Nationalism, by definition, is an ideology that functions through popular sentiments of patriotism. This, combined with populism, provides the leading power to do whatever he or she pleases; with the backing of the ordinary people as loyal followers, a nationalist populist ruler can easily gain a thirst for power and control over all aspects of society. Juan Perón of Argentina is no exception. He “had campaigned for the presidency on a nationalist and populist note… [and] promised truly Argentine solutions…” The alleged dictator went even further than this, and demanded absolute Argentine media in addition. Nothing escaped his nationalist takeover: music, television, movies, and dance were all affected.
Music truly defines a country’s culture; it is an outlet that can be accessed by anyone who wants to experience a taste of foreign customs. Nationalists like Perón, however, could not care any less about traditions other than those of his homeland. About halfway through his presidency he decreed, “All places of entertainment that provide music in any form must henceforth devote at least 50 per cent of music time to Argentine compositions.” This includes radio, live concerts, and operas.
The president must have been extremely confident in the legacy of Argentine music; I suppose his nationalist mindset instilled this faith of the strength of Argentina’s culture. The Government, however, said that the purpose of this requirement was to protect native composers from foreign music, as well as “equalize the restrictions against Argentine musicians in other countries.” It is evident that Perón cared more for the pride of his country than the good of the common person, especially since within two years he increased the percentage to 90.
The moving picture did not escape the icon’s desire to control the media. Although not as harsh as the restriction to music, the percentage of playing time at the movies and on television that must be of Argentine origin is still inconvenient at 40. As seen with the upward trend in the music industry of this regulation, however, Perón can change the number as he sees fit, or as he feels more threatened by outside interference within his pure nation.
Another frightful tactic that he instigated was that his own picture and recordings made by his wife Eva and himself be the test pattern on every screen in public places, including “Government hospitals, union meeting paces, and, of course, in all the peronista party headquarters.” The rationale behind this dispersion was obvious; the majority of his followers, the descamisados of the working class, would have been found at those locations. As the backbone of his regime, it would have been foolish of Perón not to remind them of why they follow him as he implements these unnecessary rules. This scenario eerily reminds me of the dystopia of Oceania in George Orwell’s 1984. The test patterns may as well have said,‘Perón is watching you.’
Dance, an art form that combines music and visuals, inevitably was affected by the Peronista regime, though indirectly. Folk dances as well as tango became “more prevalent than ever,” while the samba, which originated in Brazil, was considered ‘foreign,’ and therefore its cultural presence in Argentina became limited.8Ballet, however, seemed to have stayed afloat during the nationalist reform; “at the request of the authorities of the Teatro Colon,” Léonide Massine, chief choreographer and male lead dancer of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, created in in less than a month Usher, a work based on a story by Edgar Allen Poe. Thankfully the “popular triumph” adorned a score by Roberto Garcia Morillo, “one of Argentina’s most creative composers.”9 This is definitely why Perón had no interaction in the affairs pertaining to this ballet.
What causes curiosity, however, is why he would allow a ballet based on an American poet’s work and choreographed by a Russian. Regardless, the United States was certainly proud of this achievement, “which received ten curtain calls;” they planned “to film in color the ballet… as an American-Argentine cultural contribution.10 Perhaps this was just one medium that slipped through the dictator’s hands. Even so, his descamisados typically would not be seen viewing concert dance due to expenses and disinterest; Perón must not have found it important enough to completely control.
The authors of these New York Times articles reporting the happenings in Argentina are rather harsh in tone; they frequently speak as if the United States is the most superior nation in the world (a rather patriotic move, indeed). They assume that, like music, the people of Argentina will be “regimented and suppressed” by the current “dictatorship.”11 Their bias towards their homeland shines through their writing. They report that their country is “undoubtedly” the reason for the nationalist restrictions, and that their products (TV in context) are “far superior” to those in Argentina.12, 13In my opinion, with this elitist attitude, the US has no right to talk down on Perón’s regulations; they clearly saw them to be uncanny, but in the mind of the president, his motives were channeled through pride of his homeland as well.
I chose to write about this cultural change in Argentina during the Peronista regime because the media is, in my opinion, the most important aspect of a culture. It establishes the norms of a nation, and provides a look from the outside into the customs of the country in question. It is interesting to see how foreign countries react to foreign practices.