Iñaki Domínguez, a doctor in cultural anthropology, has dedicated his career to the study of gangs and urban tribes, an interest that he has captured in his latest book entitled Macarrismo (Akal).
Text: David BRAVE
They walk down the street with their shoulders slumped, pronouncing the roundness of their upper back and naturally arching their arms, which are almost always lost inside the pocket of their jacket. His look is particular and identifiable, not everyone dresses the same way, but there is not a great variety of styles either. You find them walking or in the park forming circles when you go to work or come back from it. If you run into them head-on, you try to change the sidewalk, except if you're a pimp who, with all your imaginary gallantry, raises your head and keeps your cool even though inside you're scared shitless. Those people who inspire a certain fear are known by the name of pimps and they are found in all corners of the planet and have had a place in the neighborhood since the human being formed civilizations and, why deny it, even before we knew how to handle the plow.
The pimp is a peculiar individual who is governed by codes of conduct different from those followed by most people; we know about them from movies, investigative shows, and the glances we take from the balcony if we hear screams or the friction of knuckles scratching cheekbones. It is less common to find anthropological studies, at least in Spain, on a phenomenon that touches us so closely, but to which we only pay indignant attention when the blood reaches the river.
Iñaki Domínguez, a doctor in cultural anthropology, has dedicated his career to the study of gangs and urban tribes, an interest that he has captured in his latest book entitled Macarrismo (Akal). Via Google Meet, Iñaki comments that as a young man he went out a lot and joined the urban tribe of graffiti artists, those passionate about rap and decorated walls. "In the street, I listened to rappers tell many street myths that were being lost, and with my book I wanted to recover the stories that happened in the streets since the 60s."
For work like this, he has carried out some 200 interviews with people who had strong ties to the street, individuals whom we would label as dangerous: “In general, I have not had any problems with my interviewees, some of them get a little itchy because they I portray him as a loser and people, especially people who have broken their faces in the street, do not like you to tell the time they received a stab”. ”. He had no problems, except once in a narco-apartment. The members of him got so nervous that they took away the recorder. “But in the end I managed to recover it; it was just something worrying”, narrates this anecdote, downplaying the importance of the events.
The street is full of "chicha" with which to obtain a deep analysis of an underworld, which far from remaining stagnant, changes at the same rate as our contemporary societies, although it goes without saying that certain aspects always identify a pimp.
Leaving aside aesthetics, what is it that differentiates a pimp from any walker?
The pimp is characterized by his aggressiveness, he is problematic and he is used to defending his dignity with his fists, in addition to his relationship with the street. In general, people are not interested in violence, they flee from risk; instead, the pimp is willing to suffer the pain and cause it to others. This summer, in A Coruña, a group of young people beat a 24-year-old boy to death. The beatings were very aggressive and troubled gang members.
So that image of the pimp is not a stereotype?
I do not think so. Our pimp prototype is made up of the images we see on the street and the quinqui cinema. These films are very real, we could almost say that they have more to do with documentaries than with film fiction, they are even starred by real thugs who change their neighborhood for the studio. We conceive of the badass in a very real way.
Speaking of quinquis, how is it different from a pimp?
In the last century, a quinqui and a pimp were differentiated by their social position: the former lived in semi-rural environments, that is, in low-income housing located on the boundaries that divide the urban from the rural; on the contrary, the standard of living of the latter was a bit higher, they knew how to read and write and they lived in blocks of buildings built on the outskirts of the city during the second Franco regime. They were considered more civilized.
Did the pimps of the 70s have a stronger commitment to society?
I wouldn't say they were more committed, in any case they assumed a commitment to the neighborhood. The pimps of the 70s had work, since many people had emigrated to other countries, women had not yet fully entered the labor market and Spain had its own industry, which provided work. With deindustrialization comes endemic unemployment and many young pimps who previously could access jobs on the construction site or in the neighborhood fish market fell into drug addiction; because this is another reality of many people who fall into drugs: without work it is much easier to become an addict. Simply, there is a change in the economic paradigm, the pimp who used to like to hit the streets, now unemployed, also spends his time in illegal activities.
What cultural elements did the pimps have that today may seem shocking?
Tradition and a precarious modernity converged in the figure of the pimp. In the 80s and 90s there was no internet, there was little television and the pimps took their cultural references from the cinema and the neighborhood. In addition, it affected that the economic position of the people who lived in the neighborhood was similar. This has changed a lot, today in a neighborhood like Vallecas people of medium and low social status, posh, foreign come together; there is more social mobility and less homogeneity in the neighborhood.
