I am standing at yet another massive intersection in the corazon of México City (DF)…it is not the same intersection I battled with eleven months earlier when I wrote about my first impressions of this monstrous city but it may as well be because the grand majority of the intersections here have that same aroma of utter chaos about them, a chaos which is recognisably chilango , a chaos which somehow converts into functioning order. I’m yet to see any cars collide, nobody’s been struck down on my watch, though I’ve witnessed some exceedingly close calls. Am I any less shocked now, after day-to-day dealings with the relentless DF traffic, than I was when I first arrived? I don’t believe so. However I have grown to always expect the unexpected, I’ve become significantly distrustful of anything with four wheels, I am permanently on guard and no matter how good my mood was before stepping out my front door, I can not recall making it through one day in this city without cursing like a sailor at handful of motorists.
Upon my arrival eleven months ago so many aspects of daily life and Mexican culture sent a powerful and exhilarating shock through my system, rattling my skeletal cage and waking me from the comatosed state that a stint of Sydney living had left me in. I felt alive. Despite having visited and lived in México several times before, nothing could have prepared me for the reality of what living in DF actually implied. Existing in a city that houses around 18 million people was a concept that floated around my mind like a helium balloon cut free from a toddlers wrist, drifting in whichever way the wind determined, aimlessly making its way skyward. It was not long after I had arrived here that it dawned on me, one of the most dangerous attitudes to adopt whilst visiting or living in México’s bustling capital is an aimless one. Whether you know it instinctually, or you learn it further down the track due to some unfortunate incidence, once you hit the streets of DF you’ve got have your wits about you. México City is not for the faint hearted. Those who have lived here all their lives are a distinct race of super humans, they are built to withstand more than the average person. Stomaches of steel, lungs grown and matured on heavily polluted, stagnant air at ultra high altitudes…everything down to the ridiculously uneven, earthquake-affected footpaths, exists to challenge you; emotionally, mentally, and physically…or at least that is how it appears to the extranjeros hypersensitive perception.
One of the first and most prominent aspects of DF daily life that had a significant impact on me was the abundant imagery of death that splatters the front pages of numerous different ‘newspapers’ on every street corner. The ‘newspapers’ are awfully cheap and the content is exhibited in a manner that seemed to suggest to me that the value of a person’s life might have been as well. As a curious newcomer attempting to absorb every waking moment I observed my surroundings with fresh eyes, eyes that were yet to be affected by the alta levels of contaminación! I proposed some questions about what the graphic snapshots of death could possibly suggest about the population’s attitude toward living and dying and how they might value these processes, what affect this brutal reality may have on a persons psyche and what purchasing these publications implies about them as a human. These were my impressions eleven months ago based on personal experience and here is how they’ve evolved.
Mexico City is a geographically small area, home to an undeterminable amount of millions…depending where you find your statistics, the population ranges from 9 to 28 million, in any case there are A LOT of people inhabiting this space. For the grand majority life consists of varying levels of difficulty but, in general, it is a struggle to survive. I do not consider myself to be a particularly naïve or sheltered person, regardless of this, my mind is constantly shot to pieces by the state of things in this country both past and present. Certain elements of the unbelievable occurrences that take place here form the foundations of why I love this surreal, anarchistic, colourful, and culturally rich country…why I’m consistently drawn here and why I can’t seem to imagine leaving here just yet. Other elements, for example; the inequality, the classism, the racism, the sexism, the corrupt political system, the (drug) war that has caused the deaths of more people this year than any year prior, all create a solid basis for understanding that the problems which México faces are complex and run exceedingly deep. As a result of these factors and other unrelated ones many people loose their lives every day and as tragic as it may be, is it really any wonder in a country so big with a political climate so chaotic and with a population so large and so economically disadvantaged? (Hmmm…now who’s sounding blasé about life and death?! And there I was thinking that my opinions on this theme hadn’t changed significantly over this time…) No matter where you’re from, or who you are, everybody’s life is extinguishable, what does vary is that, depending on where you’re from your lifeless body will either make the front page of a B grade newspaper or it may not even make the 6pm news and as the victim, this outcome won’t make any difference to you but it will undoubtedly affect your loved ones deeply.
Being exposed to graphic images of death on a daily basis does not lesson the severity of dying, one does not become numbed by the concept, and it does not help prepare someone for the reality of dealing with death. In fact it may even serve as a means of creating more distance between living and dying. What you see or read in a paper is occurring at a safe distance from your reality. It’s a still photograph capturing a moment in time, reminding you that while anything may be possible you still exist to witness the fate of the deceased, you can still be affected by it and are capable of forming an opinion about it. Therefore you also have a choice as to whether or not you want to glance at that photograph or even consume that type of publication which, I have learnt, is the tactic of many people I have met this year. As we walk the streets, passing newsstands, I continue to be drawn to looking at the horrific scenes presented there and reading the ill humoured headline accompanying the photo, but most of my friends choose not to. They have learned to block these papers out. It’s not that they value life any less than I or that they have seen so much death they are immune to it, it’s just that they know they have a choice, to look, or not to look…to purchase or not to purchase. However, most of my friends are university educated, emerging from varying socio economic backgrounds but currently employed and living, comfortablemente.
