Retail therapy relieves Spanish tension

Contemporary Spanish Culture

October 31, 2003

Paul Julian Smith's latest incursion into the world of contemporary Spanish culture consists of six "case studies" drawn from television (the serial Periodistas ), fashion (Adolfo Domínguez), art (Miguel Barceló and Txomin Badiola) and cinema (Ventura Pons and Pedro Almodóvar). On each topic he provides invaluable detailed commentaries. But the real value of the book lies in a coherent critical stance that reveals the tensions and paradoxes in the artists and works concerned.

Smith's main theoretical frame of reference is the work of Pierre Bourdieu, for whom cultural products are not exceptional, but simply "privileged forms of economic activity". Discussion then focuses on those areas where the aesthetic and the economic, the pure and the social, consumption and production, are seen to coincide rather than contradict and collide with each other.

Smith argues convincingly for a cultural environment in Spain whose key practitioners have adopted the forms and structures of a global market but whose work is permeated with the specificities of a Spanish national or regional perspective allowing success both at home and abroad - even if such work is often understood in different terms in each of these contexts, as is particularly noticeable in responses to representations of homoeroticism.

Each discussion moves from the outline of a theoretical framework, through an analysis of the Spanish context, to a detailed discussion of individual works that Smith responds to as a cultural theorist and consumer. We follow his intellectual arguments and share, for example, in the euphoria of his retail therapy as he purchases a Domínguez T-shirt. He touches on a multitude of areas of everyday life in Spain and, as an antidote to the pessimism of theorising about globalisation, offers a passionate view of the distinctiveness of modern Spanish culture.

Francis Lough is senior lecturer in Spanish, University of Kent.

Contemporary Spanish Culture: TV, Fashion, Art and Film

Author - Paul Julian Smith
Publisher - Polity
Pages - 178
Price - £50.00 and £15.99
ISBN - 0 7456 3052 9 and 3053 7

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