Some of the work produced out of our office in Mexico City shows up on this compilation of highlights from VICE News' year.
Some of the work produced out of our office in Mexico City shows up on this compilation of highlights from VICE News' year.
If you get a weird jumble of characters in your reader for the headline for this post because of the capitalized ñ in it, it's a minor inconvenience worth swallowing while getting to know the artist and electronica producer known as Ñaka Ñaka.
** Originally published in the Feb. 1, 2013 print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
MEXICO CITY -- In the Mexican remake of the popular U.S. TV series "Gossip Girl," the privileged teens at the center of the drama still have it all: stylish clothes, great hair, top-of-the-line sports cars.
The types are familiar: Bowtie-wearing Chuck Bass is now known as Max Zaga, and effortlessly chic Serena van der Woodsen is now Sofia Lopez-Haro. The setting is no longer the Upper East Side of Manhattan, but the former "jewel" of the Mexican Riviera, Acapulco.
Wait a minute — Acapulco?
As filming began last week in the port city on the southern Pacific coast, "Gossip Girl Acapulco" immediately sparked passionate reactions among social media users in Mexico.
Many expressed disgust at the idea that a show about Manhattan's teen elites would be translated into a contemporary Mexican setting, where drug-related violence, especially in places such as Acapulco, and class and racial barriers remain entrenched. Others, though, said they were dying to see the finished product this year on media giant Televisa.
It may be little more than a whisper-worthy coincidence, but Acapulco is considered one of the most violent cities in Mexico, perhaps topped only by Ciudad Juarez on the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2011, the last full year for which figures are available, the national statistics institute said 1,114 people were reported killed within Acapulco's city limits, which has about 789,000 residents.
Kidnapping and extortion are believed to be rampant, and gory execution scenes are common mere blocks from the major tourist zones. The State Department urges U.S. nationals to "defer nonessential travel to areas further than two blocks inland" of the downtown beach.
("Let's hope this new round of 'Gossip Girl' only sees Blair losing her virginity, and, not, on top of it, her head," said the New York Observer, naming another character from the original series.)
Acapulco also happens to be deeply in debt. This month, Mayor Luis Walton Aburto said the city owed about $33.2 million. The city hopes a fresh push for tourism income can help it climb out of its fiscal hole, but when reached by phone, several municipal officials said they hadn't heard about "Gossip Girl Acapulco" until this week.
There is no clear sign that the Mexican series is part of any larger plan to revitalize the struggling city. But the brain behind the project, producer Pedro Torres, said he hopes people will see the beauty of Acapulco through the show and maybe venture to visit.
Torres, in a hurried telephone interview punctuated with garbled asides to aides, said "Gossip Girl Acapulco" will remain true to the story line and character types that captured viewers in the original. The only difference, he said, will be the setting and the use of "mannerisms of Mexican speech."
"It was I who proposed the idea of placing it in Acapulco," Torres said.
One of the most powerful figures in Mexican television, Torres has remade imports such as the reality TV shows "Big Brother" and "Fear Factor" for Mexican audiences.
"There is no doubt that the city of Acapulco has suffered serious problems of drug trafficking and violence like many other cities in Mexico," Torres said. "But, well, this series is not a portrait of that. This is fiction, a complete fiction."
"Gossip Girl Acapulco" is the second attempt at farming out the franchise to a foreign market by Warner Bros., the original show's producers. As The Times reported last year, the company announced the launch of "China Girl," a "Gossip Girl" for Chinese audiences.
In previews of "Gossip Girl Acapulco," in addition to their material wealth, the central characters also seem to have inherited the European-looking side of Mexico's racial spectrum, a persistent feature of Mexican television that can either be read as a reflection of the country's stubborn class hierarchies or as a tool that inadvertently promotes them.
A better term for it might be "aspirational," which is how actor Vadhir Derbez described the show's context during the press rollout for "Gossip Girl Acapulco." Derbez, who plays Max, the Mexican Chuck, said the show will have valuable lessons to offer viewers.
"People see these kids who come from lots of money, and it may seem unreachable," the actor told an interviewer. Yet "it has a strong message behind it, that money is not everything. And that's cool."
Torres' Mexico City-based production company, El Mall, said it is in negotiations with U.S. Spanish-language networks Telemundo and Univision for possible distribution of "Gossip Girl Acapulco" north of the border.
"I've been living in Acapulco for a month with my family and we've had an incredible time, with an incredible climate," Torres said by phone. "The truth is, one should have the normal prudency like in any other city. We do not have any security detail that is out of the ordinary."
"Gossip Girl Acapulco" is to start airing in July on the Televisa network.
* Photo via Gossip Girl Acapulco FB.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Carlos Slim's telecommunications empire, Telmex, is poised to get a new shot at realizing its long-held goal of entering Mexico's television market after a regulatory board this week approved rules that may allow the world's richest man to launch a for-pay TV channel.
Mexico's television market is almost completely dominated by the duopoly of media giant Televisa and TV Azteca, which together control about 95% of what viewers see and hear on the country's airwaves.
