The Narcos Dilemma: Is This Great Show Great for Our Culture?

Portraying Colombia as a hotbed for gore and drugs, strips the country of its cultural integrity.

It’s no secret that the ‘dangerous drug cartel’ is one of the most overused — if not straight up lazy — film tropes when it comes to depicting the Latinx community. One of the most recent noteworthy examples can be found in the wildly popular Netflix series, Narcos, a pseudo-documentary crime drama which chronicles the uprising trajectory of Colombian kingpin, Pablo Escobar.

While some viewers describe the series as electrifying, suspenseful, and even addictive, these passionate debates over the show’s entertainment value, leave out its most problematic aspect: the show relies on harmful stereotypes and broad-stroke characterizations. You see one-dimensional macho men puffing on their Cuban cigars — men who are only interested in money, drugs, and having lovers on the side.

As Sarah Gibson writes for High Snobiety, these depictions are just another form of cultural imperialism. “What starts out as a narrated, documentary-style attempt to show the rise and fall of the Colombian cocaine kingpin, boils down to a show which manages to rob Colombians of their own history; the history becomes a mere plot device, cut down to fine, shredded pieces for American audiences to digest without having to gnaw on the bones.

While critics have compared the show to others like Breaking Bad there’s one small but significant caveat: people won’t automatically assume that all white men are drug lords and murderers. And in a time when President Trump’s daily rhetoric includes painting Latinx immigrants as rapists and criminals — even insisting on a wall to “stop drug trafficking” — a series like Narcos, which lacks nuance or context, only serves to fertilize a growing bigotry. Portraying Colombia as a hotbed for gore and drugs, strips the country of its cultural integrity, and continues to perpetuate harmful myths about the Latinx community. For example, foreign films depicting the United States as a gun-thirsty nation full of public shootings, would negate its other cultural and humanistic contributions.

There’s no denying that Pablo Escobar as a figure, deserves a fair and honest depiction — yet Narcos does little more than glorify stereotypes.

But the strongest argument against the series, according to Vogue writer, Patricia Garcia, comes from her own Colombian mother, who reminded her of the drug war’s casualties. “Once you’ve lived through the tragedy of the narco era, she said to me, there’s no reason why you would ever want to see it all over again as entertainment.”

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