‘Cultural’ Advertising in Cuba

Isbel Diaz Torres 

SEXYLESB: one of the promotions that several entertainment centers have begun to make via telephone.

New space for girls *SEXILESB* today sat: Las Vegas (Inf and 25) CV:50MN fr 10pm to 12.  After, 3 CUC.  Dancers and guests.  Don’t miss something special *just glamour* 

Let me translate and explain this.

What you see in the first paragraph is a text message that I just received on my cellphone.  It’s one of the promotions that several nightclubs and entertainments centers have begun to make via telephone.

In this case it seems the Las Vegas Cabaret is promoting a program for lesbians, which is what I’m deducing from the suggestive name *SEXILESB.*  Las Vegas is located in a central downtown location on Infanta Street, barely yards off the ever popular Malecon seaside avenue and “La Rampa” (the 23rd Street entertainment district).

This promotional practice has been going on for only a few months here on the island.  I had already planned to write about it, especially given how much of a nuisance these constant messages are on my phone.  But with this last SMS I reached my limit; I was spurred to put “pen to paper.”

I believe that the existence of spaces for homosexual women is as legitimate as those of any other group.  For a good while LGBTI people in Cuba have been demanding these types of settings where people can go to interact without it implying some sort of ghetto or a confine of self-marginalization.  There are still very few such places on the island, and almost none is exclusively for this public.  They’re almost always establishments that provide space temporarily (perhaps once a week).

Likewise, I should clarify that I’m not against these phone services in and of themselves; they’re fine whenever people have requested them.  In Cuba there exists a public that goes out in search of discos and parties every weekend.  They have enough time and money, and they enjoy those settings where they can meet other people with similar interests.  That service should be for them.

I went to one of the offices of Cubacel, the company responsible for everything that has to do with mobile telephone services in the country.  After raising my complaint, the response was that they couldn’t do anything.  I replied that if they offered that service, they should have a way of regulating it, but reality is not always what we expect.

In short, it seems I’ll continue receiving these messages every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The nature of the messages has also stirred a certain concern on my part.  They’re written with enough ambiguity as to attract the curious.  In almost all of them they promote those kinds of images and treatment of women that so many of us have struggled against.  Expressions like “sexy chicks,” “hot girls,” “sensual dancers,” “the first twenty women get in free” or “free for girls without a date” proliferate suspiciously in the texts.

Las Vegas Cabaret in Havana’s Vedado district.

To that is added the promotion of all kinds of technological special effects and gadgetry at those facilities: “full air” (referring to air conditioning), “smoke,” “foam,” and “screen” (referring to the projection of music videos onto big screens), karaoke, etc.

When they combine these two profiles, it’s understood that a new public is being formed.  The characteristics of youth entertainment in other countries is starting to influence Cuban youth, stimulating that consumerist, sexist and banal vision so widespread around the rest of the planet.  Such practices have existed in the country for some time, but always focused on consumption by foreign tourists.

In addition, to some degree this reflects the sharpening of the lines of stratification that Cuban society is continuing to undergo.  Those who go to trendy discos like these have to pay a 3 to 10 CUC ($3.30-$11 USD) cover and buy drinks that cost almost twice the standard amount.  These places can’t be compared to the corner cabarets where they play music on an old radio, sell the cheapest national beers and may have some bolero fan offer one of their songs to an often invisible public.

I should remind people that I’m not talking about private clubs, although there are some more or less illegal ones.  What’s worrisome isn’t that some of such clubs exist, but that large-scale government participation in these types of upscale operations completely legitimates them.

It’s a symptom of the direction in which we’re going.  We already know that here the official line and the press almost always go hand in hand, but reality is something totally different.  If someone wants to convince me that this is a new strategy for building socialism, then I’m ready to listen.

It’s not that there exists “politically correct” and incorrect entertainment (God spare me from such an aberration).  That would be reproducing those same outlines that were promoted (or imposed) under “real socialism.”

The diversity of these practices is related to the diversity of the people who participate in them.  If economic differences and dissimilar opportunities exist between people, then those differences will be reflected in their ways of appreciating amusement, leisure and art.  But let’s be honest and admit the class differences.

Those of us who struggle against social injustice need to call things by their names.  Those who aspire to see a socialist, libertarian society, without alienated individuals but people empowered in their vital practices and in their relations with one another should recognize that such a society is not the one in which we live today, nor is it on the current drawing board to build one.


One thought on “‘Cultural’ Advertising in Cuba

  • As old Vladimir Illich would say, “What is to be Done?” Looks like legal proscription has failed, and will continue to fail, in discouraging the consumption of trash/junk culture. Perhaps it is as Oscar Willde once said, “You never know you have had enough until you have had MORE than enough! By then, however, it is often too late. (And in the meantime look what is happening to our environment as a consequence of this profligate consumption of the planet’s limited resources.) Perhaps there should be more high school and university courses exploring how mass media manipulate their audiences by playing on their fears and anxieties, and stimulating false “needs” to expand markets and sell product. Once the audience is aware of this manipulation, it tends to be less naive. The sexual objectivication of individuals for profit is a sad practice , although it has been with us since the beginning of civilization, and will probably be with it until the end; nevertheless, individuals should have some choice in the matter of whether to be objectified, or objectify others, and be aware of its psychological consequences.

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