On Wednesday, the congressional regulatory watchdog known by its Spanish acronym, Cofetel, sent rules to its executive-level counterpart that would settle Telmex's dispute with smaller telephone service providers over interconnection fees. Those charges are reflected in the extra pesos that customers pay when calling from one phone network to another.
This week's regulatory move happened largely under the radar in the public eye but was seen by financial news outlets in Mexico as a bargaining chip for Telmex and its ambitions for television (link in Spanish). America Movil, the Telmex telecom branch that hopes to start a for-pay TV cable channel via Internet, now must resubmit its bid after a separate judicial-level ruling came down last week.
Under the government of former President Felipe Calderon, Slim's desires to compete with Televisa and TV Azteca were tied up in dense regulatory appeals and negotiations. Opening up the market was further hindered by Mexico's fractious Congress.
The new government of President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose party is now the largest parliamentary group in Mexico's legislative branch, has yet to roll out its telecommunications reform package. But Peña Nieto has already indicated that he hopes his government can open concessions for at least two new channels on Mexico's airwaves.
Peña Nieto said the issue is about increasing "competition" at all levels in Mexico.
Televisa's dominance of Mexico's airwaves became a campaign issue in the 2012 presidential election after the grass-roots student movement known as #YoSoy132 held large-scale demonstrations opposing candidate Peña Nieto and Televisa at large. Protesters decried his Institutional Revolutionary Party's cozy relationship with the network, claiming Televisa favored him over his rivals on the left and right.
Peña Nieto is married to a former Televisa telenovela actress. His party has a history of being allied with Televisa and its top tiers of executives and producers.
* Photo via LAT.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Television viewers in Cuba reportedly had the chance to watch U.S. President Obama's inauguration on Monday via a news feed from Venezuela's Telesur network.
A real-time news feed from Telesur was made available to Cuban TV viewers only since Sunday, "for a few hours a day," state media said.
Obama's inauguration speech was aired Monday on Telesur accompanied by a commentator who cast doubt on some of the U.S. president's assertions, reported Mexico's state news agency Notimex from the Cuban capital, Havana.
It was unclear whether viewers in Cuba also watched the recitation of "One Today," the inaugural poem by Richard Blanco, a son of Cuban exiles.
Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote that the "biased vision of Telesur" and the Communist state outlets are "not, today, our only choices." An alternative or pirated digital media market has been active in Cuba "for months now," Sanchez wrote.
** Originally published at World Now:
They rallied and railed against the dominant media duopoly in Mexico during a crucial election campaign, but now former members of the student movement known as #YoSoy132 are set to appear on a new talk show produced by the Televisa network.
The leaderless movement emerged in protest of Enrique Peña Nieto, the presidential candidate who went on to win the July 1 election, and against Televisa and TV Azteca. Together, the media conglomerates nearly monopolize the airwaves in Mexico, making them a target of protests by #YoSoy132 for what it called the networks' biased and favorable coverage of the candidate.
"Sin Filtro," or "Without Filters," is slated to be a weekly Sunday night program on ForoTV, an arm of Televisa. The format is a round-table of university students who will discuss, "without censorship," the pressing issues facing Mexico, host Genaro Lozano said in an interview Wednesday.
Lozano, a 36-year-old international relations professor and frequent political commentator on Mexican news outlets, is not a former member of the student movement, but he helped moderate a presidential debate that #YoSoy132 organized. The unprecedented unofficial meeting with three of the four presidential candidates (Peña Nieto declined to attend) was noteworthy for being organized by citizens and not the federal electoral authorities.
The first installment of "Sin Filtro" is expected to feature Antonio Attolini, a former #YoSoy132 campus representative and one of the most prominent and recognizable student voices during the election. Later, however, Attolini was effectively booted out of #YoSoy132 after other students regarded his many media appearances -- including on Televisa -- as detrimental and distracting to the group's agenda.
Lozano said he understood the criticisms of the new program but added that he would make efforts to reach out to students from a range of public and private universities in Mexico for future on-air panels.
"There is a phobia toward the networks, and that's a historical issue in Mexico," Lozano told The Times. "But I think opening a new space of dialogue is always a good thing, and I hope other such spaces open up on other networks."
He added that he previously had taped a pilot for a similar program on another network, but only within the last two weeks did a contact with the Televisa conglomerate lead to "Sin Filtro." Lozano said he expects to sign a contract for the show with Televisa on Thursday.
Online, the official Twitter account of #YoSoy132 distanced itself once more from Attolini, saying: "#YoSoy132 does not have leaders precisely to avoid that the contradictions of one affect us all." Other Twitter users were less generous, with some dubbing the student panelists who appear on a "Sin Filtro" promo on YouTube as "traitors."
The promo itself is a study of what might arguably be called unintended irony.
Lozano identified the participants as all former members of #YoSoy132, now sitting before cameras belonging to the largest mass media company in the Spanish-speaking world, which is also currently tied to a trafficking ring investigation in Nicaragua.
"I'm tired of the fact that the old news media class gives us information in the same manner, and with bias," one panelist, a young woman wearing heavy-framed eyeglasses, emphatically declares. "That is bad for freedom of speech in the country and that's why we're here, to discuss what interests you, without filters."
