it. I just shudder at the thought of doing the washing by hand! We may have the room and the money, but not the domestic freedom that, as I see it, will only come with robotic servants. In the meantime, most of us manage with hourly-paid help (babysitters, cleaners) carried out by working women who manage their working-class homes quite often with the help of a grandmother. I’m sure you must be thinking that if only the men helped more, our domestic troubles would be over. I believe, however, that this is not just a question of getting men more involved in domestic chores but of working fewer hours. 1970s feminism promised a utopia in which individuals would work part-time and there would be plenty of time to share housework, including raising children. As we are now, most middle-class couples in which both members work do need help, as Virginia and Leonard Woolf did a hundred years ago. We might not need live-in help, nor for the same exact chores, but we are still dependent on others. Unless, that is, we choose to keep our homes below the impossible spotless standards of full-time housewives (like my mother). I’m not, then, writing this post to criticize the Woolfs’ at all, but to stress that this middle-class dependence is still hidden in life and in fiction, as much as it was hidden in Austen’s time or in Woolf’s time. It may be swept away by the Roomba rather than under the rug, but it is still hidden.

Read today, in 2021, Una habitación ajena may elicit a negative response about the privileged members of the Bloomsbury group and the social hypocrisy of the bohemian (English) middle-class, with its abstract left-wing politics and its inability to be truly interested in the persons they employed in their homes. I would be, however, careful about how we approach the portrait of the Woolfs. Looking at the book cover illustration, which shows Woolf sitting comfortably in an armchair as Nellie stands behind in her maid’s uniform, I cannot help wondering whether Bartlett does all the housework in her home. I don’t think J.K. Rowling does. Or less wealthy writers. The vision of a society in which every woman (and man) has a room to be creative in, sufficient money, and no need for domestic help is right now a utopia, for either we combine being creative with doing all our housework, or we employ someone else and enter the relations of dependence that Woolf bemoaned. I’m sure many middle-class persons have excellent relations with their paid help which are mutually satisfactory, but I don’t quite see how the working-class women employed by middle-class women in their homes can enjoy the same freedom of artistic and intellectual creation. Perhaps their daughters will, but then they will need somebody else’s domestic help, too.

Thus, until the day when the Nellies of this world are housekeeping robots with no need for a room of their own.

