What happened recently to the actress Carmen Machi is a good example of how we punish difference of opinion in Spain. She signed a manifesto that seemed to extend a friendly hand to Catalonia. Immediately someone defined her as an enemy to the Catalan people, and called on all good Catalans to boycott her show. Fortunately Lluís Pasqual, the theater director, reacted promptly and put things in their place; aside from the fact that Machi enjoys sympathies so widespread as to consign the episode to oblivion. Even so, the atmosphere is heating up. More and more every day, discrepant opinion faces a moral tribunal made up of irate and boorish Twitterers.
The novelty of the Machi incident is that it was a fellow actor against an actress. An actor, one might think, would be more sensitive to how you feel when a crowd turns against you. Many people in the arts have felt this. Some years ago Antonio Muñoz Molina (my husband) accepted a publisher's offer: that a short story of his, which was about to come out, be given away free as a promotion to the first customers to arrive on opening day at the new chain bookstore FNAC. Antonio accepted, the publisher being a friend, whose (smallish) business might benefit from it. Many Madrid booksellers, considering that the FNAC was likely to drive small bookshops out of business (little did they imagine the extent of the slaughter that awaited them) decided to call a boycott: not against FNAC, or even against the poor publisher, but against the author. Against the weakest party. Some of them went so far as to sign an open letter in the papers: "Your books, dear friend, have been withdrawn from our shop windows." Time passed, and so did the boycott. Some even apologized, no doubt sincerely. But for the author, nothing can erase the memory of those desolate months as a marked pariah, when he could not enter a bookstore.
For the author, nothing can erase the memory of those desolate months as a marked pariah, when he could not enter a bookstore
Technology has raised to the third power the possibility that a group of people can bring pressure to bear on a single individual, beyond all measure, losing sight of due consideration and respect for the other person: harassing, threatening and cowing. Without regard to consequences, as if we had regressed to the level of junior bullies in the schoolyard. But I will go further. I even reject boycott when practiced against a company or companies. A few years ago, when the Catalans were again demanding more self-government, the Spanish right wing, particularly in Madrid, called for a boycott on cava (Catalan sparkling wine). To call this a mere "political error" is to ennoble an act of gross bigoted ignorance that seriously hurt the Catalan wineries and their workers, and further polluted the air, as if we did not have enough stink from inter-regional resentment in Spain.
And further: is it right to call on advertisers to stop sponsoring a TV program, however objectionable its content may be? I refer to the boycott that the blogger Pablo Herreros proposed to firms that sponsor the TV program where they interviewed the mother of "El Cuco," one of the teenage boys accused of the murder of Marta del Castillo. Setting aside the sympathy one may feel for a lone blogger who challenges the power of a TV network, I can only wonder what television might become if it depended on the moral punctilios of sponsors: can you imagine the cultural level of the resulting programming? If someone has to curb these excesses, there are agencies for the purpose, such as those for the defense of minors and victims, though in general they are conspicuous only by their absence when we need them, or even appear as participants on ghoulish talk shows where some poor victim is verbally dissected.
In these situations, what one feels is impotence. A crowd lynching an individual is an appalling sight. Meanwhile, the guilty, the really guilty ones, stand rubbing their hands in glee.