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Embracing stereotypes

If its hero weren’t Andalusian, film phenomenon ‘Ocho apellidos vascos’ just wouldn’t be funny

Imagine for a moment that the main character of Spanish film comedy phenomenon Ocho apellidos vascos was not a posh Andalusian from Seville’s Triana neighborhood, but his Madrid equivalent from Serrano street, complete with well-ironed polo shirt and gelled hair. There the comedy would end. The symbols of Spanish nationalism would once again become serious, offensive and incapable of raising a laugh in the movie theater.

The thing is, in Andalusia, nothing is what it seems. Flags do not offend us, but nor do we use them as offensive weapons – and, of course, our regional green-and-white flag would never prompt a war. The piety of the large part of its inhabitants is not so much to do with dogma, but more related to childhood and beauty than liturgy. And as for the bulls, we have the same proportion of people who do not support the torturing of animals as the rest of Spain – which is to say, the majority.

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Since time immemorial, when Spain needed to present a softer and more attractive image, or simply a better-looking one, it took an Andalusian form – from flamenco and Gypsy dress (the only haute couture regional costume), to its joyous and sociable way of understanding life. If, as I say, the Andalusian stereotype has been used for so many ends, and if we Andalusians have been taught to laugh at ourselves since we were children, we are not going to get annoyed at seeing a posh Andalusian becoming the leader of a violent Basque nationalist kale borroka group, or dressing up as a radical abertzale leftist out of love.

That said, there is just one stereotype that those of us who were born or live in Andalusia despise – idleness. That is because it is not really a stereotype that emerges from our way of being but rather a label that has served to justify the unequal distribution of wealth in Spain. But hey, if the recent history of each territory allows us to hand out labels, then they should be on the clothes of those who hope to reduce everything Andalusian to a number of stereotypes. As for the other stereotypes, they only annoy us when they serve to present us as banderilleros, maids and workers, part of the national sense of humor, which lives from affirming its superiority because it lacks any other distinction. Let us be happy, sociable, lovers of life, romantic. Where’s the problem in that?

Whenever Spain needed to present a softer and more attractive image it took an Andalusian form

But to get back to the point, the film Ocho apellidos vascos would not be possible without its Andalusian counterpoint, the comedy wouldn’t work, because any other identity would clash abruptly – the friendliness and understanding would be gone. In the end, the Andalusian succeeds in winning the heart of the Basque girl, and in a sharp ironic twist, shows us the trick of the story: the horse-drawn carriage serenaded by Sevillian band Los del Río (of Macarena fame) that ends the film confirms that we really are capable of laughing at ourselves. And when a people is capable of that, it is free of hangups; its identity is so fluid, so porous, that little by little it is certain to seep into everything that comes near without needing to plant its flag of conquest. Hopefully, Spain will resemble Andalusia and be capable of avoiding grudges, playing down conflicts and trusting in the seductive power of words.

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