Thursday, September 28, 2006

Dim Is Not Bright


Len Baldyga forwards “U.S. Pushes Anti-Castro TV, but Is Anyone Watching?” which documents stepped-up propaganda efforts by the U.S. since Castro’s illness was announced in July:

For the last two months, a twin-engine plane has beamed the signal of the American broadcast, called TV Martí, toward the island from over the Straits of Florida for four hours a day, six days a week, up from four hours of transmission from an Air Force plane on Saturdays. Because the plane flies at 20,000 feet, administration officials say, the Cuban government cannot jam the signal as easily as in the past, when a blimp tethered 10,000 feet over the Florida Keys did the transmitting.

Okay so far; Castro is ill; the U.S. has an interest in hastening his trip to the grave and an orderly transition. But as Abby Goodnough writes, the U.S. program is unusually ham-handed:

... [Radio and TV Martí], which have broad political support among Mr. Castro’s many opponents in southern Florida, hope to have legions of Cubans tune in to pro-democracy news and talk programs and others like BOLD “Office of the Chief,” a laugh-track comedy with Cuban exile actors playing dimwitted versions of Mr. Castro and his brother Raúl.

Cuban exiles in Miami do most of the writing and acting for TV Martí, which was moved here from Washington in 1996 after intense lobbying by exile leaders. On a recent episode of “Office of the Chief,” which TV Martí calls its most popular show, an actor playing Raúl Castro said he would mummify Fidel Castro when he died by wrapping him in the pages of a book by Karl Marx, then display him on Havana’s seaside boulevard.

The laugh track went wild.

For years, though, critics of the stations have called them overly blunt tools in what should be a nuanced campaign to promote democracy in Cuba.

“The really shrill, outrageous kind of stuff they broadcast has no credibility in Cuba,” said John Nichols, a communications professor at Pennsylvania State University who studies Radio and TV Martí.

No credibility because the brothers Castro are certifiably not dim, helming Cuba through four-plus decades of independence from the dominant power in the hemisphere, which is just a long swim away, and maintaining themselves domestically despite attempted coups and the withdrawal of most funding Cuba used to receive from the Soviet bloc. Dumb they’re not.

American propagandists could benefit by shunning the “dim” route and instead satirizing well-known aspects of Fidel Castro’s rule: his notorious long-windedness, his near-total reliance on a military wardrobe, the fact that the women in his life tend to flee to Spain or disguised as Spaniards, and even his decidedly non-Communist net worth.

And there are always vampire jokes to be made about Castro, because he simply will not die.

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