Contributions from Argentina

1. Radio loyalty in the digital age

Author: Victoria Irisarri, postdoctoral researcher at Instituto de Altos Estudios Sociales/CONICET (Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas). Lecturer in Anthropology at University of Buenos Aires.  

Fieldsite: Victoria is conducting research among producers working in the cultural sector in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Argentina has been on a strict lockdown for COVID-19 since March 20th. The cultural sphere is one of the most affected sectors in terms of economic damage. As it will take a long time until face-to-face encounters in recreational public spaces and massive events could happen again, many people who work in production in the cultural sector have been thinking about converting their works into digital ones, thus being able to generate some ad-hoc income out of them. In their everyday lives, the producers are staying tuned when it comes to the latest information about coronavirus, finding their own ways of accessing reliable news. In this volatile scenario, maybe quite paradoxically, radio has remained for many of them, one of the –if not the– main sources of information. As Agustín Espada’s research shows, the radio industry, like the rest of the media industries, is going through a process of change regarding its production, marketing strategies and relationship with its audiences.

For many producers, radio has been an attractive and interesting medium for staying informed before and during the quarantine. Diego Bulacio, a.k.a. Villa Diamante, has been producing and playing mashups, a type of music that combines different songs producing a new one, for more than fifteen years. He was the co-founder of the ZIZEK parties and record label, a collective association that took its name after the Slovenian philosopher as a form of tribute for his way of analysing contemporary culture in a sort of “mashup” that mixes theoretical arguments with pop culture. Radio has become a great companion for Diego, especially since he moved from Buenos Aires city to a small community in the north area of Buenos Aires province 40 minutes away. Before the pandemic, he would spend a lot of time in his car going back and forth. Now, while staying at home in lockdown, radio has also been his main source of information, primarily Radio con Vos, a relatively new radio station that emerged five years ago. This radio station has become Diego’s most trusted source of information. As he says “all programs tend to include interviews with virologists and other specialists who are quite reliable and consistent”. Yet, he prefers not to share a lot of online information regarding COVID-19, arguing that everyone should navigate their own way across the huge amount of data going on around. Still, he suggests that overexposure to television is not necessary, and could be even negative, especially since what we see on the horizon is not very encouraging. He doesn’t get along with television because, as he points out, “you can find anyone talking about anything, mixing important virologists with a guy on the street who has a butcher shop in Spain or New York City”. In this case, it turns out mashups are not so attractive.

Villa Diamante. Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/B91n-chAxQ5

Trustworthy information has been a key area of dispute in public social life in Argentina over the last ten years. In 2009, a new media regulation law was passed in Congress. This bill sparked several debates with regards to media owners, their conflicts of interest, ideology and the ways in which they build hegemony. In December 2015, with the arrival of an administration on the right of the political spectrum, the law was revoked. However, awareness about how media works, and their editorial viewpoints had been widely installed across the population. In this context, Diego’s favourite radio station introduced a new positioning by ironically calling themselves “Centre Korea”, neither North nor South, which in Argentinian terms, would read as not responding to the ideology of any of the two major political parties.

Until December 2019, Ángel del Re was a co-partner at 432 Hertzios, a small but powerful record label company in Buenos Aires. Then, he took office as Buenos Aires province’s Director of Creative Industries and Digital Culture at the Ministry of Production, Science and Technological Innovation. Basically, his current job is to engage with the music sector while encouraging the development of digital tools, particularly in the video games area, not only the most powerful in the field but also a great source of employment, income producer and foreign exchange earnings. In his role of cultural state agent, the information that he has been producing for the artists during the pandemic is related to generate ways of helping them with their incomes. A key activity has been giving advice on public policies available for cultural producers, especially since they do not easily recognize themselves as part of the productive apparatus and, thus, do not gain access to the economic tools that already exist. An activity that was rolled out from the Creative Industries Direction is “My Life in Quarantine”, an initiative that targets Buenos Aires province’s producers and artists. Through a selection process, artists are encouraged to submit their work, either a music show or a workshop addressing music or audiovisual producers, actors or playwriters.  The chosen ones get a monetary payment. The shows or workshops are shared with the audience as a way of continuing their social bonding through digital technologies.