Attolini, meanwhile, broke his silence on Twitter on Wednesday as the virtual booing and hissing rained down on him. By the afternoon, he tweeted: "The struggle will be infinite if we don't start gaining territory. Now we have it inside the wolf's cave. Let's say the things that are concealed."
"Sin Filtro" is scheduled to premiere Sunday, Oct. 28. Lozano said the likely topic will be media democratization, a central issue for the student movement during the campaign.
* Photo: Moderator Genaro Lozano appears in a screenshot of a promo for "Sin Filtro." Credit: Via YouTube
RELATED INSIDE INTERSECTIONS:
** Originally published at Vice, Friday, July 6:
On Wednesday, the agency in Mexico that manages elections began a recount for the tens of millions of votes in the race that was apparently won by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the party that ruled Mexico from 1929 to 2000. The PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto won by about six points over old-school leftie Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. AMLO, as the progressive candidate is known, is contesting the election results, just like he did in 2006. He won’t accept defeat because defeat means accepting what he and his supporters believe is an inherently corrupt system. Nevertheless, he’s a pacifist and doesn’t believe in violence or armed conflict. And as a result, the rest of us over the past 72 hours have been groaning, sleeping, shrugging, or drinking a lot. The worst that can happen is that AMLO could call for another plantón, a permanent sit-in on the main drags of Mexico City, and shut down the urban center like he did in 2006. But that only ended up hurting his base and made his enemies in the establishment cry “I told you!” On Sunday, AMLO swept dense, voter-rich Mexico City by nearly 27 points.
Outside the Instituto Federal Electoral campus, rows of police officers in bright neon lime jackets and caps are lined up to protect the institute from a small band of young protesters still holding court on the sidewalk after a near-riot the night before. The protestors’ faces are covered in folded-over bandanas and they look like porros, Mexican street slang for paid provocateurs. The emergent #YoSoy132 movement had to send out a comunicado saying that whoever was outside the IFE at this point was not a member.
Inside the IFE, most of the foreign press has left. That leaves behind the bureaucrats, the Mexican beat reporters, the TV crews, and the hostesses in gray pantsuits. I take a seat in the IFE’s big-tent press hall, where dozens of computer terminals face huge screens projecting the state-by-state vote counts. We wait around for a press conference. The IFE councilors come and take their places on an elevated stage. The bureaucrats and the reporters have a back-and-forth in impenetrable jargon. The basic point, from what I gathered, is that with a difference of more than three million votes between Peña and AMLO, nothing much will really change at this point no matter how hard the progressives try. No matter how much evidence exists out there of vote-buying and vote “influencing.” It is the same basic message that is repeated over and over in Mexico—nothing will really change here, people, let’s be honest (but say it in a language no one else understands).
Every cabbie I’ve met in Mexico in the past few weeks has ended up admitting that they don’t believe democracy exists in this country. To them, Peña Nieto looks and sounds like an invented candidate, a puppet, a nice-looking avatar for the ominous Atlacomulco group from one of the PRI’s oldest, darkest wings. ...
* Photo: Supporters of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador during a campaign stop in Tlaxcala, Tlaxcala.
** Originally published at Vice.com:
We’re now less than two weeks away from Mexico’s presidential election, and at this point, few people would have expected that the otherwise unsurprising democratic process of voting would be accompanied by scenes of rabble-rousing students chanting and singing along with mariachi bands outside the studios of Mexico’s leading television network.
These scenes, part of a nascent student movement known as #YoSoy132, are now becoming regular features on the nightly news in Mexico. Imagine that, young people protesting media bias and media manipulation by the thousands in a country with little precedent for such collective grievances against corporate big media.
A lot of people here are pretty excited with this development.
It all started on May 11, when candidate Enrique Peña Nieto visited the Iberoamerican University in Mexico City for what was supposed to be a friendly meet-and-greet with the student and academic community. Instead, over the course of his visit, Peña Nieto suffered a humiliating and disastrous few hours of abuse from what looked like a spontaneous student protest. It got messy.
Peña Nieto came for a normal campaign stop, to deliver a speech and answer questions before an auditorium. The thing was going nominally well until students who had managed to slip in protest signs past a security check could no longer contain themselves. According to video, photos, and accounts of the event, the shouting started after one lone guy with a poofy haircut and a lot of attitude stood up silently holding a hand-drawn sign that read simply, TE ODIO. “I hate you.”
The shouting and chanting grew. Peña Nieto sought an escape. More protesters were waiting for him outside.
The candidate with the movie-star looks and soap-opera star wife was chased through the halls and courtyards of “the Ibero” by choruses of “Murderer!” and “Coward!” as students protested his handling of a 2006 dispute with campesinos in the town of San Salvador Atenco during his term as a state governor. The shouting and chasing grew overwhelming. Peña Nieto hid briefly in a restroom with his team, trying to find a good way out. Video of the moment shows Peña’s eyes wide and hollow, his forehead tense, lips curled up with fear.
By the time it was all over, Peña Nieto was literally run off the Ibero campus. As he ducked into a dark SUV, one reporter managed to ask him what he thought of the protests against him. “It’s not genuine,” he responded with a meager smile, and took off. And with that, the 2012 Mexican presidential race—the race that Peña Nieto was supposed to win without breaking a sweat—took a major shift.