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

SHAME OF THE NATION: ON WATCHING EL SILENCIO DE OTROS

It is habitual in scholarly work that a text illuminates another text quite by chance, in that phenomenon usually called serendipity. Reading the second edition of Sarah Ahmed’s The Cultural Politics of Emotion (2004, 2014) to fill in a serious gap in my list of books read, I have found myself considering in the light of what she writes a documentary everyone in Spain should see: Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar’s multi-award winner El Silencio de Otros (The Silence of Others, 2019). What Ahmed writes about shame in her volume has helped me to process my own feelings of shame regarding what the documentary narrates even though, as you will see, the cases in question are quite different.
I find that Ahmed writes in a rather abstract way, as if she were a philosopher mainly, and after finally reading her book, I realise that she is one of those big names whose texts everyone plunders following their own interests and not necessarily what she says. Of course, I am going to do exactly the same here. Incidentally, I have been amazed to learn that Ahmed is now an independent scholar, having severed her ties with all universities. This happened in 2016 after she discovered that her employer, Goldsmith’s College in London, had been turning a blind eye on a long list of sexual abuses perpetrated by its male professors. I applaud her brave decision, though few of us at a far more modest academic tier can take that kind of dramatic step (I also wonder to what extent her leaving helped the female students—but I digress).
Briefly, El Silencio de Otros (available on Netflix) deals with how the Ley de Amnistía passed by the post-Franco new democratic Parliament has prevented the crimes of Franco’s henchmen from being investigated. The film’s focus falls on a variety of cases, from the recovery of the remains of persons executed by the anti-Republican military rebels to the suffering of the victims of torturer Billy el Niño, passing through the thousands of babies stolen between 1940 and 1990. All these cases are grouped under the Querella argentina, the name received by the class action lawsuit investigated by Argentinian judge María Romilda Servini de Cubria between 2010 and 2015 (with no sentences whatsoever). She accepted the case on the principle of universal justice at the request of two descendants of victims of the Francoist regime. This was after Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón was expelled from the judiciary for trying to investigate the crimes, on the grounds that he was breaking the Amnesty Law of 1977.
The documentary focuses on a variety of persons, but two elderly women stand out among them: María Martín, who lost her mother, and Ascensión Murieta, who lost her father, both to the brutal action of murderous Francoist squads decimating the ‘reds’. María, the classic Spanish village grandmother clad in black, opens the documentary pointing at the road crossing her village and claiming that her mother and other victims lie under it. Garzón’s own lawsuit mentions 114226 victims whose bodies were then missing; less than 10% have been disinterred and properly buried thanks to the Ley de la Memoria Histórica of 2011 and other legislation previously passed by regional Governments. I must clarify, however, that most identifications, if not all, have been carried out by the NGO Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica, not by the authorities. I had assumed that most victims were piled in the mass graves of cemeteries, in lonely spots in the woods and in road ditches, but it had not occurred to me that cars might be rolling over dead bodies on a daily basis. That seemed far worse than the decision by the Málaga Town Council, withdrawn in 2017, to place an area for dogs on top of mass grave number eight in the local cemetery of San Rafael, one of the biggest collections of Francoist mass graves in Spain. Seeing the cars roll by, I felt not only sorrow for María and her mother but also a very deep shame about the nation where I live.
In Alfredo Sanzol’s excellent play En la Luna (2012) two characters discuss, if I recall this correctly, the problems one has to rescue the remains of her Republican grandfather from the road ditch where he was thrown by his executors. The scene happens in 1990, and the other character, a man, comforts her saying that all will be well because, surely, they cannot have the Barcelona Olympic Games of 1992 with so many bodies still unclaimed. That scene still strikes me because Sanzol stresses in this clever way the idea that Spain has never been subjected to the international scrutiny that other countries have faced, including the Argentina of Justice Salvini. In her country and in other post-dictatorial democracies, all the Amnesty Laws passed to protect criminal regimes where annulled so that the crimes against humanity could be judged. Spain, in contrast, has always taken the position that forgiving works better than judging, applying a ‘let bygones be bygones’ policy that the Socialist-sponsored Ley de la Memoria Histórica has barely eroded.
An argument often invoked is that the Civil War, anyway, happened a long time ago, which disregards both the abuses committed by the long dictatorship and the existence of survivors from the war itself. The other main argument is that, anyway, the ‘Reds’ were also genocidal murderers who killed thousands arbitrarily during the Republic and the war, and who would have likewise exterminated many fallen foes had they won. This argument, often invoked by right-wing persons of Francoist leanings, does acknowledge the crimes, as it can be seen, but justifies them on the spurious grounds that the ‘others’ were equally brutal. I doubt this is the case, but even so the Ley de Memoria Histórica is not limited to the Republican victims but to all victims. Yet, since no descendants of the Civil War winners are digging mass graves or road ditches to rescue the bones of their grandparents this possibly means that the victims caused by the Republicans were not that many, or that they are properly buried. I cannot explain otherwise the indifference to the obvious suffering of persons like Ascensión Murieta, who lost her father Timoteo in 1939, when she was only six, and could only ease her pain the day his body was found in 2017, as El Silencio de Otros shows.
Sara Ahmed refers in The Cultural Politics of Emotion to the ‘Stolen Generations’ of Australia, that is to say, the indigenous children mostly of mixed race forcefully but ‘legally’ removed from their families by a combination of the Australian federal and state government agencies and church missions, between 1905 and 1967, in some case as late as the 1970s. The appalling idea behind this mass kidnapping was that the children could be in this way assimilated into the white Australian nation, though, of course, this awful crime only resulted in deep personal and national trauma. A formal apology was presented in 2008 by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, though at the time Ahmed was writing Prime Minister John Howard had adamantly rejected all calls for an apology. The situation, as you can see, is quite different from the Civil War and the dictatorship in Spain though, at least until 2008, the key question was similar: those in power refused to acknowledge a crime against humanity and apologize for it. Ahmed worries that shame can be acknowledged hypocritically so that those who apologize do so to continue a false narrative of national unity. Yet, she worries above all by how the lack of shame then embodied by Prime Minister Howard undermines the communal ability to “identify with a national ideal” (111). Although acknowledging the “brutal history” is not a magic solution, shame appears to be a positive step so that “the shame of the absence of shame” (111) can be overcome, always taking care that this witnessing might not “repeat the passing over” of the victims “in the very desire to move beyond shame and into pride” (111).
Most importantly, in cases such as that of the Stolen Generation, the shame is not only faced internally but externally, before “international civil society” (112). Ahmed, a British-born Australian, writes that “Being seen as an ideal nation is here defined as that which will pass down in time, not in our memories, but in how we are remembered by others. The desire for shame is here the desire to be seen as fulfilling an ideal, the desire to be ‘judged by history’ as an ideal nation” (112). In her conclusions, Ahmed writes that “The projects of reconciliation and reparation are not about the ‘nation’ recovering: they are about whether those who are the victims of injustice can find a way of living in the nation that feels better through the process of speaking about the past, and through exposing the wounds that get concealed by the ‘truths’ of a certain history” (201). In the Australian case, and in others like Argentina or Chile, the international mechanism of shame has more or less worked (remember that Justice Garzón managed to have Augusto Pinochet arrested in London in 1998 but the monster walked away free thanks to the efforts of Margaret Thatcher and President George Bush senior). What is extraordinary about the Spanish case is that the international mechanism of shame has had no effect: Justice Salvini was simply not allowed to interrogate either witnesses or the accused in Spain (extradition was, of course, denied), whereas Amnesty International’s calls to the Attorney General’s Office of Spain to investigate and prosecute the crimes have been ignored. Watching El Silencio de Otros I felt shame at the lack of shame, particularly because I do not see on the horizon any apology, much less any serious, committed investigation.
I find the idea of being proud of one’s nation quite silly for there is no nation truly free of fault. At least, though, I would like not to feel ashamed, as I can only feel for as long as 100000 fellow Spaniards remain buried in mass graves or under the tarmac daily tread on by rushing cars. I would be very proud if the Spanish Parliament agreed by unanimity to put each of these victims in the family graves where they belong, because that would mean that a first step into healing the nation had been taken. But since this is a fantasy, we must live in shame. So far, we have done quite a good job of hiding this deep national shame, so much so that Franco’s heirs are daily gaining power, as if they have nothing to apologize for. In view of all this, it is logically easier for me, and for many others, to deny that we are Spanish and to cling with all our might onto the idea that we are Catalan. Not really because we are independentists, or because Catalonia is a perfectly civilized haven, but because being Catalan is not internationally connected with any specific shameful events. It’s a little like being Danish if you know what I mean.
By the way, if you watch El Silencio de Otros and come across calls to abolish the Amnesty Law of 1977, be careful. As happens, the law was passed to free those unfairly accused and imprisoned by Franco’s regime, though it has had the side-effect of helping the Francoist henchmen to escape prison. This law does need to be abolished but only to be replaced by a new law that finally applies internationally accepted legislation about crimes against humanity to Spain—and that lifts the veil of shame under which we still live.

