Friday, February 20, 2009
--Buenos Aires, Argentina
Move over J.L. Borges, Carlos Gardel, Diego Maradona, Evita Perón, and even Ernesto "Che" Guevara, there is a new king of the cult of personality in the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires. Recent surveys conducted by Clarín coupled with record numbers of viewers, film revenue, and DVD and poster sales showed that Porteños most admire Homer Simpson by a fairly wide margin. In fact, the only posters that outsell those bearing his image are maps of South America and diagrams of different cuts of a cow, cheat sheets for any potential geographer or asador.
Cultural traditionalists and young radicals alike reacted with outrage, shaking their heads in disappointment and disbelief. They could not fathom how their nation, one with such a rich history in the arts, athletics, and transcendent figures, could possibly regard an animated drunkard with a abusive tendencies towards his son with such veneration. "It simply astounds me that my fellow countrymen expressed such opinions through their words and their actions," said Alejandro Silva, lifelong Peronist and self-described 'Eva fanatic'. He continued, "There is nothing that I love to do more than come home after playing fútbol with my friends and sit down in my favorite chair, turn on a Carlos Gardel record, and immerse myself in some Borges while sipping on maté. Have you ever read 'El Aleph'? It's the finest prose you will ever lay eyes on, and it's from Argentina."
An early twenty-something donning a red Che shirt and what looked to be designer jeans took off his MP3 player long enough to convey his disgust with the findings. "I mean, this is just another example of western corporatocracy spreading its empire all over the world. It's bulls--t, man, the revolution is coming and there's nothing the fat cats can do to stop it. Che, man."
Indeed, the shock waves reverberated throughout the South American nation, leading back to Fernando Balboni, who led the research team. In an exclusive interview with Clarín, he admitted that the study was not intended to unearth such breathtaking data, but rather serve as a publicity stunt to promote Argentinian culture and history by calculating the prevalence of such ubiquitous figures as Borges, Evita, Maradona, Gardel, and Che. It was meant to reinforce cultural norms, not redefine them. "Remember how the West was caught completely offguard by the Iranian Revolution in 1979? Or how far the leaders of our Junta's jaws dropped when they realized the British weren't just going to forfeit the Malvinas without a fight? Yea, that was basically our reaction after our tabulated results told us Porteños look up to Homer Simpson, an unintelligent, overweight, alcoholic, cartoon character from the United States, more than anyone our country has produced over the past two hundred years," stated Balboni. "Is he even this popular in the USA? Does anyone even watch that program anymore? I'm speechless."
Analysts have come up with several reasons to explain Mr. Simpson's unexpected and homeric rise to prominence, most of which attribute his lofty position to a confluence of different variables that actually have little to do with his strengths but the weaknesses of the other contenders. "In hindsight," said Natalia Burgos of Konex Cultural Studies, "we should have seen this coming; the writing was on the wall." According the Konex, each of the luminary characters from Argentina's past have suffered from one backlash or another, all of which manifested themselves in this study.
Borges was the most obvious, thanks to what social scientists have termed "the dumbing down of literature and culture in general in order to satisfy base desires as quickly as possible", a trend that has reached all corners of the Earth. With such a profound cultural and historical lexicon that ranges from veritable to apocryphal references and often times requires research to extrapolate truth from fiction, it was only a matter of time before the principle of instant gratification won out. Plus, as one teenage girl put it, "Borges is totally a Tévez. Maybe if he looked more like Kün Aguero, I would read him, but as it is, his drooping cheeks and oversized nose are totally not hot". Although not taken as seriously, the "hotness factor" cannot be understated when explaining his demise in the polls.
As for Gardel, the tango crooner's star has been in decline for years. Besides the fact that there has been an undercurrent of anti-tango sentiments thanks to its bastardization in order to cater to wealthy tourists who prefer the glitz and glamor of big stage tango more than its subtly and nuances (see: "the dumbing down of literature and culture in general in order to satisfy base desires as quickly as possible"), tango music itself has vanished from most playlists, especially amongst the younger population. Gone are the days of sitting around the phonograph listening to the Abasto's finest, or learning to dance tango to his lyrics longing for love. Today, the sounds of cumbia and reggaeton blare from cellphones all over the country, leaving Gardel records to collect dust.
Before Princess Diana captured the world's attention for championing noble causes, her obvious beauty and impeccable sense of style, Eva Perón was quite possibly the most famous, and notorious, first lady in modern history. Her ascent from rags to riches is well documented in popular culture and serves as an inspiration to men and women alike across the continent. Yet she did have her enemies. Political opposition continually attempted to smear her image and cast her as nothing more than an opportunist who latched on to a powerful man solely to increase fame. Well, thanks to current President Christina Kirchner's massively disappointing first year in office, the idea of a beautiful woman in charge of Argentina has unfairly tipped the scales against Evita. Said one disgruntled Porteño, "I want her to forget the make up on her face and figure out how she's going to make up for the fact she just robbed my pension! No more Gucci shoes!" A certain political candidate up north may have benefitted from a similar message just a few months back.