The Ibero incident put the Peña Nieto campaign in damage-control mode. The next day, suggestions that the demonstration was staged by outsiders was repeated by his campaign chief, a few sympathetic Ibero faculty, and just about every provincial and vaguely corrupt newspaper that implicitly supports Peña Nieto and his Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.
This turned out to be an enormously foolish move. The students responded by uploading a video of 131 of them staring into their MacBook video cameras and repeating their names and their student ID numbers while flashing their Ibero ID cards. The PRI has spent many millions of dollars on its campaign to win Mexico’s presidency, but what followed was a media coup that no amount of cash or army of consultants could have stopped. Among Mexico’s active Twitter-verse, the hashtag soon appeared: #YoSoy132. “I am 132.”
It’s worth noting that this kind of brouhaha was very unexpected for Ibero. It is one of the swankiest schools in the country, the kind of place where a slick, media-savvy politician like Peña Nieto should normally be made to be feel right at home. Hell, the Ibero produces Peña Nietos. I know, because a lot of my friends are recent graduates. Even they were surprised by what happened on May 11, but not entirely. Any decent school always has room for progressive thought and action, and while the Ibero probably costs more per year than what millions of Mexicans make in an adult life, there was an undercurrent of “enough is enough” in the anti-Peña protest that seemed blind to class or social boundaries. By the following weekend, a classic grassroots social-media movement had taken off.
#YoSoy132 demonstrations broke first in Mexico City. Tens of thousands streamed through the central corridor and gathered at the Angel of Independence monument to make it known that they, too, were opposed to the PRI regaining power.
The party ruled the country for much of the 20th Century until 2000 with a potent mix of strategies that ultimately boils down to power-by-any-means necessary. It has a widely documented history of vote-buying, fraud, collusion with drug traffickers, censorship, intimidation, election-stealing, and often fatal repression against dissidents—from the assassination of top party figures such as Luis Donaldo Colosio in 1994 to the outright massacres of student protesters in 1968 and 1971. Peña Nieto says the PRI under his candidacy is a new party, and that his campaign should not be faulted for the party’s “errors” of the past.
In 2012, as the July 1 election day nears and the PRI remains ahead in the polls, the students aren’t having it.
#YoSoy132 demonstrations were also held in Monterrey, Guadalajara, Tijuana, Durango, Zacatecas, Tlaxcala, Aguascalientes, Veracruz, and many other cities in Mexico. Smaller protests in show of support of #YoSoy132 have also been reported among the wide Mexican diaspora in places like Chicago, Barcelona, Madrid, San Francisco, and before the White House in Washington, DC. Students at more than 35 universities and colleges across Mexico have joined the movement. What’s significant is that they’re forming a private- and public-university horizontal coalition that hasn’t been seen in Mexico with such force since the late 1960s. As thousands join their demonstrations, there’s a sense of collective dissent against the return of the so-called “dinosaurs” of the PRI, and collective disgust at the arguably biased role that the major media companies are playing in the process.
Now, this is not the Mexican Spring. It’s not a movement meant to topple the government. It’s actually stated a sort of incongruent political position: Against a presidential candidate but not in support of any other. For all we know, Peña Nieto has already won the 2012 election in Mexico. He’s about 15 points up; heart-on-his-sleeve leftie Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and incumbent party conservative Josefina Vazquez Mota, who’s all about keeping military on the streets against drug cartels, are so far splitting the anti-PRI vote.
Even if Lopez Obrador or Vazquez Mota pull off a wild upset in the end, #YoSoy132 will seek to keep the movement up, asking for media reform against the duopoly of Televisa and TV Azteca, which evidently represent an extension of the greater status quo in Mexico—all neatly symbolized by Peña and the PRI. Therefore, the natural questions are: Can it? Will it? Could it?
Here's part one the episode from June of the Canal 22 program Esquizofrenia on hipsters in Mexico City, with a exploration of the Condesa vortex then a graceful and smart detour to reggaetonero-land. I am interviewed as a periodista cultural along with a few other expert commentators.
I had no idea there was such a thing as "reggaetoneros fresas." For our part, we had started calling them chakahipsters. You know who I'm talking about. Have we really come full circle?
Above, "Miss Octavia," at Suite, a bar near Columbia University, Saturday, April 9, the night of my arrival in New York City. She started her set by busting out "Seasons of Love" from the musical RENT, a song in search of a NYC that exists now mostly in the imagination.
This is New York, in "new winter," 2011. This is my New York diary.
Buildings crumble like mud and bread, people fall dramatically to their deaths from exposed rubble, stuff falls on people and crushes them, looters get shot. I remember seeing this film when I was kid. It was terrifying back then. Right now, would I laugh watching it or go check to see if we have a fresh earthquake kit?
The news in the United States is intensely upsetting right now. It feels like it's from another world. But no, it's here, the world we've created. Watch this Russia Today report from what appears to be West Los Angeles. Correspondent Ramon Galindo, emphasizing the words "extra precaution" over and over, asks a regular citizen named Aaron Gonzalez how he's preparing for the coming nuclear apocalypse:
Gonzalez: "I've been following several subscribers on YouTube that broke the news early, so I was able to get to Whole Foods and beat the crowd and I was able to get a hold of several bottles of the potassium iodine pills so I can distribute to my family and friends."