“My life in quarantine” initiative – logo

When the quarantine started, Ángel set up a Google Alert with the key terms “corona virus, creative industries” to get information that cuts across both topics. He also relies on social media, especially Twitter, as a source for news. Despite “all the trolls and fake news” that circulate across digital media, he believes that this particular platform can be really powerful if you know how to deal with it. Thus, he mainly follows users who specialise in topics relevant to him, such as communication studies, creative industries and trans-media among others, as a way of engaging with coronavirus-related themes and exploring how the outbreak may affect the new task he is now in charge of. Like Diego, Ángel also listens to radio, particularly Futurock, a station he associates with a new generation of young journalists with backgrounds that suggest they are reliable. If he needs to verify any data, he goes to the Internet to check on specialised sites.

Quite surprisingly, in the digital media era, traditional radio listening remains one of Argentina’s favourite means of consuming media. Based on the latest national survey, 70% of the population listens to radio for as long as three or four hours a day, with the majority using analogue and portable radios as the main way of accessing it. This percentage is equally high among young adults. New radio stations like the ones mentioned above have also started online transmission becoming a radio frequency station in order to appeal broader audiences through digital devices. Argentina has a long tradition of radio broadcasting and a century after radio was originally launched, and more recently its digital expansion, this medium continues to play a key role in the way the Argentinian public obtains information.

2. Lockdown in Buenos Aires: sharing fun memes to keep  connected with the outside world

Author: Ximena Díaz Alarcón,  current PhD Candidate in Sociology (UCA – Universidad Católica Argentina). You can contact her at xdiaz@youniversalcontent.com

Field site: In strict lockdown in Buenos Aires, Argentina, connecting with informants via Whatsapp via mobile phone. Informants are 45 + years old women of middle-upper socioeconomic levels living in Buenos Aires.

I was doing fieldwork before lockdown, meeting with Middle and Upper SEL women from Buenos Aires to talk about what it means to be an adult in these times, the meaning of being 45 years old today, how they feel about themselves, their lives, their bodies, and their work, when a strict lockdown was imposed by the Government on the 20th of March  due to COVID-19. The lockdown is still ongoing.

Since lockdown started, we have continued to chat through Whatsapp and there, we talked about the feeling of quarantine as something surreal that had just happened. Many of the women were concerned mainly about three things: their own parents and how they were going to get their groceries, given that information had started to circulate in the media about seniors being one of the most vulnerable segments of the population,  and secondly, how their teenage kids were going to get their classes and how the different institutions were going to cope with schedules, and finally, how they were going to cope with their own work schedules and housekeeping chores. Many of them are used to having help with this, but since circulation was prohibited, no one could come to do the chores.

Soon, chats gave way to memes and images as a form of quick expression in the group.  These ranged from the surreal situation, to the appreciation of everyday life and the joys of family, to the tensions related to pushing kids to do their homework, to juggling work and housekeeping chores, to the multiple jokes about the ”dangers” of anxious eating so much home-cooked food and cakes and the very uncomfortable trips to the store to buy food all covered up.

Memes seemed to help these middle-aged women cope with quarantine stress and disrupted routines in their homes – they are quick way to share information in closed groups but also on their social media while trying to avoid bad news and sad or worrisome images. Generally, they tried to keep up with traditional media (TV, radio and online versions of traditional newspapers), as they felt they were in general not publishing “fake news”, and tried to avoid sensationalist or “clickbait” news, since too much information (and fake items) was making them feel even more anxious and stressed.

A feeling of something surreal…
A re-appreciation of life and its possibilities, adjusting to new routines…
Barbie in quarantine: Too much home-cooking, and jokes about getting fat from so much anxious eating during quarantine.
The very uncomfortable trip to the store to buy food.

Other than humour, tips about free online yoga classes or how to make sure food isn’t contaminated  were also shared in the group. One of the most interesting uses of memes came after every speech of president, Alberto Fernandez, who is the official voice of the regulation of the quarantine, as well as activities and timings.

The first memes alluded to kids needing to study remotely during quarantine and avoiding “wasting time on TikTok”. When the strict quarantine period was prolonged further, memes showing a white –haired president saying “now, you can go outside again” as if years have passed started to emerge, and after one of his broadcasts, in which he explained very complex statistics regarding the effects of ”flattening the curve”, more memes appeared, jokingly showed him explaining the complex map of interactions between the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote.

“Stop fooling around on TikTok and do your homework!”
“You can go out now”
An explanation of the flattening of the curve led to jokes about the ability of the president to explain very complex processes such as the ACME plans of the Coyote.

For these middle-aged women, traditional media is the main source of information used, presenting a seriousness and formality that helped them feel they were getting concrete and real information, and it seems memes help them cope with the anxiety created by confinement and its impact on their daily lives, using humour to release tension quickly.