The film Bikini - essay
This paper intends to analyze the effects of the newfound social freedoms of Western women and the beginnings of less conservative and more modernized values on the economic wellbeing of the tourism industry during the early 1950s in Western Europe. The 2014 Spanish comedic short film by Oscar Bernácer: Bikini; una historia real (Bikini: a true story), details the real attempt of Pedro Zaragoza, the mayor of the Spanish coastal city and potential future tourist hotspot, Benidorm, to legalize the use of the bikini on the beaches of his municipal during 1950s monarchic and entirely Catholic Spain. Through an easily understandable comedic lens, the film hints to the audience that the new modernized fashions of Western women are being exploited for the monetary gain of the Spanish state. I argue that Bikini: una historia real is a social criticism, on the exploitation of the beginning of modern women’s emancipation from conservative and antiquated social values to further the profit-generating tourism industry for Spain.
The film Bikini: una historia is presented to the audience in a comedic tone which allows the information and topics being presented to be easily understandable to a wide range of viewers. By dissecting the films cinematic and design elements, such as the many opulent set structures and specific camera shots, I can evaluate how a comedic narrative encompasses the real-life themes of femininity, social values, and economic growth.
Bikini: una historia real begins with a serious tone. The audience can hear the ticking of a distant clock before the first frame even pierces the black screen following the opening credits. Then the first scene appears. In the first shot the camera is situated in the corner of the room, looking across at a diagonal over an elegant carpet to a man sitting too stiffly in an ornate chair, he looks as though he knows he is out of place, that he does not belong among the opulence. The camera pans upwards to the ceiling, showing golden crown molding surrounding a large golden chandelier dripping in crystals. The man notices an oil stain on his pant leg and quickly tries to wipe it away when a clamoring is heard on the other side of two heavily embellished doors. Sliding them open, two uniformed courtiers’ step through, making way first for a hunched over maid pushing an obnoxiously squeaky serving cart. She opens doors to another room and steps inside, the cart continuing to squeak. The man looks around awkwardly, waiting for something to happen, for someone to address him. Zooming in to the dark hallway space behind the courtiers two shadows appear. Finally, the General and his wife step through the doorway threshold and into the light dressed to impress and wholly decorated as one might assume a person of high class and wealth might. The man introduces himself as Pedro Zaragoza, Catholic and Falangist. Both identifying characteristics that are highly conservative.
From this opening scene the audience is introduced to the theme of wealth, preparing them to ask, “where did this wealth come from?” and gearing them for the revelation that the seemingly out-of-place man has ideas for the economy to make this wealth possible for himself as well.
As the film progresses the audience learns through the side-eyed cattiness between the general and his wife that there are issues with money and wealth within Spain. During the introduction between the principle characters the wife gives an offhanded comment to her husband that she would “look much nicer with some jewelry I happened to see in San Sebastian.” and her husband replying in a foreshadowing manner, “There is no time for luxury my dear.” The conversation could have ended there because the audience has already been foretold some information that connects to the decisions made later in the film, however, the wife then responds with, “I care about our image” (Bikini: una historia real). This hints that the wife cares very much about her wealth and status, as well as gives Pedro leverage when presenting his plan to make a booming tourism industry to the General and his wife later in the film.
The group moves their conversation to yet another ornate and genuinely over-the-top sitting room. The General sits in a large heavily embellished armchair with his wife sitting to his right on an equally opulent couch. Pedro sits across from them on a small, uncomfortable looking chair that squeaks when he sits down, clearly showing his status is beneath the others. The wife notices the oil stain on his pant leg and the General begins to grill him on his choice of motorcycle because it is Italian made and not Spanish even though Spain is experiencing an economic drought. The wife dives into the conversation to save him saying how much she enjoys Italy and to which Pedro agrees and they talk about something Italian they both love- Italian summertime music and song festivals. This shows to the audience an “I’ve got your back moment”, and now we know that due to the wife and Pedro sharing a friendly connection, she might be more inclined to listen to what he has to say later.
Quickly the conversation changes to the reason behind Pedro’s appearance- he wants to legalize the use of bikinis on the beaches of his municipal with the idea that the freedom of clothing modern women can express elsewhere will draw in more foreign tourists and in turn their money. However, not everyone is happy with his idea. The archbishop of Spain has requested Pedro’s excommunication from the Catholic church due to his “radical” and “immodest” new ideas. When Pedro explains to the couple that the archbishop has called for his excommunication due to him legalizing the use of bikinis on his beaches, the wife is the only one who is shocked and outraged. Like most men, the General is out of the loop on the newest of women’s fashions and quite literally has no idea what a bikini even is, as Pedro must describe the article of clothing and explain how much, or little, coverage of a woman’s body it offers. “The two-piece bikini, a postwar French invention, received its name from the Micronesian site of early nuclear bomb tests that might blind the unprepared eye” (Pack). The bikini itself was an expression of women’s post World War 2 individualism and freedom from the constricting social values that reigned supreme prewar. With women’s new-found labor freedoms taken from them when the men returned to the home front, both European and American women alike needed a way to express themselves.