Galindo: "Besides the pills, have you heard of any other people taking extra precautions to prepare for a possible radioactive cloud coming this way?"
Gonzalez: "I've heard of people saran-wrapping their doors and windows, loading up on rice and grains, storing water."
Then this: A Berkeley-educated geologist who claims he can predict earthquakes and says we should expect one this weekend. Jim Berkland (bio here) accurately predicted, to the day, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area. He told Fox News -- where the threshold of speculative wackiness is usually very high -- that he predicts a large earthquake on the U.S. Pacific coast this Saturday, March 19. Watch here.
Berkland's evidence: schools of fish washing up dead (happened in Redondo Beach three days before the Japanese quake, and on the day in Acapulco, only the Mexican fishies were alive), animals fleeing their homes, high tides, and the spring equinox, arriving on Sunday, March 20.
When the anchor thanks Berkland for appearing on air, Berkland replies: "My pleasure, I hope."
Previously, a post on a 1940s video on "modern" Mexico City sparked some good ideas. Here's another. At the Prelinger Archive in New York, this is a World War II-era video by the U.S. Office of Inter-American Affairs on a day in the life of Mexico City.
The video is said to be a reflection of Roosevelt's "Good Neighbor" policy. "Mexico is an old country which is new, a poor country which is rich, a country with more freedom than it has ever known," the narrator says.
* Thanks, Josh K.
This is a photo a Twitter user in Cairo uploaded on Wednesday. Nevine Zaki writes: "A pic I took yesterday of Christians protecting Muslims during their prayers."
It makes my heart warm. All the implications, all the faith present, in God and in fellow man. Then, also this week, over in the Holy Land, this happened.
And it makes the heart stop.
Why they don't ever stay longer? Give us a clue? Ask us a couple questions? Join in prayers?
In Mexico and in Spanish spoken by Mexican immigrants in the United States, a "tocayo" is a friend or acquaintance who has the same first-name as you do. "Tocayos" greet each other and say good-bye with it and not their shared name.
Tonight, I want to salute my tocayo doble in Arizona, Daniel Hernandez, Jr., a 20-year-old student at the University of Arizona who essentially saved the life of Rep. Gabrielle "Gabby" Giffords in Saturday's shooting in Tucson.
Above, Daniel's interview with the openly right-wing outlet known as Fox News. There is the characteristic awkward nature of the questions and answers in such spots, but more so here, as Daniel stays incredibly on-point, on-message, and composed while recounting the horror of what happened. He ran to the bullets when the shots started, and directly to the congresswoman. He propped her up, applied pressure to her wounds, held her hand and spoke to her, and traveled with Rep. Giffords in the ambulance to the University Medical Center in Tucson.
Here are the details.
Almost frustrated toward the end of the interview, the anchor asks Daniel, "You're an example for a lot of young people, Daniel, in terms of your courage and your responsiblity. What's your message for other folks out there tonight watching, thinking, 'How can I raise a boy to be just like Daniel?'"
"I think the first thing we need to do," Daniel responds, "is make sure we acknowledge the real heroes, that's the public servants ... "
Amazing. The anchor in her New York studio is almost speechless.
Daniel, presumably a Mexican American, might be native-born. He also might not be. Daniel, I'm being told, is also gay/queer/LGBT-identified. Don't know for sure. (*UPDATE: Queerty reports Daniel serves on the Tucson Commission on GLBT Issues, and his name appears on the site's members list.) But what counts right now is his enormous strength of character, courage, and sense of civic engagement, even in the face of mortal danger. His statements reflect a genuine dedication to public service and to those who work in government not to spread hate or division but, as he puts it, to help people.
That's about as close as you can get to "patriotism" these days than anything else.
I am proud to share a name with you tonight, Daniel Hernandez, mi tocayo. Your family, friends, and millions of strangers are proud of you as well. You certainly are an example for all of us. I wish you all the best in the future, surely a bright one.
Doon Arbus, daughter of the legendary New York photographer Diane Arbus, opens this beautiful 1972 short film on Arbus's images. Doon is phenomenal in her period Afro, her sense of empowerment, and her sharp analysis of work so intimately tied to her personal history. Please watch.
And definitely follow on to Part 2 and the rest. As Doon explains, a Japanese photographer learning English recorded Arbus in class sessions. In the film, an Arbus friend reads Diane's words "over glimpses of Diane's photographs."
Her frank thinking on the moral conundrums of documentary photography is golden. From Part 2 of the film as it appears on YouTube, and my transcript, Arbus on "freaks":
Freaks was a thing I photographed a lot. It was one of the first thing I photographed and it had a terrific kind of excitement for me. I just used to adore them. I still do adore some of them. I don't quite mean they're my best friends, but they made me feel a mixture of shame and awe. There's a quality of legend about freaks, like a person in a fairy tale who stops you and demands that you answer a riddle. I mean, if you've ever spoken to someone with two heads, you know they know they something you don't. Most people go through life dreading they'll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They've already passed their test in life. They're aristocrats.
