Introduction to culture and politics

It is impossible to write about tango culture without talking about politics at the same time. Part of the reason is that, whether we like it or not, everything today has become politicised. You can try to ignore the politics and try to focus on learning the basics of dancing technique and tango culture and it may work for you in some places. But its increasingly difficult to live in such a bubble and ignore the politics because they seem to have a tendency to take over everything, so might as well confront them head on and call a spade a spade.

Tango culture and politics are connected in a number of ways that are intrinsically connected to learning tango:

To begin with, the different styles of tango create disagreements and it is not clear what is the nature of these disagreements. Are we talking about different shades of a colour or different colours altogether? Can they coexist?

More deeply, there is the question of tradition and authenticity. This question bears closely on our approach to learning and will affect our success. Should we take a culturally relativist stance to tango culture, and view it as sui generis, an exotic culture of the south, or should we view it as continuous with European culture, with English country dances, the habanera and the classical tradition, esp. Romanticism?

How we decide the question of tradition and authenticity will determine the question of the basis of judgement and criticism, of deciding what is good and what is bad, and in that sense also our learning. Are judgements about authenticity a matter of insider knowledge of those who participate in the cultural practice of a given ethnic group, or is it more like the aesthetic judgement exercised with respect to say classical music, where we appeal to more universal principles of beauty and taste?

I suggest that in the current state the participants on the tango political scene take a culturally relativist approach. I believe that this creates a relativist political game where there are competing cultural paradigms that appeal to consumer choice. I do not find this very satisfying and suggest an approach that is traditionalist but draws on art criticism, esp. in music, rather than narrow cultural relativism. In developing this argument I draw heavily on the writings of the philosopher of art Roger Scruton.

Finally, there is the wider set of issues generated by the cultural revolution of the 1960s which has given us the current culture wars, postmodernism in the arts, radical feminism, misandry and anti-white racism. Although academic postmodernism goes hand in hand with cultural relativism, it goes further in that it rejects beauty, tradition and all standards of critical judgement. What matters is not truth but power, and so radical feminism is the first step in the oppression olympics where white men are, from the outset, at the bottom of the pile, viewed with derision as victimising all the oppressed groups.

This sort of sexism and racism could be ignored when it was still consigned to sociology, gender studies and dance schools of some universities. Now that it has entered the mainstream (everyone has an arts degree, it seems) it has a tendency to infect all aspects of life. I try to point out some of the ramifications of this in relation to tango, eg., how the growing attacks on the ‘binary’ nature of male and female roles and the coming ideology of gender fluidity is affecting the practice of tango.