Does Colombia have a victim mentality?

By bogotapost January 19, 2016
Miss Universe, Ariadna Gutiérrez

Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutiérrez, left, has the crown literally removed from her head by compatriot Paulina Vega as the eventual winner looks on.

While the next Miss Universe is unlikely to come from Liverpool, Faye Griffiths sees some similarities in the collective attitudes of Liverpudlians and Colombians

Regardless of what you think about beauty pageants, the moment when a perfectly poised Ariadna Gutiérrez, beaming (as much as you can with that amount of makeup) in acceptance of the crown, realises that it is being revoked would make anyone squeak an “Awwww, no.” The photographs make the whole thing look more cat-fighty than it really was, but it’s impossible not to look bitchy when touting that amount of apparently compulsory eye-liner. In reality, the scene itself was just hideously awkward, and sort of sad – relatively speaking, of course. But the poor woman handled it pretty well. She maintained her composure as they literally lifted the crown off her head and placed it instead on Miss Philippines’.

Then came the response, mostly on social media, to the “humiliation” of poor Ariadna. From memes of an overweight, middle-aged Pablo Escobar chasing after presenter Steve Harvey to huge outpourings of rage on Facebook and Twitter. So extreme was the fallout that the magazine Pulzo published a piece about how the event had brought out the worst attitudes in Colombians. It really did. While the barrage of racist and violent messages on Harvey’s Twitter account is obviously not representative of even a small minority of the country, it was really ugly. 

But even putting that extreme vocal minority aside, from the more general response to the event there was a sense there had been some horrible, deliberate assault against Colombia as a nation. This was confirmed when I opened an email from last week demanding that the crown be returned to Ariadna, who had been so wrongly humiliated. I wouldn’t have been surprised to have seen hashtags saying #YoSoyMissColombia, and a Colombian flag being transposed in a pale wash over Facebook profile pictures after that.

In this angry pre-Christmas climate, I got to wondering whether my compatriots would have reacted similarly if Miss England had been the victim of Harvey’s mistake. Would memes of, say, Reggie Kray chasing after the presenter have circulated? Then I slapped myself and remembered that Miss Englands aren’t usually finalists. But on a serious note, I dare to say that the reaction would not have been nearly as strong. So why did some Colombians react so ferociously to this small mishap? Is it just patriotic solidarity? After asking those around me, I drew the conclusion that it’s perhaps due to Colombia not featuring very much on an international stage, so even outdated nonsense like beauty pageants count for something in terms of recognition. But that doesn’t explain the level of negative emotion the contest evoked. Based on my experience of having lived eight years in the UK city of Liverpool, and coming up to six in Colombia, I wondered whether for similar reasons both places have a collective victim mentality.

Liverpool, like most cities in the north of England and Scotland, suffered terrible, crippling unemployment in the 80s and 90s, earning the reputation that still (unfairly) exists of being the country’s theft capital. Jokes like: ‘What do you call a Scouser in a suit?’ ‘The Accused’, were really common, and this, combined with some tragic events such as the Hillsborough disaster and the brutal murder of the toddler Jamie Bulger, added to the image of Liverpool as a pitiful and miserable place.

Unfortunately, in addition to a strong victim mentality, Liverpool also has a cultural propensity for all that is maudlin and a bit tragic. It’s recognisable to those outsiders who live in the city for a short time. There’s an attitude that prevails as if Liverpool were the only city to have suffered in post-industrial Britain, and when Liverpool fan Michael Shields was arrested in Bulgaria in 2005 for having suspectedly hit a barman over the head with an ashtray, there was an outpouring of rage as though he had been arrested solely because he was from Liverpool.

I’m not sure how a victim mentality is strictly defined, but I’d say that it is a prevailing cultural sense that you are being targeted because of your nationality, or in the case of Liverpool, regionality. Thus the braying online mob of Colombians who seemed ready to harm the poor fool Steve Harvey were acting as though Miss Colombia had been humiliated and wronged because of her being Colombian, and took it as a personal affront to all Colombians, rather than regarding it as the unfortunate slight that it was.

Why is this? Perhaps Colombia’s recent display of this mentality is a result of the international infamy it has unfairly suffered for the past three decades with most of its international recognition coming from cocaine production and smuggling. Added to that, the rest of the world cannot even spell the name of the country correctly. Maybe it runs deeper and harks back to it being a Spanish colony, oppressed and seen as something which exists only as a small appendage to a greater thing. Whatever the reason – and perhaps it is just my perception based on the Miss Universe accident and Colombia losing to Brazil (fairly, as anyone could see) in 2014 – it is an unhealthy thing, for in my experience it helps to perpetuate negativity and creates self-fulfilling prophecies.

After the worst of Colombia (as Pulzo described it) came to the fore, so followed some timely and very astute analysis from writers such as the journalist Melba Escobar, pointing out that the real shame is that we still parade women in bathing suits and high heels to celebrate their beauty through male criteria, and that in the same week as the Miss Universe ‘scandal’, two women died in Cali at the hands of their partners, yet it barely made the news. There were also several memes and even a video comparing the fury about Ariadna’s humiliation with the absence of indignation about the terrible health service, corruption, the increase to 19% in IVA… But perhaps best of all was that finally a meme circulated demanding that there be no more Escobar memes, no more double morality. And this is well overdue, for it is high time that this image stops being used as a joke. As comical as it is, an image of Escobar chasing after some mediocre but apologetic TV presenter reinforces the idea that anyone who wrongs you deserves to be capped.

It seems odd that in a newsworthy month, this bizarre story drew international attention. But it was a shame that in Colombia at least the attention was not given to Ariadna Gutiérrez’s composure and nerve in what, for the inexperienced 19-year old, must have been the complete collapse of her universe in front of an international TV audience. Maybe it was shock, but she seemed to take it on her beautiful chin, and the vocal minority who were so incensed on her behalf could learn a lot from her. #NoMasCaraDeVictima.

By Faye Griffiths

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