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

More articles by:

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Black Sunset

November 20, 2017
T.J. Coles
Doomsday Scenarios: the UK’s Hair-Raising Admissions About the Prospect of Nuclear War and Accident
Peter Linebaugh
On the 800th Anniversary of the Charter of the Forest
Patrick Bond
Zimbabwe Witnessing an Elite Transition as Economic Meltdown Looms
Sheldon Richman
Assertions, Facts and CNN
Ben Debney
Plebiscites: Why Stop at One?
LV Filson
Yemen’s Collective Starvation: Where Money Can’t Buy Food, Water or Medicine
Thomas Knapp
Impeachment Theater, 2017 Edition
Binoy Kampmark
Trump in Asia
Curtis FJ Doebbler
COP23: Truth Without Consequences?
Louisa Willcox
Obesity in Bears: Vital and Beautiful
Deborah James
E-Commerce and the WTO
Ann Garrison
Burundi Defies the Imperial Criminal Court: an Interview with John Philpot
Robert Koehler
Trapped in ‘a Man’s World’
Stephen Cooper
Wiping the Stain of Capital Punishment Clean
Weekend Edition
November 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Thank an Anti-War Veteran
Andrew Levine
What’s Wrong With Bible Thumpers Nowadays?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The CIA’s House of Horrors: the Abominable Dr. Gottlieb
Wendy Wolfson – Ken Levy
Why We Need to Take Animal Cruelty Much More Seriously
Mike Whitney
Brennan and Clapper: Elder Statesmen or Serial Fabricators?
David Rosen
Of Sex Abusers and Sex Offenders
Ryan LaMothe
A Christian Nation?
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Finger on the Button: Why No President Should Have the Authority to Launch Nuclear Weapons
W. T. Whitney
A Bizarre US Pretext for Military Intrusion in South America
Deepak Tripathi
Sex, Lies and Incompetence: Britain’s Ruling Establishment in Crisis 
Howard Lisnoff
Who You’re Likely to Meet (and Not Meet) on a College Campus Today
Roy Morrison
Trump’s Excellent Asian Adventure
John W. Whitehead
Financial Tyranny
Ted Rall
How Society Makes Victimhood a No-Win Proposition
Jim Goodman
Stop Pretending the Estate Tax has Anything to do With Family Farmers
Thomas Klikauer
The Populism of Germany’s New Nazis
Murray Dobbin
Is Trudeau Ready for a Middle East war?
Jeiddy Martínez Armas
Firearm Democracy
Jill Richardson
Washington’s War on Poor Grad Students
Ralph Nader
The Rule of Power Over the Rule of Law
Justin O'Hagan
Capitalism Equals Peace?
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: From the Red Sea to Nairobi
Geoff Dutton
The Company We Sadly Keep
Evan Jones
The Censorship of Jacques Sapir, French Dissident
Linn Washington Jr.
Meek Moment Triggers Demands for Justice Reform
Gerry Brown
TPP, Indo Pacific, QUAD: What’s Next to Contain China’s Rise?
Robert Fisk
The Exile of Saad Hariri
Romana Rubeo - Ramzy Baroud
Anti-BDS Laws and Pro-Israeli Parliament: Zionist Hasbara is Winning in Italy
Robert J. Burrowes
Why are Police in the USA so Terrified?
Chuck Collins
Stop Talking About ‘Winners and Losers’ From Corporate Tax Cuts
Ron Jacobs
Private Property Does Not Equal Freedom
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail