On a Movie With Owen Wilson: Argentina’s Lazy Bums

26 06 2013

This is a clip from a movie with Owen Wilson in it. I could try to find it on IMDB, but Argentines are lazy. At least, so says Owen Wilson. In this clip, Owen Wilson delivers a Career Day speech to a class of Elementary School children. Owen Wilson is his typical Owen Wilson self, using words and phrases like “languishing” and “raison d’etat” to tell the children before him that most of them are destined to be “pods” floating through an unremarkable life, like characters in a Chris Ware comic. They will suffer through a boring adult existence and work their minds out to achieve very little. After some of this demotivational humor, Owen Wilson mentions that in Europe people “understand” things better and work less. And then, as the perfect example of paradisaical sloth and laziness, Edenic leisure and relaxation, he mentions Argentina: “I went to Argentina one time, and everyone seemed to be sitting around. It was beautiful.” I am now sitting on my bed and not quite as beautiful as I could be, but I am certainly in Argentina.

Owen Wilson, in two dense sentences, is able to encapsulate a dystopian vision of Argentina where unemployed people sit around and do nothing. In this hellish nightmare, the unemployed are not even able to walk around, such is their undernourishment. Lacking even the tiniest bit of energy, every lost Argentine soul is existentially chained to his or her city block, looking up at the skin-boiling sun. Which means they’re probably blind, too. All this, and more, can be gleaned from Owen Wilson’s quote. Indeed, we might draw a comparison to Carol Reed’s The Third Man, where a naive American travels to war-torn Europe and can hardly emphasize with the emotional, psychological, and spiritual destruction that World War II has wrought upon Vienna. In this unnamed Movie With Owen Wilson, Owen Wilson actually approves of Argentines sitting around doing nothing. He thinks it’s a positive character trait. What he doesn’t foresee are the dire and horrible consequences of his naive observation, which is clearly not an account of what he actually saw during his South American vacation but more like a vision of the future rivaling anything in Orwell, which Owen Wilson can barely interpret.

He is not the only person to have seen the future, though. In the YouTube comments – which are probably part of Owen Wilson’s artistic goal, since, in this mediated Internet age, the visionaries are not individuals but fragments of a community, making up the interconnected voice of the Web – are the stories of suffering Argentines, tormented by images of jobless destitution. “Haha, I’m argentinean and I find this hilarious. It’s just true,” says soberbiochino, a nickname that translates into “Amazing Chinese Dude” (1). Amazing Chinese Dude understands that what Owen Wilson saw is the reality underneath the surface of employed Argentines shuffling to and fro around Buenos Aires, cramping into subways, stacking themselves into trains like sardines, stepping into buses at five in the morning, running and driving over each other on their rush hour trips, working two or three or five jobs to make ends meet, and basically waking up each morning to the soul-shattering pressure of trying to earn a living, all of which, as Amazing Chinese Dude and Owen Wilson remind us, is about to disappear. Ostensibly, the reason is that Argentines are lazy bums. But the truth is far darker. Winter is coming. Our president watches Game of Thrones. She tweeted about it. Seriously.

Amazing Chinese Dude is not the only Argentine who spoke out about the dramatic future. Juan Alberto Gattafoni says: “Oh please. What are the Argentines who commented complaining about if a good part of the country lives off welfare? And don’t talk to me about nationalism, because we have none. We’re too much like immigrants to have national pride. And we’re always complaining about governments, blah, blah, blah.” Gattafoni’s sweeping social indictment cuts right to the problem. Welfare. His vast knowledge of actual people on welfare, collected in several anecdotes beginning with “I know this guy that…,” makes him something of an authority on the subject. His indictment of government programs ends with an equally heart-felt indictment of people who indict the government, in an intellectually honest and brave move that demonstrates how flawed we all are, even Gattafoni himself. In this, he also suggests why Owen Wilson’s dystopian vision might come true: the inherent frailty of humankind.

This is why Gattafoni suggests that Argentines have no nationality. Most derive from elsewhere, from Spain, Italy, and the Bering Strait. The whole world is at stake. We are all doomed, even Owen Wilson. Another YouTube user, mrtomyp92, says: “i’m argentinian and this is so true lol.” Yet another user, facumo, agrees: “I’m Argentine and I agree with every word in this scene.” Reading these testimonies, I realize I should have prefaced this post with “I’m Argentine…” in order to increase my credibility. After all, being Argentine means you know the truth about Argentina. Unless you’re Owen Wilson, in which case you know the truth about everything, even when you can’t interpret your own prophetic visions. The apocalypse foreseen by Owen Wilson is the apocalypse of a nation where everyone is convinced everyone else is horribly lazy, while the only constant is that everyone is worked to the ground by an economy that balloons as quickly as it pops, by a political atmosphere that is always threatening to implode, by a fragile and fickle job environment where it seems no one has secured long-term employment, and where the luckiest group of all are the welfare bums gaming the system and climbing the social ladder all the way to, well, some other corner of their eroding slum, where they can enjoy the fruits of their good luck under the threat of gunfire.

Owen Wilson saw what was coming. Those Elementary School children, however, probably didn’t comprehend a word. To begin with, they would have had to know what Argentina is. They would have had to know if it’s a country, a city, a region in Spain, a colony in Italy, or what Ginobili calls his mansion. Having been an Elementary School child in the United States, I can assure you that most American Elementary School children don’t even associate Argentina with South America. Or the planet Earth in general. Why Owen Wilson chose Argentina as his clarifying example, we cannot know. My guess is that Owen Wilson is not really speaking to the children in that classroom, but to all of us, to mrtomyp92 and facumo, to Amazing Chinese Dude, to Gattafoni, and most of all, to Cocky R4, who reminds us: “Shut the fuck up Argentina.” Yes, sorry about that.

(1) Actually, the meaning is a bit more ambiguous, because “soberbio” can either mean “contemptuous” and “haughty” or “amazing” and “grandiose.” Amazing Chinese Dude sounded better to me than Contemptuous Chinese Dude, so that was my decision.

This was a originally post in the Corrierino Forums, in my Argentina in the Movies thread.

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2 responses

4 02 2015
Juan

There is a simple answer to your question “why Owen Wilson mentioned Argentina”, because he had an Argentinean girlfrind, and visit our country many times.

1 03 2015
beaucine

Well, that doesn’t really answer my question, which had to do with the specific context of the scene: why his character in that movie chose to reiterate stereotypes about Argentina to a roomful of American schoolchildren who probably believe Argentina is close to China. Which, of course, is very sad. But, then again, that’s not really the point of my post, which is to lambast stereotypes about Argentina. Keep in mind: I’m an Argentine living in Buenos Aires. All I see, every day, are stressed-out people, working crazy hours in an unstable job environment. That includes myself. To learn that Argentina is, apparently, a wonderland of lazy people loafing about doing nothing is, at the very least, confusing.

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