"Freaks," in the words of Lisette Model, who follows in the video, are in the same group as "homosexuals, lesbians, cripples, sick people, dying people, dead people."
Diane Arbus committed suicide in 1971.
Everyone it seems wants a Manny vs. Mayweather fight. There's a whole website about it. But after Juan Manuel Marquez impressively defended his title against challenger Michael Katsidis on Saturday, there's a chance after all that Marquez could get his re-match with the Filipino Pacman.
Marquez, a D.F. native, came back from getting knocked down in the third round by the Australian (who came into the Vegas arena dressed as a gladiator) to eliminate Katsidis once the ref stopped the fight in the ninth.
In the post-match press conference, Marquez reportedly wore a T-shirt that read "Marquez beat Pacquiao twice," the kind of stunt that's pure stacks of gold for any good promoter -- one who understands boxing's allure is partly in its politics and ego-drama.
In the latest installment in a periodic series, I hustle my posting at the L.A. Times La Plaza blog. Below, recent news and notes from across Latin America, with an inevitable leaning on Mexico, per our location, and a focus on the work of LAT correspondents, per the paycheck.
I've also had two stories recently in The Times. Nice to have a byline in there again. Those links hang down after the posts noted below (and I'm only going back to early June with the posts; this is making my head heart):
As always, more here. My recent stories in the actual paper are "Mexican labor secretary defends copper mine crackdown" and "For Mexico, 'Zoot Suit' still relevant after 30 years," with an interview with Luis Valdez.
If you've made this far down the post, might as well ask, What do you think of La Plaza? What would you like to see more of, less of? How about the state of Intersections?
And speaking this blog, I'll be updating my right-bar pages soon, I promise.
* Image above, Cristian "El Cris" Rosado Mendoza, accused Juarez hit man.
This is an excavations post not into the archive, but into a dark and lurid future, as projected by the New York musicians known as Salem. Above, Salem live in New York City, June 2009. Click and immerse yourself; it's a nasty ass ride no matter how you absorb it.
Salem digs below all known comfort levels, spatially, aurally, morally.
In the video for their track "Dirt" (audio doesn't begin until more than a minute into the track, and embedding is disabled), a tormented woman appears to be attempting suicide in a closed garage with her car engine running. Then, in the twist straight out of Hell, a naked female (or female-like) figure appears on the hood of the car, dancing suggestively.
The attraction here is the sheer transgression, the bending, the channeling of the terrors we all know are just around any corner. The group's sound itself is difficult to describe, but it's been called "foggy, distorted," "muddy," "surreal and uncomfortable," and "goth/electro/juke." You can find plenty of tracks and remixes by Salem at The Fader, including discussion of their apparently poorly received performance at this year's SXSW. The We Make It Good Mix is especially good.
Salem singer John Holland is interviewed in a recent issue of Butt magazine (NSFW -- or for young children), where he talks about previous stints as a male prostitute and offers details of his drug use. Of the band's label aversion, Holland says, "I don't really know why everyone thinks it's 'Goth.'"
Above, an industrial electrical supply building along the road to the northwest of the Santiago metropolitan region, damaged by last week's magnitude 8.8. quake. More images of damage that I caught in the outskirts here and here.
While, again, the capital was not devastated by this earthquake as the south and coastal regions were, several buildings in the city have been deemed unsafe to return to, as shown by this interactive map at La Tercera. According to the official death toll (pdf) released by the government on Thursday, 21 people in metropolitan Santiago died in the quake.
That figure surprised me. Some cities in the most affected areas had less victims, but perhaps it is proportional to the city's size. "Santiago is Chile," someone here said the other night. Seven million people live in the capital, and there are 17 million overall in this very long, very geographically isolated nation.
Don Francisco from 'Sábado Gigante' -- who is Chilean, by the way -- is in town to host the teletón for victims. Today I'm reporting a piece on the "scene" and mood in Santiago. Any tips?
Or, at least a lot of us hope. We can't emphasize enough the significance of Lou Dobb's abrupt departure from CNN yesterday. For years he had used the powerful platform of cable news to spread lies, distortions, and hate against millions of people living and work in the United States, sometimes leading to murderous results.
He pressed the bogus theory that President Barack Obama was not born a U.S. citizen. He completely made up some crap about illegal immigrants bringing a wave of leprosy -- yes, leprosy -- to the United States. And he almost called former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a "cotton-pickin' ..." before stopping himself.
In short, Lou Dobbs is a disgraceful excuse for a journalist and probably a weasel of a man. Almost more shameful is how long it took CNN to show him the door. In the U.K., they just had an intense debate over even allowing a known racist-extremist to speak on the BBC. In the United States, the racist-extremists have their own nightly news programs.
Cheers are in order for the people behind the 'Basta Dobbs' campaign at Presente.org. The end of 'Lou Dobbs Tonight' can accurately be described as grassroots activism gold.
Is Glenn Beck next?
I'm telling you. Disregard, momentarily, every preconception you have about what Guns N' Roses might signify in the wideness of our pop universe. Disregard, if you can, Axl Rose's long record of irresponsibility, homophobia, and racism. Just watch above, like more than 20 million others have, preferably on blast.
