Archive for the 'Media' Category



07
Apr
09

Truth, Justice, and the American Way

My last few posts have been, with reason, somewhat dour. So let’s lighten up things around here. Instead of bemoaning the economy and worldwide collapse, let’s reminisce about fond childhood memories.

For example, like a lot of guys, I read whole stacks of comic books when I was a kid. I was unusual, however, in that I was big into horror stories, like the House of Secrets, and gravitated toward anti-heroes like Conan the Barbarian and Jonah Hex. For the most part, costumed superheroes bored me, with their goody-goody ways, and the only ones I liked were the ones who were messed up psychologically, like some of the X-Men.

It’s funny how early our tastes get set, because to this day, I’m much more interested in dark tales than heroic ones. Still, I acknowledge that when most people say the words “comic book,” it’s images of mighty, spandex-clad men and women fighting for noble causes that come to mind.

So I was pleased when I saw an article in Aqui – a great magazine and one to which I have contributed – that profiled Hispanic superheroes. The article was illuminating. I have to admit that despite the many hours I spent pouring over the exploits of Marvel and DC heroes, I could not recall a single Latino flying in to save the day. I remember black-power figures like Cage, and even advocates for the disabled like Daredevil, but Hispanic cape crusaders were nonexistent.

Or so I thought. Aqui pointed out that as far back as the 1970s, Latinas such as Fire (true identity: Beatriz da Costa) were striking down evildoers. Through the years, the White Tiger, Echo, and Vibe have kept us safe from evil geniuses and mutant monsters. For the demographically aware, there’s even a lesbian Latina, the Question, who fights crime. And to my surprise, the future version of one of the most famous heroes (in a series titled “Spiderman 2099”) is a guy named Miguel.

Yes, I stopped reading comics at the wrong time. Otherwise, I would have been more aware of hotties like Arana and Pantha. Then again, La Lunatica would have just freaked me out (it’s hard to get past the ominous name and ghostly skin, despite her rather impressive physical features):

 la_lunatica

In any case, I thank Aqui for educating me on the subject. And I’m glad that the next generation of kids who spend Saturdays flipping through comic books will not even think twice about the significance of a Chicano lifting cars off people or capturing muggers or fighting off alien invaders. Instead, they will recognize him as an all-American hero. 

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21
Mar
09

Andale!

I’ve always had issues with the guy.

I know his good qualities outweigh his bad ones. After all, he’s smart, crafty, occasionally funny, and in his own way, even heroic.

But he’s a thief. And he’s a filthy rodent, which is hard to overlook.

So what do we make of Speedy Gonzalez?

Let’s not get all freshman term paper here, but there are obvious cultural connotations to the old Looney Tunes cartoons. Like every piece of art, they reflect the society and times in which they were created.

The only Hispanic character, to my knowledge, was Speedy Gonzalez. He was a leading man whom kids were supposed to root for. And he always won the day due to his bravery and quick wits.

But the symbolism is inescapable: He was a sneaky mouse determined to steal cheese. I might add that all his friends were lazy cowards. And if the connotations weren’t clear enough, how about that time the mice were trying to sneak across the border?

 


To be fair, Latinos actually come off better in the old Merrie Melodies than do blacks, Asians, or Southerners. The animators seemed to have special disdain for the French, whom they personified in Pepe le Pew – a rude, oblivious, dimwitted sexual harasser who reeked (and he wasn’t funny either).

They were ahead of their time when it came to gays, however, unless you think it was a coincidence that Bugs Bunny was always cross-dressing. Somebody on that writing staff was just dying to out himself. But I digress.

In any case, the creators of Speedy Gonzalez were, I believe, trying to be positive. They just couldn’t get past the stereotypes. And they were also culturally confused when it came to Latinos. After all, why else would the king of Spain have a Mexican accent (as displayed in the immortal line, “It’s flat like your head”)?

By the way, if anybody knows if they still air Speedy Gonzalez cartoons, let me know. It would be a shame if the kids of today missed out on him… or maybe it wouldn’t, I’m still not sure.

31
Jan
09

A One-Two Counterpunch

Despite my cynicism about the Academy Awards (see the previous posts), two recent bits of pop culture have convinced me that the infiltration of Hispanics into the mass media is indeed continuing unabated.

First, I was pleased to see that on “30 Rock” (the best comedy on television), Salma Hayek has a running guest-star role as a nurse. This is a step up from the usual maid-nanny-junkie roles that most Latina actresses are relegated to. It’s still not quite a doctor, however, so there’s room for improvement.

Of course, I was a bit surprised to see Hayek, a Mexican actress, portraying a Nuyorican character. I would imagine that both Chicanos and Puerto Ricans would be up in arms about the cross-cultural portrayal, but maybe we can all agree that getting a Latina on television is for the greater good. More likely, we can all agree that Hayek is a talented actress who deserves more work and is, you know, rather pleasant to look at, regardless of the circumstances.

