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Always interested in offers/projects/new ideas. Eclectic experience in fields like: numerical computing; Python web; Java enterprise; functional languages; GPGPU; SQL databases; etc. Based in Santiago, Chile; telecommute worldwide. CV; email.

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NO (The Film: Pragmatics, Politics, Hope, Truth)

From: andrew cooke <andrew@...>

Date: Sun, 16 Sep 2012 20:18:54 -0300

Just been to see NO at the local cinema.  It's a very interesting film, but
not a great work of art.  If you're interested in politics and the balance
between truth and pragamtism, you should watch it.


15 years after the military coup that placed him in power, Pinochet was under
increased external pressure to improve human rights and restore democracy in
Chile.  At the same time, the economic cycle was fairly favourable (there was
a post-coup devaluation and then a recovery).

So he decided to call a referendum.  In hindsight, that was a mistake, but at
the time it seemed a sensible move: opposition was fragmented and ostracised;
the middle classes were enjoying a fairly stable lifestyle.

As part of the referendum, each side (the military junta and the opposition
coalition) were allowed a series of 15 minute "slots" on late-night TV.

If you have been amongst Chileans when they reminisce about this time (not
something that happens often, I hasten to add, but sometimes, late in a party,
when you're drunk with a group of friends, you start remembering the past...)
you may have heard them discuss the campaign.  Typically (at least, if your
friends are from the left) these memories are of a series of positive, happy,
images, people singing and dancing, and saying "no" in various ways.

I have heard such discussions - I even looked them up on youtube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAE4o_YzqJo - and I smiled with little thought
of the context.

But the context is extremely interesting:

At the start of the campaign, a large block of people were uncommitted.  Of
those that expressed an opinion, "yes" (for Pinochet) had more votes than
"no".  So it was critical, for the left, to win the undecided vote.  That
meant appealing to voters characterised in the film as tired, frightened old
people and youths convinced that the process would be rigged anyway.  Which
may be a simplification, but you can imagine that the reality was not too
different.

At the same time, the coalition responsible for creating the campaign was
composed of people who had been fighting the dictatorship for 15 years.
Everyone would have had close family or friends "disappeared"; many would be
directly intimidated (see note later) by the security services.  They would
have been tired, angry, scared, and extremely sceptical that any vote in their
favour would be recognised.  They would also, given the politics of that time,
be undisposed to support a campaign that resembled an advert for Coca-Cola.

And the film shows the initial candidate for a trailer (I have no idea whether
it is the real trailer, but I imagine so - again, see note below).  It is an
angry, frustrated summary of the past 15 years, focusing on the death and pain
that the left had endured.

Obviously.

And, just as obviously, it would never have won.

The miracle - explored, but ultimately unexplained in this film - is that
somehow, "marketing" won out.  A young guy - not commited to politics, not
uninvolved in the movement, with a good job in the advertising industry - took
the job and, quite simply, sold freedom like Coca-Cola.

Instead of focussing on the past, the campaign focussed on "the happiness that
will come".  It claimed the central, positive ground.  The "yes" campaign
(consider the natural advantage they have just from the contrast in the words
"yes" and "no") was completely wrong-footed.  They looked out-of-touch and
unconnected.  Stupidly they attacked the "no" campaing, which only made them
look worse.

Of course, now, with modern, cyncical eyes, this is obvious.  But then?  Was
it so clear then?  The film argues not, and I believe them: where is the
respect for fallen friends?  It must have taken a tremendous leap of faith.

This film should be shown in every advertising 101 course.


Above, a couple of times, I mention that I trust the version shown by the
film.  There's an interesting trade-off here.  The film is not a great film.
It stays too close to documentary (interestingly, "real people" are played by
the people themselves, so there is a discontinuity in age between their
appearance in the film, and their appearance in the news footage quoted in the
film).  As a consequence, there's no great emotional arc, apart from the vote
itself (which we know in advance).  This is *despite* several obvious themes
(rivalry between advertising execs; a broken marriage; etc).

This *lack* of "good story" gives the documentary greater credibility: if they
didn't bend X then presumably they are not lying about Y.  And given the
white-washing of Pinochet, you can understand why: intimidation by the secret
police is not a plot device, it was reality; getting your wife out of prison
really does depend on having a rich colleague who's friends with the military;
the regime will treat your parade as a riot if it makes good propoganda.

It's sad that we need to diminish art to keep truth alive.

Andrew

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