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

GENDER IN 21ST CENTURY ANIMATED CHILDREN’S CINEMA: NEW E-BOOK BY STUDENTS

This post is intended to be a sort of ‘making of’ of the new e-book I have edited and which has been written by the students in my MA course on Gender Studies this past semester. It is my ninth project of that kind (see the full list at https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/content/books). These e-books gather together short essays, and in some cases longer papers or brief factsheets, written by students as part of their assessment but mainly with a view to online publication. The new e-book is called Gender in 21st Century Animated Children’s Cinema and it can be downloaded for free from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/236285. I have also uploaded onto the digital repository of my university a narrated PowerPoint corresponding to the symposium presentation “Collaborative authorship: Publishing E-Books on Fantasy and Science Fiction with BA and MA students” (https://ddd.uab.cat/record/236037), which more or less repeats what I describe here (but with illustrations!). This is what I presented at the meeting on born-digital texts to which I referred a few posts ago.
I started publishing e-books with students both in the BA and the MA degrees in English Studies because my university, the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, invited all teachers to take advantage of the possibilities open by the digital repositories inaugurated in 2006. In 2013-14 I taught a course on Harry Potter for which I asked my students to write a brief essay about their experience of reading the series. When I saw that the essays had quality and interest I put together a volume which I published online in the digital repository. Then I put together a second volume with the academic papers written to obtain the course grade. These were my first two publications with students, in this case fourth-year BA students in the degree in English Studies, with a C1 to C2 command of English. Next, in 2015, I published a volume gathering together work written for a fourth year BA course on Gender Studies, including again personal essays and papers. I published a second volume a few years later, in 2018.
In the previous four publications I had worked with quite large groups of about 40 BA students. For the next two, Reading Sf Short Fiction: 50 Titles and Gender in 21st Century SF Cinema, I worked with much smaller groups. The science-fiction short fiction guide was written by only 15 BA students enrolled in an elective monographic fourth-year course on this genre. The e-book about gender in sf cinema was written by just 8 MA students in my Gender Studies course, with a similar C1 to C2 level. This is the minimum number this kind of project needs as each of the students had six films in their hands, which also meant six essays for the e-book of about 1500 words each. Of course, I could have chosen to cover less than 50 films, but this is quite a nice number if you want to cover minimally an extensive field. My two most recent projects before the new e-book were Frankenstein’s Film Legacy, written by a group of second year BA students with a lower B2 to C1 level, and Focus on the USA: Representing the Nation in Early 21st Century Documentary Film written by a group of 4th year BA students. This e-book is the most complex publication I have edited so far because I was not familiar myself with about 50% of the films and I had to learn about them as I taught the course. It is also a very long volume, with 90 essays.
All these e-books, published as .pdf files, are available for free from the digital repository of my university. They have generated together more than 22,000 downloads in six years, from a long list of nations all over the world. The most successful one is the short fiction guide which accounts for about 40% of the downloads, and seems to be particularly popular in the United States. I cannot explain its success except that it appears to be the most practical of the e-books I have published with students.
The last e-book has been written by 13 MA students of diverse nationalities (Spanish, American, Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian) who have produced excellent work analysing how animated children’s cinema deals with gender issues. The novelty of the e-book and of the course is that unlike what is habitual in academic work it does not focus on a single animation studio. I did read in preparation for the course the two books by Amy Davis on Disney and another book by Shannon Wooden and Ken Gillam on Pixar. There are, however, no academic books yet on studios such as DreamWorks, Laika, Illumination, Blue Sky and so on. In contrast the e-book includes films by all these and others. The films are in any case all of them English-language films mostly made in the United States because they have been studied in an English Studies degree.
It was by no means easy to focus just on 50 titles, the maximum a small MA group can cover, even though it was my criterion to work only on 21st century films. I am myself a keen spectator of that kind of animated film so I relied on my previous knowledge of the genre to organise the course. Even so, I went through many lists of the best, taking into account that the films should also be interesting from a gender issues perspective. However, I must say there I discarded very few on those grounds for, as my students found out, all films for children implicitly address gender issues. An annoying problem was that many of the films made now have sequels and I found it very difficult to focus just on the first film and disregard the sequels. Perhaps I should have done that but I decided that taking a look at the franchises made sense to see precisely how gender evolved in them, or not at all.
Generally speaking, from the first film, Monsters Inc (2001) to the last, Onward (2020), there has been a general improvement in the treatment of gender though within a rather conservative pattern. Again generally speaking, the female characters are better represented, with many more strong, independent girls and women. Nevertheless, the influence of the Disney Princess stereotype still persists, even in films that try to opposite it openly. Besides, most films addressed to children have male characters as protagonists, even though it is by no means true that men or boys are always positively represented. The other matter that we established is that most animated films addressed to children are stubbornly heteronormative. There were hints that some characters could be gay or lesbian but only in Onward, that is to say last year, did we come across an openly LGBTI+ character, who has, it must be noted, a very minor role. So, on the whole the treatment of gender issues has improved but very slowly and we hope that the pressure put on the studios after the #MeToo campaigns and others will help to make animated children’s films generally more progressive and closer to what the march of gender progress demands.
For those who might be interested, this is how I taught the course. I used two of the ten teaching weeks for an introduction to Gender Studies and to animation, based on four 90’ lectures. Then I used the rest of the eight weeks for students’ class presentations of the gender issues in each film, with two to four 15’ presentations per session, apart from a teacher’s mini-lecture also of about 15’. I offered students a sample presentation, and I myself participated in the course as one more student. Each of us had four films in our hands. When we had to move online because of Covid-19, I kept the same format, though instead of streaming live presentations we used narrated PowerPoints that were later commented on in the corresponding forum. I don’t know whether this was the effect of certain competitiveness but the PowerPoints were in some cases simply spectacular. All students did much more than I asked them for. I must say that if the course had been run face-to-face it would have been impossible to deal with all the material that they uploaded after we went online, with most presentations running to 20 minutes instead of 10 to 15, as I had initially asked. The presentations were intended to be a draft of the essay that students later submitted; this was based on my own sample essay (including credits, film poster, three reasons why the film is interesting, a 1500-word essay). In total we covered 57 films, so the e-book contains 57 essays. I encouraged students to use for both the presentations and for the essays three secondary sources, including film reviews and academic secondary sources. Luckily, this time I had a research assistant helping all of us to find bibliography. We have found some academic work for most of the pre-2010 films but not so much for the more recent films, hence the importance of the film reviews.
I must note that I corrected in depth the essays, handed in two weeks after each presentation, but I did not grade them yet. If they were good enough, I accepted them for publication; if they required revision I returned them for a second draft, to be delivered one week before the final grades were due. That was the case with about 30% of the essays. This might surprise some but I asked students to self-assess: 50% of the final grade came from the essays, 30% from the presentations, and 20% from the forum contributions, that is to say the questions they asked their classmates. All assessed themselves fairly, though I upgraded some marks after going through the revised essays. Once I gathered the 57 essays together (216 pages, 105000 words), I spent about 35 hours revising them for the final publishable version, with most of that time used to correct the second versions of the essays for which I had asked students to rewrite.
I didn’t ask students to see all the films and I have not checked or valued in any way how many they did see, but I assume from their comments that they were familiar directly with at least half (in some cases more, in others less). Regarding the approach to Gender Studies, I have allowed students to express their own views and ideas freely. I am myself a feminist specialised in Masculinities Studies but I have not imposed on my students a single criterion (at least, I hope I have not done that). In any case, rather unified criteria emerged from classroom discussion with very little discrepancy, perhaps because the films are on the whole rather conservative, as I have noted, and they were quite easy to analyse and criticise. The students were clearly much more progressive and advanced in their understanding of gender than the studio executives.
I am extremely proud of my students’ great work. Thank you Rubén Campos, Manu Díaz, Cristina Espejo, Silvia Gervasi, Maria Guallar, Naiara López, Jessiah Mellott, Raquel Prieto, Alba Sánchez, Thu Trang Tran, Jamie Wang, Ting Wang and Helena Zúñiga for a wonderful experience in the midst of a hard time that seems hardly the best for doing good academic work. I hope your e-book is immensely successful!