Second, I saw the movie “Hamlet 2,” a comedy about a hapless high school drama teacher. The film is biting and funny, but for the purposes of this blog, my emphasis is on its cast. Many of the struggling thespians are Hispanic teens, and the movie doesn’t shy away from milking cultural differences for laughs. I don’t recall seeing a movie where multiple Hispanic teens appear onscreen, yet aren’t a scary gang coming after the white protagonist. Along those lines, it was also refreshing that one of the Latino kid’s fathers is an intellectual rather than a gangbanger. This is incremental progress that we shouldn’t get too excited about, but it’s positive nonetheless.

Of course, if “Hamlet 2” is going to be remembered for anything, it won’t be for the scene where the prissy white girl says, “I’ll show you why, vato,” and throws herself at the Latino guy she’s been lusting after for the entire movie. As good as that interaction is, the movie will always be known as the source of the “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus” number:


27
Jan
09

An Unexpected Backlash

Let me thank Profe for commenting on my previous article (“Donde Esta Mi Oscar?”). Thanks also to everyone who responded to it on the Huffington Post… well, maybe not everyone.

You see, despite the dozens of posts I have written, I still have a hard time gauging which articles will get the most response or what the reaction will be. So I was surprised when the previous post, about the lack of Latinos with Oscar nominations, went beyond simple pop-culture observation.

In short, my point about Hispanic representation in Hollywood was more or less ignored in favor of an ax-grinding issue: Namely, who is or is not Latino?

Several commentators insisted that Oscar winner Javier Bardem and Oscar nominee Penelope Cruz are Hispanic, despite the fact that both were born and raised in Spain. Of course, I don’t agree, and I offered my definition of Hispanic (ie, people who are from, or have their roots in, countries south of the Texas border and/or the islands in that general vicinity).

Now, one can make a valid argument that Cruz and Bardem are Hispanic. It’s not crazy or stupid to think so. Maybe we can agree to disagree?

Well, maybe we can’t. I received several snappish comments about my opinion and was informed that my viewpoint is as “preposterous as it is plainly wrong.” People demanded to know where I got my definition or stated that I had no idea what I was talking about.

I also discovered that when it comes to pinpointing Latino countries of origin, “Spanish-speaking is the key word and qualifier.” This means, I suppose, that Spaniards are Latinos but Brazilians are not (they speak Portuguese). In addition, one person replied, “I guess I’m not Latino cause I’m North American,” a sarcastic aside that I can’t even pretend to decipher.

When I wasn’t being assailed for my insensitivity to Spaniards, I was being called out for my own hypersensitivity.

There was a calm, reasoned request that I “get a life” and the demand that I “quit crying.” Other outbursts of maturity included “Oh boo hoo” and “JFC!!!” One reader said that I had indulged in a “stupid and pointless exercise,” but I didn’t have the heart to point out that she/he had stooped to my moronic level by taking time to read the post and issue a furious reply to it.

Other readers insisted that I was calling for a quota system, and one threatened that “some day, people will learn awards ceremonies are not places where equal representation is (or should) be considered.” That sounds ominous to me, sir.

Naturally, I find it interesting that the simple act of pointing out racial or ethnic discrepancies elicits charges of whining or accusations that people are gunning for quotas. Such attacks are designed to get people to shut up and not point out uncomfortable facts. I have serious doubts that it ever works.

In any case, all this had very little to do with my original point, which is that it would be nice to see more Latinos on film. As a truce to my many critics, let me say that regardless of whether you think Pedro Almodovar has made a Latino movie or a European one, go out and see it. And while you’re at it, check out an Alfonso Cuaron or a Robert Rodriguez flick. There’s a lot of Latino talent out there, however you define it.

24
Jan
09

Donde Esta Mi Oscar?

First, belated thanks to all those who commented on my piece “Sprechen Sie Deutsch,” both here and on the Huffington Post. Judging by the sheer number of comments (over 100 combined) it is the most popular post I’ve written yet. The article will soon be reprinted in “Aqui” magazine.

Second, thanks (of sorts) to Lulu, who commented on my previous post, “A New Start?” Lulu’s words are either this blog’s first stab at post-Bush ironic joking, or one of my few pieces of legitimate hate mail. Either way, What a Laugh had a good rejoinder.

On a much lighter note, Oscar nominations came out this week. Once again, the list is so chockablock with Latinos that we can assume the ceremony will be telecast in Spanish.

Actually, I’m being facetious. None of the twenty acting nominees is Hispanic. And with the exception of Spain’s Penelope Cruz (who is European and therefore not a Latina), an accented name is hard to find on the list of anyone nominated for anything.

Now, I’m certainly not denigrating the talent of this year’s Best Actress frontrunner, the lovely Kate Winslet (for the last time, I am not obsessed with her, no matter what my wife says). But the dearth of Latinos, despite our standing as the biggest minority in America, is glaring. More telling than the actual scarcity of nominees is the fact that few people even notice that we’re underrepresented.

To prove my point, simply browse any list of Oscar trivia, which will reveal the names Hattie McDaniel, Sidney Poitier, and Halle Berry – all the first African Americans to win Oscars in their respective categories. It was even big news a few years ago when Denzel Washington became just the second black man to win Best Actor. When one thinks about it, that is quite the specificity.

