What does it take to appreciate a satire? Naturally, it would be sense of humor. What does it take to appreciate satire in which you are one of the objects that’s being satirized? Sense of humor plus a sense of self-irony.
Self-irony is necessary for a lot of other things as well, and whenever there is lack of it, people usually start to take themselves very seriously. Religious fundamentalism and militant nationalism are among the pinnacles of this deficiency but its less-sophisticated forms, like provincialism, are not less frightening. In fact, they can often do as much damage in the long term.
Provincialism is actually what the Mapping Stereotypes project is about. That’s the core source of nationalist bigotry. The idea that your country is the only one worth living in and the readiness to dismiss the rest of the world as either undeveloped or existing strictly below your own miraculous standards is so medieval and out of touch with the modern world, that it deserves all the ridicule it can get.
My project has been featured in many major newspapers, radio and TV programs in the world and the journalists that were in charge of writing the materials or conducting the interviews were all insightful enough to spot that and to present the point I am trying to make without twisting it to serve some short-term tabloid purpose. Why didn’t somebody at the German Stern get uncomfortable with Germany’s “Dirty Porn” label? Why wasn’t the interviewer from the Russian Izvestiya furious with Russia’s “Paranoid Oil Empire” label? How come nobody from the Italian Corriere della Sera thinks “Straight Homos” is an unacceptable insult to his country? It’s very simple. They weren’t limited enough to assume I may suggest those labels in any serious way. That doesn’t mean they didn’t ask me about my motivations behind the project or that they didn’t feel they should be critical.
The case with the Spanish El Mundo is different. I was approached by the journalist Eva Dallo several weeks ago, she literary turned every possible stone to find me for an interview. She explained how much she liked my project and how she wants to write a “humorous article” about it. Because she was in a rush, I agreed to be interviewed on the phone on Saturday morning and we had a really interesting conversation that lasted more than an hour, after which we exchanged some emails as well. She seemed genuinely interested in writing a good article and I respected that, so I did my best to share my thoughts. We spoke about stereotypes, how serious they can be, whether they are based on reality or not and what my impressions about Spain were.
The moment I realized something may be going in the wrong direction was when she called me after a week, saying that she sent a draft to her editor which got rejected because “she wasn’t critical enough”. How do you criticize satire apart from an artistic point of view, is a question that I still struggle with but I decided to continue being helpful and accepted another round of questions. This time Eva wanted to know whether I was myself prejudiced. My answer was that I, like any other person in the world, am not immune to prejudices but I do my best to confront them the moment I realize I’m acting under their influence. I shared that I have been a victim of stereotyping myself and that the hurtful experience it has brought to me doesn’t allow me to label people easily with generalizations.
Today when I opened El Mundo’s Magazine supplement to see the actual publication I was genuinely proud that finally a major media in the country I live in decided to talk about the issue. And then I started to read. The feeling that it provoked is kind of difficult to describe. Instead of my own words, what I read was Eva Dallo’s personal interpretations. I am directly quoted 8 times, each with a sentence. The rest is her, contemplating. Repeatedly, Eva Dallo even suggests that I believe in the prejudices that I ridicule, on one occasion she even speaks of me having no regard for my own country. When she tries to depict (sort of) my claim that I don’t feel prejudiced, she uses a quote about supermarkets, which is one of the weirdest logical constructs ever possible.
The article is a pastiche of chaotic thought in which Eva and her editors are trying to meet two objectives. The first one is to please their family-oriented slightly-conservative audience that obviously demands a patriotic discourse on the topic. And the second is the desire to appear self-reflective, despite of all that. This is how the satirical things that we discussed ended up presented as serious and how the serious ones never even got mentioned.
At the beginning of the article, Eva claims I think that despite all the famous actors and sportsmen, Spain is still known for its “charangas”. As a joke, it’s probably a good start, unfortunately if you continue reading you realize that she totally confuses my serious personal opinion with the prejudices I ridicule. She even goes as far as to suggest that the maps offer descriptions not exactly of stereotypes but “popular views”, which is – for lack of a better word – absolutely disgusting.
Once set, such an agenda ultimately leads to the gross simplification of issues instead of… well, real issues themselves. Like for example, an interesting fact I learned from an Italian emigrant in Barcelona who shared with me that a significant number of young Italians choose to emigrate to Spain:
I remember about a year ago a girl from Barcelona got in touch with me, I think she studied sociology and she said many young Italians emigrate to Spain. I was a little bit surprised and I asked her why. She replied that young people in Italy tend to be pushed to the sidelines of society, their ideas and efforts are less appreciated and the traditionalism is getting in the way of progress. She said Spain, in general, often had similar problems but compared to Italy, the traditionalist part of Spanish society is much less arrogant towards ideas coming from young people. I have discussed this with other friends in Italy and it seems to be true, especially with young people who try to have an independent career path, outside of what’s being prescribed for them from their families or the society in general.
The quote is word-by-word from our email exchange. Over the phone, we also talked about the historical differences and similarities between the Balkan and the Iberian peninsulas and how diverse and hard to generalize Spain is, even if, for some very ridiculous reason, one suddenly looses his mind and decides to embark on such a task seriously. We talked about the need to preserve many disappearing architectural marvels that Spain possesses, about its inefficient bureaucracy, which Spanish people excel in trashing in personal conversations. Unfortunately there’s not even a trace of that in the text. Either because some of these issues don’t possess the simplicity to entertain or are simply patriotically inconvenient. Or both. Instead, there is an abundance of misguided claims about me as a person, my choice to live in a town of 13.000 people (as if that prevents me from visiting big cities) and last but most amusing – a couple of ridiculous geographical mistakes. Despite living in Berlin for quite a while, Eva Dallo thinks East Germany (labelled on the Europe According to Germany map as Proletariat) is actually Poland. Even Stalin didn’t dare to dream of that. She also claims I made a map according to Arabs. I will be thankful if she tells me where I put it.