I promised to give this Catholic stuff a rest, and I will. I just want to to remind my readers that, in its infinite wisdom, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia expects you to attend Mass on Sundays in person starting August 15, 2021, the Feast of the Assumption. Nice. I think San Antonio has gotten with the program as well, but when did reality ever interfere with the sacral intentions of the Roman Catholic Church? We made JP II Santo Subito although he was cognizant of the cloud hanging over the abuser, Cardinal McCarrick. Not to mention the Legion of Mary’s Marcial Maciel, a real dirtball, even by Vatican standards. Can we decanonize someone? Deprive them of the Beatific Vision? Instead, we instruct the faithful to return to the pews–pray, pay and obey–even as the Delta variant of Covid II is just getting rolling. It gives new meaning to the old phrase, “Vatican Roulette.” That was the informal name we gave the “I’ve got rhythm” method of birth control under which a good number of Catholic boomers were conceived. Never mind. It’s something or other over the dam. This game of chance is about the end of life, not its frantic beginnings.
Actually, my intention is to give you a brief but professional summary of the Netflix series, “Tijuana.” When I say professional, I mean coming from someone who not only studies Mexican history, but who generally likes Mexican films. Mexico, with its distinctive cultural personality, is easily subject to caricature. Mexican film makers are as susceptible to the temptation to caricature as any–“they are in love with catsup,” a friend of mine says, euphemizing the B-movies penchant for blood and gore. “Tijuana” is, for the most part, an exception. If anything, it goes overboard in its effort to establish some novel positive cliches–like the crusading press, hungering for truth. It’s also awfully, sometimes pointlessly, long. And quite predictably, when the going gets slow, someone gets their rocks off or shows a little skin. At one point, ugh, accompanied by a saxophone solo. C’mon guys. No one does that any more, guys. I mean use the sexophone that way.
It’s also pretty funny to read one of those boilerplate notices on screen that “Tijuana”, which was filmed in Tijuana, is not supposed to bear any resemblance to any real place, person or thing. So I’m supposed to imagine this takes place in Peoria? And the politicans are local Rotarians? Dumb. Another cliche.
I may get into hot water with the four or five people who take the time to read this, but the series struct me as unimpeachably chairo. Neta, as the Mexicans say, chairo has no exact translation (“neta”: long story short, doesn’t either). Chairo, in contemporary Mexico, is a rather derogatory term for someone who is an unconditional supporter of left-wing populism, especially the brand retailed by the President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Or just plain AMLO. Or Andres Manuel. One of the nastiest scenes in “Tijuana” involves a struggling lesbian photojournalist, Malu, trying to explain her work from an exposition mounted by her partner, a gallery owner, who caters to what Mexicans now term “gente fifi” (accent on the second fi). Fifi comes out much the same way in Mexico as “Alamo Heights Blonde” rolls off my lips. A contemptuous way of characterizing intellectual wannabees who have more money or silicone than brains, or who take their pet ocelots for walks in once-fashionable Polanco. You know, vulgar. And obnoxious. “Tijuana” seemed unimpeachably chairo, if only because its central character, Antonio Borja, the crusading newspaper editor, is played–and well played–by Damian Alcazar.
Alcazar is a major star in Mexico, and he’s made a lot of films. The ones I’ve seen are well known: “La Ley de Herodes,” “Infierno,” and “La Dictadura Perfecta.” In “La Dictadura,” he plays a thuggishly corrupt, not to say murderous northern governor, who climbs the greasy pole of Mexican–especially PRI–politics by collaborating with an equally corrupt broadcast network (Televisa a clef, for cognoscenti) in a staged kidnapping of a the twin girls of a middle class, very white couple (if you think race in the USA is complicated, try Mexico) on his way to the Presidency. Alcazar plays a pig, no kinder way to put it, closely matched by those of the slim suit crowd from psuedo-Televisa, whose “journalistic” ethics are precisely what the ratings would dictate. Venal. I hadn’t realize that Alcazar was involved in AMLO’s MORENA (it means sort of dark skinned, among other things) all purpose political movement. Learning that he was put “Tijuana” into perspective. You know, so that’s what’s going on.
Neta, the main theme around which “Tijuana” revolves is the murder of a reformist “PTI” (PRI) candidate for governor by dark forces. What dark forces? Ho boy, take your pick. Narcos. Right-wing businessmen. Rival politicians. All of the above? This is what I would call a “Colosio-scenario”, the murder of the PRI presidential candidate in 1994 by said dark forces who feared he might put Mexico on a more virtuous, clearly less criminally profitable path. The PRI had a history of killing off ambitious reformers, although plane crashes had been the favored means (eg Carlos Madrazo, 1969, whose name is now a pun so dark I couldn’t possibly explain it). In this case, the reformist candidate was a union leader from out of the maquiladoras of the Otay Mesa, who simply got gunned down in the company of an aspiring and idealistic reporter, Gabriela, who ends up working for Borja. She is, truth be told, a reckless idiot, who manages to get the newspaper headquarters shot up as a warning that it’s not nice to fool with Dark Forces. Borja knows that, but then again, he values truth and courage and stuff. The reporter is the daughter Borja never had, because his son, Andy, is a spoiled brat (called a “nini” in Mexico, as in “neither a student nor employed”) who likes drinking, sex and working for a character named Mueller who bears a striking physical resemblance to a former mayor of…..you guessed, Tijuana, Jorge Hank Rhon. (Mueller is a gambling tycoon; so was Hank Rhon). A subplot revolves around Andy’s feckless efforts be an investigative cinema guy whom Borja ends up disowning. I guess family estrangement must be a thing in Mexico with this generation, but Andy, dimly self-aware that he is a jerk, elicits little sympathy. In fact, at a climactic moment in “Tijuana” when Borja is in mortal danger, Andy is bogeying the night away with his Gabriela, the pseudo-daughter. If you sense all kinds of Freudian crap going on here, join the club. I do economic history and would have no idea.
Interestingly, Borja has a friendly relation with a Catholic priest. No, he doesn’t attend Mass. No, he doesn’t ask for absolution in Confession. They play chess (cue heavy symbolism) and the priest, who seems awfully grown up and world weary, gives Borja advice. As usual, walking into a Catholic Church in Mexico can get you into deep trouble. I’ll let it go at that, cause I don’t want to be a spoiler.
Alcazar/Borja plays against type in this series, a decent, serious journalist who cares about truth, justice, and the Mexican Way. He has some good supporting characters, including Lalo, a functioning alcoholic and senior reporter, who has the inevitable heart of gold as well as the sketch police contacts. I kept thinking he reminded me of someone I actually knew, but I’m sure the suspect wouldn’t be pleased.
Netflix is also currently running a broadcast about Manuel Buendia, probably the first reporter rubbed out in Mexico for truly pissing off narcos. It’s pretty good, and you can get a sense of just how dangerous a profession journalism in Mexico has become. Once upon a time, reporters were mostly in the pay of the government, unless they fouled up big time. One of them, Carlos Denegri, is the subject of a very recent novel, and most interesting. He was not a nice man, but perhaps more representative of his type than Antonio Borja, who is sort of a cross between Ben Bradlee and Julio Scherer. If you have the time, you could probably find worse uses for it than “Tijuana”. Or you could read a book.