Francoist culture

Francoist culture
   The cultural complexion of Franco's Spain is one of the outcomes of the Civil War and its aftermath. The propaganda of the Francoist side fostered the notion that in overcoming the "red hordes" they were also redressing the effects of two centuries of negative and alien influence deriving from the Enlightenment, nineteenthcentury liberalism and modern democracy. The educational system and the media, heavily controlled by censorship, were therefore pressed into service to create an official culture which, in the eyes of the regime, would be truer to Spain's authentic character and heritage. The title of the Ministry of National Education, which had been used since the early nineteenth century, took on a new force, the word "National" denoting not only the territorial scope of the department's activities, but also its mission to act as a channel of Nationalist ideology. One of the first acts of the new post-war Ministry was to establish, in November 1939, the CSIC (Higher Research Council), the aim of which was stated in its founding charter as "the restoration of the classic and Christian unity of the sciences, which was destroyed in the eighteenth century". The rhetoric of the regime was not, however, backed by resources sufficient to enable the government to patronize official culture on a large scale, and in this situation a key role was played by National Catholicism. Catholicism was seen not only as closely bound up with the current political system, but as the essence of Spanish nationality, and the unifying force which had made Spain great in the past. In iconography, architecture and historiography, pride of place was given to the symbols of imperial Spain. The titles of periodicals published by the Falange both during and after the Civil War illustrate this eloquently: Jerarquía (Hierarchy), Vértice (Apex), and above all, Escorial, which took its name from the huge monastery-palace built by Philip II. Historical research on the modern period was discouraged, and attention was paid primarily to the "Reconquest" of Spain from the Moors in the late Middle Ages, the unification of the crowns of Castile and Aragon and the achievement of religious unifor-mity by the "Catholic monarchs" Ferdinand and Isabella at the end of the fifteenth century, and the imperial expansion of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Church influence on the content of teaching at all levels of the educational system was profound: conservative Catholic opposition to any attempt at liberalization could even bring about the dismissal of a Minister of Education, Joaquín Ruiz Giménez, in 1956.
   The attempt to impose a distinctive Catholic-Nationalist culture, however, met with limited success. Though the secretive Catholic organization Opus Dei acquired considerable influence in the Higher Research Council, in practice the Council avoided becoming a crude instrument of government propaganda, and soon earned a wellmerited reputation for supporting serious scholarly research. This illustrates the ambiguous nature of Francoist culture. On the one hand, many scholars active prior to the Civil War stayed on in Spain, and co-operated with the regime, partly because it was the only way in which they could function professionally (the alternatives being silence or exile), partly because the values manipulated by the regime (the glory of Spain in former times, the distinctiveness of the national character) made a powerful appeal to patriotic sentiment. At the same time, however, the international contacts necessary to effective research, coupled with the regime's efforts to present a respectable face to the rest of the world, meant that the enterprise of creating a restrictive conception of national culture was ultimately doomed to failure. By the 1950s, promising young researchers were studying in the US and in various European countries.
   Moreover, even within the permitted area of investigation, the application of rigorous scholarship had the effect of undermining the received view of the past. Economic historians like Ramon Carande, as early as 1942, demonstrated that the supposed imperial grandeur of Hapsburg Spain rested on an extremely weak financial base. The application of modern quantitative methods, especially in the hands of Vicens Vives, challenged the supremacy of traditionalist narrative approaches, and, from the 1950s, encouraged historians to look for the origins of modern Spain, not in the imperial past, but in the economic and political developments of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The official culture of the regime was ultimately unsuccessful in garnering the support of the intellectual community, but the spirit of critical independence, albeit muted, which existed in intellectual circles had little or no effect on the populace at large. One result of the Francoist system was to produce a large measure of depoliticization among the population, both by playing on fears of a return to the turmoil of the Civil War, and by fostering what has been aptly called a "culture of evasion". The stifling of overt criticism by censorship was complemented by the promotion of an optimistic view of conditions in Spain, and of life in general. In this process a key role was played by the cinema (see also film and cinema), radio, kiosk literature and spectator sports, especially football. In the late 1940s Spain had the highest number of cinema seats per capita of any country outside the US. Despite the poverty of the years after the Civil War, both Madrid and Barcelona saw the building of huge football stadia. Radio soaps attracted audiences of millions.
   All these genres provided entertainment of an uncritical kind which reinforced the general absence of intellectual curiosity outside élite circles. Nevertheless, the influx of foreign films, in a ratio of four or five to each Spanish one in the 1940s and 1950s, offered the public images of a glamorous lifestyle which, however superficial, exposed the austerity of life in Spain and created a discontent which was to fuel the demand for change after Franco's death.
   See also: consumerism; fotonovelas; history; ¡HOLA!
   Further reading
   - Carr, R. and Fusi, J.P. (1979) Spain: Dictatorship to Democracy, London: George Allen & Unwin (chapter 6 is an excellent overview of culture during the Franco period).
   - Hooper, J. (1995) The New Spaniards, Harmondsworth: Penguin (a very readable and informative guide to the Franco and post- Franco eras).

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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