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

THE DAY I WATCHED 50+1 MUSIC VIDEOS: A NEGLECTED PLEASURE

One of my BA dissertation tutorees has asked me to work on Childish Gambino’s fascinating, controversial music video “This is America” (2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch/VYOjWnS4cMY) and I’m happy to have the chance of returning to a film genre that I neglect too much. Ages ago (or so it seems), I published the essay “El cuerpo en el videoclip musical: Más que carne fresca” (in Meri Torras (ed.), Corporizar el pensamiento: Escrituras y lecturas del cuerpo en la cultura occidental. Pontevedra: Mirabel, 2006. 175-194), which came from a seminar on the same topic which I taught at UAB. I will always remember a hilarious moment in it. I had decided to debate with students The Prodigy’s video for the song “Smack My Bitch Up” (1997). I had more than a little distaste for the lyrics (just a monotonous repetition of “Change my pitch up!/ Smack my bitch up!”) but the video directed by Jonas Åkerlund is still one of my favourites. It narrates from a first person point of view a riotous night in London, with plenty of booze, drugs, and sex. The spectator assumes that the invisible protagonist behind the camera must be a man but the big final reveal is that this is actually a young woman. When I walked into the room, I saw that one of the students was an elderly lady and, ageist me, I worried that she might be scandalized. Funnily, when the video was over, she raised her hand and asked me very eagerly “can you play it again, please?” Everyone laughed.
I wrote a few years later another article on a music video, “Unstable meanings, unstable methods: Analysing Linkin Park’s song ‘What I’ve Done’” (José Ramón Ibáñez Ibáñez & José Francisco Fernández Sánchez (eds.), A View from the South: Contemporary English and American Studies. Almería: Editorial Universidad de Almería, 2011. 150-157), in which I showed how even when a song is popular there can be very little agreement on what it actually means. The song appears to deal with a man’s regrets about his past misbehaviour, either because he has been a drug addict or because he has been abusive in a relationship, or both. In contrast, the video directed by one of Linkin Park’s members, Joe Hahn, shows the band playing in the desert with the performance intercut with a montage of documentary images, mostly showing the conflicts in which the USA have been involved. Chester Bennington’s passionate singing changes radically depending on what you decide the song is about: a heart-felt apology from a single man speaking for himself perhaps to a woman, or a heart-felt apology by an American man ashamed of his nation and asking the world for forgiveness. And this just because some images were added to a performance in the music video.
Back to my student. She is also taking a Practicum with me consisting of doing academic activities connected with Literature and Culture. Since the actual content is very open, I have employed her so far as my research assistant for my MA course on gender in animated children’s fiction and will employ her now producing a guide of the best American music videos of the 21st century (for online publication on UAB’s digital repository and under her name, not mine). This is for two reasons: one, I think that working on other music videos will enhance her understanding of Gambino’s video for her BA dissertation; two, I very much wanted to learn from a much younger person about the current state of the music video. There are always lists of the best at the end of the year and, inevitably, I stumble upon this or that music video on YouTube or browsing the international press. I must say that, unfortunately, I seem to have lost my former passion for pop and rock, which lasted until I became incapable of working with the music on and found listening to it outside working hours incompatible with the lots of reading I need to do. Besides, I could never accomplish the transition from the album to the Spotify list, without which following the ups and downs of current music styles is hard enough. I know, more or less, who is who but if asked to name ten great songs of the last decade I would be lost. Yes, quite sad –perhaps I should teach a course and get back on track!
I agreed with my tutoree that she would select 50 great music videos of the 21st century and then we could decide how to write about them for the guide. She sent me the selection last week and I spend a few wonderful hours on Saturday enjoying a list if not of the best at least of the very good music videos which the past two decades have given us. My student has mostly chosen elegant, well-made videos that illustrate great songs by a notable variety of US performers. I’m not going to comment on the list itself (I keep that for when she publishes the guide) but I will say that, as she and I know, all lists are bound to be very personal even when the person making the selection tries to be as open-minded as possible. Everyone has favourites and in the immense world of popular music there is no way two persons can agree on what is best. It is, besides, very hard to say in which ways a music video is a quality work, for, surely, some great videos corresponding to not so popular songs must pass unnoticed, whereas other videos get noticed just for the song, not because the video has any filmic values. Surely, the video for Luis Fonsi’s hit “Despacito” has no special values as a film, despite being the second most played video on YouTube ever (behind “Baby Shark”!). Even worse, some music videos have become extremely popular for very wrong reasons, and I’m thinking here of the exploitative images in Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”.
This leads to me to video number 51 –“WAP”. My student did not include it in her selection but “WAP” is no doubt the most talked about music video of 2020. Here are some notes. “WAP” is a song published by New York rapper Cardi B (born Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar in 1992) featuring Texan rapper Meghan thee Stallion (Megan Jovon Ruth Pete, b. 1995). The song, which mixes hip hop, dirty rap, and trap, deals quite explicitly with sexual matters, with both artists singing and rapping about women’s sexual preferences and their expectations regarding men’s performance during sex (‘wap’ incidentally is an acronym for ‘wet-ass pussy’). “WAP” was generally well-received for its expression of female sexual agency but its dirty lyrics (https://genius.com/Cardi-b-wap-lyrics) were also a source of enormous controversy, with some criticizing them for their vulgar language. There was quite a backlash from conservative politicians (i.e. Trumpian Republicans) who even asked for some form of censorship, though their complaints mostly helped “WAP” to become an even more popular hit. Most progressive media outlets defended Cardi B’s raunchy song as an expression of black female empowerment through popular American culture’s reverence for the rebellious artist.
The music video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsm4poTWjMs), directed by the extremely experienced Collin Tilley but with plenty of input from Cardi B herself, made the controversy even more vivid, with figures such as British comedian Russell Brand arguing that there was little difference between pornographic sexualization by men and the supposedly self-empowering presentation of the women in it. The video shows Cardi B and Meghan thee Stallion, dressed in sexy outfits by haute couture designers (Nicolas Jebran, Thierry Mugler), walking in an extravagant mansion full of powerful women similarly dressed. The imagery uses plenty of animal print decorations and psychedelic colours in the style of Willie Wonka’s factory. A pool scene offers a sensual dance routine (by JaQuel Knight) imitated countless times on TikTok. The video features non-singing cameos by Kylie Jenner, Normani, Rosalía, Mulatto, Rubi Rose, and Sukihana, all contributing to enhancing the representation of female power. The video was celebrated, like the song, and soon hailed as one of the best of 2020, if not the best. However, beyond its sexiness, the video became a source of criticism for its use of live animals (with big cats appearing as pets for rich women) and for the presence of white celebrity Kylie Jenner. Cardi B defended her choice, arguing that race should not be a consideration (Jenner has been often accused of appropriating black culture) and that Kim Kardashian’s sister also appears as her personal friend.
There is an immense difference between Gambino’s “This is America” and Cardi B’s “WAP” but both have something in common: they are a wonderfully compressed representation of a rich bunch of interconnected issues, and require a savvy audience to make sense. I understand why my student is interested in the former far more than in the latter. Gambino’s issues, focused on racial discrimination in the USA, seem to be far more serious socially speaking than Cardi B and Meghan thee Stallion’s hymn to the hyperactive vagina. Yet, each knows its audience very well. Gambino throws one allusion after the other to events every black person in the USA should be able to identify whereas Cardi B appeals to those who follow the ins and outs of celebrity culture and of black female empowerment in the American music circuit. If you don’t know any of the celebrities appearing in the video, you will be mystified –though I remain mystified about why Rosalía accepted appearing in a sort of torero outfit without singing at all. Kylie Jenner’s presence is not, in my view, insulting in racial terms but because unlike Rosalía she is no artist and Cardi B hardly needs her to endorse her own art. Gambino, by the way, appears naked from the waste up in his film but this is not intended as a sexy display of his quite sexy anatomy. In contrast, Cardi B and her colleague Meghan display their curves in all their glorious abundance. In one of the scenes Cardi B’s breasts are quite visible, even though the nipples are covered, and this is when, like Russell Brand, I did doubt whether this was empowerment or self-exploitation. My own idol, Kylie Minogue, has found much more classy ways of being her own woman –and no, this is not prudery but a certain tiredness after seeing women claim power by showing their bodies for the last thirty five years, since Madonna started the trend. I recall dealing with the exact same issue in my 2006 article regarding a video with Jennifer Lopez…
See? These tiny films, lasting on average 3 minutes, are food for thought in ways much longer films are not. Half advertisement, half art the music video still survives and, from what I see in my 50+1 songs exploration, has a great future ahead. I’ll make sure to be more alert to it.

