Week 10: Power to the People

This week I will be looking at the influence of Evita and the renunciamento.

I found it interesting how Evita would often conflate herself with the people, such as when she said: “my General, we the people, your vanguard of descamisados…”. Here she associates herself with the people by saying “we”, but at other times she distinguishes herself, such as when she says: “As for me, in General Perón, I always found a teacher and a friend” and even thanks “the people” (referring to the people as “them” instead of “we”) for giving her back her life and her soul by bringing to her the general. This gives her two dimensions, showing an unique intimacy with Peron and a broader populistic intimacy. She consistently reaffirms her role as a descamisadas. After doing some research I’ve learned that this word, meaning shirtless, was first used in the novel Les Miserables, where it referred negatively to the Spanish revolutionaries, likening itself to the similar and historical term “sans culotte”. The Argentinian elite adopted “descamisadas” as a derogatory term aimed at Peron supporters, similar to the French “sans culotte” (without breeches).

The origin of the term might stem from when a mass gathering of Peron’s supporters assembled at Casa Rosada to request Peron’s release from prison. The temperature that day was hot enough for many supports to go shirtless. That imagery of a collection of people, persisting under the hot sun to achieve a common goal, certainly evokes that concept of “the people”, and for this reason I think the term was used so much by Evita – as a way to transform it from insult to dignity. That’s not to mention that Peron rode a train called the El Descamisado – a testament to a populist’s leader opportunism to adopt technology and capture the people’s hearts.

But, as Dawson mentions, this is at a time where divisions between people were becoming more ambiguous. The advent of the radio, for example, lent illiterate and poorer people the opportunity to participate and communicate with the government. This elevation of the lower class could serve as part of the basis for conceptualizing “the people”, and as a charismatic figure looking to unite this population, I can certainly see how Evita was so successful. She characterizes herself as a “humble” woman not deserving the affection of the Argentines, and she plays the part, albeit to an extreme, when she says thing like: “I have done nothing; everything is Perón”.

The fact that there are several transcripts of the renunciamento goes to show that even with the power of radio, historical texts may omit different parts for different reasons, and this can influence the reader’s knowledge and perception of an event. The risks are particularly salient here because actual footage of the event is disjointed, witness memory is unreliable, and an uncertainty exists between what the speechwriter intended for Eva to say and what she actually did.

My question for further discussion is: Although the dynamics of the crowd and in turn Eva’s response to it is best captured by Document 7.3, what are still the downsides of transferring an energetic event like that to writing?

2 thoughts on “Week 10: Power to the People

  1. Maiya

    Hi!

    You mention the importance of radio in making information accessible to “the people”, I honestly had not thought of this and I think that is a really great point. I would add then, that Eva actually worked for a long time as a radio actress, interesting to think how that all ties in.

    To answer your question, I think one of the biggest downsides to transferring speeches into writing is that we lose the reality of dialogue. With writing, one line comes after another, no matter what. It can’t really show people talking over each other or tone, and because of this we lose the emotion and the people interrupting Eva.

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  2. Madeleine Kindbom

    Hello! I agree with Maiya’s point. I think when a speech is translated into writing we lose some of the emotional context, which can be very powerful. Even if the rhetoric itself isn’t incredibly convinciving, the way in which the speech is told and the passion & emotion behind it can make it that much more effective. I also think that if someone was not at the event and just read, they could misinterpret it or not understand the full context of what is being said. Another point that is important to think about is who exactly the person is who is trasncribing this speech into text and what biases they might have. History and written hirsotry have its discrepencies. – madeleine k.

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