1692, People fainting and causing disorder in a courtroom during the trial of suspected witch, George Jacobs. (Photo by Douglas Grundy/Three Lions/Getty Images)
Yesterday, one of the more obscene spectacles in American Television culture took place right here in Miami and at halftime, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira took center stage at Hard Rock stadium, whereupon a tinderbox of moral outrage exploded on Twitter from self-appointed arbiters of decorum in America, decrying the impiousness of these two half breeds who dared to expose the innocent gaze of our children to their depraved, pornographic instincts.
Imbued with the spirit of the rottenest and misogynistic ravings of the father of Protestantism, John Knox, Billy Graham’s son, Franklin, appealed to “a sense of moral decency on prime time TV” to “protect” America’s children from the traumatic experience of seeing a beautiful, caramel-skin woman dance on a pole. Yet another neo-Calvinist wonk from a notoriously right wing media outlet chimed in with a particularly galling take. Jon Miller, the African-American host of Blaze TV’s “White House Brief” took offense at the unfurling of a Puerto Rican flag before lamenting the “R-rated” tastes of his nation’s changing demographic.
Anyone who has watched 5 minutes of American prime time TV knows it is one of the vilest spaces of on-screen entertainment in the world. From a seemingly endless stream of procedural crime shows, that detail and obsess over the most gruesome murder scenes their writers can come up with, to the awful reality of dating shows like The Bachelor, where a dozen or so women make themselves sexually available to the same man as part of a trite, commercialized bastardization of human mating rituals, the patented thrust to package and sell every last drop of titillating content is the most American of traditions.
Glorified Puerto Rican flag clad strippers parading around in r-rated halftime show at USA’s biggest TV even. Who exactly was this performance for? Not people who love America. I’m glad the demise of our country is worth reaching your target demo, which is obviously changing. https://t.co/rYraRNL4dR
I don’t expect the world to act like the church, but our country has had a sense of moral decency on prime time TV in order to protect children. We see that disappearing before our eyes. It was demonstrated in tonight‘s @Pepsi#SuperBowl Halftime Show—w/millions of kids watching.
Being the snake oil salesmen that they are, neither Miller or Graham are doing anything other than marketing to their own “demo” through these ridiculous remarks on social media, just as Pepsi and Netflix (producers of J Lo’s pole-dancing stripper movie, “Hustlers”) we’re doing in last night’s otherwise unremarkable show.
The American entertainment industry’s production values are among the best in the world, but the psychotic scripts and fake blood packets of any given TV show cannot begin to compare to the literal massacre of people, specifically children, by the guns these same two moral giants have infamously defended as a God-given right and the highest expression of American freedom.
So, if it comes down to making a “moral” choice between two people who condone and encourage an ideology that leads to the mass murder of men, women and children in our schools, parks and workplaces, and two scantily-clad ladies showcasing their talent and sensuality during a half-hour commercial, then the choice transcends the self-serving marketing sludge from which they plucked their race-baiting, anti-immigrant, self-serving, Trumpian rhetoric.
One truly does occupy the moral high ground. J-Lo’s fine 50-year old ass was perched right on it last night and both the preacher and the anchorman should take a knee in front of their 65-inch flat screen TV and kiss it.
Spoiler Alert – This piece is only for those who have seen Roma. If you haven’t yet experienced Alfonso Cuarón’s latest and most acclaimed motion picture, I recommend you do so in a movie theater, before you consider watching it on television. I will not get into the Netflix distribution debate in this article. There are already more than enough takesabout this issue.
A Strange Place
The film is enigmatic. Cuarón achieves visually captivating moments throughout the two hours and change he prepared for us. From painstaking recreations of 1970’s Mexico City streets, to sweeping sequences and arresting cinematic frames, that we’re sure to continue seeing years from now. But, the choice to go monochrome creates an unnecessary distance between the story and the viewer.
Color is not incidental in a place like DF (Distrito Federal); it is part and parcel of everyday life. The color is still there in the film, but one has to have already seen it to recognize it.
The movie takes place in the neighborhood my mother grew up in. My aunt lives there, in the same two-bedroom apartment, to this day. “La Roma”, as it’s more popularly known, is a place I know as if I had grown up there myself, even if reality couldn’t be further from the truth. The only permanent abode I ever knew. A bastion of stability in the otherwise centrifuge of chaos that was my life.
