‘The urban world is a complex mixture of both good and evil, a realm marked by sharp contrasts that suggest a superabundance of both change and opportunities’. Every city experiences the benefits and the challenges of urban life and Buenos Aires is indeed one of these. Certainly many of the challenges of urban life can be seen during the period of 1998 to 2002 in Argentina: a period of instability and division that ultimately led to an economic crisis. With hyperinflation, widespread privatisation, a shrinking economy and high unemployment rates, the Argentine “great depression” arose.
The result of this was a tale of two cities, split between a wealthy minority and a poor majority. In this essay I am going to compare and critically analyse the portrayal of urban life in the 1998 film ‘Pizza, Birra, Faso’, co-directed by Israel Adrián Caetano and Bruno Stagnaro, and Claudia Piñeiro’s novel ‘Las Viudas de los Jueves’, published in 2005. ‘Pizza, Birra Faso’ tells the story of a group of youths living in an impoverished district in the outskirts of Buenos Aires who commit crimes in order to survive. Contrastingly, ‘Las Viudas de los Jueves’ takes the reader inside one of Buenos Aires’ gated communities and provides insight into the lavish lives of Argentina’s upper class. I have chosen these two texts because while they portray polar opposite visions of urban life in Buenos Aires, both texts share a common goal; both the author and the directors are ultimately highlighting the corruption and division of society at the time. This essay will discuss the vision of urban life depicted by these two texts while using Roberto Esposito’s immunity theory for structure. I feel this theory best explains why this societal divide took place as I will go on to explain.
Firstly, it is important to define immunity. While it is often understood in the literal sense as a means of protection against disease, this essay will focus more on the metaphorical sense in that immunity is the freedom or exemption from any natural or usual liability. The following pages further discuss what immunity is, who carries out the act of immunisation in the two texts and why, who or what is/are being immunised against, and how immunity ultimately destroys the community, irrespective of wealth.
I seek to explain that immunisation led to the breakdown of urban life and the sense of community in Buenos Aires at the time and aim to show that when groups immunise themselves, they ultimately damage themselves and society, whereas a cohesive society provides for greater satisfaction for all. Esposito’s stance is that the words community and immunity are coterminous in the sense that their Latin roots both contain the word ‘munus’, which means ‘gift’ or ‘duty’. He argues that community is reliant on this ‘gift’ and immunity is the exemption from such gift-giving. That is to say, to participate in a community we are always giving something and getting something else in return, therefore this gift is what makes the community possible. However, if you take this contribution away, you destroy the principle of the community. Thus to be immune is to be outside of the community.
One obvious example of immunisation taking place comes from those who live in the gated communities in ‘Las Viudas de los Jueves’. Removing themselves from their own community and isolating themselves from the outside world, literally with concrete walls: ‘un sólido paredón de tres metros de altura’ is an act of immunisation. The act is being carried out by those living inside the gates against those who live outside of them i.e. the characters in ‘Pizza, Birra, Faso’. The characters in the novel see the city as a place full of crime, corruption and death. From the very start of the novel and throughout, Piñeiro makes us aware of numerous historical events: the attack on the Twin Towers, the anthrax attacks, the economic crisis and the murder of a photographer.
Piñeiro paints the outside world as a place of fear and danger: there is nothing positive ever mentioned about the city. On the other hand, the reader is presented with ‘La Cascada’, the safe haven where you can be free and immune from the dangers of the city and ‘cortar con la ciudad’. As the book progresses, however, we come to discover that this sense of liberation is completely false, it is impossible to cut yourself off from life outside the gates. I will go on to further discuss this and the dangers of immunisation later on in this essay. Casey Riffel suggests that: ‘once the immunisation paradigm becomes enmeshed in the logic of the state, it commences an internal war to label foreign pathogens within the national body: it identifies by rejecting, it purifies itself by destroying itself’. We see in ‘Pizza, Birra, Faso’ how the state has done exactly this; those at the bottom of the hierarchy like the young characters in the film are rejected from society because they have become the disease.
This has led to this internal war between the rich and the poor, the city and it’s citizens. It could also be argued that the group of boys in the film are also attempting to immunise themselves against the state’s efforts of modernisation; they do so by committing crimes so as to not conform to social norms and urbanisation. They are reacting to the transformation of urban life. We see the boys’ resistance to this when Cordobés is sat on the wall outside the pizza shop and the manager tells him to get down, to which he replies ‘la ley’. Esposito implies that this could be the case, he states that: ‘modernity activates a process of immunisation’.