Even more inspiring than Evita, Che Guevara has come to symbolize the unyielding communist revolution which he died serving while leading insurgents in Bolivia. He is seen as a martyr and, along with Chairman Mao, his face is on FAR too many t-shirts and posters on university campuses and counter-culture enclaves. If this weren't enough, Steven Soderburgh's recently released self-indulgent 4 hour film about Che has provided another avenue for someone to profit from the image of the deceased revolutionary. A letter to the editor written by an history professor at the University of Buenos Aires, in reaction to said film, has become a sort of mantra amongst those who consider themselves enlightened individuals. It reads: "I am sick and tired of the exploitation of Che's image and message. Our communist hero has been turned into a cash cow by capitalists, and everyone has gone along with it claiming to support the revolution - there doesn't seem to be any contradiction in this? He was preaching the revolution of the masses to overthrow the shackles of the ruling class, not for the spoiled children of the ruling class to wear t-shirts with his face on it to look cool." In addition, his perception as not being a "family man" dipped him below Mr. Simpson, who in his own right was highly commended for loving his wife and children, even Bart, who deserved the tough love he received.
More than the others, Maradona's descent seems somewhat counter intuitive given his recent promotion to Manager of the national squad and the success they've enjoyed under his tutelage. Even though Lionel Messi challenges for world football supremacy, often times producing eerily similar goals to his most famous predeccesor, Maradona remains Argentina's darling child in a long list of successful footballers, considered by most to be one of the greatest to ever live. However, Argentinians actually loved him more when he was a bankrupt, drug-addicted, flame-out in the 90's than now, after he has salvaged some of his reputation and appears to be turning the corner. They embraced him for who he was, in all his perfect imperfections, but now see his image as somewhat manufactored and unauthentic. Both porteños and tourists liked to believe that the man walking around El Caminito posing as Maradona might actually be him. Now, like 8 year-old Jorge who witnessed his parents, not Santa, putting presents under the Christmas tree, they know he's not real.
Mr. Simpson, simply known as "Homero" in the Spanish-speaking world, did more than just back into this prestigious honor. In fact, the study showed porteños admired many aspects of his character. First and foremost, unlike Maradona and Evita, no one could ever accuse Homero of being unauthentic. He wears his imperfections on his sleeve. Whether its his enormous beer belly, his perpetual five'o'clock shadow, or the 4 wisps of hair that crown his misshapen yellow head, what you see is what you get with Homero, which was one of the reasons why he is so well liked. He may not be as funny as Bart, reasonable as Marge, smart as Lisa, or gosh-darn-cute as Maggie, but he never tries to fool you into thinking he is. "I admire his honesty," said thirty-year old Andrés Guitérrez, who has never missed an episode. "He's just a normal guy, he doesn't set some impossible standard to live up to. Actually, if my Dad were obese, yellow, and had a drinking problem, he'd remind me of Homero. And I love my Dad."
Other positive reviews came from females, surprisingly enough, who cited his marraige to Marge as a big indicator that he knows how to look past the surface and appreciate someone for who they are on the inside. Marta Vega commented that, "Even though she might not be the prettiest flower in the garden, you know, with her Everest-like blue flat-top, that didn't stop him from giving her a chance and getting to know an amazing lady. I wish all guys were as great as Homero".
Guys, on the other hand, applauded his ability to hold his booze. "I can't imagine putting down that many bottles of Quilmes and still having a functioning body and marraige. But don't tell my wife I said that," said one participant who wished to remain anonymous out of fear that his wife might suspect him of alcoholism.
Interestingly enough, a sizable bloc gave Homero such high reviews simply because he is everywhere. His visible presence at just about every news stand and on various buildings and restaurant awnings throughout the city conditioned unknowing passersby to expect him to be someone important, otherwise why would his image be plastered all over the place? Many of these people own neither televisions nor computers and have never heard of The Simpsons, but have been duped into think Homero is worth praising merely because they see his face everyday. In fact, many participants could not identify Mr. Simpson by name and only rated him so highly after they saw his picture. "To be frank, I have no idea who this gentleman is," said Humberto Humberto of Humberto Primo 1, a known recluse who loves literature and has a pension for taking fancy to nymphets. "I'm not sure if he's alive, dead, or if he ever lived. But I see him everyday, so he must have some significance."
It is also worth noting that Mr. Simpson received an unusually high amount of votes from the elderly community, apparently because they confused him with the Greek poet with whom he shares his name. Outraged at the prospect that their votes had been miscounted, senior citizens who claimed to have voted for Mr. Simpson have taken to the streets, demanding a re-vote. At the time of print, the issue remained unresolved. So for now, Homer Simpson will remain the king of Buenos Aires, regardless of how long he gets to wear the crown.