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 Black Sunset

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 18, 2017
Gary Leupp
The Extraordinary Array of Those Questioning Trump’s Legitimacy (and Their Various Reasons)
Charles Pierson
Drone Proliferation Ramps Up
Ajamu Baraka
Celebrating Dr. King with the Departure of Barack Obama
David Underhill
Trumpology With a Twist
Chris Floyd
Infinite Jest: Liberals Laughing All the Way to Hell
Stansfield Smith
Obama’s Hidden Role in Worsening Climate Change
Ron Leighton
Trump is Not Hitler: How the Misuse of History Distorts the Present as Well as the Past
Ralph Nader
An Open Letter to President-Elect Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
NATO and Obsolescence: Donald Trump and the History of an Alliance
Zarefah Baroud
‘The Power to Create a New World’: Trump and the Environmental Challenge Ahead
Julian Vigo
Obama Must Pardon the Black Panthers in Prison or in Exile
Alfredo Lopez
The Whattsapp Scandal
Clancy Sigal
Russian Hacking and the Smell Test
Terry Simons
The Truth About Ethics and Condoms
January 17, 2017
John Pilger
The Issue is Not Trump, It is Us
John K. White
Is Equality Overrated, Too?
Michael J. Sainato
The DNC Hands the Democratic Party Over to David Brock and Billionaire Donors
John Davis
Landscapes of Shame: America’s National Parks
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Politicians and Rhetorical Tricks
Chris Busby
The Scientific Hero of Chernobyl: Alexey V. Yablokov, the Man Who Dared to Speak the Truth
David Macaray
Four Reasons Trump Will Quit
Chet Richards
The Vicissitudes of the Rural South
Clancy Sigal
“You Don’t Care About Jobs”: Why the Democrats Lost
Robert Dodge
Martin Luther King and U.S. Politics: Time for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Jack Sadat Lee
I Dream of Justice for All the Animal Kingdom
James McEnteer
Mourning Again in America
January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Did the Elites Have Martin Luther King Jr. Killed?
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Clobbers Ocean Life
Patrick Cockburn
The Terrifying Parallels Between Trump and Erdogan
Kenneth Surin
The Neoliberal Stranglehold on the American Public University
Lawrence Davidson
Is There a Future for the Democratic Party?
Douglas Valentine
Who Killed MLK Jr?
Robert Fisk
The Foreign Correspondent in the Age of Twitter and Trump
Dale Bryan
“Where Do We Go from Here?”
David Swanson
The Deep State Wants to Deep Six Us
Dan Bacher
Obama Administration Orders Speedy Completion of Delta Tunnels Plan
Mark Weisbrot
Obama Should Make Sure that Haitian Victims of UN-Caused Cholera are Compensated
Winslow Myers
The Light of the World
Bruce Mastron
My Latest Reason to Boycott the NFL: Guns
Weekend Edition
January 13, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Gregory Elich
Did the Russians Really Hack the DNC?
Jeffrey St. Clair
The President Who Wasn’t There: Barack Obama’s Legacy of Impotence
Anthony DiMaggio
Ethics Fiasco: Trump, Divestment and the Perversion of Executive Politics
Joshua Frank
Farewell Obummer, Hello Golden Showers
Paul Street
Hit the Road, Barack: Some Farewell Reflections
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail