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Writers and Cultural Change in Argentina, 1960-2010

The University of Warwick's Professor John King was recently awarded a two-year Major Research Fellowship by The Leverhulme Trust for his project 'Writers and cultural change in Argentina, 1960-2010. A study of three journals'. In this article he gives us a taster of periodical Primera Plana, and what it tells us about Argentine politics and culture during the 1960s.

Hiroshima victims recoverArgentine society and culture witnessed profound changes between 1960 and 2010. Few materials afford greater insight into those changes than the key periodicals of the day: the newsweekly magazine Primera Plana (1962-1969), the monthly magazine Crisis (1973-1976) and the cultural journal Punto de Vista (1978-2008).

When Primera Plana was published in November 1962, Argentina had a shaky democratic order, based on excluding the deposed former president, Juan Domingo Perón (1946-1955) and his voters from the electoral process. This fragile democracy would be pushed aside in June 1966, when a military general, Onganía, took over power. Different factions of the armed forces would remain in control until escalating popular unrest lead to the return of Perón in 1973. An ageing Perón died of a heart attack in July 1974. His widow took over the presidency, but any temporary political consensus around Perón was shattered, leading to internecine violence. This is the moment analysed in Crisis. The armed forces took over power in March 1976 and presided over a brutal regime that killed or ‘disappeared’ up to thirty thousand people. A war with Britain over the Falklands/Malvinas in 1982 hastened the demise of military power and elections were held again in 1983. Since this time – and the key debates about politics and culture are in the pages of Punto de Vista – different political regimes have charted an often perilous course between an ever-vigilant military and a volatile economic climate, which culminated in a spectacular economic crash in 2001.

Primera planaLet us look briefly at the 1960s, as reflected in the pages of Primera Plana. This was a moment of cultural expansion and optimism. The magazine constantly monitored the foibles of its politicians and military rulers, and employed Argentina’s best cartoonists. President Illia (1963-1966) was characterised by the slowness of his thought processes. For cartoonist Flax (Lino Palacio), the stillest point in Argentina for a pigeon to nest uninterrupted was on the head of the president (see left). Sardonic humour is a feature of the magazine as it sought to usher in the new. The key journalist of the sixties was Tomás Eloy Martínez. He put into practice the magazine’s goals of linking Argentina with contemporary developments in the wider world. He would report on Hiroshima, twenty years after the bomb (see above right) and join the Russian cosmonauts at their training ground outside Moscow. He would write on Bergman, visit Fellini on the set of Juliet of the Spirits, and would map the ‘boom’ in Latin American fiction, with key articles and interviews with, as yet, unknown writers such as Gabriel García Márquez. This sixties moment of expansion came to an end when the military regime closed the magazine in 1969, heralding a radicalisation in politics, which would be the subject of the second magazine of my study, the aptly named Crisis.

This article first appeared in the Leverhulme Trust newsletter.

February 2012

Professor John KingProfessor John King has an MA from the University of Edinburgh and a DPhil from the University of Oxford. His publications include Magical Reels: A History of Cinema in Latin America (London, 2000) and Mario Vargos Llosa, Making Waves (ed & trans) (New York, 1998). He is a Lecturer in Latin American Literature at the School of Comparative American Studies at Warwick.

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