The Surprised Pupil is a program whose first mistake is the name. With quite mediocre staging, presentation and content, really this television program has nothing surprising to see. But to hear, maybe some viewer or another was hoping that its most recent on-air output would tackle seriously a very thorny topic: censorship.
However, that viewer with high expectations was soon disappointed. Censorship is a problem that affects every Cuban producer today, but The Pupil did not worry about that. It was foreign censorship, that which nations supposedly suffer “under the dominion of big corporations,” that occupied the program.
There was even a segment dedicated to McCarthyism, that period of “repressive delirium” in the United States in which “great artists lived through times of accusations, interrogations, trials and torture,” said the program’s host. Not even hinted at were the anti-intellectual raids undertaken by the Cuban government, those whose spirit was defined by Fidel Castro in his phrase reminiscent of Mussolini: “Within the Revolution everything, outside the Revolution nothing.”
It would be too much to ask that they openly address chapters as regrettable as the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP), the university purification processes, or the repudiation rallies. Or to remember how less than 40 years ago listening to The Beatles could lead to suspicion. Those pages of the national history have been forgotten by the official media.
If, after all, few know who Cabrera Infante, Reinaldo Arenas or Heberto Padilla were; and if the ghosts of Pinero or Lezama Lima have suffered exorcisms of posthumous atonement, then what sense does it make to speak of censorship in Cuba?
Maybe none for those guests who lent their words to The Surprised Pupil. They used, for example, statements by the actor Enrique Molina to a Spanish speaking chain for a digression about the financing of projects. As “there exists no state budget for filmmaking, [Cuban] directors have to seek financing abroad,” said he who played Silvestre Canizo on the popular soap opera Tierra Brava.
Molina, who obviously does not have any intention of demanding anything from the Ministry of Culture, blamed the lack of money on the lack of foreign producers “with good intentions and honesty” who seek something different than reflecting “the ugly things of Havana” or “everything challenging the politics of the country.” That, together with the difficulties that the “blockade” involves in bringing Cuban cinema abroad, constitutes censorship for this artist.
For the musician Fidel Diaz Castro, “the censors of the contemporary world have turned into diplomats” because they say: “My fellow, I would like to place your work, but that doesn’t sell.” Here he referred to the censorship imposed by marketplace preferences, although it could well be an attempt to justify his own incompetence.
Another of the guests was Iroel Sanchez, a key figure in the official blogosphere in a country without the Internet. The blogger spoke of a documentary that criticizes the media groups owned by financial conglomerates. “In the United States one can speak ill of a Democratic or a Republican president,” said Sanchez, “but (…) you cannot speak badly of the owners of those big finance groups that control the means of communication.”
Iroel Sanchez did not cite the example in which the governing party and the owner of the means of communication are the same. This is precisely the Cuban case where the Communist Party is the exclusive owner of the country’s media.
The common denominator throughout The Pupil was the American topic. Judging by the final message, there persists in that country a fierce repression of transnational reach. And as Cuban television said it, doubting it is strictly prohibited. There was no time to mention those on the Island who seek to issue a critical judgment outside of the given guidelines. Is that also the fault of an external enemy?
The Surprised Pupil is indeed very badly named. The greater error is having conceived as a surprise, and not as an insult, that the official discourse goes unpunished yet again. That is what happens when censors have no one to censor them.
Translated by MLK