These B grade newspapers are targeted toward México’s equivalent of a Daily Telegraph reader. They are most likely uneducated, working-class and receiving the daily minimum wage of fifty-five pesos ($4 AUS) or less. They are the majority. The content consists of badly written ‘news’ articles, national death stories, football and naked ladies. Now…Let’s take a short conspiracy theory trip…The market consuming these publications is huge and obviously it is impossible to imagine what each individuals motivations are for being compelled to purchase one but for now it’s not important, the point is that they’re reading them…daily. If the government wanted to send a message of fear to their population, if they wanted to let them know that their life was fragile and that they should be thankful to simply have the strength to get up and work like a donkey everyday, then they might fill the populations ‘news’ intake with horrifying, graphic images of death. Doing so could act as a means of frightening them into submission and ensuring that the possibility of any kind of revolutionary action was never actually a viable option. But for this to be a plausible theory one would have to believe that the people seeing, and reading about, their fellow countrymen’s tragic fates were actually affected by the imagery. And as a human, isn’t everyone? Death in film affects us, death in literature affects us, why wouldn’t death in daily news and photography affect us too? We humans have wild imaginations, with each tragic, beautiful or successful story heard we are able to slot ourselves, or people we know, into each role and be moved accordingly. Without being witness to the events personally we invent the details that surround the scene and create either a positive or a negative narrative to accompany it. But is the Mexican government actually capable of carrying out such a devious scheme? Personally I wouldn’t put it past them. Many profoundly interesting theories exist about who is actually controlling this nation. Some say that an ex President of the Partido Revolucionario Instituciónal – PRI, Carlos Salinas, who came to power via a botched election in 1988 and, though no longer holds an official position of political power, continues to get up to all sorts of unsavoury business but I’m yet to doing any serious research into that matter. One thing that is sure and muy interesante about Salina’s past is that at age 4 he, his brother (5yrs) and their friend (8yrs), tied up, shot and killed their servant with a .22-calibre rifle at their home in DF. How it is possible that anyone with a history like this had the opportunity to become President of a country (and a leader of a party that ruled without a break for 70 years following the dictatorship of Porfrio Díaz which lasted the same length of time)? I’ll leave up to you to decide. I digress, but I think we get the idea…México does have a record of some pretty curious behaviour. The population is large, the majority of them are poor, uneducated and struggling and obviously people are more pliable and easier to control when then they exist in a state of fear. Feeling threatened means the people have less of an opportunity to consider how bad their quality of life is, how deceitful their government is, and what drastic measures they could possible take as a means of improving their difficult situations.
These B grade papers provoke a person emotionally. They demand that you feel something, that you react, that you are thrown into a state of shock or that you’re filled with sorrow. They may allow you to feel for a moment like you appreciate life more, your family or your fellow humans. They might inspire rage at the injustices that are occurring or disgust at what humans are capable of inflicting upon one another. Whichever state you’re compelled to feel when confronted with images such as these, they have been successful in forcing you to feel something and that could be a sufficient enough reason for their existence. We are living in strange times. Technology is pushing us to evolve as more isolated beings while giving the impression that we’re more connected. Sometimes being forced to feel anything can remind us that we’re alive and capable of achieving our dreams.
Everybody is going to shape their own unique perspective on why in some ‘developing’ nations death is a more overtly displayed theme. They will form opinions as to whether not it is a more human or realistic or macabre manera to deal with an inevitable event that will eventually occur in each of our lives. I’m not really sure about any of the theories I’ve developed on this matter and I know that after only eleven months of living in DF I’m in no position come to any conclusions about the population’s attitudes towards dying or the value they place on life. Learning about a new culture and the customs of a country which is not our own can take a person a lifetime and depending on what kind of a person you are, how perceptive, curious and willing you may be to learn about and absorb your new surroundings, one may never feel sure about expressing any solid opinions on anything. Generalising about any nations attitude, even ones own, on themes of varying importance is a task that I believe to be impossible and incorrect. In saying that, I no longer observe those reading these newspapers with confusion and disgust. I don’t edge away from them with an expression of revulsion worn on my face as blatantly as a Lucha Libre mask. Although I do remain to be affected by these images with the same level of emotion as when I arrived I no longer judge the reader to be a sick and twisted creature, instead I just go about my business, thinking in a mixture of Español e Ingles and considering what I might want to eat for whichever meal it is that comes next.