Los Años Marchitos, a novel written by Rafael Menjivar Ochoa, features an unnamed radio voice actor whose recording project has recently ended, leaving him on a bind as to how he will make a living until the next project arrives. Drawn from a presentation script written for the 2019 Annual Central American Symposium: Memory and Imaginaries of the Future, this presentation focuses on the marginalization of those in the working force at large, with specific characterization of a radio actor who is at the mercy of el calvo (the bald guy) to get by on a daily basis. The theme focuses on how one becomes a foreigner to his or her own works of art while those in privileged positions claim the credit, leaving an average audience to be entertained by a final outcome without any knowledge of original creators and those who toiled behind the scenes.
In Los Años Marchitos by Rafael Menjivar Ochoa, the main protagonist makes a living as a voice actor, portraying different characters in radio shows. Despite his talent, he remains invisible from his own credit by his multiple vocal identities on radio, along with those who take advantage of his talent for profit. The main protagonist is the radio voice actor who completes the last section of the voice recording, to make his ends meet. Upon receiving his final check of 225 pesos in April, he is left in a grave despair, wondering how he will budget his meager income to survive until September. To address his concerns, he visits el calvo, the bald man who is in charge of deciding which voice acting to utilize for airing. Upon his visit, he realizes that his recording was replaced by the Venezuelan counterparts, protesting what good use they are. Upon closer inspection, the novel sets out to address the alienation of the self from the credits of his talent, compelling readers to contemplate upon the degree of ownership they possess and lack over their own skills and output.
The repeating gesture of el calvo is worthy of note taking, expressing through the repeating phrase that says, “se encogió de hombros,” shrugging his shoulders and carrying on as if none of the actor’s concerns are of any significance to him (Ochoa Menjivar 12). Such gesture symbolizes his intent to look the other way despite his knowledge and understanding of his employee’s struggle to survive on a meager wage, erasing the presence and memory of the actor from his mind. His erasure displays the mindset of a result-inclination worldview which prioritizes results over people and their processes, disregarding those who are the original owners of his or her own work. In short, the consumers of the outcome remember the final vocal products of the actors and associate those voices with certain characters on radio shows, but not the actors themselves.
In the end, the credits are central towards the director and those in the top ranks of the production team, an act that emphasizes the advertising and the overall marketing process of the final output. And as such, the audience often does not remember or care about those who breathe life into the animate characters by voicing their dialogues. This becomes ironic because the actors lose their own voice and representation over the characters they have grown with after conceiving them.
Case Two - Having No Say in the Sales and Purchase of His Own Voice Recording
The radio actor is protesting el calvo’s decision to purchase the Venezuelan voice recording. As if being casual, el calvo lets him know that he has chosen the latter over his as it is cheaper, demonstrating his ownership of power over what decisions to make over the final products. Given the actor’s protest over el calvo’s decision of purchase, the readers can tell that the decision made is biased, non-consensual, excluding the originator of the voice in the opportunity to have a say in his finalized work. Or perhaps it is not ‘his’ work to begin with as he has been under his employment.
The readers can ask this one critical question - at what point does the voice actor possess ownership over his own talent and labor? And at what stage does he alienate himself and lose his visibility from his own work of art? The story begins with the end of his recording session and the protagonist’s decision to see el calvo after receiving wages which do not cover his living expenses, where he struggles with paying for food and rent. After the recording session is over, the actor visits el calvo to address low pay and his decision to purchase a cheaper Venezuelan recording.
Here, one realizes that once his voice has been let out to finalize the recording and its characters for public airing and sales, the power of control over his creative endeavor no longer resides with him, regardless of how much freedom he appears to have in the process of making the character. The power to decide when, where, and how to use and sell his own voice recording is taken from him. Pushing him away from cheaper and perhaps, a lower-standard counterpart than his own creation. Despite that it is his own voice that is in the recording, he is left helpless, unable to decide what happens to its outcome.
His ingenuity and effort become of no value to el calvo because he looks at the price comparison as a way to decide his purchase, perceiving the art of voice acting and its practitioners as a mere means of profit rather than perceiving them from the perspective of the arts. Such method of decision leaves the actor with no “actual freedom of choice” over what happens to his own output while el calvo practices his power, “of buying the labor of other individuals from whom… [he] profits” (Braidotti 58-9, 106, Colebrook 48). In short, the actor loses his standing and authority once his work becomes public, becoming a stranger to what his art, hence his alienation and invisibility from his own vocal invention.
The absence or lack of the radio actor’s confrontational attitude towards el calvo results not only from his neglecting humiliation and intimidation towards him, but also from the basic understanding that he must maintain his job to make a living. In the post-humanist chapters by Rosi Braidotti, there are still workers who live in disempowerment, such as lives under the hire of a wage-paying (not salary) manager, as their existence and abilities have become commodification as a mere means of income and profit for corporate gains. This creates desperate decisions in which workers must “trade on Life itself” to barely stay on top of paying rent and other monthly necessities on a wage to wage basis, transforming “into a commodity for trade and profit” (Braidotti 59 and 61).
"His ingenuity and effort become of no value to el calvo because he looks at the price comparison as a way to decide his purchase, perceiving the art of voice acting and its practitioners as a mere means of profit rather than perceiving them from the perspective of the arts."
Already within his place of work does the voice actor find himself to be an invisible being in the shadow of el calvo. Despite protesting el calvo’s decision regarding the purchase of the cheaper Venezuelan recording, the radio voice actor states that he never raises a voice towards el calvo as he will give him a terrorizing look (Menjivar Ochoa 12). This encounter illustrates the role of intimidating subjugation of the protagonist to el calvo as a key, decisive factor towards his alienation in his own work, having to remain silent and obedient no matter how his talent and contributions are being taken advantage of.
Los Años Marchitos by Rafael Menjivar Ochoa focuses on the life of a radio voice actor which displays ways in which he and his work become marginalized. His struggle to get by with his recording job, particularly during his encounters with el calvo, draws the question of demarcation between the ownership of his talent and labor versus the point in which his presence and memory are forcing him away from his creation. And for the readers who lived from, income-to-income , may once sit back and contemplate upon how much of their work they own to themselves and wonder whether they may have or are becoming invisible in their own works.