Mexico: Portrayals of a Culture… of Violence?

This post is part of our special coverage Mexico's Drug War.

Editor's Note: This post intends to show some of the topics exposed in our recent call for posts in our Blog Carnival: Mexico – Citizenry, violence and blogs and so serve as inspiration to Mexican bloggers who haven't yet decided on what they'll write about. There are many other angles to be tackled! (J.A.)

Even though other parts of the world are experiencing high levels of violence, Mexico's case attracts our attention with the apparent inability of the government and its institutions to face the epidemic. So, who else can step up to shoulder the responsibility of helping solve this violence problem? Do the media: mass and independent, have a part to play in this struggle?

Pancho Villa Pancho Villa, @ Cultural Institue of Mexico CCBy dbking

In Latin America, many of us grew up consuming cultural products made in Mexico: movies, magazines, books, soap operas, television shows and music. With the arrival of different content distribution channels through the Internet, we complemented this massified cultural image with that which Mexicans were producing without the established media filters. From outside the problem and basing ourselves in this collective imaginary about Mexico, we realize that much of what we know about Mexican culture according to the media, is a culture of violence.

Science and history also show this violent side of Mexican culture: it is very hard to research Mesoamerican cultural history without stumbling on stories of genocide and human sacrifice. Many of the television shows or ‘historical’ movies showing Mayans or Aztecs not only include this aspect but make it the central focus of the story.

Some Mexicans have their doubts regarding historical records. Like this man [es], who in the following interview explains why he believes that the stories of large scale human sacrifices were simply a way in which uncultured conquerors could justify the killing of Mesoamericans.

Cultural influences

Gender violence is also a serious issue in Mexico. Ciudad de Juárez is sadly well known for this. Some make the direct connection of male chauvinism to the image of the “Mexican macho” perpetuated by movies and media. In this video [es], made as a psychology project by students at the Autonomous University of Mexico, we see some examples of advertising, movies and situations that could have caused men to think of themselves as “owners” of women, and to believe that force and violence are what makes them men.

Danny OldBoy [es], who has a series of videoblogs on the topic of sexuality, diversity and gender, goes beyond and singles out one probable suspect who has enabled not just violence against women who don't comply with pre-established roles, but also against men who don't measure up to “macho” standards: Mexican film star Pedro Infante. In the following sarcasm charged video, Danny OldBoy shows how the macho image perpetuated by this Mexican icon has done more harm than good.

Pedro Infante is not the only Mexican male archetype. For Mexico is also the birthplace of El Santo, a wrestler who jumped out of the lucha libre ring to the movie screens to fight against supernatural forces.

A Mexican comedy series attempted to break these gender stereotypes by showing a man as a single parent of a young girl. However, this same character, in every single episode of El Chavo del Ocho, was slapped and ridiculed: thus, the new model of man/father became synonymous with loser. In this next video we can see what are a YouTube user's favorite moments of the show: it seems that different types of violence are the one thing they have in common.

The telenovelas seem to be loaded with violence as well. A simple search on YouTube shows us that there's a whole category of best fights and slaps in telenovelas so it doesn't seem to be chance that violence is included in the programming: we could assume that people like it and find it entertaining. Most of these fights are between women, and it seems that violence starts climbing out of the exclusively male territory. To be fair, this isn't a Mexican only phenomenon: this next video [es] by Alejandro Hernandez shows two typical fight scenes in telenovelas, one Mexican and the other Venezuelan.

The female villain character seen in the first video has even become her own meme and her phrases have become popular. The emotional and verbal aggression she inflicts has lost its strength and has become something of a joke.

Musical influences

Music is also a strong influence, and these past few years have seen the rise in popularity of the narco-corridos, northern Mexican folk music which speaks about the drug trafficker lifestyle. The cult to money, power and violence is what marks the difference between these ballads and traditional corridos.

They are not wholly new: historically, there's an  important place given to antiheroes, social bandits and the Robin Hood character who steals from the rich to give to the poor. In fact, one of the most famous heroes of the Mexican Revolution, Pancho Villa, began as a fugitive from the law. Just like with soap operas, movies and series that discuss violence, narcocorridos also have an audience. As defensordlh writes in the description for the video History and culture of the narcocorrido [es]:

No pretendo hacer una apologia del narcocorrido, miintencion es dar los elementos para comprender su gran exito. No hay que interpretarlos con la moral establecida, porque si nos fijamos bien las fronteras entre el bien y el mal se borran. Es verdad que los narcocorridos son mandados hacer por los capos de la droga y son una apologia de sus hazañas. Sin embargo, tambien existe el auditorio que es el que le da vida. Es este segundo aspecto el que quiero resaltar en este video. El como las clases marginadas se identifican con su contenido, una forma de protestar ante los poderosos y los letradosque los oprimen y descriminan.

I don't intend to make this a defense of the narcocorrido, my intention is to provide elements with which to understand its great success. We can't interpret them with established morals, because if we look well, the borders between good and evil are erased. It is true that narcocorridos are commissioned by the drug lords and are statements justifying their deeds. Nevertheless, there is also the audience which brings them to life. This second element is the one I wish to highlight in this video. How the marginalized classes identify with its content as a way to protest against the powerful and learned people who oppress and discriminate them.

Are these Mexican products a reflection of the society which created them, an exaggeration or an invention? Is entertainment media part of the solution or only another instrument for this violence?

Don't hesitate to participate with your opinion in our Blog Carnival: Mexico – Citizenry, violence and blogs.

This post is part of our special coverage Mexico's Drug War.


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