News this week that Venezuelan Silicon Starlet Rosita, a.k.a. Jimena Araya, a.k.a. the Pran Madame is to be made Regional Director of Human Rights in Aragua for the expropriated PODEMOS party had an odd effect on me today.
Two months ago, the story of how a TV personality turned rent-a-girlfriend turned “prison sexual entrepreneur” had managed to bribe her way out of jail after helping one of her most violent clients break out of his own prison and how she had immediately landed a small role in one of our governing parties would’ve sent me scurrying for a keyboard in a tizzy of furious indignation, with the Monty-Pythonesque twist regarding her announced new role as an activist against “trial delays” (retardo procesal) adding a further spur to furious condemnation.
Now, as I adapt to the realities of the new, post-7O normal, all I can muster is a contemptuous smirk.
Elections, after all, are about choices. And Venezuela made its choice.
In one of the primary debates, back in January, Maria Corina Machado made an appeal to “la Venezuela decente“ to come together to reject Chávez’s project. This reference to “decency” was widely seen as a gaffe, a misguided dog-whistle to the middle-class that only underlined the opposition’s chronic inability to connect with working class voters.
I didn’t write about it at the time, partly because Machado didn’t really strike me as a serious contender for the presidency. But the automatic assumption that references to “decency” were to be understood as excluding the working class unsettled me. It seemed to me a symptom of a deeper rot, this universal acceptance that the 80% of Venezuelans in classes D and E could never see “decency” as a value they could aspire to, relate to, appropriate.
But it wasn’t just my anti-MCM bias that kept me from writing about this at the time. Other subterranean conflicts were at play. As I think back on it now, I realize I couldn’t figure what I found more upsetting – the notion that appeals to decency were offensive to people’s class identity or that decency itself, as a value, had become so alien to NiNis and chavistas-light that even referring to it would turn them off.
I can’t help but think back to that little storm in the primary tea-cup as I read about Rosita’s escapades. Because what jumps out at you isn’t just the bizarre concatenation of absolutely tawdry filth that seeps out of every orifice in this story, it’s the absence of surprise, of shock, of moral revulsion it has elicited.
Newspaper editors have reacted to every twist and turn in the Rosita saga with a shrug, followed nanoseconds later with a smile as they realize “hey! this is a great excuse to splash those spectacular tits of hers across our front page again!”
Now, if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I’m no Victorian. Appeals to prim and proper femininity are not my cup of tea.
But we need to review the score here. This isn’t about a skirt that’s just that little too short or a micro-second boob-flash from a meticulously planned wardrobe malfunction. We’re playing in a league of our own here: Venezuela is now a place where a whore who doubles-up as a pimp can break a mass murderer out of jail, then bribe her own way out of jail and, within hours, be back before the camera with her arms held aloft by regional leaders of one of the parties in the ruling coalition right as she’s touted as someone who’ll help get prisoners out of jail sooner.
As a society, we’re now universally assumed to be ok with that.
And from the looks of it, we are.
Because just over a month ago Venezuelans really did have a chance to speak up and say they would no longer consent to live in the kind of society where whores can just casually take over the running of their political parties from their sons.
But María Corina’s critics were right: there really isn’t a critical mass of people for whom decency was an important enough value for that kind of appeal to carry the day. That’s the hard truth 7-O revealed, and no amount of politically correct sentence-parsing will make it go away.
I understand that most of this will come across as just the Guayabo talking, and to some extent I’m prepared to accept that. But another part of me is in a much darker place. I guess this must be what it felt like to be Alek Boyd in January 2007.
It’s always worth remembering that, way back at the very start of our now nine-decade-long debate on the effects of oil wealth on the nation, Arturo Uslar Pietri condemned ever-increasing reliance on oil not just on economic but on moral grounds. Oil threatened to become “una maldición que haya de convertirnos en un pueblo parásito e inútil”, one that could “hacer de Venezuela un país improductivo y ocioso, un inmenso parásito del petróleo, nadando en una abundancia momentánea y corruptora y abocado a una catástrofe inminente e inevitable.”
I picture the 30-year-old Uslar who wrote that paging through news reports on Ms. Araya, and I despair. Because Rosita today stands as a kind of one woman monument to the prescience of Uslar’s universally quoted but virtually unread essay. In its pornographic extremes, her story captures the depth of the rot with a vividness that leaves us with really very little to add.
The greeks knew all along that once a society allows its public sphere to fall beneath minimal standards for the conduct of public life, democracy yields to ochlocracy. Locke knew it. The American founding fathers were obsessed with it. Anybody who really looks at the issue with seriousness can grasp it.
It is, of course, possible to continue one’s dogged refusal to see what is in front of one’s nose. There comes a point when that obduracy requires even more struggle than the opposite: accepting that our moral reserves have run out well ahead of our foreign reserves.
And there’s no International Decency Fund out there to bail us out.