The Visual Politics of Empty Shelves
Reading The Pictures
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I agree with the largest points this article makes. There are many ways that pictures influence our thoughts about other places.

I am an American citizen. I lived in Ecuador for a number of years. My wife of sixteen years is Ecuadorian. We both agree that we had no idea of what the other country was like before actually living there. My wife’s first job was in Hollywood. She was shocked that there were people in the gutter with needles in their arms. She had an image of plenty, as you might put it.

A point I would like to make is that there is a wide diversity of political thought in Latin America. I’ve never been to Venezuela, but I would be very surprised if there were not a large number of people who wanted to throw away the whole socialist experiment and turn to capitalism. The majority? No idea. Probably not. But they’re there.

We see the rest of the world in an odd way. We know that in America, there is a wide diversity of political thought. We have David Duke, Martin Luther King, Mitt Romney, Jimmy Carter, survivalists holed up in Idaho waiting for the world to end, peace and love communes in California — in short, whatever you want to find. But when we look to other countries, we imagine everybody in the country with their arms locked together in support of a dream which they all share. No! They are just as diverse as we are in political thought. And it really chaps their hide, for lack of a better term, when we assume that they favor this or that political system because of their nationality or ethnicity. I learned that lesson in a hurry.

Many people in Latin America too, maybe most, just as in America, really don’t give a you know what. They don’t think about politics that often. They think about their dogs, cell phones, boyfriends, girlfriends, how to lose ten pounds, their parents who are ill, whatever.

Which is not to say that people don’t try to influence our thought processes around political systems with pictures. They do. The pictures in this article may be an excellent example of that. But that does not preclude people thinking in a wide variety of ways under all political systems.

We are all the same.

That’s the conclusion my wife and I have reached after all these years. Once we got past the language barriers, once new places were no longer exotic, we each thought, “Oh. These are just people.” Yep. That’s what they were. And like people everywhere, they had all kinds of ideas, some were wingnuts, some were not, some were crazy, some were not, some read thick tomes of political literature on the left and right, some didn’t — it was all there. And we both knew how to deal with people in a foreign country, because they weren’t any different than people we had dealt with all our lives in our own country. Oh sure, there were cultural differences. But the differences weren’t the story, they were a distraction.

One more point, around the looting issue, apart from who does or doesn’t do it. It may be that the possibility of looting contributes to deaths from natural disasters. That idea came to me after some years of living in Latin America, and I’ve seen it play out in the United States too. If a hurricane is forecast, or a volcanic eruption, people may not leave their neighborhoods if they feel that their possessions will be inadequately protected. This gets portrayed in the press as people not having the good sense to get out when the getting’s good. But it may be a rational response to their environment. Rich people, who are insured, have nothing to worry about. But if all you have is a television set, and it took you years to get it, you may stick around to make sure that nobody takes it. Best.

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