BUENOS AIRES -- Argentines call popcorn “pochoclo,” but you wouldn’t know that watching television here, where many shows are made in the United States and come dubbed by actors with Mexican or Spanish accents who call it “palomitas.”
In a bid to recover part of Argentina’s lost cultural heritage, create more jobs and stir up nationalist pride in an election year, President Cristina Fernandez has decreed that certain broadcast TV shows must be dubbed instead into Argentina’s lyrical brand of Spanish, though stipulating the language must be “neutral” enough for all Latin Americans to understand.
The move won praise from Argentine film director Carlos Mentasti, whose most recent hit, A Chinese Tale, beautifully captures a Buenos Aires culture clash. He complains that something important is lost when kids grow up listening to voice-overs that sound nothing like how their families and neighbors talk.
“Impregnated by television and videogames, Argentine kids often use, from a very young age, words that aren’t part of our idiosyncrasy,” Mentasti said. “That’s why supporting everything that’s ours when it comes to culture is always positive.”
That hasn’t stopped the move from being lampooned on social media around Latin America, playing on the stereotype that Argentines consider themselves more European and therefore superior to all their neighbors.
The Argentine way of speaking is highly distinctive, especially when served up in the “porteno” accent that instantly marks people from the nation’s capital. Spanish here was heavily influenced by the waves of European immigrants who arrived in South America a century ago, and Argentines still employ grammatical constructions considered a bit archaic in many other Latin American countries.
The measure implements a never-enforced, 25-year-old law requiring that foreign-language shows, movies and commercials that are broadcast on local television must be dubbed by actors who share “the phonetic characteristics” of Argentines.
All such content must be registered with the government, and any station or content provider failing to comply will be fined. The money will go to fund Argentina’s filmmaking industry.
The decree is great news for local actors who will get more work dubbing and be able to charge intellectual property rights for movies, Argentine Dubbing School director Dany de Alzaga said. But the July 15 decree, which gives government regulators until Sept. 15 to implement the law, left many questions unanswered and provided for several major exceptions.
It ruled out new voice-overs for imported content that arrives already dubbed in another country’s Spanish. It applies only to broadcast television, not cable TV or films shown in movie theaters, and it can only be enforced for content aimed solely at Argentine audiences, exempting shows that are broadcast to many countries. Weeks after the decree, the two government agencies in charge of implementing the law are still waiting for guidance from the presidency on how to go about it.
The law doesn’t say who is expected to foot the bill for the new dubbing, and it is also unclear how it will affect subtitles.
A group representing the hearing-impaired is concerned enough to circulate an online petition insisting that dubbing not replace subtitles that make watching television possible for more than a half-million Argentines who have hearing disabilities.
Others say the move has less to do with culture than stoking nationalism ahead of midterm congressional elections on Oct. 27.
But for many Argentines, those criticisms – and the ribbing of their Latin American neighbors – is of secondary concern. They say Argentine culture must come first, and that citizens have a right to listen to programs that sound right to them.
“It’s true that Argentines feel quite different. It’s also true that this `neutral’ or `Latin-American’ tone we hear on many programs doesn’t represent us,” said philosopher and writer Alejandro Rozitchner. “I don’t know if this law is good or bad, but it’s true that years and years of watching dubbed programming generates feelings of something foreign: We don’t speak this way.”