El Chavo del 8 as an “Intimate Public” in Venezuela: What happened to the Good Life?

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Comparative and International Education Society Conference

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Atlanta, GA


Mention the words “El Chavo” to anyone who lived in Latin America between 1970s and 1990s and you are sure to witness some kind of affective response, defined as a feeling, energy, intensity, or emotion (Cvetkovich, 2012). Not only is the response to El Chavo del 8 usually affective in nature, it also typically communicates a particular structure of attachment towards the show, ranging from “I LOVED El Chavo del 8. I watched it every day!” to “It was a terrible show; I couldn’t stomach it.”
Given this range of affective responses, this paper broadly examines how the production and proliferation of particular affects and structures of (affective) attachments helped pave the way for this Mexican comedy show to gain such prominence and popularity across much of Latin America. More specifically--and inspired by my own childhood experiences—I explore how El Chavo del 8 became an important site of identification and recognition in the Venezuela of my youth (1980s to 1990s), a time of massive turmoil and “socioeconomic decay” (Lander, 2005).
Guided by the theoretical possibilities afforded by the Affective Turn (Clough & Halley 2007), Lauren Berlant’s (2008, 2011) extensive scholarship on affect, intimacy, and notions of belonging, and a qualitative analysis of the show’s 50 “most watched” episodes, I posit that El Chavo del 8’s magnetism can be attributed to the show’s capacity to forge an “intimate public” (Berlant, 2011) among its viewers--an aesthetic and affective structure that binds strangers together through affective ties, promoting a feeling of belonging, or “being in common” (Berlant, 2008). Through the explicit and implicit chronicling of the waning of “the good life” in a Mexican vecindad, I suggest that El Chavo del 8 showcases the daily adjustment of “living within crises” (Berlant, 2011) brought on by the economic liberalization policies (also termed neoliberal restructuring) that were pummeling much of Latin America during that time. As such, for the millions of Venezuelans who tuned in weekly to watch the show, the series potentially functioned as a space of affective connection, identification, and reciprocity, sustaining viewers as they discovered that their world (i.e., Venezuela of the 1980s and 1990s) could no longer sustain their fantasies of the good life (Berlant, 2008; Cvetkovich, 2011).
Given the seemingly inescapable clutch of neoliberal policies (and their subsequent wearing out of the subject), the significance of this work lies in examining how a mass-mediated “text” such as El Chavo del 8 is capable of not only cultivating reciprocal, affective ties among strangers in different parts of the world, but can also serve to create space(s) where people can come together to dream, work, or experiment alternative attachments, forms of adjustment, or modes of relationality in a world that continues to fray at the seams.