T.V., radio, entertainment, bread and circuses

04/10/2014

After work, food and rest, the human race needs distraction and leisure for a more complete and balanced life. From ancient times to the present, civilizations have always found fun and recreation in a variety of forms, many of which would be inappropriate or illegal today. In modern life there is a huge gamut of activities, and this culture of entertainment forms part of the commercial and capitalist world we live in.

Our entertainment ranges from simple board games to more sophisticated games, from applications for our computers, tablets and cell phones to professional efforts aimed at large audiences in the theater, cinema and music and sport arenas. Radio, movies and television have given the latter massive exposure, especially sports, whose extensive television coverage has led to a multimillion-dollar industry. Never have so many forms of entertainment been available to so many people around the world through various media and the Internet, with broadcast T.V. continuing to dominate in the poorer countries.

Even with the advent of digital technology, which threatens to overtake traditional radio and television, the Mexican network Televisa controls almost 70 percent of the market and is a major influence among those with limited access to new technologies. Televisa, like other big businesses in Mexico, grew under the wing of the anti-democratic system of the Revolutionary Institutional Party and recently contributed to that party’s return to power and the election of President Peña Nieto.

Among the structural reforms approved by the Mexican congress last year, the one pertaining to the telecommunications industry, including telephone and the Internet, stands out. The reform’s intent was to put an end to the quasi-monopolies that dominated these industries, not only allowing for new entrants into the field and creating new options for the consumer, but also lowering prices by way of fair competition while supporting non-commercial alternative media.

All reforms must be followed by detailed rules contained in so-called secondary laws. These are developed and voted on by congressional committees after being proposed by the executive branch or parties. Although warned of the risk that the big telecommunications consortia’s influence may reverse the spirit of reform in the secondary laws, the rules proposed by Peña Nieto and about to be approved by the congressional committees are indeed regressive and have little connection to the reform’s original intent. If they are approved, we will once again see the Mexican political maxim: Announce big changes, but in the end, change nothing. An embarrassment and a travesty for the Mexican people.

We are also aware of the growing development and influence Spanish-language television and radio have had in the United States. Years ago, Televisa tried to take over the ripening Hispanic market, but anti-trust laws prohibited it from doing so. Nevertheless, Televisa allied itself with what turned out to be the dominant Spanish-language network here: Univision, which now has nearly 70 percent of the audience and whose program content is mostly supplied by Televisa.

Following the lead of this country’s entertainment industry (in which reality is largely avoided), Univision, its competitor Telemundo (which carries 25 percent of the audience) and the numerous small Spanish-language networks offer bland entertainment: telenovelas, comedy, celebrity gossip, sports, red-carpet music awards ceremonies and other genres that pay little attention to reality. Overall, Spanish-language media emphasize and celebrate a sort of Hispanic and Latino pride or patriotism, exploiting individual or collective successes to show that Latinos are superior in a world where they are supposedly victims.

Spanish-language radio in America has developed successful morning talk shows similar to provincial programs in Mexico, attaining enormous audiences, with many of its stars (such as Eddie “Piolín” Sotelo) accepting lucrative contracts with large radio or Internet consortia. The shows are several hours long and consist primarily of rapid and direct talk, using limited colloquial language with vulgar, sexist overtones and many simple jokes, usually in bad taste, that make fun of the less fortunate. More serious segments present a mix of news related to popular issues like immigration reform and reports of dramatic situations of poverty or abuse, which the shows at times literally try to alleviate, such as by raising funds for families divided by deportation. 

Spanish-language media has grown alongside the Latino population in the United States, and it has attained enormous economic importance because it represent saccess to millions of Latinos eager to buy what the world is selling. This has not gone unnoticed by the businesses and corporations that sponsor every program, event or spectacular derived from this entertainment, including concerts, awards ceremonies, the games of professional Mexican soccer teams and more recently, Spanish-language movies.

By keeping their Latino audience entertained with gossip, music, sports and activities that promote traditional ideas like machismo, submission, pride or cheap patriotism, and making that audience feel good through the naive consumption of products and ideas, the Spanish-language media reaps a fortune.