One of the most enduring characters in classic literature, Don Quijote, is the quintessential tragicomic hero.
He is a sad and deluded figure, living in a dream world of castles, giants, false enemies and misplaced idealism. Driven by a skewed view of the world, he sees things as he would like them to be, rather than the way they are. Only at death’s door, when it’s too late to make amends, is sanity restored. Don Quijote’s denouement is all the more tragic because his noble intentions only serve to destroy him.
In so many ways, Cervantes’s beautifully drawn character speaks volumes about the Spanish psyche through the ages – that of a passionate society tilting at windmills rather than accepting a sober assessment of the truth.
The book gave rise to the term ‘quixotism’, which came to mean any rash action motivated by fuddled idealism, and where a sense of the absurd is notably absent.
As a writer, Cervantes may have unwittingly presaged Spain’s imperial decline half a century earlier, but the work’s subtext is also an incisive critique of modern Spain.
The petulant response by Spain’s ambassador in London to a recently-aired BBC documentary about the collapse of the Spanish economy said a lot about a country in denial, and neatly sets the tone for what comes next.
A well known cold meats manufacturer (I kid you not) has caused quite a stir by producing a whopping two-and-a-half minute ad aimed at celebrating all that is great about Spain.
Meant as an antidote to all the gloom and doom currently dragging the country down, by way of a humorous riposte, the ad is in fact a cloying and ill-conceived exercise in crassness.
Appearing in this ‘collective CV for the nation’ is a motley crew of pop stars, actors, comedians and, surprisingly, respected Spanish journalist Iñaki Gabilondo, who should have known better than to sign up to this farce.
They all list the country’s great achievements, including Spain’s seven Nobel prizes, the admirable record in organ donations, and the number of Hollywood Oscar successes. Why, even paella and the lowly muffin get a mention.
Revealingly, all the negatives associated with the country are cleverly turned into positives. The tragedy facing young unemployed people, forced to emigrate because there is every likelihood they will never find work in their own country, is actually a reason to cheer. “They are the most educated and best prepared generation in history!” coos the bird-brained actress. “We’ll be back!” chirp three such hopeful souls, off to catch a plane to the UK or Germany to find work, no doubt.
Grandparents, single-handedly maintaining their out-of-work children with a meagre pension, are described as “heroes”, never mind the calamity of having to do so.
The nauseating spot goes beyond the pale when comedian Santiago Segura brags that the country has more airports than any other country. At this point one inevitably reaches the conclusion that the ad’s producers have smoked a joint too many. Given that most of these airports were built largely with EU funds, and that some – like the one in Castellón – are still not in use, it’s an obscene boast.
If anyone’s to blame for the economic mess Spain is in, it’s those foreigners. Merkel, Moody’s and the IMF all get a bashing. Tellingly, no transgressing Spaniard gets a mention.
The departing slogan is a defiant, two-fingered salute – “Let nothing and no-one deprive us of our way of enjoying life”.
And there you have it. For all the winsome stupidity and idiotic reasoning, the ad reveals the country’s hubris just as Spain is teetering on the brink of collapse.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the ad’s script writers were a meat ball short of a frozen pizza, or maybe that they had been largely inspired by watching Monty Python’s parrot sketch – ‘This parrot is dead’. ‘No it’s not, see? It’s got beautiful plumage’.
According to them, all Spain has to do to overcome a devastating economic recession; end the culture of incompetence and political corruption; and kick society’s stagnant and inefficient mindset into touch is to pat one’s ego. As the ad’s clown says: “It’s just like having superpowers”.
Don Quijote would have been proud.