It really happened. The New York Times came up with that devastating article about the Spanish rummaging through the garbage to find food, and the entire world fell for it. This was back on September 24th. It left many of us who live here dumbfounded. We remarked on the matter and then dropped the subject feeling that somehow it wasn’t worth getting all huffy about one of the world’s leading papers disseminating some of the most disproportionate facts about the dreadful conditions here in this country. They do what they can; so do we.
If you ignore it, it will go away. They do what they can; so do we.
That is, until today, months later, when I started up a talk with a student’s father who does business in the States. We were at the chilly windswept soccer fields of the Ernesto Cotorruedo near the Plaza de La Elíptica. Cotorruedo clearly had ties with the sport, and especially Atlético de Madrid, but it isn’t easy to find online who he was and what he did. In fact, the most helpful hint I got was from another man posing the same question on a website.
In any event, this person I was talking to had an interesting job too. He sets up tours for choruses, orchestras and bands from the States to come here and play. Once he gets the event arranged, he devotes the rest of his time to ensuring people go. I was trying to watch my daughter play a soccer game, they were getting slaughtered, but never mind, and at the same time follow the conversation. I find these tasks challenging, but I did my best to handle both. Well, it turns out that as a result of all the bad publicitySpainhas received over the past six months, and especially, since the New York Times article, his 2013 agenda utterly collapsed. His three major events were canceled, as the performers backed out because they fear major social unrest might threaten their wellbeing. Social unrest?
“Yes, I see that people are picking food out of the garbage, there.”
“You’re right. But they’ve been doing that for years. No, here the only social unrest you find around here is when the bars close and the people have to go home. Or when the waiter tells you they’ve run out of grilled shrimp.”
Spain has always been a country which starves for favorable media coverage abroad. You could say that is true of many countries, but I entirely agree with that. I know the U.S. couldn’t care less about what foreign reporters have to say about events there, and I’ll venture to say that some of the other big guns feel that way too. Here, though, reporting on what has been reported elsewhere, is in itself news. Whether it be a display of headlines from around Europe in response to the Spanish national soccer teams success, or a flashed image of CNN mentioning an arrest of terrorists in Madrid, you will come across countless examples, and proof for that matter, of the Spanish media informing the public of what the media abroad feels and believes.
I have always found this behavior to be amusing and yet frustrating, because it suggests the mindset of a nation of insecure children begging for the approval of an adult. Then the consequences of photos like the one published in the Times, and it really was the picture more than the articled that miffed so many, make me think again. If a short, seemingly unassuming article about the dire situation of Spanish, real to an extent but grossly distorted on a national level, can lead to whole bands of musicians from coming over, then quite possibly this paranoia might be somewhat justified.
Just why would Americans fall for this kind of journalism? Is it because they don’t really know much about this country? Is it because the little information they get they consider to be expertise? As Bob Dylan put it, “It’s hard to say; it’s hard to tell. I always thought that he was well.” It’s hard to know what the right answers are if you are not sure if you are asking the right questions.