One week ago, my most beloved author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez ascended into heaven (Remedios the Beauty, anyone? Hopefully he was not naked and wearing only a sheet) and departed our Earthly world. Marquez cracked my adolescent brain open with One Hundred Years of Solitude, a book that to me is of epically Biblical proportions. His last work Memories of My Melancholy Whores is also a personal favorite of mine because of its frank discussions on mortality, sexuality, and what it is to be human. Gabo, as he is affectionately referred to by his fans, was a man who changed lives with his writing.n
Somehow I acquired a cold this week, I suspect from my Friday night spent in several packed bars (thank you, friends) which means I get to binge watch television as I feel like my head is a block of cement that cannot interpret words on a page, making reading even simple text an exercise in futility. A perfect opportunity to explore Netflix, I usually go straight to the documentary section because documentaries are my jam. Lock me in a room with documentaries and memoirs for the rest of my life and I will emerge a pale but very well informed wrinkly old woman. One can dream.
Documentaries are noted for being hit-or-miss. Amongst the ones I watched yesterday, Imposter was so chillingly good I watched it twice (a tale about a young French man assuming the identity of a missing Texas boy which takes a twist I will not spoil, go watch it!), Addicted to Fame (the bizarre account of the last film Anna Nicole Smith participated in before her death, because I have a small obsession with Anna for some reason), and Big Boys Gone Bananas! This documentary is an extension of the original documentary it is explaining, http://www.bananasthemovie.com/, something documentarians occasionally do such as when Nick Broomfield made a second Aileen Wuronos film to explain the impact of the first one. Big Boys Gone Bananas (BBGB) was a bit of a miss for editing and story-telling, however I stuck with it because of the curious nature of the content.
The documentary is centered around the court cases, civil attempts, and harassment Dole Foods has levied against the filmmaker of Bananas, a man named Frederick Gerreten. The film asserts that banana workers experienced the health effects of sterility due to working with a chemical pesticide DBCP, something Dole Foods took serious issue with, to the extent of harassing the film maker, issuing court-sanctioned information mandates to be read at screenings of the film, and general work to discredit any and all things the film said.
In One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabo writes a particularly beautiful, eloquent, and profound account of what many South American peoples faced during the reign of the banana republics. Gabo writes in the style of magical realism, a uniquely South American genre where fantastical occurrences are a part of everyday reality. To illustrate the point of White capitalism’s effect on South American towns and society as a whole, he attributes divine powers to the (American) gringo who runs the banana operation, John Brown, such as declaring all banana operations cease until the rain storm stops, at which point there goes clear skies to rainstorms for months on end. The analogy Gabo makes is that capitalism had such power of local populaces it seemed the decrees came direct from the heavens themselves. When the workers strike, the banana company slaughters them in a public square with military machine guns, dumps the bodies on to a train, and then disposes of them into the ocean. When the lone witness returns to Macando to report back what he saw, no one will believe him imploring only that there never was a massacre and the banana company complied with the demands of the workers, who had peacefully left Macando, so there could not have been thousands of dead bodies rotting in the sea. Until his death the character is regarded as a crazy man. Gabo clearly demonstrates the depravity and power of the companies that wrecked havoc on South American life exploited.
Gabo was barred entry into America for a long time because of his noted advocacy for communism and outspokenness against American capitalist interests. While watching “Banana Boys Gone Wild!” so close to recent death I could not help but be reminded of the banana worker slaughter. It really was true, these companies really do things like that and get away with it. The scene in which a statement from Dole Foods refuting the filmmakers point was legally mandated to be read was absurd. If it was not true that these people were exposed to dangerous chemicals, why would Dole Foods care about what some silly documentarian composed a film about?
To me personally, this translates into a first world problem. I love bananas. I love banana bread and pancakes with bananas and chocolate chips (!!). As an American who cannot escape living in capitalism, everything I consume comes from a violence against another person. As I have mentioned before, sometimes I send this blog to one of my friends who has wildly different political views than me. He sometimes gets exasperated with me and all my theoretical inquiries about what goes on around us because, in his view, “All you can do is carve out a space for you and your family and hope for the best”. This is sound advice for the practical of confronting the world and dealing with the necessary evil that one has no control over. But, to me, that does not mean we have to forget about the banana workers.
Long live your good soul, Gabo, may you have a good rebirth.