Discovery Channel recently premiered a new series “Cuban Chrome”, a reality show about Cuba’s vintage automobiles and the people who dedicate their lives to preserving them. The show’s claim to fame is that it’s the first American show filmed entirely in Cuba.
After screening half of an episode there are really no surprises. It’s the typical “now you can see the forbidden land of Cuba” narrative that everyone from Conan to CNN have exploited in the past. How forbidden can it really be if all these people have been going down there and filming for more than two decades? What is really forbidden is showing real Cuban people being repressed by their government.
In any case, the show is the typical weak sauce recipe for reality TV. Actually it’s even weaker as the lack of any real storylines results in such thin drama so as to be laughable. The episode I watched is the story of a guy who wants to restore his Detroit dinosaur so that he can drive tourists around and make more money. The problem is he currently uses the car to drive Cubans around (a less profitable venture) and in order to get it up to snuff for the tourists he has to replace the diesel boat engine that’s been in the car for “decades”. Any downtime will cost him money. In capitalism we call this an “opportunity cost.” He gets a probationary membership in what we’re told is Cuba’s premiere auto club, “A lo Cubano” and hopes to use their resources to restore his car in six months.
The B story is about the president of the auto club who wants his son to succeed him but doesn’t have confidence that his prodigy has enough knowledge about cars yet. I wonder if this is some sort of metaphor for the monarchical succession that the Castro regime is no doubt planning. I mean why wouldn’t an auto club just elect its own damned president?
Along with the pretty pictures of quaint Cuba, we see plenty of the old cars which are really the star of the show. You know, those rolling exhibits demonstrating the superiority of capitalism. The irony is probably lost on most viewers.
The plight of the Cuban auto enthusiasts is heightened by the repeated narrative that parts in Cuba are hard to come by because of the US trade embargo on the island (hey, at least they didn’t call it the regime’s preferred term: blockade). This is, of course, a canard. There are vintage American cars in nearly every country in the world, including countries that Cuba is very close to economically like Brazil and Canada. The real problem is the lack of money to get parts. The narrator helpfully explains that “despite socialism” economic disparity does exist because some Cubans have “rich” relatives abroad that send them money.
And what would a show about Cuba be without regurgitating some of the dictator’s propaganda? Did you know Cuba spends 10% of its budget on education while in the US it’s something like 2%? I wonder who at Discovery verified these regime-supplied numbers. I’m sure they have a staff of economists and social scientists verifying things like this, right?
Even if the proportions are true (which I’m sure they are not) a quick google search turns up this:
The most recent OECD study — from 2014 using 2011 data — shows that the United States spends $12,731 per student on secondary education. Four countries — Austria, Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland — spend more. Those same countries are also the only ones that spend more than the United States per student on primary schools.
Interesting, I don’t see Cuba up there. I guess the regime’s 10% doesn’t add up to a lot in the real world. But the ironic part of quoting the 10% statistic is that a reasonable person would ask, “If Cuba’s population is so educated why don’t they have good paying jobs that can afford them newer and more reliable cars?”
If you like to look at vintage cars and some beautiful landscapes and aren’t offended by communist propaganda or terrible acting then maybe you’ll find “Cuban Chrome” passable, otherwise don’t waste your time.