About Secret History

Commentary on Latin America.
Mostly about Mexico - but not always.
Designed to encourage readers to learn about
the apparently "secret history" of 500 million people
spread across two continents
- but not always.
You can always count on a little snark.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Enlightened Voyeurism?

Talking about torture today... and I don't mean the matanza on the television of Gambia by Mexico (5-1 !).

The Antiguo Palacio de la Inquisicion off calle Brasil is a somber building. After independence and with the help of some liberals and later the Revolution, the building became the medical school. Indeed, the most "Stalinist" room in the place is a somber chamber with giant busts of medical school heroes and a massive homenaje on one wall to - you guessed it - Plutarco Elias Calles. If ever there was a guy we would associate with improving the medical school in the former inquisitorial house, that's him. At any rate, the bulk of the exhibits are dedicated to indigenous medicinal plants, old X-ray machines, examination tables, etc. There is even a small art gallery that has some miscellaneous clergy from the colonial period and space for temporary exhibit's (Paula Santiago's blood and hair clothes are on exhibit there now).

Disturbing, however, is an exhibit tucked away in the prison cells of the inquisition on the inquisition. It is "London Dungeon tour" en extremis: nude and tortured manequins, leering clergy, dramatic music, and video clips snagged from "Secret Files of the Inquisition" and "Goya's Ghosts." It is, in sum, the black legend writ large, and after passing through the exhibit one wonders who anybody in Europe or New Spain survived the *dramatic music* Spanish Inquisition.

My first thought was that this was a natural extension of the state project: demonize religious institutions while briefly mentioning that secular institutions have put far more folks in the ground than the Inquisition could ever hope to. Then I turned my academic brain off and looked around me - who was there beside el gringo gordo? Teens. On dates. In the cool dark, kanoodling over live images of women, breasts laid bare and vaginas impaled on torture racks. The second largest groups? Well, since kids under 13 enter free.... yep, mothers and little kids. There's nothing like seeing a mom explain the wheel or asphyxiation to a 5 year old.

Considering the Mexican tabloids bloody presentation, I think chalking this up to a secular state project is far from the case and instead represents a Mexico comfortable with its medieval past, and at times, medieval present in a way that those of English descent in the USA have never been able to come to terms with. For Mexico, seeing this medieval torture as part of the past that you are comfortable with means that you work to erase those problems in the present. For Americans, I think we consider the Protestant atrocities as part of a past not our own. As such, when we torture or kill we see it as necessary, as something that isn't really a crime because that is not what we do. In Mexico they admit that it is part of their past and their present, and they embrace the idea that a civil society needs to be created to eliminate such actions. In the United States, we tell ourselves that such actions need to be taken to preserve civil society.

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