"Sweet Child O' Mine" is a perfect rock ballad. Axl sings and moves incredibly. Slash (Time's second-best electric guitar player of all time, after Jimi) and the band play incredibly. The whole thing feels incredible -- in that late-period hair-metal lost-Hollywood early-90s sort of way.
Then reconsider "Don't Cry" and that epic journey, "November Rain." Cinematic rock-n-roll genius is what I call it. Growing up, there was plenty of appreciation among my siblings for Hendrix, The Doors, and Santana. With MTV invading our brain back then, it was easy to make room for some Guns N' Roses, too. (We just never admitted it much.)
You're not being asked to buy into the "new" Guns N' Roses, by any means. But as a slight rubric on how to consider the influence this band has had on our generations, take a look: People are still dressing like them.
Activism is not only about organizations and grassroots and lefty news media. It's basically about seizing the opportunity. Consider: On Thursday night in Los Angeles, Residente of Calle 13 (previously blogged here) hosted the MTV Latino awards. Sensing an opportunity, he used his platform -- millions of viewers up and down the Western Hemisphere -- to verbally assault just about every major free-market-friendly, authoritarian-leaning Latin American political figure currently sitting in power.
He called the (Republican) governor of Puerto Rico -- where fed-up workers staged a general strike the same day -- an "hijo de la gran puta." He said Cristina Kirchner of Argentina gets too much Botox. He ordered Mexican President Felipe Calderon to basically shut up and get to work, then added "¡Viva México cabrones!" Of his native island, Residente said that "Latin America is incomplete without a free Puerto Rico."
Between each performance and award, Residente changed his T-shirt, each one pushing a cutting new political message: "México nunca olvida, 2/oct/68" said one (Thank you), "Uribe paramiltar," said another.
Watch the punk-recorded clip above. When the camera seems to prepare to cut away from him, Residente stops the photographer, "Wait there, wait there, wait there!" He proclaims openly: "I say it here because I have power."
Wow. No wonder some of the thin-skinned Latin American politicians he (justly) skewered delivered public responses to René Pérez's on-air comments. "What are we teaching our children?" asked Marcos Rodríguez Ema, interior secretary of Puerto Rico, surely with appalled indignation. Colombia also responded, but ... come on, homie isn't making this shit up.
Fact is, René Pérez seems to me the sanest and most honest person on both our continents right now. He smartly wields his sex and pop appeal to speak truth to power, making him one of very few MTV-level figures in any language who recognize the urgency of the contemporary moment.
Needless to say, I'm a follower.
I know I said I'd be shutting off for the month of October to finish up the manuscript. Change of plans. I'll be checking in once a week from now on, on either Sundays or Mondays, for the sake of keeping the page fresh. In addition, I'll still be posting at The Faster Times Mexico page, but also only sporadically until the main project is finished. Thanks for bearing with me.
Busy, busy, busier than ever. I'm working on an exciting new multimedia project, similar in some respects to this. I can't wait to tell you more once the first phase is completed.
The writing is coming along, bit by bit. It's back to work now.
P.S. For my desk snacks tonight, readers may appreciate being informed that I'm having Oaxacan peanuts (salted, mixed with chunks of roasted garlic and red chiles), Oaxacan grasshoppers al mojo de ajo, and a Oaxacan manchego cheese made with chile rajas and epazote. Bought it all today for very cheap from a vendor two blocks from my door.
* Photo above, your blogger on a footpath in a protected forest near Ahuatepec, a community between Cuernavaca and Tepoztlan, Morelos, Sunday, 4 October 2009.
If you can muster watching it, here is security camera footage of the Friday afternoon shooting on metro Balderas, on the north-bound platform of Line 3. At 5:14 p.m., a Metro police officer approaches a man who is scrawling graffiti on a wall. The man pulls out a gun and shoots the officer, killing him. The rush-hour crowd scatters instantly. In the confusion, a second man attempts to subdue the shooter, but he stumbles several times, and the assailant eventually fires into his head, ending his life.
Luis Felipe Hernández (who invoked God before starting to shoot at people) moves into the stalled train, still pointing his .38-caliber revolver at others. Commuters are seen being evacuated out of the station, in single-file against the walls. Minutes later, a plain-clothes police officer approaches the train, his weapon drawn. Shots are fired. Hernández is tackled.
Esteban Cervantes Barrera, the unarmed man who tried to stop Hernandez, had 5 children, Televisa said. He's being hailed as a hero, and the government says it will adopt his survivors. The officer killed has been identified as Víctor Miranda Martínez. He is being honored today at the Monumento de la Revolución. Now metal detectors will be used inside the system and 1,600 new officers are being added to the platforms. They will be armed.
There is a culture of violence in Mexico, definitely, but a crazy person randomly shooting people is not the sort of thing that happens here. To put it bluntly, that's an American thing. But something is shifting. A God-invoking Bolivian hijacked an Aeromexico flight last Wednesday between Cancun and Mexico City.
It's as though the collective madness of right now has been turned up a few notches. In the U.S., the extreme narco violence in Mexico is often (and unfairly) characterized as a creeping contagion "spilling" into the North. There's a flip-side to that. The U.S.-style violence of insanity, chaos, and senselessness is also being exported South. Along with everything else.
