FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Hello Happiness, Goodbye Misery

by CLANCY SIGAL

A couple of years ago the Chileans made a movie called simply “No”.  It’s askew in important ways, but stunningly apt for our situation.

In 1988 the Chilean dictator Pinochet, he of the torture cells and “desapariciones”, confident in his powers, orders a people’s plebiscite to decide if he should stay in power for another eight years.  Even though the vote probably will be fixed, the opposition – liberals, good conservatives and radicals – persuade a young advertising executive, Rene, to brainstorm their campaign.  The format is for each side to have 15 minutes of nationwide TV time for 27 nights.  A “yes” vote is to keep Pinochet, a “no” promises a democratic election.

The rightwing government has the big battalions on its side, including the military and police and almost total control of propaganda.  All the liberals have is most of Chile’s artistic community which pitches in to help Rene create an effective “no” campaign.

Rene’s problem as ad-master is that he may lose his conventional ad-agency job by working for the opposition.  More poignantly, he is compelled to argue with his own side composed of jowled politicians emasculated by Pincochet’s tyranny and by oppositionals who suffered terribly under the dictatorship.  Rene’s comrades demand “a right to be heard” and want the campaign to dignify and articulate their pain…at length.

Rene, more in tune with popular appetites because he’s worked on “Live on the Coke Side of Life”, we-are-the-world type of ads while in exile, tells his comrades their grim idea is a drag.   The Chilean people have had a bellyful of depressing news.  Let’s give them something to live for and laugh about and dance with.  Many of his comrades are offended by Rene’s trivialization of their agony.  Should political activism be turned into marketing rather than a discussion of principles?   Much of the story is taken up by this heated, sometimes personal and ugly debate.

In the end, despite Pinochet’s intimidation, Rene’s ideas win and so does the “no” vote.  Against all the odds and probability, Pinochet – under pressure by his own military who understand the logic of the “no” vote – bows out.

The meat of the film, directed by Pablo Larrain, is the sparkling series of visual images that Rene flashes up on the TV scene of smiling Chileans confronting not their grisly past but looking forward to a better future.  He’s not afraid of using soap opera actors and high fashion models.  Pushing the envelope, Rene even convinces the mothers, sisters and wives of murdered victims to give witness…by singing and dancing.  An extraordinary moment.

It was a gamble to go against an encrusted, traditional, progressive mind-set and exploit the crass, shallow, pandering marketing tools and thus win the “no” campaign.

I take this film personally.  Some time ago my stomach rebelled against much of the progressive writing and speechifying I’ve spent a lot of my life doing.   All that shock-horror-misery.  The awful word “plight”.  Wallowing and even glorying in unhappiness, exploitation, inequality, discrimination etc. because there’s so much of it that activists feel we can change.  Like Atlas we carry the world on our shoulders.  Lightness of spirit is not one of our many virtues.  I guess we leave the joy and optimism to comics like Bill Maher, Doonesbury, Colbert and rock concertgoers.

In a way the Chileans had it easy.  They had only a single product to sell, democracy, while we have a spectrum of “issues”, agendas, points of view, studies, and Nobel Prize economists on our side.  As a matter of fact I’m not sure WHAT we are selling to the people Out There.

No” has flaws.  It bypasses the undramatic grass roots effort that turned out the anti Pinochet vote, and the director’s camera is so in love with his leading man, Gael Garcia Bernal (who played Che Guevera in Motorcycle Diaries) that some potentially fascinating side characters are unattended .  Still, “No” is salutary for those of us stuck in the same old ditch.

At the very least it may obstruct another of those terminally boring mass meetings – TROOPS OUT! EAT THE RICH! – in which every conceivable faction and constituency grimly demands their square foot of platform space to have their (long, long) say.  Attending such meetings is where I learned to fall dead asleep on my feet, no small talent.

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives

Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
Eoin Higgins
Please Clap: the Jeb Bush Campaign Pre-Mortem
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Invisible Epidemic: Radiation and Rising Rates of Thyroid Cancer
Andre Vltchek
Europe is Built on Corpses and Plunder
Jack Smith
Obama Readies to Fight in Libya, Again
Robert Fantina
As Goes Iowa, So Goes the Nation?
John Grant
Israel Moves to Check Its Artists
Dean Baker
Market Turmoil, the Fed and the Presidential Election
John Wight
Who Was Cecil Rhodes?
David Macaray
Will There Ever Be Anyone Better Than Bernie Sanders?
Christopher Brauchli
Suffer Little Children: From Brazil to Flint
JP Sottile
Did Fox News Help the GOP Establishment Get Its Groove Back?
Binoy Kampmark
Legalizing Cruelties: the Australian High Court and Indefinite Offshore Detention
John Feffer
Wrestling With Iran
Rob Prince – Ibrahim Kazerooni
Syria Again
Louisa Willcox
Park Service Finally Stands Up for Grizzlies and Us
Farzana Versey
Of Beyoncé, Trudeau and Culture Predators
Pete Dolack
Fanaticism and Fantasy Drive Purported TPP ‘Benefits’
Murray Dobbin
Canada and the TPP
Steve Horn
Army of Lobbyists Push LNG Exports, Methane Hydrates, Coal in Senate Energy Bill
Colin Todhunter
“Lies, Lies and More Lies” – GMOs, Poisoned Agriculture and Toxic Rants
Franklin Lamb
ISIS Erasing Our Cultural Heritage in Syria
David Mihalyfy
#realacademicbios Deserve Real Reform
Graham Peebles
Unjust and Dysfunctional: Asylum in the UK
Yves Engler
On Unions and Class Struggle
Alfredo Lopez
The ‘Bern’ and the Internet
Missy Comley Beattie
Super Propaganda
Ed Rampell
Great Caesar’s Ghost!: A Specter Haunts Hollywood in the Coen’s Anti-Anti-Commie Goofball Comedy
Cesar Chelala
The Public Health Impact of Domestic Violence
Ron Jacobs
Cold Weather Comforts of a Certain Sort
Charles Komanoff
On the Passing of the Jefferson Airplane
Charles R. Larson
Can One Survive the Holocaust?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail