Drug series, an apology for crime
In recent years, there has been a wide interest in narcoculture – Photo: Daniel Daza/EL UNIVERSAL

Drug series, an apology for crime

Newsroom/EL UNIVERSAL in English
Mexico City
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In recent years, there has been wide interest from the public in narcoculture. Mexican drug cartels have become increasingly powerful, often living a life full of luxury, vice, and excess usually portrayed in popular series and films

In recent years, there has been wide interest from the public in narco or drug trafficking culture. Mexican drug cartels have become increasingly powerful, often living a life full of luxury, vice, and excess usually portrayed in popular series and films. However, this glamourizing depiction contributes to idealize a lifestyle embedded on violence and even to make an apology for crime for the sake of entertainment.

As harmless as they could seem, series and films inspired on drug cartels have a great influence on spectators. It is not rare to listen to young people yearn for the money, power, fame, and women that allegedly come with the narco life. Aside from drug lords convincing communities of their good intentions that have turned them into modern Robin Hoods, this kind of entertainment overlooks all the grueling acts of drug traffickers, at the same time they exploit violent images to attract the audience, by turning them into heroes.

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Some of the most successful drug series are Narcos and Queen of the South. Narcos, which aired in 2015, tells the story of the leader of the Medellín Cartel, Pablo Escobar. Queen of South is a story based on the novel written by Arturo Pérez-Reverte about the adventures of Teresa Mendoza and the dangers she has to face in order to survive; drug trafficking is what turns her into a powerful woman. Some experts say that, although controversial, Mexico's narco soap operas do more than just glorify drug trade, for they have implicit criticism and contain historical and fictional elements at the same time they provide an insight inside organized crime dynamics.

Although they are depicted as part of the story, violence, crime, and corruption are left in the background and, in the end, are normalized for the spectator by focusing on the perks of criminal life and ultimately glorifying and perpetuating it. Narco series are the product of a lifestyle known since the 1940s as narcoculture, which has its own language, music, dress code, and behavior characteristic of cartel members.

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Given its rise in music, series, and films, narcoculture seems to be part of Mexican identity, particularly in places where narcos are directly embedded in society and where drug trafficking seems to the only option for young people.

In a sense, narcoculture can be understood considering all the stories of impunity, shameless corruption, and poverty in Mexico that have made obtaining easy money through organized crime a feasible alternative for people without opportunities. It should be no surprise then that the glamour of drug series makes people desire to be part of the drug world, in spite of the consequences.

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The imagery built around the drug world turns villains into idealized heroes by legitimizing their deeds through TV productions full of stereotypes and drama that catch spectators and influence their opinion.

Besides films and series, there are also reality shows that are taking advantage of the increasing interest in this kind of content. One of them is VH1’s Cartel Crew which shows the lives of relatives of cartel members and that has been recently popular for its latest cast member: Emma Coronel, wife of former Sinaloa Cartel leader El Chapo Guzmán. Coronel has also profited from the drug world by creating a clothing and accessories line with the image of her husband, who was one of the most powerful drug lords in the world and who is sentenced to life in a U.S. federal prison.

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Besides being an apology for crime, drug series promote an unfair image of the countries dealing with drug trafficking. In the case of Mexico, Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard said, “Today, the image of Mexico seen in all the world are drug series, as other ministers and representatives have told me, and that is unfair to our country.” Although Mexico is currently living a challenging situation regarding drug trafficking, gang clashes, and the rise of new drug cartels, it is important not to reduce the whole country to this.

However, it is not a matter of censoring this kind of content but to generate awareness about the construction of the stories spectators are being told. The audience must realize that, in the end, all the stories and images they see in drug series are designed to be attractive in order to sell, for series are consumption objects and need to catch the attention of the audience in order to be profitable. Drug series are harvesting a seed that was already planted in the interest of the public, but all things considered, the audience is also responsible for furthering the glorification of the drug world.

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