Only those of us who are from there can see the pinks and the greens and the blues. We can see the multi-colored tiles of the opening shot. Beyond this, we can see the real stories being told through the lens of a semi-autobiographical work by a director who emerged out of that same, colorful, primordial Mexican sap.
Through his personal story we find the story of all Mexicans. What follows is an interpretation of these stories, from my own personal perspective and perched on a precipice at the edge of the universe.
La Colonia – The Allegory of the Still Birth
The correct translation of neighborhood in Spanish is “vecindario”, but in Mexico City, the term “colonia” is an official designation representing a specific area within the huge metropolis. The relationship is similar to that between counties and cities in America. Nevertheless, the word also carries the more familiar, political definition.
The colonial theme is inevitably present throughout Cuarón’s film, whether he intended it or not. Aparicio’s character, Cleo, is an indigenous servant in a criollo (European-descended people) household. Aparicio, herself, is a real-life actor in the ongoing colonial drama that Mexico continues to live. The state of Oaxaca, where she hails from, remains one of the country’s most indigenous regions.
Classism is rampant in Mexico. The rich and upper middle classes segregate themselves both physically and culturally from the rest. The media, especially, is guilty of projecting a completely false image to the viewing public. If you were to judge the Mexican population by the people cast in its television shows, you’d likely assume most of the country is blonde and blue-eyed. The pernicious influence of the “Telenovela” genre and other cultural Trojan horses have contributed to a widespread, and largely subconscious pathology of self-hatred in the mostly dark-complexioned Mexican population.
The oft-repeated, quasi-historical myth of “La Malinche” is the archetype Cleo embodies in the film. She is a bridge between the natives and the foreigners. It is the foreigners who comfort her when her offspring is born dead. And this is the first allegory of Roma:
She tells us, herself, that she did not want the child to be born. Her destiny is to clean Borras’ shit off the garage floor. Borras is the master’s dog’s name, which loosely translates from the Spanish to “Erase”. Her people will not go on.
Children of the New World – The Allegory of the Astronaut
The astronaut theme comes up several times throughout the movie in the context of youthful imagination.
In one example, he shows us two children playing astronaut. One wears a space-man costume with all the bells and whistles, “exploring” a swampy part of his extended family’s beautiful, sprawling property somewhere in the country. The other, wandering about in a dirt-poor area on the outskirts of Mexico City as if in zero gravity, wearing an improvised space helmet fashioned out of a bucket. Just before this, we see a man shoot out of a canon and land in a net – a scene, which followed a frame of the Hollywood classic “Space Cowboys”, in something of a homage to Kubrick’s famous montage in “A Space Odyssey”.
Underneath, these instances speak to a very particular form of classist indoctrination prevalent in Mexico City’s private schools, in particular. Social status signaling is cliche among school-age kids everywhere, but in Mexico this sort of peer pressure takes on a deeper meaning, encompassing the country’s unique relationship to its only neighbor to the north.
Clothing is often at the center of these contests of social acceptance. Wearing a national brand of shoes or jeans instantly relegates you to the bottom of the social ladder. American brand names, conversely, propel you to the top. ‘Hecho en México’ is only for “nacos” – a derogatory term for the dark-skinned lower classes.
I had a front-row seat during my elementary school years as both witness and participant of this grotesque dynamic. Attending one of the city’s top private schools alongside the children of rich foreigners or high-ranking politicians, we were the kids with links to the “otro lado”. We took shopping trips across the border and had family in the United States. We wore our American brand name clothes to school and compared our American school supplies. We had Trapper Keepers and collected Garbage Pail Kids. We listened to Duran Duran and The Thompson Twins. Belting out the words to “El Rey” and other classic, truly Mexican Rancheras was only done after a few Tequilas.
The allegory of the astronaut represents the negation of self through the pursuit of the unattainable. Cuarón reveals a subconscious reality, that afflicts the upper classes in Mexico. A profound racism rooted in self-loathing and false identification with a different culture.
Bastard Machos – The Allegory of the Dead-Beat Fathers
Visiting my great aunt’s house in La Roma was, at once, entertaining and terrifying. Her son, my second cousin, had an inclination for mechanics and a bit of a prankster streak, which expressed itself in fun ways, like a pulley system he’d made to open the front door of the house from upstairs and frighten anyone who came knocking. The real hair-raiser, however, was in a room on the second floor where a life-size sculpture of Jesus Christ stood in full catholic regalia on an altar surrounded by candles. The figure had been sculpted by my great grandfather after “supposedly” having a religious epiphany on the battlefield during the Mexican Revolution.
