Sometimes I’ve said on television that in the face of the music video’s drive into ethno-esthetic profiles and the social-cultural expressions of certain individuals and groups, we should take on the notion of the anthropological video. It’s true that quite a number of music video producers used in a suspiciously often and genuine fashion to lean to making room for little black kids playing in the streets, to brawls in a nearby alley –either in the form of erotic frolicking or a holdup in broad daylight– and the sweat of the black woman who scratches her thigh in an eloquent and beautiful way.

I used to see an enormously anthropological value in all this and even a few experts were seeing eye to eye with in an effort to give a truly esthetic and cultural dimension to these music videos that never turn their backs on reality and do not rely on “superior role models” but rather on ordinary people with their emotions, with their dark and bright spots –equally shared– and their devotions and fears.

This conception immediately led to two conflicts of interests. The first one was public and, to me, off the beam; the second one was more personal and has given food to my thoughts for quite some time. On the first one: “Such a production must be somehow assessed as a miserable way of selling and marketing somebody else’s image. Mere ethno-cultural morbidity.” I also noticed that the same sharp-minded youngsters who wrote the above quotation were downplaying other videos because “they romance, sweeten, simplify and beautify the hard reality through the use of those photographic filters and the beauty of those compositions that trade a mean code for a meaningless one.” That’s more or less the line of reasoning.

There’s no doubt in my mind these are wise ideas, perhaps unauthorized by their extremism. What should video makers finally do? First, they should do nothing. They make videos. Period. But even when we agree it’s pertinent to give them a reprimand every once in a while, the one thing that’s inferred from both disqualifications can be boiled down to this: this is a no-win situation. If they focus on the daily life, on the sweat of the brow, on an unnecessarily scatological promiscuity, they’re negotiating with the identity and making a killing out of somebody else. But if they esthetically paint a kid-gloved picture of that reality, those artists are betraying the national causes. If we pay heed to these hypercritics, creators must simply sit on their hands and fall into a standstill because each accent and every vision is construed as a shortcut, as a mistake.

However, I remember this friend of mine who once called me and made me the following comment: “Rufo, when music videos deal with negroes, mulattos, the salaciousness of the streets in an overblown manner, that’s ‘anthropological;’ now I ask you, why is it not so when they address the whiteys’ big bashes in high-life residential areas or neighborhoods? Isn’t there a sensitive endeavor of ‘cultural observation’ and ‘ethno-esthetic discernment’”?

He was damn right. One of the most exciting critical gestures hinges on the systematic review of the repertoire of notions, of codes that grow into canon status and that might eventually take their foundational intentions aback. Disassembling the axioms of critical faith every so often could be a way of disarraying it, too. Believe me; that’s recommendable. The tombstone phrase, the prostituted category, the critical catechism could also be perilous.

Waving the anthropological stuff enthralls most visual art critics: Jose Bedia’s anthropological painting, Juan Francisco Elso’s anthropological sculptures, Santiago Rodriguez Olazabal’s anthropological installations, the esthetic anthropology of such artists as Carlos Estevez or Ernesto Benitez, Indeed, all of them are blessed with the vocation to observe and validate –rather than contemplate– the organic linkage between man and his circumstances and cultural expressions. If we pay closer attention to the more generalized anthropological notion as a doctrine that deals with man in his inheritance variations and his existential and cultural development in time and space, it’s not bad to refer to the understanding of those artists as cultivators of an anthropological art by nature. As well as there’s “criminal anthropology” –as if the discipline itself were a killer- in the study of delinquency, crimes, its motives and its phenomenology, there is a “cultural anthropology,” a phrase that sounds kind of cacophonic if we understand the fact that all forms of anthropology are quite “cultural” in themselves, yet it serves the purpose of looking into, labeling and placing a whole set of phenomena and products closely associated to that dynamic and well-greased relationship between individuals and their environments in the form of cultural attributes that come to define the different types of relations.

But many times when we review the contents that we place in that repertoire of “anthropological art,” we notice we’re dealing with a suspiciously steady bunch of other people: negroes, mulattos, indigenous, Chicanos, and the like. Those other people belong to the mainstream classification, but when they are labeled as individuals that engulf a possible “anthropological art” grouping, do we dignify them? Do we praise them? Or on the contrary, don’t we just engage in another form of racism, in a different kind of exclusive behavior based on accent and segregation? I turn to my friend’s question once again: doesn’t the white man from the West, the non-lateral local resident, feed that “anthropological art” with his own cultural expressions?

Of course, if we wipe out all distinctions, then all forms of art are anthropological by nature. And as a matter of fact they are. But that shouldn’t serve also as an alibi to lay our hands on and find shelter under the piteous drape of “anthropological art.” Let’s point at the others from a contemporary, pseudoscientific angle that recreates the folkloric and exotic image.

You’ve got to have the balls to say, as Rimbaud put it, that “I’m the Other. On the one hand, I challenge Rimbaud’s researchers to tell me if during the poet’s short lifespan he was actually faithful to that claim every step of the way. I don’t like the “difference” phrase either. We must support, applaud, cotton on to the one who’s different. That’s the annoying policy of tolerance, the hypocrite’s tough chuckle. Why is the Other different to me? Why am I not the one who’s different to the Other? Why am I not myself the one who’s different? Is it good only what matches with me? To the best of my knowledge, this is all about swindles and traps that the art of the word puts in its end users until their minds are crippled and stigmatized.

This whole squabble reminds me not only of the “anthropological fine arts,” but also of the music video, the “smart songs” that have been written over the past decades.1 I still wonder how in the world three magnificent songwriters can do what I describe next. One of them is going to found the party of the United with all of the Others who are unprotected and abandoned to their fate –the dwarfs, the loveless fats, the hobos, etc. I’ve always asked the same question: where does the author put himself? Outside or above that party line? Is it God the author? Isn’t the author one of the Others in any way? Does he suspect that? Or that other celebrated crooner who needs to make clear how gays vent their passions and break their bodies “while I plunge my flesh into your belly, woman.” Why is it necessary to clarify that? Is anybody in harm’s way out there? Or that celebrated songwriter who makes sure that “darkness is the best place for a kind of loving people don’t tolerate,” and they’re just fucking fascists, let them all hang out, but love, the good love, the hard-earned love or any other kind of love is wielded and defended out in the open.

These instances out of three cultural genres don’t lay bare clearly the huge complexity of the designations we want to delve into, the dilemmas in the relationships between identity and haughtiness, between me and the Other, from the reflexive canvas of culture. Those who write are no strangers to that risk either and even today they get stunned in the trance of labeling a cultural production highlighted by certain marginalized or confined individuals as a form of “anthropological art” they can call their own. To myself, to all my colleagues, to all the rest, I say: Watch out, colleagues, beware; it reeks of danger. Otherwise, we’ll be playing into the hands of the policy of exclusions. By ruling out those polished-up whiteys from the high-life mansions, don’t we become accomplices of their own supremacy or social position? It’ll then be fit to talk about anthropo-illogical. Shouldn’t we be more cautious when labeling an installation, a painting or a performance as “anthropological” under the pretext that these cultural expressions possess some kind of “density”? What about the others? Aren’t they so? By using a sophism from the 17th-century elaborate literary style or the wild card of the “anthropological art,” aren’t we making a setup, a trap that might eventually do us some harm as well?