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Happily Ever After? Guerrilla Fables and Fairy Tales of Disappearance

In 1979 and 1980, during the dictatorship, after the 1978 Football World Cup and before the Malvinas/Falklands War, Carlos Trillo and Alberto Breccia, two emblematic authors of comics in Argentina, published a series of adaptations of classic fairy tales in three magazines: SuperHumor, El Pendulo and Hurra. Their versions of Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty are not sweet and comforting, like Disney’s animated re-creations of these fables, but rather dark and unsettling, closer to the visions of the Brothers Grimm. The Argentine authors not only restored the original violence to these tales but also made the sexual references explicit and removed the happy endings of the Disney productions. Breccia had been threatened by the military, so he opted to question the dictatorial regime using an apparently innocent genre to denounce the social conflicts of the period, the parallel reality lived by many Argentines during military rule, and the moral discourses of the dictators. These fairy tales were, as a result, addressed more to adults than to children.1

While Trillo and Breccia used fairy tales partly out of necessity (i.e. because of censorship), post-dictatorship artists have other reasons to turn to the form and motifs of fairy tales. Leaving to one side the widely acknowledged fact that, despite their notion of the happily-ever-after, in which good prevails over evil, fairy tales are often dark and disturbing, I want to ask in this chapter what other factors influence the decision by the post-dictatorship generation to use fairy tales? Is it just the capacity of this © The Author(s) 2016

J. Blejmar, Playful Memories, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-40964-1_5

genre to evoke children’s deepest fears of death and parental abandonment, tales of revenge and unspeakable horror, or is there more to this playful way of addressing trauma?

The wildernesses and lawlessness of fairy tales, together with the key motifs of the “quest,” 2 or the “escape,” and the frequent references to family crises, the death of parents and the need for justice, make them an ideal narrative structure for artists who suffered persecution and lost their parents during dictatorial regimes. In addition, like memories, fairy tales are stories passed from one generation to the next, thus making them archetypal accounts for reflecting on the transmission of trauma across time. Above all, as pointed out by Margaret Landwehr, post-conflict artists and writers use fairy tales to address the tension between historical knowledge and the emotional understanding that marked their childhood.3

One example of this trend is, of course, Mariana Eva Perez’s Diario de una princesa montonera, analyzed in the previous chapter, but many other post-dictatorship artists also refer to children’s fables in their cultural reconstructions of authoritarianism, particularly to classic books and stories of superheroes. Their work is full of references to fictional characters who never grow up (e.g. Peter Pan and the Little Prince), or who are orphans (e.g. Heidi, the little parentless girl who lives with her grandfather in the mountains; Annie, the much-loved red-haired orphan of the 1977 Broadway theatrical production; and Veronica, also a red-haired, thirteen- year-old orphan of a popular children’s book in 1970s Argentina).4 If in their autofictions the young artists and writers identify themselves with these fictional parentless figures, their parents (many of them 1970s guer- rilleros or political militants) are often represented as superheroes.5

The 1970s Latin American guerrilleros and superheroes share several attributes: they are willing to sacrifice themselves for a greater cause and they live a double and risk-taking life with a secret identity or nom de guerre. For Michael Chabon, superheroes also “spend a lot of time wishing they could stay at home, hang out with their families and loved ones, date the girl they love, be like everybody else. They excel because they cannot help it, or because it would be wrong not to.”6 This tension between private and public life also marked many militants. Moreover, both superheroes and militants have experienced at some point in their life, generally in middle age, some sort of revelation, a life-changing transformation and a rebirth, that in the case of the militants took place when they left the comfort of their middle-class homes, moved to working- class neighbourhoods and embraced the revolution. Even today, many photographs of the disappeared retain the forever-youthful and inspiring image of superheroes.

The presence of superheroes in the works of post-dictatorship artists might give the impression that they offer a heroic reading of the 1970s. However, unlike the epic narratives of militancy that are common in some of the testimonies of the survivors published in books or featured in documentaries during the mid-1990s, second-generation works inhabited by superheroes are also characterized by parody and humor. I have already mentioned the example of the 2010 multimedia project Mazinger Z contra la dictadura militar. In the same vein we can read the melodramatic version of Batman and Robin converted into queer guerrilleros in one of the episodes of Felix Bruzzone’s Los topos, a text that I address in more detail in Chapter 7.

In this chapter I look at the rewritings of children’s fables to address childhood memories of the dictatorial period in Laura Alcoba’s literary autofiction La casa de los conejos (The Rabbit House) (2008)7 and in Marfa Giuffra’s series of paintings, drawings and collages, Los ninos del Proceso (The Children of the Process) (2001-2005). By combining autobiography, imagination and references to fantastic tales, these works not only redefine the conventionalities of testimony, the writing of the self and ego-literature/art but also politicize and historicize bedtime stories. Both Alcoba and Giuffra demonstrate how, after the dictatorship, it is almost impossible in Argentina to talk about lost children, hidden places, wicked stepparents, estranged siblings and the persecution of outlaws in imaginary lands without evoking the atrocities committed by the perpetrators of the dictatorship in the real world.

 
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