Yesterday when I first heard the news -- in a frantic call from a friend -- I was in a meeting near metro Patriotismo. I rushed out to try to make it to the scene. The metro was operating as normal. Then my train stalled in the tunnel just before the transfer point Centro Medico -- for a half-hour. Crowded shoulder to shoulder, in the hot tunnel, moisture on our skin from the rain, we stood ... and stood ... patient. When our train was finally cleared to the platform, a wall of people attempted to push into our car, while a few of us inside tried pushing out.
I'm not above trendy American-style outbursts, so I hollered, "Dejen salir!" and fought my way through, somehow losing a set of earphones in the crush. People were crammed on the platform, wall to lip; every transfer point with Line 3 had to have been screwed. I struggled to make it to the surface, deciding to just walk -- yet hundreds, maybe thousands of people were coming down into the station nonetheless.
They had to get home.
The craziness of U.S. violence may be arriving in Mexico, but the crazy American-style reactions to it don't appear to be.
We use the metro in Mexico City because it costs 2 pesos, moves quickly, gets you where you need to be, and is safe. If the city's 4.5-million daily metro riders can handle a typical Friday rush-hour commute, no armed lunatic thrown occasionally into the mix will stand in our way between Point A and Point B.
Here's an interesting post at Style Amor on a striking yellow unitard Lady Gaga wears in the video for her song "Paparazzi." It's from a recent Jeremy Scott collection, but the image in the print resembles the Mickey Mouse ears-wearing Quetzal, of Mexico City designing duo Marvin y Quetzal. Style Amor suggests that Jeremy Scott bit off a Marvin y Quetzal design, but several people I've consulted disagree, saying that Jeremy Scott first used Mickey Mouse ears prints in 2006. For his part, Marvin Duran tells me people often think the piece in the video is theirs, not by Scott. (I tried unsuccessfully to get in touch with Jeremy about this topic through various friends.)
We'd all like to see more recognition for the independent fashion being generated in Mexico currently. Often, it seems, designers in the U.S. or Europe are, uh, inspired by their counterparts in Mexico, as happened recently with EGR, and not completely forthcoming about their sources. In the "Paparazzi" unitard case, the origin of the print really doesn't matter. It's Lady Gaga's world now. Here, pop is central to fashion, fashion is central to pop, and who did what first becomes untraceable and irrelevant. Yet seeing an echo of dear Quetzal upon Lady Gaga -- the pop-fashion queen of the moment -- in a video about pop overload and death is significant in its own way.
Saturday, September 12 marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Quetzalcoatl Rangel Sanchez, one of Mexican fashion's brightest young stars. It's not something his friends get together and talk about much, even when we run into each other -- which happens mostly at loud, crowded parties -- but you can still feel this terrible absence in Mexico City without him. There's still this shock, a sustained disbelief, that he is no longer with us.
This week my thoughts have been with Quetzal's family (whom I had the privilege of meeting in April 2008), with Marvin, and with his closest and most trusted friends. May Quetzal's spirit live on, on Lady Gaga or not, but more importantly in our hearts and dreams -- where I am told he is still regularly making appearances.
** Image above via Style Amor.
I probably won't go out and buy the book "Free" by Chris Anderson, but I'll read free reviews of it, and gather pertinent -- and free -- excerpts for my future reference. I wonder if the author would be pleased to hear this.
From Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker:
"Information wants to be free," Anderson tells us, "in the same way that life wants to spread and water wants to run downhill." But information can't actually want anything, can it? Amazon wants the information in the Dallas paper to be free, because that way Amazon makes more money. Why are the self-interested motives of powerful companies being elevated to a philosophical principle?
* Wait, the whole book is here! Brilliant.
Depicting a true gangster's dilemma -- getting locked up and then cut off by your moms -- here is Southeast San Diego and former Def Jam rapper Jayo Felony doing his "The Loc is On His Own." Listen close to the well-woven rhymes; the video starts 20 seconds into it.
Check this fan site and this interview for more. "Jayo Felony is somethin' I created when I was in Juvenile Hall as a 14 to 15 year old seein' the word felony carved in a desk," the rapper says. "It just stuck with me. Jayo stands for Justice Against Y'all Oppressors. Just a little bit of science behind it."
Here is 23-year-old Ximena Sariñana, a singer, songwriter, and actress, doing her bluesy-pop take on the ultimate tear-your-heart-out tune, José José's "El Triste." And here goes a version by Kalimba. It is just me, or does this song get better and better with age and interpretation?
My friend Jane in middle school once gave herself a chola make-over. She totally pulled it off. So does Stevie Ryan. This is because if you had contact with cholas growing up, with a little effort you could turn yourself into one, too –- as many "gueras" do in real life. The chola style and attitude is that distinct and recognizable.
With her 2007 video for "Luxurious," add Gwen Stefani, who grew up in Orange County. Her California Chicana, directed by Sophie Muller, is uncanny. She even shows us her chancla at the end. That’s bold. In the codes of the classical barrio, taking off your chancla is basically saying, ‘You wanna fight?'
* Previously, "It's your homegirl up in here ..."