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

THE NARRATIVE AND AESTHETIC PROBLEMS OF UTOPIA: RECONSIDERING ITS LACK OF APPEAL

Last week I had the great pleasure of participating in the seminar “El miedo y la esperanza: utopías y distopías en las artes y la cultura de masas” (Fear and hope: Utopias and Dystopias in the Arts and Mass Culture, https://escolaeuropeadhumanitats.com/es/trobades/el-miedo-y-la-esperanza-utopias-y-distopias-en-las-artes-y-la-cultura-de-masas/) within the Escola d’Humanitats run by the magazine La maleta de Portbou. I must thank Prof. Antonio Monegal for his invitation. It is not habitual in my hectic profession to be asked to debate ideas with others and after the seminar was over I felt immensely satisfied to have benefited from a great conversation lasting for six hours –what a luxury! I must note, incidentally, that the seminar was originally programmed for March 2020 in Tarragona, but had to be delayed because of Covid-19. The meeting last week was moved to Barcelona but I must say that it became a hybrid event, with three of us participating from home and the rest in the La Caixa venue of Palau Macaya. The dystopia we are living in right now made it impossible for me to see my colleagues’ faces, except for those online, as all were using facemasks. I don’t how this will look in the future documentary film that is to come out of our meeting, particularly when this is seen once the pandemic is over, hopefully at the end of this dystopian year of 2021.
I tend to forget that Spanish academia favours an encyclopaedic approach in contrast to the argumentative discourse preferred by Anglo-American academia. Thus, whereas my own contribution –a discussion of Iain M. Bank’s utopia the Culture– was focused on a single author and a novel series, my colleagues’ contributions gathered together a great variety of titles, with possibly Iván Pastor’s panorama of current comics being the most wide-ranging. This worked well since it allowed for abundant discussion among all of us also in a wide-ranging fashion which was, after all, the object of the seminar. The participants, I must note, were not only academics but also practising artists and writers (some also academics). I found it very refreshing to meet them, and I also felt awed, as I tend to feel a little silly discussing authors in front of other literary authors… (I refer here to Laura Fernández and José Ovejero).
I must note that my contribution was the only one exclusively focused on utopia, even though the seminar was supposed to deal with both utopia and dystopia. This is not at all a criticism of my colleagues’ excellent talks but a way of stressing a major problem: the utopia/dystopia ratio works overwhelmingly in favour of the latter. At one point Prof. Monegal mentioned that IMDB mentions about 150 productions connected with utopia, but about 1500 related to dystopia; one to ten, then. The torrent of titles that came under discussion was, therefore, necessarily dystopian because this is what interests audiences –or, at least, what they are being offered by artists of all kinds. In fact, an issue that was raised is to what extent the insistence on the dystopian text is a capitalist ruse to keep all of us under control. A society that has no illusions about its future will not demand any changes and will most likely adapt to whatever little is offered in the way of social advances. At some point in the transition from the 1970s to the 1980s the very idea of a positive, brighter future was lost and without it there is very little that utopia can do to be appealing. Dystopia, in contrast, confirms again and again (or sells) the generalized impression that any utopia is necessarily misleading.
In my own contribution I insisted on a question that seems to me of great importance, namely, that utopia is never as easy to narrate as dystopia. Take, for instance, Suzanne Collins’ trilogy The Hunger Games. At the end of the story an epilogue hints that the formerly dictatorial civilization of Panem has been rebuilt as a democratic nation, under the leadership of the former rebels. It would have been very interesting to narrate Katniss Everdeen’s participation in that rebirth but Collins chose instead to involve Katniss in a plot twist that totally deprives her of any power she might have and that strands her in a domestic situation most of us judge to be just barely happy. Collins, of course, could have proceeded and narrate the building of a new utopia in a reformed Panem but instead she has published a rather dull novel about how tyrannical President Coriolanus Snow came to be: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Indeed, most of Collins’ readers expected her to go further back into the history of Panem and narrate how the United States became that dystopian monstrosity, which says plenty about the sad mood in the American nation. It is my personal opinion that we do not need more stories about the fall into dystopia that may ring prophetic, but new stories about how to build utopia beginning with current dystopia. They can be still full of incident and strife, and be exciting in its proclamation of a new beginning. I would agree, however, that narrating stories about utopia once this is in place might not be that thrilling. As Iain Banks once explained, persons who live in a utopia can also experiment disappointment or conflict but whatever crisis you choose to narrate it would be just too similar to what you might find in the typical middle-class novel in which the social background is inexistent. This is why he preferred to narrate the clash between the utopian Culture and those less advanced civilizations that resisted its intervention.
Apart from the problem of its narrative limitations, utopia seems to have another significant problem of an aesthetic kind. This was made evident by Fito Conesa’s observations about a series of rather kitsch utopian images which turned out to be propaganda for the Jehova’s Witnesses. What he suggested is that any ideally pastoral image of happy people in a lovely environment makes us cringe rather than feel elated and I would attribute this cringeworthy effect to the steady undermining of beauty as an artistic category and of the sentimental in the current structure of feeling. Beauty, of course, is not gone as an aesthetic category but it is not something we actively seek in connection to the utopian future –we may admire the beauty of certain individuals or natural landscapes, but beauty is not at all connected with social living. When it is, as happens in the orbital for the very rich of the film Elysium, beauty is offered as a marker of privilege, not as a communal aspiration. In contrast, the ugly landscape of dystopia seems ubiquitous and even socially inescapable, a constant feature of the future because it is already a dominant feature of the present all over Earth. If a beautiful human-made, communal landscape appears in fiction, then you can be sure that it hides something behind, usually of a sinister nature (think of the film The Island).
Utopia, in short, is not cool either narratively speaking or in its aesthetics, whereas dystopia has managed to be cool both as a tale and in looks. How can this double handicap of utopia be counteracted? To be honest, I don’t know, being neither a narrator nor an artist. One thing I can say, though: capitalism is infinitely flexible and it will certainly accommodate any utopia that is attractive to a significant number of people. If one day someone makes a truly good adaptation of a Culture novel by Iain Banks and the image of its utopia works well, that might start a new fashion. If it were in my power, I would go further and establish a well-endowed competition for utopian stories (though I would make it a condition that they are not separatist with, for instance, women-only civilizations or blacks-only civilizations, on the utopian principle that the elimination of prejudice should be paramount). Leaving aside the nightmare that Covid-19 currently is, I’m tired of that sinking feeling that dystopia produces, whether it comes from the daily reading of the news or the fantasies of depressing storytelling (ten seasons of The Waking Dead? Why?!).
One of the participants in the seminar, artist and academic María Ruido, complained that what most disgusted her is the habitual treatment of basic human rights as a utopia, in the sense of something unfeasible. She worries, most rightly, that the Covid-19 crisis will further undermine any social protest and will even push back the achievements of the last decades as regards workers’ rights and women’s rights. María and I stressed that the utopias behind these rights –Communism, feminism– have not been fully developed but should be given some room in any utopia to be. I believe that feminism is currently the only functional utopia in the sense that all women, even the non-feminists, are motivated by the idea that our future must necessarily be better until it is truly good. The many strong female characters in fiction and the many bold women in real life model their lifestyles on this utopian aspiration (whereas men wander lost in the now decadent patriarchal dystopia). In contrast, what has become almost taboo is any discussion of work and by this María and I meant something quite similar: not just the appalling lack of quality of most occupations but also the enormous amount of time that work takes.
Between 1820 and 1920 the average working hours went from 76 a week to 42, but in the last 100 years nothing has been done to reduce our weekly toil from 40 to 30 or less. We are told again and again that this would bring chaos, with more unemployment, lower pay rates, etc. but it just seems impossible to believe that productivity remains the same as in 1920. Something needs to be done and change demanded. The utopia spoused by 1970s radical feminism as regards the family had to do with this, precisely: the domestic model defended was a household in which each member worked no more than four hours a day, so that there was sufficient time to raise children and enjoy leisure of a constructive, active kind. Instead, we work very long hours, with more instability than ever and with hardly any chance of truly reconciling work with private life. Any attempt to reverse this trend is immediately branded communist agitation and dismissed as an afront to common sense. Thus capitalism thrives and utopia dies, while we consume as if there is no tomorrow the dystopian tales that capitalism itself sells to us.
Let’s create, then, utopia anew, for the sake of the future, with uplifting tales and pleasure in beauty.