In contrast, the first Hispanic to win an acting Oscar in any category was… well, anybody know off the top of their heads? In fact, acres of Google research are required just to find out which Latinos have been nominated.

My admittedly crude investigation uncovers that, in the eighty-one years the Academy has been handing out awards, just fourteen Hispanics have been nominated for acting Oscars. The last was Adriana Barraza in 2007 for “Babel.” That year was a supposed watershed for Hispanics, with over a dozen Latinos nominated for Oscars in various categories. The sublime “Pan’s Labyrinth,” from Mexican  auteur  Guillermo del Toro, even won a couple that year. But in the two years since then, finding a Latino at the Academy Awards is as common as seeing a low-rider bounce past while blaring Aimee Mann.

So why aren’t more Hispanics getting into the winner’s circle, or even receiving invitations to the party in the first place? Well, many filmmakers seem to believe that the only appropriate settings for cinematic drama are upper-middle-class suburbia or Victorian England. As such, Gael Garcia Bernal just isn’t going to pop up that often. An openness to other stories, especially ones that reflect the actual twenty-first century, is an important first step to seeing more Latinos onscreen.

Still, we can’t ignore the progress that has already been made. After all, we’re long past the days when Charlton Heston was deemed suitable to play a Mexican (it’s true; check out “Touch of Evil”).

By the way, the last Latino to win an acting Oscar was Benicio Del Toro in 2001 for “Traffic.” And since you’re probably wondering, here are the first Hispanic winners in each acting category.

  • Best Actor: Jose Ferrer, 1950, “Cyrano de Bergerac”
  • Best Supporting Actor: Anthony Quinn, 1952, “Viva Zapata!”
  • Best Supporting Actress: Rita Moreno,1961, “West Side Story”

No Latina has ever won Best Actress.

25
Nov
08

A Latino Walks into a Gallery…

One of my original goals for this blog was to serve as a conduit to Hispanic artists, writers, and general mover-shaker types who might otherwise be overlooked. So far, alas, I have been largely remiss in addressing this goal.

That’s why I’m pleased to have discovered the art of Gabriela Gonzalez Delloso. Her paintings were prominently displayed in a gallery that I wandered into, and they immediately caught my attention. Although her work is not explicitly about being Hispanic, her images (to my untrained eye, at least) carry the weight of the Latino experience.

A bride gazes longingly at a pair of red shoes, and I think of my cousins’ quinceneras. An abuela-type figure presides over a table of food, and I remember random feasts that brought my family together.

Of course, none of this would work if the images were wrapped in sentimentality or cliché. But the artist avoids such traps. In addition, she sets her pieces in the smoky realm of the old masters, as if Rembrandt were Latino. Her work is unlike anything I’ve seen, and I encourage you to check it out.

20
Aug
08

Not Quite Ready for My Close-Up

The email was unexpected, even alarming.

It read, “I book guests for an Hispanic television show. We’re taping a program on Latino bloggers, and we’d love to have the Fanatic appear. Please let me know if you’d consider being a part of this show.”

Obviously, I replied that I was interested. What red-blooded American living in our reality-show culture of a society could pass on the opportunity to appear on television, which is the very pinnacle of existence?

In truth, it should be clear to everyone that if I really wanted to be a celebrity, I wouldn’t be a writer. I would be a rock star or, at the very least, a pathetic hanger-on to some washed-up actor (whichever is easier).

So it wasn’t about my getting my fifteen minutes. My only motivation was to publicize the blog.

I agreed to talk to the booking agent to see if I was a good fit for the show’s topic. After speaking with this very nice, albeit fast-talking woman from New York, I found out that I would appear as a panelist on the show, via satellite no less. I would debate, banter, cajole, and confront the other panelists on live television. It sounded good to me.

Later, I did some research on the show. The publicity for the program refers to the hosts as “multicultural journalistic powerhouses,” which sounds pretty damn cool. Of course, it also sounds like the hosts are Latinos who have been exposed to excessive radiation.

In any case, I was excited to appear on the show. This would be my television debut, unless one counts the myriad times when I was a teenager that I snuck into the background of a hapless reporter delivering an on-location news story. This time, I had no plans to stick out my tongue and wave rabbit ears behind someone’s head. Otherwise, my maturity level would probably be identical.

Alas, the producers decided that my blog’s subject matter didn’t quite fit the show’s theme, so I won’t be appearing. They broke the news to me via another unexpected email. In less than twenty-four hours, my small-screen debut went from genesis to untimely death. After my brief flirtation with fame, it is indeed a bitter pill to go back to a life where I cannot introduce myself with the phrase “as seen on tv.”

Nevertheless, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before some other television program recruits the Fanatic. And when that day comes, it will be a foreshadowing of my future multimedia presence, when I’ll be exchanging bon mots with Jon Stewart, snipping with Bill O’Reilly, and slapping high-fives with David Letterman.

Can’t you just see it? I know I can.




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