Thursday, March 7, 2013

A shallow ad campaign paves the way for socialism to emerge in a previously economically free country!

Well, that's one way to view No, the story of the Chilean referendum to oust Augusto Pinochet, the only dictator the Left can ever be bothered to criticize.

This is the story of how Pinochet lost his 1988 referendum to retain control of Chile, from the perspective of the ad man who constructed the winning campaign. It's fairly interesting, if not exactly compelling viewing.

The hook is that René (the always charismatic Gael García Bernal) wants to get people to turn out for happiness. A lot of people disappear in Chile, a lot of people have grievances, and of course the communistssocialists are really pretty pissed off since their ruining the country is what allowed Pinochet to come into power and he actually managed unparalleled economic growth for South America.

'course, people just would randomly vanish, and be tortured or killed. So it's not all microwaves and color TVs, as we see René's home with those modern conveniences.

From an atmospheric perspect, this was also interesting: In movies about Communism, there's an oppression–a pall over everything done and said. If in a country like America, everyone is part of the militia (true once, anyway, maybe Switzerland is a better example now), in a Communist country, everyone's a spy.

But in this portrayal of Chilean fascism, it's a weird kind of normal, even happy, but punctuated with outbreaks of governmental insanity.

Another interesting thing is that while René is grudgingly pulled into the NO ad campaign, his boss ends up spearheading the YES side. And while they argue and there are even some threats, they're actually more civil than a lot of left vs. right arguments I see on the 'net.

In fact, the overall arc of the story—General takes control of a ruined country, rehabilitates it economically, allows a vote and wins it, then allows another, which he's looking good to win because (as noted in the movie) things are actually pretty good, but when he loses it, he steps down—kind of undermines the dramatic punch.

I think it's just taken that Pinochet was a monster, therefore the movie didn't feel any need to back that up. There is plenty of creepy police presence on the one hand, but on the other (if you think about it) a lot of the people involved must have been advocating violent overthrow of the government.

René's baby momma is an out-and-out violent Communist, whose revolutionary agitation means René is raising their son while she's shacked up with another guy and on "the usual suspect" list any time there's trouble. I know we're supposed to empathize with her at least a little, because she's routinely beaten by the cops, but again, if you think about it, you're feeling sorry for someone who's a victim of state violence whose preferred form of government results in the worst state violence known to history.

She's also cynical and convinced the whole plebescite, as they call it, is a scam.

There are a few weird 1%er type bits of dialogue between René and his boss. I mean, there are points where the boss is basically encouraging René to join him on the dark side. This felt cartoonish. (Which isn't to say it might not be based in reality. I am struck by what Ace of Spades noted the other day about Lena Dunham, and how many people don't even understand they're supposed to at least pretend to be fair-minded.)

Meanwhile the ad campaign, as envisioned by the hero, is pretty much substance free. I loved the concept of encouraging people to vote by suggesting they could make the country a better place. (You can't fight fear with more fear, as is pointed out.) At the same time, I couldn't help but note that Pinochet's economic successes are the only thing that could make that kind of bubbly '80s optimism seem plausible.

Understanding the dangers of economic freedom may be what ultimately kept the Communist countries away from those Friedman-esque ideas, and why they persisted longer than Pinochet's fascism.

Anyway, it certainly piqued our interest, but mostly in a meta-sense. I wondered what really happened under Pinochet, and what has happened since they replaced him, and if there's any way to find out that isn't poisoned by the old Soviet propaganda machine (that informs so much of our modern dialogue without us even knowing it).

Given The Boy and I are devotees of the banana-republic-sim Tropico, we also had a lot of fun pointing out maneuvers that were done in the movie that help in the game.

"Papal visit! Religious faction bonus!"
"Ad campaign! Increased popularity with dumb people!"
"We're losing by 10%? Arrange election fix!"
"Free market reform! Plus 10 with Capitalists, minus 10 with Communists!"


Anyway, stars a bunch of people you haven't heard of and written and directed by similarly unknown-to-you folk. (Since no one from Chile visits my blog, I'm comfortable with that generalization.) Written by Pablo Perriano, who wrote the quirky 2009 drama, The Maid, which this reminds me a bit of.


  1. For bonus aggravation points, they even show an ad featuring Chris Reeve, Richard Dreyfuss and Jane Fonda encouraging people to vote NO.

    I don't know about the first two, but the fact that Fonda could be motivated to agitate against Pinochet but not any other dictator ever tells me a lot.

  2. It is always amusing in a way how leftists constantly bring up Pinochet as the right-wing counterpart to all of their beloved dictators.

    The thing is that all the right wing authoritarian govenments seem to peacefully evolve into prosperous democracies--see Chile, Taiwan, South Korea and Spain. Meanwhile all the socialist dictators (with one exception that I can think of*) only leave office in a casket.

    What is especially ironic is that Spain, which didn't get rid of Franco till he died, prosecuted Pinochet--who left office peacefully.

    *Daniel Ortega


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