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

RECALLING TIMES PAST: ACADEMIC LIFE 1980-2020

As someone wrote recently, it makes sense to think of the 1970s as 40 years ago but how can 1980 be 40 years ago? This has come to my mind in relation to a question asked by one of my Master’s students. He wanted to know whether, on the whole and considering our current access to countless sources of information, academic writing has improved in the Humanities. This question started my recollection of the times when I didn’t have access to the Internet, much less to a computer. Having been born in the mid- 1960s, I’m old enough to have seen a dramatic change in academic work in my own lifetime. As this student told me, there will be far less difference between the academic life of people born in the 1990s and in the 2020s than there is between the academic life of the people born like myself in the 1960s and that of those born in the 1990s. I can only say that he’s totally right.
So let me go back to 1980, the year when I started secondary school. The first papers I handed in were handwritten, a situation which continued for at least three more years until my fourth and last course, what used to be called Curso de Orientación Universitaria (College Orientation Course). If you think that what comes next is the arrival of a PC to my working-class home you are in an alternate universe. What I got then, when I was 17, was my grand-father’s second-hand typewriter, a rather basic, heavy Olivetti. I recall in one particular instance a long Literature paper which I wrote by hand and my mom typed late into a Sunday evening; she had been an admin clerk before marrying, and still had the typing skills that I have never acquired. The typewriter in question, however, had a few glitches, one of which was that the Spanish orthographic stress key was broken. This means that the accents in my paper, which was in Spanish, were all open, in Catalan style. My teacher forgave me because she knew from what kind of home I came from.
This state of matters continued for a while. I enrolled as a university student in 1984, that Orwellian year. I continued using a typewriter, though I seem to recall a lighter new Olivetti made of plastic, with some suspicion that it was not mine but, again, someone else’s. I continued writing handwritten and typed papers based, of course, on school library resources until 1987. I spent the year 1986-87 in England as an au-pair girl and all my communication with my family and friends was through handwritten letters and the occasional phone call from a phone booth. Only when I returned from England did I finally have access to a computer, that of my boyfriend at the time, a nerdish type who grasped how important PCs would be before this was generally understood. All this time, please notice, I was still using library resources: those of my own university, the Autònoma, and the resources of the British Institute in Barcelona, which were in many cases better than what I found at UAB.
After completing the five-year Licenciatura, I started in 1991 my doctoral studies. Doctoral programmes consisted of two years of taking courses with a third year for writing your first dissertation, or tesina. I still wrote mine using bibliography on paper from libraries because although the Internet had already been born it only existed in very limited military and scientific circles. I recall purchasing dozens of articles, very expensively photocopied, from the British Library. I started work on my doctoral dissertation in 1993, spending one year in Scotland (1994-95), still with no internet access, not even e-mail. Like back in 1986-87, all communication with family and friends was done though snail mail and phone calls (no cell phones yet!). I submitted my doctoral dissertation in 1996 still without an Internet connection, though the novelty then was the introduction of email in our communications. This means that if you wanted to publish an article you would snail-mail the hard copies of the article accompanied by a cover letter and then whether the article was accepted or not would be communicated to you in the same way, by letter.
The first academic websites were started then, in the mid-1990s, and some look as they did originally. I was going through the Victorian website the other day and I realised that the layout and most of the texts that you can find there possibly come from that time. The same goes for many other websites built in the 1990s on a voluntary basis that need a revamp but will be lost for lack of volunteers. My post-doc life begins in 1996, when home Internet access also became generally available, but without a flat rate, which means that any prolonged consultation with any website could potentially cost a lot of money. In 1998 I became a consultant at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, the first online university in Spain, and that was an interesting position because the job included free Internet access. Telefónica eventually offered, around 2000, a flat rate, which was really the moment when the Internet took off in Spain (and so did illegal downloading of music, films, books…).
From 2000 onward, then, we academics started having access to many online sources, which means that composing a bibliography became quite easy. Months of research could suddenly be done in one afternoon sitting before your computer, accessing catalogues anywhere in the world. However, what truly made the difference was database access. A catalogue tells you what is available and where, but the database usually contains part of what is available as downloadable texts and that makes an enormous difference. You might have a bibliography which is 200 entries long but if none of those sources is really accessible there is not much point in its bulk. The wonder of research in the last 15 years, then, is not only that any list can be quickly compiled but also that you can download onto your computer in just a few hours many sources, particularly articles in journals. Books remain a grey area of research because not so many are accessible from college libraries as e-books. Universities subscribe to article databases but there are not equivalent book databases, which is the reason why everyone is using Google Books but keeping quiet about it. The price of academic books has gone through the roof so that few researchers and even few libraries can actually purchase books, which may easily cost 100 euros or more (a non-illustrated hardback). So, thanks Google!, you know what for.
The abundance of sources does not necessarily mean, however, that we are producing better research or better academic writing. A typical article in the Humanities usually contains around thirty secondary sources. They take less time to be located but still take a long time to be read. In the past, before the 1990s, when theory exploded, researchers in the Humanities could get away with using a maximum of ten sources for each article. This is a luxury that we can no longer afford. The proliferation of bibliography might seem to be a benefit and in many senses it is. Yet, at the same time, it has resulted in a style of writing that is very constrictive. Most articles I read these days consist of a long barrage of quotations taking the introduction and usually two thirds of the article itself, leaving just a little corner, usually less than one third of the article, for the actual discussion of the text supposedly analysed in it. Before so much bibliography was available and used, literary criticism was literary criticism, that is to say, it was an exercise in reading focused on what the primary source did say. The voice of the scholar had to be strong because it had to sustain the whole analysis, and so you got classics of literary criticism such as Leslie Fiedler, Tony Tanner, John Hillis Miller, Marianne Thormählen, Catherine Belsey, Elaine Showalter and so on.
Now there is very little room for one’s own voice among so many secondary sources, and to be honest this is one of the reasons why I started writing this blog: I was losing my voice in my own academic production. Since the need to publish has grown enormously, this means that you have less time for each of the articles or chapters you write; many sources need to be read diagonally, looking for that quotation which will contribute to your own article. Articles are more frequently quoted than books because a) they are more easily found in databases, b) can be read more quickly. Nobody uses bibliographies in which most items are books that must be read from beginning to end, for a quotation ends up costing too many working hours. That’s our reality. All this constant flow of bibliography, then, is coming when we have least time to benefit from it: to sit down and absorb whatever may be new and exciting. In my worst days I think that literary criticism is dead and we are just endlessly circulating the secondary sources without really paying much attention to what the literary authors themselves are saying. Post-1990s academic rhetoric, in short, has eaten up academic creativity in Literary Studies, and even in the apparently less conventional Cultural Studies.
This can be very daunting for a beginner in the field but, like all rhetoric, academic writing has a playful side. You need to look at academic research as a complex game, with rules that need to be mastered. I do not mean that scholarship is trivial or banal. I just mean that in order to get published you need to learn how to play the game, and this includes understanding which sources you need to check and how valuable they are for you. Having said that and although I’m not going to praise those times when literary criticism was written by hand and based on what your university library housed, we have certainly lost an indefinite something. The Internet has brought the world to our fingertips, but our brain still needs time to process information and deliver solid discourse. Yet time is what we most lack now, in our frantic effort to excel when more people than ever are in academia.
In a sense, then, the cyberpunk dream of the 1980s–if only we could access all the academic riches computers contain–has become if not a nightmare, certainly a source of anxiety, for those who rule academic life have decided that we need to use that flood of information to generate a flood of academic work and so increase the deluge until nobody can really follow it. The solution is to work on one’s own little corner, and play the game as best one can.

