In Cinco lobitos, one of the Spanish films of 2022, Amaia, a woman in her thirties who has just given birth, leaves the Madrid studio that she shares with her boyfriend and settles with her baby in her parents’ house, on the shores of the Cantabrian Sea.
Cinco lobitos is a drama about motherhood and a dialogue between generations, and the art direction effectively highlights the mainstays of this conversation: Amaia and Javi’s house is full of IKEA products (the Stockholm mirror, the Ivrig glasses) while Begona and Koldo’s is much larger and has a beautiful garden, but it is not prepared to receive Javi, who is forced to sleep on a mattress on the ground when he visits his partner and daughter.
The visits and family celebrations of these last weeks of Christmas have placed many young people in the place of Amaia. In Spain, the average age of emancipation reaches 29.8 years and 32% of people between 30 and 34 years still live with their parents. But for those who were able to leave, going home for Christmas means returning to domestic spaces loaded with memories and subjecting them to a new look. As if it were an exam period, Christmas serves to compare the lifestyle of our parents with ours. From year to year we check whether the great machine of social reproduction has done its job.
Return to the pristine home
Although there are all kinds of situations and families, fiction is still dominated by that traditional model that appears, with all its cracks, in Cinco Lobitos. Some traditional families that, unlike the coexistence units formed by young people, tend to be the owners of their habitual residence. The data from the Bank of Spain are explicit: Spaniards over 50 years of age own one or more homes in more than 80% of cases, while renting, often unstable and precarious, is a matter for young people and migrants.
“The impossibility of building a home, understood in an architectural and emotional sense, is one of the dominant myths of contemporary pessimism,” explains Vicente Monroy, architect and programmer at Cineteca Madrid. “I do not miss the life of my parents, but I perceive how the reversal of progress is associated with a melancholy for some images of the future that we will no longer be able to reach. It is enough to take a look at the housing utopias that marked the history of architecture of the last century, which point to utopian social transformations that will surely no longer occur”.
Plunged into generational hopelessness, we pay more attention to dystopias than to utopias and thus (and in view of the statistics) it can almost be considered a success that a person under 35 years of age has their own home. When the miracle happens, Laura Ortin, architect and interior designer, warns: “We are more a reflection of what we have experienced than we think. Gaston Bachelard says: ‘the house, more than a dwelling body, is a dream body’. And our experiential backpack loads us with customs and memories that emerge and we end up repeating things. We come from a generation of hypercompartmentalized and hierarchical homes. I try to expand that idea and offer more democratic and flexible solutions so that young tenants experience new situations that perhaps they had not considered”.
Whenever someone leaves, the abandoned room remains somewhere, which, on many occasions, becomes, again according to Bachelard, “in a space for memory fossils”, that is, in a storage room that preserves the old bed. prepared for possible visits. On other occasions, another member of the family takes advantage of the empty room, as happened with Laura herself: “When I left my parents’ house, my little brother took my room because it was the biggest. Sometimes the smallest room is used as a living room, since it is more welcoming than the large, clean and cold room. Why is this happening? For the same thing that I have pointed out. We give more importance to the finishing of some rooms with respect to others, the houses are unbalanced in size and shape”.
The pool that appears: class struggle in the ‘stories’ of kings and New Year’s Eve
In sociology, social reproduction is called the set of processes (biological, demographic, social, economic and cultural) that allow a class society to survive over time. There is a lot of discussion about whether it makes sense to talk about classes today, but there is no doubt that income, assets or level of studies continue to determine the way of life of each citizen. According to Pierre Bourdieu, the decoration (and not to mention the postal code or the size) of a home “affirms the social position of those who inhabit it.”
If before we only compared our position with that of our parents, uncles, cousins or neighbors, social networks allow us to attend an unlimited number of intimacies. During Christmas, Instagram stories have allowed us to visit the homes of all our contacts (and those of their families) and we have discovered where they come from.
“I have a great time getting closer to that intimacy,” says Anna Pacheco, author of Listas, guapas, limpias and co-host of Ciberlocutorio, on Radio Primavera Sound. “This Christmas a meme was circulating that said ‘the story of your poor and artist friends from Barcelona when they visit their parents’ in which a house with expensive lamps appeared, paintings that are not from Ikea with robust frames, leather sofas, gardens or sophisticated Christmas decoration. They also gave me a screenshot of a girl we were following and told me: ‘It seems that she lives in Versailles!’ These images are used to understand many things, although on the internet we are self-aware and decide what we want or don’t want to show. Sometimes, it’s not even the house or the decoration, but what your parents and grandparents are like, what they wear, how they express themselves,
At the beginning of 2022, another meme against the story of meritocracy became popular, especially in Catalonia, which suggested that many singers, actors or artists who say they “have started from the bottom” have actually supported themselves financially by parents who have already excelled at some point. field. In this sense, Vicente Monroy, who is also the author of Los Alpes Maritimes, a novel about a working-class youth who, during one summer, enters Barcelona’s high society, explains that “in a world marked by the overexposure of the private affairs, the surprise to discover the privileges of others is usually the result of naivety. In the world of culture and art, everyone is posh until proven otherwise. And posh people aren’t usually good at disguising”.
Arriving at the university from the periphery is, on many occasions, the first contact with that supposedly sophisticated world that has just revealed itself on social networks. It is an experience that many novels collect, from the very recent The Family (Sara Mesa) or The Gospel (Elisa Victoria), with protagonists who attend parties whose settings and codes make them feel displaced, to a large part of the production of Annie Ernaux , which, for example, in Los armarios vacíos, (translated by Lydia Vazquez for Cabaret Voltaire) describes her first course as follows: “I will take some competitive exams as a professor of literature, almost like Simone de Beauvoir, the cafes, the room in the university residence , going to bed at four in the morning after discussing the third world, that exotic misery that sounded like in my seedy store and nothing original, what I live now begins to look like that. The fear of not getting ahead, of the fatal destiny, of ending up selling potatoes is over forever”.
However, the vision of the parvenu (or nouveau riche) has changed a lot since the novels that, during the 19th century, presented him almost as an unscrupulous rogue. Ernaux herself, a social refugee, ends up reconciling with the ways that she has inevitably inherited from her parents. Regarding those customs and gestures that would reveal an a priori hidden social condition (as well as the stories of swimming pools and fireplaces), Pacheco indicates: “I am interested in everything that what we call knowing how to be and how often that knowledge says about us being traditionally legitimized has been the one that has reproduced or emulated the bourgeois forms. We need to value a proletarian knowledge of being or of proletarian extraction because it is evident that we are and we know how to be. Many times elegance is confused with money”.
Parasites, Oscar for Best Film of 2019, reopened the debate on the legitimacy of the rage against the boss. It is a film that also underlines the contrast between the Kim family’s basement and the luxurious Park mansion. When asked if she looks with envy at those stories in which the luxurious houses of others appear (those of the “Park families” that everyone knows), Pacheco does not hesitate. When asked if anger would be justified, neither did she: “Envy? Always! And I think that my house can also be seen with anger or envy from another place, there is always someone poorer than us. There is something very obscene in that few people live very well and so many with so little. I think that in the coming decades this tension will become more latent and there will be even more anger”.