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OP-ED: When institutions fail in a democracy

  • Published at 01:23 am October 20th, 2021
A screengrab from the film La Dictadura Perfecta
A screengrab from the film La Dictadura Perfecta COLLECTED

What a Mexican film teaches us about governance

La Dictadura Perfecta is a Mexican movie released in 2014. In English, it means The Perfect Dictatorship. The movie is about a nexus of corruption between the government, bureaucracy, and the media that savagely criticized the government of Enrique Pena Nieto, who served as the president of Mexico from 2012 to 2018.

It is an excellent picturization of what dictatorship looks like in disguise of democracy, and showcases a frustrating and sad reality of politics suggesting when it comes to power, everything falls short.

The plot

If we look into the plot, we will find Mexico’s president committing a serious gaffe during a live cast as he welcomes the US ambassador. But it does not matter at all, as the president has allies all over, even within the media. In the movie, we even see that a media conglomerate Television Mexicana (TV MX) comes to his rescue and diverts the attention by running a bribery scandal involving Governor Carmelo Vargas who is seen fondling a briefcase full of money. 

The governor then reaches to an illicit deal with the TV MX to recover his image and brand him as the right contender for the presidency. TV MX then devise a heinous plot and kidnaps twin girls. It then purportedly shows governor Vargas leading the search and rescue efforts. 

The movie also presents malicious techniques that Governor Vargas applies against the opposition to secure his power and the path toward the presidency. We see the leader of the opposition Deputy Agustín Morales being attacked in which he almost loses his life. TV MX then devise a plot that invents a scandal that Morales had been involved in rape. 

Freedom of expression in the 20th century

In the movie, we see a sad state of freedom of expression in Mexico at a time when it was perhaps obvious. In this context, some decades of the last century, marked by government periods, are remembered for the lack of free expression through different channels, promoted by the upper echelons of the dominant political power since the post-revolution.

Viewers can easily identify the characters of a certain time presented in the movie -- the body language, hairstyle, gestures, and expression of the president hardly leave any doubt about who it can be. 

My first thought after seeing the movie was whether it was banned at any point or had to make any adjustment. Surprisingly, nothing similar had happened and it landed in the cinema theatres without any cuts. This is perhaps the only beauty in a democracy that ensures the freedom of expression even after being savagely criticized.  

The manipulation

One interesting aspect of the movie is that it presents how a government and the state institutions manipulate information and divert people’s attention by creating a series of events -- as planned, one orchestrated event leads to another and serves as a “Chinese box” styled smokescreen.  

As described in the plot, a national TV channel broadcasts a scandalous note which prompts the president to deliver an embarrassing statement. The statement gets leaked immediately on social media and creates pressure on the presidency. In a bid to divert the attention, the TV channel then televises a financial scandal of a low-level public figure who adopts the same path to assume the presidency. 

It can be referred to as the “Chinese box” because when it is opened, another smaller box is found and then another one inside the second one and then another and this keeps going on. This technique creates a smokescreen and makes it difficult to understand what is actually inside the box. 

This technique is also used in literature to introduce one story into another. But when it comes to journalism, it is nothing but serving the audience with fake news to attract more attention than that of the previous one and stimulates curiosity to follow the news to the end. Thus, to cover up a real scandal, the media continues faking stories one after another until the goal is attained. 

Everything falls short

Does it make any difference when we compare the plot with the present state of the media, democratic institutions, and freedom of expression in many democracies around the world? Have they truly evolved as claimed by the state and its officers? Are they serving their mandate? Have they turned into officers for survival aligned with regimes that do not respect dissident voices?   

One can watch the movie and decide how much is fiction and how much is a true reflection of the state of democratic institutions, politics, corruption, media, and on the top of all life at the top in Mexico. One, can go further by looking into his very own democracy. 

As in the movie, in reality, anything can happen. The truth is that The Perfect Dictatorship projects an unfortunate reality and suggests that, when it comes to power, everything of ethics, political philosophy and political science, norms, and normal relationships falls short.

A resistance

No doubt we live in a peculiar system of governance where freedom of expression and justice exist theoretically, especially towards those with the least legal and economic resources, and not a part of the power structure. 

But the movie ultimately has offered us a great deal of tranquillity that despite knowing all the risks, there are people who have the courage of expressing their thoughts, more than in an exercise of law, as a means of offering resistance to the situation. Kudos. 

Meer Ahsan Habib is a communication for development professional. More readings are available on www.muktochinta.wordpress.com. Email: [email protected]

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