The skepticism came directly from the women in the family, who seemed to doubt the sincerity of the man’s spiritual awakening and, rather, believed it was a momentary lapse in an otherwise steady pattern of drunkenness and adultery.
Mexican “machismo” is a world-famous stereotype, which is often accompanied by images of large hats and long mustaches. But, there is a much more mundane face to the pervasive reality behind the caricature.
On my mother’s side of the family, men were hard to find. My own grandfather had two families, simultaneously. He would only “visit” my grandmother in her two-bedroom Roma apartment every weeknight after his pediatric practice. She would make him supper and they would watch the “novela” together. Once the soap opera was over, he would wash up in her tiny bathroom and leave to spend the night with his other family. He seemed completely content with this arrangement and never appeared to have a shred of self-consciousness about it. To me, it was completely normal. I never thought to question why he was just coming in the evenings for a short while and leaving. Only later did I find out what a pathetic man my mother’s father was. My grandmother’s humiliation had become a part of her personality, so I never noticed that, either.
The absent father figure would manifest itself down the generational line in different ways. And it certainly isn’t exclusive to my family.
In the film, the chain-smoking father who abandons his family provides the inciting incident from which the rest of the story unfolds. The huge car, that barely fits in the car port, symbolizes the inflated sense of the Mexican male ego, too unwieldy to be part of a balanced family unit. When he leaves them, it is in a Volkswagen Beatle. But, his estranged wife still has to drive around in the massive vehicle, battering it as she comes to terms with her emotions and, finally, beaching the enormous four-wheeled animal.
Cleo’s love interest embodies the unfortunate archetype of the Mexican macho, as well. But, he also represents the larger context of the conversation. He tells us his story. How “martial arts” saved him from a dissolute life; a metaphor about the Mexican military and the thousands of young, disenfranchised men who make up their ranks. This is apparent when Cuarón makes him one of the plain-clothed gunmen chasing the activists through the furniture store – a scene, which makes little sense unless we consider the totality of the character’s symbolism and the actual history of state repression during those years in Mexico.
The allegory of the dead-beat fathers is the story of Mexican maleness. It is the historically ambiguous relationship with power, that stems from a 500-year old identity crisis borne out of the still unresolved trauma of colonialism.
Art, once it is completed, renounces ownership. The artist has no more say about how his or her work is seen, absorbed or interpreted than anyone else. I do not ascribe any of the above to the director’s original intentions or ideas when making his film. It is simply what I saw, as I saw it.
Before we get into it, a few things should be clarified. The planned and synchronized removal of Alex Jones from the world’s largest digital and social media platforms is not a question of free speech. This argument is nothing but a straw man designed to be burned in effigy by the droves of TOS (terms of service) goons, who have taken it upon themselves to become pro bono, corporate defense attorneys on our social media feeds. Arguing about moral obligation and constitutional principle when it comes to the fundamentally amoral structure of capitalist organization is a fool’s errand. We should all know how that argument ends. Usually in a court of law and many slapped wrists.
The mercenary nature of the American business model also belies the reasons Apple, YouTube, Facebook and the rest of them gave for taking this Orwellian action. Namely, the idea that they took offense at the content being produced by Jones is laughable. One simply has to peruse the catalog of offensive, scandalous and disgusting content all of these platforms continue to offer and always have offered – from pornography to graphic images of gratuitous violence and all manner of basic crap people are bound to come up with.
It is this last point, if anything, that could truly be used against these billion-dollar, publicly traded companies. We are, after all, the source of all the content they are profiting from at grotesque levels, and unlike other media networks – ABC, CNN, NBC, etc. – who buy or produce the content they deliver, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are all lining their pockets with content we create and we produce at exactly zero cost to them. A serious question of whether these companies have any right at all to ban, silence or censor anyone for any reason is one that a competent lawyer should have no problem before a judge. A smart prosecutor would surely win millions for a client of Jones’ heft, in retroactively enforced punitive damages.
Alex Jones’ content was no less or more egregious than anything you might find on the Internet, but his content had the distinction of having a wide circulation, to use legacy terminology. But, how did Alex Jones achieve such a massive audience in the first place? The answer to that question is at the core of what all of this is really about. For all we know, Jones himself is in on the plot. Given the rampant disinformation and his absurd treatment of many of the stories he covers, it would not surprise me in the least if Jones was a plant from the very beginning.
