Democracy and Melodrama
Frivolity, fracaso, and
Political violEncE in vEnEzuEla
Venezuelans are living a collective hypnosis bordering on hysteria. It’s really very un-
healthy. But we have to understand that we are in the eye of the hurricane and that in the
future normality will return to our lives. Politics, the way it’s seen now, as an exclusive
topic of interest, seems to me as pathological as the disinterest that we have had for it in
the past. We have moved from frivolity to hysteria: this is the path we Venezuelans have
taken in the last years.—raFaEl arráiz lucca, in Rubén Wisotzki, “Rafael Arráiz
Lucca ve un país ‘de pobreza política escandaloza’”; my translation
“We have moved from frivolity to hysteria,” the Venezuelan poet and po-
litical commentator Rafael Arráiz Lucca said in a January 13, 2003, inter-
view for El Nacional, the Venezuelan newspaper of record as the days of
the paro petrolero (petroleum strike) that started in December 2002 wane.1
The last thing people were worried about in Venezuela when I got there
was my research topic: beauty pageants and transformistas. The year that I
was in Caracas for fieldwork was one filled with regular interruptions, po-
litical tension, economic uncertainty, street protest, and terrible anxiety—
what Arráiz Lucca calls hysteria—a mounting fear that violence would
erupt, that looting would break out. What is most striking about Arráiz
Lucca’s assessment of the situation is how thoroughly feminized
zuelan political culture is for him. Frivolity and hysteria: two decidedly
feminized forms of affect that narrate the impossibility of Venezuelan par-
ticipation in rational political culture. A kind of civilization and barbarie
argument, in a gendered guise.
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