By Don Simpson | November 22, 2013
Director: Shaul Schwarz
Just looking at popular culture in the United States, there is no doubt that the glorification of violence continues to increase. Since most of our popular culture is exported to other countries, it should come as no surprise that there has been a ripple effect felt around the world. It seems impossible to surmise who is more responsible for this trend — the suppliers or the demanders — or what effect the violence has on the audience. These were topics that I actually set out to cover in my graduate school thesis, but I quickly determined that it would be impossible to tackle such an unruly beast in just one year. That was almost 20 years ago and — though many have tried — very little headway has been made in this discussion. As the supply and demand both continue to skyrocket out of control, it is pretty difficult to ignore that there has been some effect on the audience, probably making society more accepting of violence and perhaps even making society more violent.
For now, it seems that all we can do is observe the situation and hope that human beings can figure out a solution before our planet goes to hell in a hand basket. This is where documentaries such as Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing and Shaul Schwarz’s Narco Cultura come in. Both films effectively portray real violence and the people behind it. They approach their subject matter in nonjudgmental ways, allowing their subjects to trust them, but also opening their documentaries up to a much wider audience, rather than narrowing their audience down to a single political or social perspective.
Narco Cultura juxtaposes the effect that the Mexican drug cartel culture has had in Mexico with the overwhelming influence of that culture in the United States. As Schwarz’s explains, the homicide rates in Mexican border cities such as Juarez are skyrocketing due to the ever-increasing presence of drug cartels. All the while, border cities in the United States, such as El Paso, boast some of the lowest homicide rates in the country (though I am quite skeptical about El Paso only reporting five homicides in 2010).
From there, Schwarz examines the efforts of journalists and detectives in Juarez who monitor the escalating narco violence. Primarily following Richi Soto, a crime-scene investigator, Narco Cultura reveals just how scary it is to be on the wrong side of the drug war. For many reasons, Soto and his associates are fighting a losing battle; no matter how hard they work, very few arrests are ever made. So, it seems like they may be risking their lives purely for accurate record keeping of the thousands of murders. What these professionals have to say is interesting and all, but the most fascinating scenes in Narco Cultura come from interviews and soundbites from random onlookers in Juarez — this footage is what truly hammers home the frightening facts that drug cartels and their related violence have become fully engrained into Mexican culture.
On the U.S. side of the border, Schwarz focuses primarily on Edgar Quintero, the frontman of the Los Angeles-based narco corrodes band, BuKnas. If you ask Quintero, narco corrodes is the essentially the next wave of gangster rap. He writes anthemic drug ballads that are based in the brutal reality of Mexican drug cartels. A lot of the songs are commissioned by the very same narcos that Quintero writes about, taking their self-boasting tales and converting them into hit records. As it turns out, narco corrodes is a boom industry in the U.S., achieving all of its success by idolizing violent criminals and idealizing the ridiculously over-the-top violence of drug cartels. It is all just another example of the U.S. popular culture exploiting another country and making huge profits from it; meanwhile, Mexican radio stations have mostly banned narco corrodes from their airwaves.
By the time Narco Cultura finished playing I was ready to give up on modern society; just learning about the popularity of narco corrodes is more than enough to make me lose faith. This truly is a fucked up world that we have created for ourselves. If I did not know any better, I would say that we have already gone beyond the point of no return. I can only hope that is not true.