The Ghost in the Machine
The San Jose Mercury News was ready to make a splash in the new, exciting world of the Internet. This small, West-coast publication had just revamped their entire website in 1996. The information superhighway was barely in its infancy and most people were still trying to figure out what a 56k modem was, but the Mercury was about to blow it all out of the water.
Gary Webb was a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist at the daily, and he had just completed a three-part series called Dark Alliance – an explosive piece, that disclosed the unbelievable truth about the direct involvement of U.S. government agencies in the crack cocaine epidemic of South Central L.A. The Mercury chose to make it the lead story for the grand unveiling of the website that Summer. Nothing would ever be the same.
The site went down several times. Traffic was so heavy, their severs could not withstand the barrage of hits. For the very first time, a story on the Internet went viral.
The mainstream news media did not know what hit them and immediately began trying to discredit Webb’s allegations in the midst of their confusion. How had this tiny paper in the middle of nowhere pull it off? It had barely been two years since this strange, novel piece of technology had come on the scene and these behemoths were still trying to decipher a business model that worked. Now they had to deal with this upstart spreading cross-checked, factually-sound reporting everybody wanted to read? Outrageous.
They went after Webb and the Mercury hard, though it took them three months to come up with their smears. The New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times published several invectives against the story, publisher and author in November of that year. The pressure from these journalistic ‘eminences’ grew stronger and, eventually forced the Mercury to disavow the series completely, despite editor Jerry Ceppos acknowledging the story contained no factual errors. Webb was forced out of his job and less than ten years later was found dead of multiple gunshot wounds in an apparent “suicide”.
The CIA’s own internal investigations following the publication of the Dark Alliance series, not only vindicated Webb’s research but implicated the agency and U.S. government even further. Despite this, mainstream news sources have never recanted their attacks on Webb, and some have continued to publish diatribes against the heroic muckraker as late as four years ago.
It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Strawman!
As threatening as Gary Webb’s stellar work turned out to be for the tightly-controlled news rooms of the mainstream publishers, it paled in comparison with the veritable army of independent researchers and citizen journalists his story and its fortuitous dovetailing with the emergence of the Internet created.
Alex Jones himself is among them. But, he is only one among many more who have pioneered a revolution in journalism, which the corporate news outlets have been trying to put down ever since. The un-vetted dissemination of information is a nightmare for the powerful, who rely on the so-called fourth estate to shape the narratives, which benefit and further their interests. The prospect of unsupervised, unruly bunch of nobodies doing their own investigations – and worse – having a platform to publish their findings is utterly unacceptable to them.
The mainstream media itself will do whatever their masters decree, but a reality they have yet to escape is the persistent lack of a viable business model to supplant their analog days and are struggling to survive, in general. The vital loss of public trust, however, is a hurdle too high to jump by innovation alone.
What we are seeing now, with the heightening of moralistic rhetoric and the fomenting of the outrage culture on social media is but a backdrop for clearing the field and an attempt to regain absolute control over the creation and distribution of information. Russian “bots”, #metoo, Alt-right, Antifa and all the pseudo-social issues infecting our digital public spaces are designed to inflame and infuriate the masses so the ‘lords of the Internet protocol’ can justify their blatant clamp down over the flow and distribution of content.
Is the timing of this obviously coordinated attack by the thought police not slightly suspicious, coming as it does on the heels of the end of Net Neutrality? Have you asked yourself why these ‘private’ companies, who may go under in a couple of years, have any say about what we can and can’t do, say or think online?
Alex Jones may very well be a puppet. A straw man they built in the spirit of Gary Webb. A phony anti-establishment figure, embodying the hundreds of thousands of independent seekers Webb woke up, who they could amplify and prop up only to eventually burn him at the stake. Jones’ recent legal trouble could have softened him up enough to consider an exit strategy, if he wasn’t already a known quantity.
It’s too late, though. You can have Alex Jones if you want. 22 years ago today, a real, uncompromising truth-seeker walked among us and delivered a fatal blow to the dishonest news media, unmasking the perfidious extent of their spin and willful omissions of fact by exposing a conspiracy so large and so embedded in our government institutions, that those who claimed, until then, to be the watchdogs of America would never be believed again. Gary Webb paid for it with his life, but he left the truth behind as his unrelenting witness.