Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

ARGENTINA: Blogs – a Shortcut to Fame?

Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, May 21 2009 (IPS) - While many are still warning that the Internet will do away with reading, unknown writers in Argentina who have joined the global trend of blogging are winning prizes around the world and watching their online writings turn into books, plays and television screenplays.

The first was Hernán Casciari, an Argentine journalist and writer who lives in Barcelona, Spain. After publishing novels, short stories and essays that barely sold, he created a blog about a fictional family, the Bertotti’s, which won the 2005 Best of the Blogs – better known as the BOBs – International Weblog Awards granted by Germany's international broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

The prize catapulted Casciari overnight to fame.

The character writing the blog is "la mujer gorda" (the fat woman), 52-year-old Argentine homemaker Mirta Bertotti who has to put up with an unemployed husband, three teenage kids and an elderly drug-addict father-in-law.

Surprised by the award, Casciari said the warm, witty "Mirta Bertotti" was his mother, and that he had started writing about her just to entertain a few of his friends.

The blog later gave rise to a novel titled "A Little Respect, I'm Your Mother", and to a play which is today the most popular show on Avenida Corrientes, the downtown Buenos Aires thoroughfare famous for its night life. The leading role is played by Antonio Gasalla, one of Argentina’s foremost comic actors.

Casciari is still keeping up the blog, but he is now also writing for the stage and the big screen.

One of his fellow bloggers, meanwhile, has begun to stand out. Carolina Aguirre was a finalist for the 2006 and 2007 Weblog Awards in the United States, which she finally won in 2008 with her blog Bestiaria. She has also won prizes as a screenwriter for shorts.

Bestiaria, a kind of inventory of stereotypes of women, was voted by the public as the best Spanish-language blog in 2008 in the BOBs, and won the Intel Cono Sur prize for the best blog on art and culture from Latin America. The Alfaguara publishing house in Argentina also published it as a book that same year.

Aguirre then began a new blog, La Peleadora (The Fighter), which comes out in the on-line edition of Crítica, a Buenos Aires daily, and is described as "a catalogue of fights between a nasty woman and several characters who want to make her life miserable."

"Six months ago I went to try on a shirt in a clothing store, but since it was too short, I decided not to buy it. When I was giving it back to the saleswoman, she made a ridiculous suggestion that I took for a joke. ‘Take it and add a little material at the bottom,’ the idiot said," the blog begins.

Nearly at the same time, Aguirre was writing "Ciega a citas" (Blind Date), which in one year turned into her second book, also published by Alfaguara. Her character, Lucía González, talks about why she has to find a boyfriend to take to her sister’s wedding.

"Yesterday I should have killed my mother and my sister, but instead of stabbing them I ate half a lemon pie and cried. My little sister, Irina, invited us to dinner at her house to give us a surprise: that she was getting married in seven and a half months," writes Lucía.

"Everything seemed to be going relatively well until it was time for our after-dinner coffee. When I went to the bathroom I came in for the surprise of my life. While I was washing my hands, I overheard a conversation that I still can’t believe was real. My mom was telling my sister that this wedding was going to be very hard on me because I’m older (I’m 30 and she’s 27) and should have been getting married first.

"That I have a worse job (I’m a reporter and I earn a pathetic salary, it’s true), that I didn’t have a boyfriend (how did she know that?), that I’m fat (I’m about 12 kilos overweight), and that my life is going nowhere (also true)."

In response, Lucía sets out on a crusade to find a boyfriend before her sister’s wedding.

Aguirre’s daily blog drew two million visitors in just over eight months, and the Fox International production company is partnering with an Argentine producer, Rosstoc, to adapt it for a TV series that will begin to be aired this year.

"When you write a blog, you write with the reader inside of you," Aguirre told IPS. "But until it’s finished, a novel doesn’t have a reader, who will anyway always be invisible and mute. In the blog, the two things are parallel. Every day someone reads what you write, and I’m always aware that somebody’s out there.

"The novel has a more clean-cut distance between the person who is writing and the person who is reading. Nothing conditions me, but at the same time, I never know if I’m writing a great story or a piece of junk. It’s as if the thermometer were broken," she describes.

With respect to the possibility of blogs replacing books, Aguirre said she believes that "no one knows what’s going to happen, but none of the options look like the Apocalypse.

"The language and the medium are transformed, evolve and mutate because there are readers or spectators who are doing so too," she said.

"Movies didn’t die when sound arrived; they changed. Theatre didn’t die despite the advent of films, but radio plays did give way to television soap operas." In the current process, "any of these things could happen," she said.

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