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

AFTER WATCHING THE CROWN: WONDERING WHY I CARE…

Needing entertainment I chose to spend close to 40 hours watching the four seasons of Netflix’s The Crown (2016-). It has been impossible these last few weeks to ignore the abundant articles and blog posts on the alleged misrepresentation of the British Royal Family in the new fourth season, released in mid-November, as I just got curious. As you possibly know, so worried is the British Government about this matter that the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, asked Netflix last week to insert a warning at the beginning of each episode declaring that the series is intended to be fiction. I am under the impression that most spectators are aware that the series is not a documentary, but it seems there is some concern that the younger generation might take The Crown as a reliable history lesson. Naturally, there is also concern that the living persons represented in the Netflix series may be offended by their portraits, or even the object of social media attacks. The main worry in that sense is the Royal Family’s inability to protect Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, for the renewed wave of hatred against her as the late Princess Diana’s rival for the love of Charles, the Prince of Wales.
I recall in all detail the shock of hearing about Lady Diana Spencer’s tragic death in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris on Saturday evening, 31 August 31. I heard about the lethal car crash the following morning, when a neighbour told me, still amazed by the grim news. Diana was nothing to us, and I personally had no admiration for her, but she was an immense celebrity and still very young, just 36. There have been rumours to this day that MI5 had followed orders by Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, to have Diana killed, fearing that the by then divorced ex-wife of Prince Charles was about to marry Muslim Harrods’ heir Dodi al Fayed supposedly because she was pregnant by him. The supposition behind these rumours was that the Crown did not want the future King, William, to have a Muslim half-brother. I find all this conspiracy theory nonsense, though it appears that Diana really had the intention of marrying a Muslim, Pakistani surgeon Dr Hasnat Khan, and was dating al Fayed, who also died in the crash, just to make this other man jealous. That’s the thing about the Royals… they make you engage in gossip, whether you are naturally gossipy or not. Anyway, on the day news of Diana’s death reached me, it was clear as daylight that the car crash had been provoked by the relentless pursuit of the media. The paparazzi started pestering young Diana the day it was known she was dating Prince Charles and, I have no doubt whatsoever, eventually caused her death; it was manslaughter though not direct murder. I fail to understand why this type of harassment is tolerated when any ordinary citizen chased by another citizen has the right to report this to the Police as a crime.
On the whole, I have enjoyed far more the three seasons of The Crown previous to the point when my own memory of events started. Once Diana appeared in season four, memory and dramatization got entangled and I started questioning not so much the truthfulness of the series as finding it too focused on the triangle formed by the Princess, Charles, and Camilla. For the first three seasons, the series works in a far more appealing way, with each episode being a self-contained narration of a particular crisis. And in that sense in can be taken as an History lesson, not because it tells the truth but because it send you rushing to Wikipedia and other sources to check for yourself. On average, I have spent about 30 minutes reading online for each episode, sometimes finding that the events narrated were quite different but also learning about matters I knew nothing about, or just very little. Looking back, I find that episode 3 in season 3, dealing with the Aberfan disaster, which claimed in 1966 the lives of 28 adults and 116 children when a colliery spoil tip collapsed in this Welsh mining town, was not only extremely poignant but also, on the whole, a valuable lesson on the Monarch’s duties. Now we are used to the images of Kings and Queens comforting the families of the victims of disasters or terrorist attacks but at the time this was a novelty, and whether this is strictly how Queen Elizabeth II behaved or not, the reflection that show-runner Peter Morgan (also author of most scripts) presents is valuable. Of course, what he offers is an interpretation based on his own personal thesis about the events narrated but if his views have currently more weight than those of the British historians, then we need to consider why giving reliable History lessons to the general public is generally such a daunting task. In this time of fake news and when American historians are begging President Trump not to destroy crucial documentation when he leaves the White House, as it is assumed he will do, this is more important than ever.
Season four, I read, has been quite traumatic to watch for those Britons who recalled Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s mandate (1979-1990) in all detail. If you closed your eyes and listen to the marvellous Gillian Anderson, here playing Thatcher, you will certainly get goosebumps–at least, I did. Anderson has done better than Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady (2011). Yet, having spent 1985-86 in Britain as an au-pair, a period which included my stay for a few months in the borough of Finchley in North London, Thatcher’s own electoral district or constituency, I missed more about her mandate. Yes, the Falklands War was there (though no way she got into it distracted by her son Mark’s going missing during the Paris Dakar rally), and the final crisis that pushed her out of her long-held Prime Minister seat was there, but not the miners’ strike of 1984-85, the Poll Tax crisis and other events. Instead, we got the appalling soap opera that Charles and Diana’s romance was from its very onset.
