No Appetite for Culture

Irina Pino

Old fashioned Havana street photographer. Photo: Evan Michael Gildenblatt

HAVANA TIMES — It is both humorous and sad to see that many young Cuban university students have trouble taking in or developing an interest in culture. Their minds are elsewhere, they seem fed up with the world and they do not seem to care about history, literature, cinema or music. All of this happens in a country like ours, which exports educational methods to other countries and has also set out to make culture accessible to the masses.

Every day, we see these kids, stupefied, seeing cheap soap operas, silly romantic comedies, trite game or reality shows. All the while, they spend their time reading or posting banal texts on the Internet which contribute nothing to people’s intelligence. I personally feel culture is everything, from tradition to politics. I don’t know whether you’d agree.

That is why I wanted to share two anecdotes that a teacher friend of mine shared with me recently.

On a university enrollment test, two journalism candidates were asked questions like these:

“What language is spoken in Jamaica?”

“Jamaican, right?”

“Can you name some of the works Jose Marti translated?”

“Marti was a translator?”

The second story involves a class at university, during a survey dealing with Cuban cultural figures, such as Onelio Jorge Cardoso, Ernesto Lecuona, Ablea and Samuel Feijoo.

With some uncertainty, the students said that Ernesto Lecuona was a musician and that Onelio Jorge Cardoso was a writer. They couldn’t mention any of their works, however. They’d never seen any art by Eduardo Abela (on display at Havana’s Fine Arts Museum) and didn’t know the works, drawings or poetry translations of Samuel Feijoo.

Their film references were extremely poor, such that the person conducting the survey didn’t dare ask them about the New French Wave, Fellini, the fragmented stories of Antonioni or the intellectual humor of Woody Allen (they didn’t want to be any more disappointed). That’s why they spoke about Tarantino and his auteur cinema, which may be commercial but not divorced from aesthetic value. They didn’t know who he was either.

They do, however, know who Brad Pitt is, or what actor won the Oscar this year. As for music, they follow the career of a pop star like Madonna (I am not deriding any of these three artists, to be sure).

In short, they are oblivious to much information that could help them in their careers. They have no appetite for knowledge and nothing awakens their curiosity.

Could they ever become good professionals in the humanities?