Fixing the System: ‘Dabblers’ in Cuba

Dmitri Prieto

A JE TO! Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — Someone at Cuban TV came up with the bright idea of occasionally broadcasting the Czechoslovakian animated series “A Je To.”

I don’t know what the title means in that language, but those cartoons from the late 1970s and early ‘80s — popularly known as “Los Chapuceros” (The Dabblers) — are still able to generate smiles and laughter from many of us here.

Its two stars — Pat and Mat — are similar to each other in that they have one characteristic feature: something always happens to them when these amateurs try to approach some problem as if they’re experts.

The cartoon may well be a parody of “do it yourself” programs or those that profess “out of the box” thinking. This is because Pat and Mat are always trying to solve their problems in ways that create even more difficulties.

This comedy reaches the tragic conclusion that “things have to be accepted as they are” – or, better said, like things were before the creative involvement of that pair of wannabe experts.

This could be the universal interpretation of what happens when you have to play chess with pieces of the same color facing each other from the different sides of the board; or when instead of fixing the roof of a country cabin you end up merely redirecting the water into more containers through a complex system of water lines set up inside the house.

Alternatively, the show could also be compared to when trying to clear a spot in the middle of the living room carpet leads to — owing to the twists and turns of absolutely unquestionable logic — the appearance in the middle of that room a pretty flower bed placed inside a tire.

This is because those dabblers know just “as much” about aeronautics as they do about electronics, auto repair and architecture.

That is, I repeat, the universal interpretation. But in Cuba, today, in the second decade of this century, these masterpieces of European animation from 30 years ago have another interpretation.

Those “dabblers” lived in the everydayness of Europe’s “actually existing socialism.” This was a Czechoslovakia only a few years after the 1968 invasion that its inhabitants would never forget. A country resigned to continue being what it was… until it wasn’t any more.

I’m sure many Czechs and Slovaks still laugh with their “Chapuceros.” As far as we Cubans are concerned, it’s not only humor, but also very effective satire; satire against “experts” who — without knowing anything about anything and who are unable to anticipate potential impacts — find themselves stuck in tremendously complicated problems.

Who knows how long our island “dabblers” will be immune to considering what happened to their East-European colleagues?

Now, every time I see a “new” cartoon series on Cuban TV, I think that maybe someone else “up there” has come to the conclusion — thanks to the “dabbers” — that leaks are not best addressed by redirecting the water coming in from the roof, but by fixing the roof itself.

If there are more people who can protect us against that old false pride with its misapplied “creative thinking,” then so much that better.


One thought on “Fixing the System: ‘Dabblers’ in Cuba

  • OMG this is my favorite stop-motion animation series of all time! It passed on Brazilian TV when I was a kid. I disagree with you about the ‘message’ or ‘moral’ of the show, that ‘things must be accepted the way they are’, because Pat and Mat, even though they are no ‘experts’ at anything, they do possess the imagination and will to at least TRY to solve their problems. The problem – and the humor – comes from the fact that “Murphy’s Law” rules the Universe – ‘if there’s something that can go wrong, it will’. So much is that at the very end of each episode they actually SOLVE the problem until… something awfully awkward and stupid happens.

    Anyway, it’s a timeless classic of animation and an example of universal, gentle humor. People from all ages I know simply love the show.

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