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4 Moderating the “Ignorant Masses” and the Emergence of Internet Allies “¡Viva México, hijos de la chingada!” T heater holds a mirror up to the audience. Sometimes it does so lit­ erally,as at the end of Ariel Dorfman’s play La muerte y la doncella,where in the last scene, after the audience has witnessed a South American torture trial unfold on stage, a large mirror is lowered. Audience members see themselves and, very possibly, ponder their complicity in the dirty wars carried out by South American dictatorships.Sometimes the reflection is figurative but no less effective, as when, in Rodolfo Usigli’s play about post-Revolutionary Mexico, El gesticulador, the main character asks if all present (including, by extension, the theatrical or literary audience) are also simulators or gesticulators —that is, liars. Octavio Paz’s “Mexican Masks” is one of the most famous iterations of this concept,a concept that is anything but exclusive to Mexico yet resonates profoundly in Mexican culture and exemplifies an important part of the trajectory of the country’s literary and philosophical traditions. Paz writes: The dissembler pretends to be someone he is not. His role requires constant improvisation, a steady forward progress across shifting sands. Every moment he must remake, re-create, modify the personage he is playing, until at last the moment arrives when reality and appearance, the lie and the truth, are one. At first the pretense is only a fabric of inventions intended to baffle our neighbors, Moderating the “Ignorant Masses” 107 but eventually it becomes a superior—because more artistic—form of reality.Our lies reflect both what we lack and what we desire, both what we are not and what we would like to be. Through dissimulation we come closer to our model, and sometimes the gesticulator, as Usigli saw so profoundly, becomes one with his gestures and thus makes them authentic. (40–41) This type of simulated act—a performance becoming real life, the blurring between fact and fiction that could well serve as a definition of metatheatre—is similar to the idea I addressed in chapter 2 (on Gamboa) of the face growing to fit a mask of vulnerable, feigned acquiescence.The question in that chapter was whether the characters in La venganza de la gleba and Gamboa himself, in his diplomatic dealings during the Porfiriato, became their impersonated personas. This idea—that of a false consciousness, where characters/people are unaware of their social situation and political oppression—seems in the case of Gamboa ’s play a highly unlikely possibility, though there are many factors that keep people from pursuing a more just world, including the lack of tools for explicit consciousness-raising. Paz’s view, expressed in the above quotation, buttresses the case for intentional , rehearsed change in line with the principle that teatreros hold dear: acting and improvisation, originating as planned or spontaneous simulation, lead to new realities and new social configurations. That is, to use an oft-cited example from psychology, by smiling we become happy (or, rather, by deliberately scripting the word “smile,” and then acting the role, a physical change becomes an emotional one).Theater, or the performance of life, is more than a rehearsal for change but, following Paz, it is, or at least can be, change itself. In this sense progressive political posturing, acting, and the occasional chaos that erupts (to disrupt) the status quo either follow the lines or go “off script”but,no matter the route,often lead to new understandings of reality.Carnivalesque disruptions , like Scott’s idea of the hidden transcript exploding onto the political stage, can also be expressed with the familiar epigraph that heads this chapter. In his essay on La Malinche,Paz expands on the saying:“All of our anxious tensions express themselves in a phrase we use when anger,joy or enthusiasm cause us to exalt our condition as Mexicans: ‘¡Viva México, hijos de la chingada!’”(74). The combination of exaggerated simulation and “exalted” disruption can lead to chaotic denaturalization (or “making strange,” as Brecht would have it), the process by which ideas that bind the social order and appear natural are instead exposed as historical, human constructs, pointing the way toward 108 chapter 4 positive if messy social change. Chaos, or lack of order and hierarchy, can foster counterhegemony—as exemplified in Michel de Certeau’s “Walking in the City,” where citizens use a variety of tactics to navigate and sometimes take over or repurpose spaces...


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