Yes, I’m an Animal

Erasmo Calzadilla

HAVANA TIMES — From an intellectual perspective, it’s commonly assumed that reggaeton is a negative phenomenon…regression from what has been achieved musically and culturally…a symptom of the degradation of taste and morality.

And there’s no lack of people who suggest that many such evils originate with (or are caused by) the “revolutionary” process.

Without flatly rejecting those hypotheses, I’d approach the issue from a different angle.

Crudeness, offensiveness, imprudence, simple habits (as opposed to refinement and good manners), the simple and free enjoyment of the body (vs. chastity and the sublimation of sexual instincts) are usually typical features of groups that are disadvantaged, and (therefore) less cultivated, in any society.

Normally these features have a negative character and are frowned upon. Even those who display them do everything possible to imitate the elite who dictate the rules. But when a social system experiences a change in the structure of power, then those same traits begin to ascend the scale of values.

That’s something logical since the burgeoning class (of plebeian origin) often requires harshness and even cruelty to break what’s established and impose itself. This is because those traits constitute factors of social distinction and are tools of cohesion against the displaced group.

Of course, you already know where I’m going. In response to such a view it would be prudent to ask ourselves, before judging, if the rise of reggaeton is only a symptom of decadence or another chapter in the “revolt of the masses.” Or could it instead be announcing the advent of something we can’t yet understand.

Perhaps it’s neither a revolution nor a renaissance. Maybe it’s some kind of stepping backwards after us having missed certain steps.

And departing from the scope of historical speculation, we can ask: Is anything useful from reggaeton aside from the enjoyment of those who enjoy it?

I’m not the only one who has found positive elements of that movement. Dr. Irene Garcia Rubio, a specialist in the mass media, believes that certain aspects of reggaeton promote the emancipation of women (and I would add that of youth too).

Youth tend to be sexual beings – they fall in love and they love to play with their genitals as much as or more than any adult. However, up until yesterday it was typical was for older people to repress those urges and to impose an aura of chastity and innocence on their offspring (especially on young females)…and to lie.

Fortunately this terrible custom of punishing kids today retreats to the rhyme of “Pum Pum.” These days it’s completely normal for the first few songs and dances that parents teach their children (or those that kids learn on their own) to have clear and explicit references to sex.

Now young grade school students don’t need to hide from their teachers to hum their profane little ditties (like back in my days). Now it’s the teachers themselves who are singing them between classes.

In any case, the issue is more complex than it seems to bureaucrats, intellectuals and puritans.

3 thoughts on “Yes, I’m an Animal

  • “Crudeness, offensiveness, imprudence, simple habits (as opposed to refinement and good manners), the simple and free enjoyment of the body (vs. chastity and the sublimation of sexual instincts) are usually typical features of groups that are disadvantaged, and (therefore) less cultivated, in any society.”

    I have struggled with this issue for a long time, though now I finally have a girlfriend for the first time, it is receding in importance in my mind.

    As you rightly say such things are “usually typical features of groups that are disadvantaged”. This is because as we engage in this game of life, those without anything but their bodies, are left to compete with just that. Thus you get all the discourse of “pimps” and “bitches” with people trying to gain advantage through sexual prowess. Tourism has played a big role in creating the environment for this to flourish in Cuba. Men have to be super masculine to beat the tourists and women have to be strong enough to take whatever is dished up to them for them to gain advantage. The problem I have with this, other than the fact that it reveals exploitation at it’s worst, is that in the contemporary climate it goes hand in hand with “race” since those with more melanin tend to be in the group that is most disadvantaged. I don’t know how it is in Cuba now, but certainly it was obvious to me last time I was there that this was the case. I am not a prude, nor do I think those who make use of their body in order to compete should be chastised. The problem is the social and economic disadvantage that people face. If this problem divides us on “racial” grounds it is even worse. I struggled with this relentlessly, and could never get a girlfriend because of it. I am half-Cypriot. Those who know the history of Cyprus know that Cypriots were traditionally not thought of as “White” by the imperialists. Even today the British soldiers in their occupied bases on the island call them “Wogs”, a derogatory term which I recently discovered stood for “Western Oriental Gentlemem”. As the world has advanced, and Cyprus has, through tourism and banking, begun the transition from Third-world country to Western country, the pressures of the “racial” paradox have begun to mount up. Cypriot men still compete for Western women in the manner of other “non-Whites” (note: I am recognising a reality of racism, not condoning it) but they do so at the expense of the solidarity with other “non-Whites” that they traditionally showed. My struggle to maintain both led to enforced celibacy and eventual mental breakdown. It was only when I took a step towards distancing myself from “Blacks” that I was able to get a girlfriend who ironically is “Black”. I tried to do this like Gaddafi, who in their arrogance some “Whites” have even accused of “racism”, though the support of Mugabe and Farrakhan tells a different story. This should not be the way it is. Indeed, it should not be so much of a “racial” issue in Cuba at all. To illustrate this, in 18th Century Britain the aristocracy would publish articles complaining that the British (“White”) working class were breeding to fast. But the special period and outside prejudice from tourists has heightened the “racial” divide. It will be interesting to see how Cuba responds.

  • To me, this all comes with a deja vu flavor: Many of us older Cubans had plenty of this “fashion and music vs. prudish moral codes” in the 60s and 70s, at a time when -unlike today- being an “unauthorized” rebel, in the hippie style, meant facing social isolation at the least, not to speak of political and even legal reprisals. But we should not take lightly the fact that those rebellious years were followed by worldwide neoconservatism in the 80s and 90s. This should remind us of the cyclical nature of historic periods- morale and culture included. Can anyone bet for sure that the Reggaeton Age is not seating on the tail of new prudish times to come? Personally, I just hope and pray for the advent of new musical trends which, regardless of its sexuality, or its absence, wont be as monotonous as reggaeton (please!)…

  • Reggaeton is less a function of the ‘revolutionary process’ unique to Cuba and more a function of the influences of hip-hop and reggae blends that have become popular throughout Latin America over the last 20 years. Since the late 1990’s the musical tastes of the youth throughout the region have merged due to the more easily distributed CD/DVD media, flash dirves and internet downloads.Proof of this is the fact that Puerto Rican and Dominican reggaeton artists are as popular in Cuba as are Cuban artists, if not more so.

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