Has this diversity in the neighborhood caused substantial changes in the idiosyncrasies of the gangs?
Totally. The gang member identified with the neighborhood and projected his aggressiveness onto members of other neighborhoods. With the arrival of the urban tribes, the inquina occurs between tribes and it did not matter that its members were born and raised in the same neighborhood. The possibility of connecting with people from other regions of the world has caused the neighborhood to lose its identity importance. Likewise, solidarity is an illusion of the past. In a certain way because our conception of solidarity is wrong; we truly believe that we are showing solidarity by helping a child in Africa. That is charity, not solidarity. Solidarity comes from "solidity" and is experienced when you experience a series of shortcomings with a close person. The guards in full act of duty are supportive; the soldiers who face danger are also dangerous and, of course, the people who live in the neighborhood facing adversity are showing solidarity with their neighbors, who are in the same situation.
Well, the fact that the gang coalesces into a tribe is already a significant change.
The gangs move in a more local environment, unlike the tribe, coming from the Anglo-Saxon area, which exported to the rest of the world an identity of consumption through the media. The tribe brings together the gangs, which does not imply fidelity and camaraderie between these gangs. However, at the present time, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find tribes. There are ragpickers and hipsters, but the tribe phenomenon is shrinking, caused, among other things, by globalism and the low birth rate in our country. The number of gangs has grown, without going any further this summer the media echoed the murder of a boy at the hands of the Koala Brothers, two gang members from Bilbao. Not long ago in Madrid groups of young people organized to rob others in the bottles. Everything indicates that the gang has more weight in the streets.
With the arrival of modernity and the tribe, has the class struggle ended for the gangs?
Not necessarily. I support the thesis that a certain class struggle is still taking place in the street. During the Transition, it was common for the thugs from the working-class neighborhoods of Tetuán and Cuatro Caminos to go down to Calle Orense to beat up and rob posh people. But that social suspicion did not end with the consolidation of democracy. If I, who have studied anthropology, went into a bar with my perroflautas (generally middle class) colleagues, where a couple of thugs, a boy and a girl, were already showing off their tattoos, their tight clothes and their dark artificial, the girl will look disgusted when she sees us. Our aesthetic, characteristic of a middle class, differs from his and causes him rejection. The same would happen to a perroflauta, who while zapping comes across women and men and vice versa, will feel an unstoppable sensation of disgust.
If there is something we can highlight in the world of gangs, it is violence. Does this serve as an institution?
Not so much an institution as an element of knowledge. Gang members meet in fights; if they see that their rival is not afraid they become friends, since they are interested in having him on their team. Without a doubt, it is violence as a basic form of communication.
Did the codes of conduct change when they entered prison?
In Carabanchel prison, being provincial and for minor crimes, it was normal for them to get together with people from the neighborhood who were already there. If they committed a serious crime, they were transferred to prisons far from their zone of influence, then they joined gangs from the same region or ethnic group, similar to what happens in prisons in the United States.
In his book, he talks about the arrival of Iranians, Moroccans, and Guineans in Spain and the reconfiguration of the gangs. Were ethnicity and religion discriminating elements, or did they gain access without problems if they followed the initiation rituals?
It depended on the age. Immigrants who arrived in Spain at an advanced age normally moved with people from their own place of origin. However, those who arrived as children or were born here were integrated with people of all nationalities; Multiracial groups tend to form in working-class and poor neighborhoods, which is where immigrants generally settle. In a way, it's nice because very strong bonds of friendship are generated.
It gives the feeling that the Madrid of the 70s and 80s was a dangerous place to walk…
In the 70s and 80s, violence was more normalized, your parents beat you, your brothers, your neighbors, your teachers. The pimps interviewed say that now they denounce you for anything. I myself, when I was a kid, have been punched in a fight and I never went to report anyone. Miguel Trillo, the photographer, says that a rocker stabbed a goth in the ass, and he went to the hospital but did not file a complaint. This does not mean that people were necessarily scared, and that many drug addicts robbed with knives to get a dose.
Are today's thugs more dangerous than before?
They are more sophisticated because they live in a more urban world. They have internet access, they practice martial arts. Nightclub bouncers tell me that customers are increasingly dangerous and aggressive, many of them are doomed to crime almost from the moment of their birth. Also, the methods of arresting the police are sophisticated, and you know what the saying goes: “made the law, made the trap”.