It’s official. Over the course of a mere 7 months Cuba has gone from an exotic, sensual mystery land, to cable news trending topic, to the location for Discovery Channel’s latest car enthusiast show, Cuban Chrome. Yes, the mystery is gone. Cuba is just another place now. Thanks, Discovery Channel. But on the bright side, maybe we can start moving past the clichéd images of shoeless children running carefree through a crumbling Centro Habana and get a real sense of how everyday Cubans get around, where they go, and how they spend their free time.
Granted we can be relatively sure that the gearheads profiled in Cuban Chrome spend most of their time inventing new parts for their 1950s American almendrones, which, conscious or not, is a fitting metaphor for the Cuban people’s resilience and adaptability. What we most certainly won’t see, however, are the 1980s Soviet sedans that are the true kings of Havana streets; or the more modern Peugeots, Fiats, or even Mercedes pushed by Havana’s high society. I guess there’s just nothing sexy about boxy, four-doored command economy cars, or generic Euro-luxury.
The reality series will follow several members of Havana’s “A lo cubano” car club as they tweak, mod, and pimp out their beloved hallmarks of mid-century streamline modern design in hopes of keeping them alive for another generation. The trailer shows us how exactly this will play out and, well, it looks like just about any other reality show, except in Cuba.
Surprisingly, the Discovery Channel had already secured the legal permits to film in Cuba long before Obama and Raulito made their official announcements about resuming diplomatic relations, and the crew was on the ground filming when it all went down, so we can certainly look forward to an interesting couple of episodes covering the fallout. Otherwise we can probably expect a mildly interesting car show with moral subtexts about tenacity and family heritage along with some stunning tropical cityscapes.
So has the Discovery Channel’s presence forever ruined Cuba? Doubtful. But Cuban Chrome certainly signals the end of an era in the U.S. collective imagination. In other words: goodbye Dirty Dancing, hello American Chopper.
Cuban Chrome premieres July 13, 2015 on the Discovery Channel at 10:00 pm.