Although the wife is clearly against the idea of women wearing something so obscene, the General is interested in the sole fact of creating an international market, of being a competitive economic engine in Europe. To him, the success of the Spanish state is more important than the apparent obscenity of a bikini. He would rather be a bringer of immodest dress than lose economically to Italy and France who have already allowed the use of bikinis on their beaches. However, as the tourism industry falls under the wife’s reach of power, she has the final say on whether Spain will lose its antiquated social values and strict Catholic conservatism to become a world tourist destination and an economic powerhouse. According to Sasha Pack, an Associate Professor of History at the University at Buffalo, SUNY and author of “Tourism, modernization, and difference: A twentieth-century Spanish paradigm”, the Spanish tourism industry that got its jumpstart in the late 1940’s gave the conservative Spanish regime the ability to participate in the European wave of modernization. He goes on to state that, “Annual increases in tourism were constant throughout the 1950s, and, by 1954, government economists were exploring the possibility that tourism revenue might fully neutralize Spain’s debilitating commercial deficit” (Pack). The Generals wife’s choice could potentially bring enough revenue to the Spanish state through tourism to dig the country out of its financial hole.
Pedro and the General both realize this precarious situation. The General is all for the legalization of the bikini on the municipal beaches after Pedro shows him the potential future influx of foreign currency and revenue. This is shown to the audience with the animated “light bulb” expression on the Generals face as the camera zooms in while he is reading the report Pedro gives him. The General wants his wife to be happy as she enjoys the finer and more expensive things in life -as was hinted at the beginning of the film when she gave off handed comments about the jewelry she wanted but they couldn’t afford to purchase- and is willing to break the conservative values of the Catholic church and Spain to do so. Backing Pedro’s goal to bring bikinis to the beaches not only keeps the Generals wife happy because she can keep her wealthy status but also it will generate massive amounts of foreign revenue for Spain.
Pedro must convince the General’s wife on the positives of potential feminine tourism and the great economic outcomes of modernized fashions in a conservative country. Regina Schluter, a scholar with a PhD in Social Psychology from the Argentinian University of John F Kennedy and author of “Femininity at the Beach- Issues on Fashion, Gender and Tourism in Argentina”, believes that that fashion is a non-verbal language which allows women to construct their identities as societal values. Although her article focuses on fashion, gender and tourism in Argentina, her thoughts are still relevant to the idea of feminist tourism in Spain if we consider the fact that Argentina was colonized by Spain in the early 17th century. Bearing in mind the fact that they are closely related due to shared aspects such as language, I think it is possible that Argentina would develop some of the same ideas and values as Spain concerning woman’s freedoms.
Schluter recounts in her article that during the 1910’s bathers at Argentinian seaside resorts (much like bathers at Spanish resorts) faced many restrictions to preserve their “moral standards” including the inability to swim in the water in practical swimming garb. Only the most daring women ventured to go to the beach and they still enveloped themselves head to toe until they decloaked themselves at the water’s edge before quickly jumping in (Schluter, 74). It wasn’t until 1946 that the now famous bikini was born even though it didn’t gain its popularity on beaches until the mid-1950’s. The 1950s in Argentina was characterized by the gradual abandonment of conservatism and antiquated social values in exchange for the use of woman’s sexuality to further the tourism industry. Important travel guides of Argentina gave guidelines to women on how to better enjoy their beachside vacations, referencing to bathing suits as well as things to cover up with as soon as the women stepped out of the water (Schluter, 79).
The loss of these antiquated values has had a huge impact on the economic well being of the Spanish state. “Seaside leisure practices in Spain would begin to change along broader European patterns. Recorded by romantic travelers as places where the sexes did not mix, Spanish beaches became social settings where strangers displayed themselves to one another with diminished modesty” (Pack).
In Sasha Pack’s book, “Tourism and Dictatorship: Europe's Peaceful Invasion of Franco's Spain”, he states that in the early 1950s, tourists’ entries to Spain increased by 61 percent with revenue valued at $20.6 million. The modernistic fashion movement of the bikini is clearly not solely responsible for this dramatic change in the tourism industry. Changes to the Franco regime and opening borders with less regulation into the autocratic country also helped to fuel the need of other European and American elite to travel. However, the ability for travelers to experience the same modern comforts and societal values that they would experience elsewhere in western Europe does create an alluring travel destination.
As Pedro is convincing the General’s wife to give the “okay” for the legalization on Spain’s beaches he slyly brings up that he would love for her to come visit his city to help pick a location for “the future Spanish Song festival”. This gets her attention as the summertime music and song festival held in Italy was discussed earlier in the film as something they both enjoyed attending. The ability for Spain to have its very own festival, and also be wildly successful due to the new influx of tourists that would come with the bikinis is a huge selling point to the General’s wife. Here Pedro gives his most famous line, “Summer and Spain will go together forever” (Bikini: una historia real).
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