[OP-ED]: There is Nothing "Sexy" or "Glamorous" about Narco Trafficking
If there’s one thing that Americans either secretly or overtly cherish and fetishize, it is violence. And, we don’t just drool over fictional violence amongst superheroes or Quentin Tarantino characters, we also love instances of real violence, with real carnage, with real motives, with real consequences, and, certainly, with real controversy. As spectators in this fast-paced world of live-streaming on Periscope, 24/7 news-reels, and special CGI effects that are eerily authentic, a touch on a tablet or key can instantly transport you to the gore and bloodiness you crave.
I am not going to deny my own fascination as a spectator with fictional violence. I’ve been a diehard fan of The Godfather Trilogy since middle school, an avid watcher of Game of Thrones since high school, and my childhood? Well, that was replete with A Series of Unfortunate Events and Harry Potter (which, yes, are violent in their own degrees!).
So, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a little bit of violence every now-and-then, so long as we acknowledge in both the fictional and the factual accounts (particularly when said violence is expended upon innocent lives), the wrongs of the acts committed.
However, a new trend of “rooting for the antagonist, for the anti-hero, for the violent but misunderstood one” has emerged, and television networks have bestowed upon us the incredibly convoluted and aggressively riveting personas of Tony Soprano, Walter White, and Dexter Morgan. We hate to love them, and love to hate them, but we cannot deny that they are memorable- and somewhat lovable, for better or for worse.
Initially, I had no qualms with this pop-culture trend, and had actually regarded it more as a facet in which we can engage in a somewhat ongoing psychological and sociological study of the American fascination with morally subjective individuals, until Netflix came forth with “Narcos.”
When it first appeared in the Netflix Originals repertoire back in 2015, my college campus was buzzing about Narcos, piling into dorm common rooms by the droves to binge-watch episodes with hallmates, teammates, or friends. The attraction was obvious. The cast is physically attractive for both men and women: Pedro Pascal, Boyd Holbrook, Paulina Gaitán, Joanna Christie, Maurice Compte, Stephanie Sigman, Roberto Urbina, Ana de la Reguera, and of course, Wagner Moura who plays el capo and kingpin Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria. The theme song of the show, the tune Tuyo by Rodrigo Amarante, is sensual, groovy, and hypnotic. And the violence? Well, forget about that, let’s think of all of the things that Pablo and his goonies are able to get with the violence: women, women, women, women, drugs galore, and such an exorbitant, absurd, exaggerated superfluity of money, that even Forbes couldn’t contain their curiosity in the 1980s.
Everyone my age was hooked, and so was I, yearning for an end to never come to the season, expecting the next one with anticipation, and subliminally desiring the saga of Escobar to continue; for the drama, for the violence, for the sex appeal, we wanted to extend this fragment of history for as long as our screens could allow us to.
Others have taken note of the Narcos bandwagon, even creating an app that simulates what it’s like to run your own cartel, and transforming screen caps of the show into clever memes.
This past summer, I decided to do something different, and my deviation from Netflix’s top shows led me to discover a whole-other side to the story of “Narcos,” and become enthralled by, above all else, the truth.
Thanks to a suggestion from someone close and dear to me, I got into Escobar, El Patrón del Mal, a Colombian series directed by a Colombian director, endorsed by a Colombian network, and composed of a mainly-Colombian cast. The series is available in Spanish with English subtitles on Netflix, and has won numerous accolades and awards, but the show has collected dust in the back-pages and lesser-visited parts of the streaming service.
This show, unlike Narcos, is a historical series and a drama, with not only real reenactments of what transpired in Medellín, Calí, Bogotá, and parts of Nicaragua, Panamá, El Salvador, Mexico, and Miami, but also the real stories of the victims of the violence spurred by Escobar’s narco trafficking and obsession with waging wars. No longer was the violence glamorous when real people were attached to it, ranging from famous ministers, presidential candidates, and journalists, to innocently bombed pedestrians, children, and police. This does not exclude Escobar’s own family, who could not be protected and could not enjoy the magnanimous billionaire wealth of Escobar due to constantly having to move and hide in slums, facing death threats, fearing extradition, and being denied asylum from numerous countries.
It’s easy to enjoy the action of gunshots or the clamor of chaos when it is detached from reality, but much harder to become desensitized when viewing real families being torn apart by greed, corruption, poverty, cocaine, and oppression.
Later on this summer, I saw the documentary Sins of My Father, directed by Nicolas Entel, which further illuminated how broken the sons of Escobar’s most famously executed (Luis Carlos Galán and Rodrigo Lara Bonilla) were after their fathers were assassinated, and the attempt of a genuinely distraught and cursed Sebastián Marroquín (born Juan Pablo Escobar Henao, the son of Escobar) to seek retribution for the catastrophic mistakes of his father.
The barbarism of Pablo Escobar was undeniable and overt in El Patrón del Mal, and the emotional and detrimental scars Escobar and Los Extraditables left on their country and on their victims’ families (via their motto of plata o plomo), was tangible in Sins of My Father, but Netflix’s popular Narcos was intended to make audiences cheer for the villain.
On September 6th 2016, Marroquín posted on his Facebook everything he found insulting about Narcos. The show is not an insult to the memory of his father, rather it is an insult to the memory of those affected by the violence and tragedies inflicted by his father. Marroquín claims that the show is gaining too much glorification, with little to no care about remaining factual or consistent.
What’s wrong with a little voyeurism, a little enjoyment of the violence, a little taste of the temptations that Escobar and his men indirectly offer their audience? Everything, when we shroud the unnerving and unattractive realities of violence in order to boost our ratings, and keep the real people still living through the consequences of Escobar’s unearthed Pandora’s box of narco trafficking, which has left a tedious and destructive legacy of cartel wars, human trafficking, bombings, kidnappings, disappearances, sexual deviance, and corrupt politicians in Colombia and elsewhere in Latin America, to name a few.
Here’s my message to those of us who are not Colombian, to those of us who did not lose a loved one due to the effects of drug violence in the 1980s, to those of us who are young and capable of curiosity: You can binge-watch your “Narcos,” but don’t do it without digging deeper into the subjects and the history at hand, don’t do it by blindly allowing yourself to fall for the enchantments in a span of twenty episodes. Twenty-three years after the death of Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria, the recent attempts in-desperation to finally make peace between FARC rebels, the Colombian government, and drug cartels make our generational awareness more important than ever. The memory of trauma deserves to be preserved, not only for those who were lost, but because "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”