The problem, perhaps, is that in current times each of us has become an amateur historian and we all have theories about what did or did not happen. I read an article by a woman journalist who claimed that now she finally understood Lady Diana, but to understand her I believe that the 2017 documentary Diana: In Her Own Words (also on Netflix) works much better. Not only because it reproduces interviews secretly taped to help journalist Andrew Morton to write his best-selling tribute Diana: Her True Story (1993) but because, ironically, it is easier to understand Prince Charles by listening to Diana’s own testimonial. The Crown argues that Diana was treated with total coldness by the Royal Family and by Charles himself, and so she is presented as their victim, but her own words present her as a victim of her own immaturity and of a grand vision of herself that Charles’ choice of her as his bride fulfilled, with horrific consequences. At many points of the documentary Diana is heard saying that she expected guidance from her husband, who was thirteen years her senior, but instead only got contempt for her immaturity. Peter Morgan has, in any case, a similar theory about Charles’s upbringing and treatment by his parents: that he received a cold-shoulder when he expected warmth and, yes, guidance. These were, then, two misguided individuals led to marry for the Crown’s convenience despite being woefully ill-suited to each other–which happens all the time, though in far less politically significant circumstances.
The history of the British monarchy as told in The Crown is, of course, a fascinating tale about how Western ideas of marriage have changed. Despite initial difficulties caused by Prince Phillip’s reluctant subordination to his wife, who is also his Queen, and his sense of emasculation as a man, the couple agree that divorce can never be an option. The real-life couple have been married for 73 years, and I must wonder whether theirs is one of the currently longest-lived marriages on Earth. The marriage may have survived with some infidelities on his side, as Peter Morgan hints in his series (though recall how Prince Phillip said it was hardly possible to commit adultery with a policeman shadowing his every move), but it is still there, whereas three of the couple’s four children have got divorced: Charles, but also Anne and Andrew; only Edward, who wed Sophie Rhys-Jones in 1999, is still married.
The episodes of The Crown dealing with Princess Margaret are in this sense pitiful to watch: her relationship with divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend ended when she chose her privileges as a Princess over a civil marriage to him and a private life away from England; later, she did marry in Westminster Abbey with the acquiescence of Crown and Church but her union with talented bisexual photographer Tony Armstrong-Jones was anything but placid. The message we are given is not really that the Royals are failing to do their duty by staying married, but that the changes in the idea of marriage, from life-long commitment accompanied by a high degree of personal compromise to a relationship supposed to provide sexual and sentimental fulfilment, has changed radically. Of course, the old-fashioned model may have worked for Elizabeth and Phillip, but we are now seeing in Spain how the long-lasting union of the still married Juan Carlos and Sofía, was a sham all along. The united front they presented was crucial for the transition into democracy, but the former King’s long stream of mistresses and his shady financial dealings is revealing to us not only the less palatable aspects of his personality but that Spain on the whole respected a man who did not respect the women in his life, beginning with his wife, nor his fellow Spanish citizens.
In all this matter of the Windsors, the most intriguing participant is, no doubt, Camilla Parker-Bowles, née Shand. In hindsight, it is quite clear that Charles and Camilla should have married not long after they met in the 1970s but most biographers agree that she was seen as a commoner (which Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle are) and was sexually too experienced (Lord Mountbatten advised Charles to marry a virgin); besides, as Charles’s junior by just one year she was ready to marry while he was told to sow his wild oats before wedding anyone. As we all know by now, in 1973 Camilla married Andrew Parker-Bowles, a man all accounts agree that she did love, and had to watch his ex-boyfriend marry the virginal Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. I was astonished to listen to Diana herself explain in the 2017 documentary that she had avoided having any boyfriends, and had kept herself “tidy,” just in case that became required. The girl, nicknamed Duch by her family, had fairy-tale dreams of marrying at Westminster Abbey one day, perhaps even being a Queen. I’m not saying that she was a calculating teen, but there is something unsettling about a woman that decided to remain a virgin till marriage in the late 1970s/early 1980s. That was unusual. Anyway, in past times, or not so past if we think of Queen Sofía, Diana could have played her assigned role as future Queen and tolerate Camilla as the official mistress. That, however, was not to be, and the irony is that now Camilla is finally Charles’ wedded wife. They married in 2005, in a civil ceremony (as Camilla is a divorcee), though Camilla is known as the Duchess of Cornwall, not the Princess of Wales because that was Diana’s title. If Charles is ever crowned, which seems doubtful, she would be Princess Consort, though it is known that the British heir wants his wife to be crowned Queen. I was going to write ‘fat chance’…
When the credits of the last episode rolled, my husband and I burst out laughing. He had joined me in the second season, attracted by the high quality of the dialogue written by Morgan and his other scriptwriters. The reason why we laughed is that we found ourselves at specific points feeling deep empathy for some of the characters, despite our republicanism and general mistrust of families who inherit absurd, anachronistic privileges. We have, then, embarrassed ourselves a little bit by following the lives of Queen Elizabeth’s family. I read that Prince William and Prince Harry are very much against the addition of a sixth season dealing with their lives to the planned five seasons, and I doubt that I’ll watch more of this show. To disconnect, in fact, I watched one episode of the hilarious, over-the-top The Windsors, also on Netflix, and a few episodes of the new Spitting Image. I must, in any case, take my hat off to British monarchy and British society in general for their ability to endure misrepresentation and satire with no major political damage. Here in Spain we are light years away from that.

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/