Blacked Out

For all his power over broadcast media, Nicolás Maduro has completely lost his hold over Venezuela’s public conversation. We’ve tuned him out.

He walks into the room he always broadcasts from, one more time. He’s greeted by his staff and handed cue cards with some of the main points to cover today. He sits on his chair, takes a sip of water and hears the broadcast director in charge say “five minutes, Mr. President.”

Nicolás Maduro is ready to go live.

Usually when a head of state is about to address the nation, attention is guaranteed. People care, the media is keen, it matters. Not here. Maduro’s ability to generate a sense of expectancy has vanished. He can cry wolf all he wants, he can denounce the opposition as warmongers, or even talk to cows.

We stopped caring.

It does him no good that two-thirds of broadcast media is under his thumb. He gets no milleage out of his battalions of Twitter bots. The whole propaganda apparatus —SIBCI they call it— can’t pierce through. It doesn’t matter how self-censorship has reduced the spectrum of topics the few privately held broadcasters can even touch on. We tuned out long ago.

Maduro’s ability to generate a sense of expectancy has vanished.

He’s tried to keep up with trends, using his Facebook channel to broadcast live. He fancies himself the star of a reality mini-series, with snippets of him driving around Caracas with the Vice-president, the first lady and a flurry of ministers, or playing some good old catch with compadre Diosdado.

It feels fake. People sense that, and dismiss it.

They’ve lost the one thing they can’t compel: our attention. Our eyes are glued on what’s really going on: Whatsapp and Twitter feeds full of the latest of the nationwide protests that have surpassed the 40 day mark. We cannot, will not, ignore the hunger crisis that now plagues city streets, and the new urban tribe its given rise to: urban garbage scavengers. And we will not look away from the unrest and repression of those who dare speak up. Those are the headlines, that is the news.

You cannot distract an enemy who will not engage. And that’s what it is… we disengaged.

The broadcast is over, the president asks for how it went.

“Just over a thousand views throughout the whole transmission on YouTube, Mr. President.”

“A thousand? Good job, gang!”, he says. Because no matter how long he speaks or how controversial the subject, people don’t care. He cries wolf, but no one comes to his aid. He’s been blacked out.