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Dear Diarrhee, this is why I love gossip magazines

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My friends — especially the “well-read” types —  love scoffing at my TvNotas subscription. To them, seeing a publication of such ill repute in anything other than a laundromat, a beauty salon, or in the hands of a barely literate person is offensive and demeaning. With their coverage of celebrity gossip, music, soap operas, and the occasional you-won’t-believe-it’s-true story, I think the magazine is funny, telling, and it makes a great case study — and, no, I don’t consider TvNotas a guilty pleasure. Perhaps self-conscious individuals feel ashamed of their culturally reprehensible interests, but I don’t.

Why? For starters, TvNotas is very open about its shady practices; they assume the reader knows they’re full of shit. If they weren’t self-aware, the magazine wouldn’t add those “TvNotas always tells the truth!” stickers to the stories which are not complete lies. And as any fiction writer can tell you, it’s of little to no importance if anything TvNotas “reports” is actually true. Because no matter how outrageous, shocking or abhorrent, most readers will consume anything that’s entertaining.

I started reading tabloid magazines because of my dad. He used to carry many of them in his work truck and, after buying a new batch, he’d toss the old ones my way. Is it odd for a grown, married man to buy gossip magazines? Not if he’s from Latin America. Our culture doesn’t really shame gossipy males, which is why men will commonly follow soap operas with the same kind of devotion that women do (that’s also why telenovela producers always cast hot actresses).

Unsurprisingly, TvNotas knows its demographic very well. Along with all the tragic divorces, weight loss, weight gain, surgical procedures, deaths, and baby births they assume we’re dying to know about — and we are — the editors entice heterosexual males by putting half-naked women on most of their covers. The hot mamacita provides macho men with a flimsy excuse to purchase the salacious content, but what they really want to know is the identity of the woman who’s been messing around with Father Alberto, a well-known priest, and all the juicy, God-forbidden details :

padre-alberto-tvnotas-portada

While the editorial tone of its American counterparts (People, Star, OK!) is generally more objective, TvNotas can be ruthless and opinionated. More National Enquirer and New York Post than US Weekly, the rag is an equal opportunity troll. (Well, almost: drug lords and high-ranking politicians are notably exempt from their judgment.) But their style of criticism is never foaming-from-the-mouth à la Bill O’Reilly. Instead, the TvNotas voice is that of a passive-aggressive, concern-feigning, bitchy aunt:

laura zapata tvnotas

“Dirty war! Laura Zapata’s sisters threaten her: shut up or we’ll reveal that you’ve been sleeping with men, women, and even dogs.”

They’re surprisingly tactical, too. When TvNotas wanted to ridicule Lucero, Televisa’s golden goose and go-to goody two-shoes, they published embarrassing pictures of the 44-year-old mom taken during a hunting trip. Word on the street is that the rag published the photos as retribution for being excluded from a Lucero-hosted event. Whatever the reason, the public lynching worked extremely well, and it forced the usually chatty star to keep quiet on social media for many days:

lucero-caceria-fotos

But whenever they’re feeling especially nasty, TvNotas calls upon Nueva, its sister publication, which does its most distasteful, dirty work. Nude celebrity photos, ruthless fat-shaming, closet outings — nothing is beneath Nueva, and its headlines are viciously sharp:

revista-nueva-liberen-a-luismi

A killer Free Willy reference pokes fun at Luis Miguel’s weight.

All that entertainment for less than two American dollars? What a deal.

I’ll be honest: not every issue is entertaining. In fact, probably because of the pressures to keep up with online publishing, lately their content seems to be losing the signature TvNotas voice. Rarely does one read pun-heavy or tongue-in-cheek headlines anymore, which used to be their bread and butter, and their writing — as evidenced by the aforementioned Lucero piece — has become too objective. Where’s the faux indignation? The old TvNotas would have painted the town red with the leftover goat blood. In contrast, the person who wrote that timid Lucero piece — probably some unpaid intern — barely gasped.

One Ivy League-educated friend assumed that lowbrow publications like TvNotas are detrimental to general society because, without their existence, the average person would automatically pick up the works of some Nobel Laureate, and instantly become smart, cultured, and refined. My friend’s assumption is noble but incredibly misguided, and, for better or worse, gossip magazines do serve an important purpose: they highlight the interests, obsessions, and preoccupations of the mainstream populace. As such, they offer excellent anthropological data. Is the content of these types of magazines superficial, judgmental, or downright ridiculous? Of course it is. But, again, TvNotas assumes their readers are already know that.

Either for fun or out of ignorance, some people knowingly surrender their common sense to the deceitful practices of a gossip publications, and that’s just a fact. However, being a nosy gossip is also an evolutionary trait which, according to science, helped our ancestors survive and evolve:

For years, people like me have been saying that our intense interest in gossip is not really a character flaw. It’s part of who we are. It’s almost a biological event, and it exists for good evolutionary reasons.

Science! Catch the fever, kids.

As for you, TvNotas, I have but one thing to say, and it’s a line from a spirited ’90s grunge song: Here we are now. Entertain us.

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Why 6 of YouTube’s top 10 music videos of 2017 are in Spanish, explained

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YouTube released its annual list of the most popular music videos of 2017. 6 out of 10 of those videos are in Spanish, but more specifically, they’re from reggaetoneros. How did this happen? I’ll tell you.

First, let’s look at the list:

  1. Luis Fonsi – Despacito ft. Daddy Yankee
  2. Ed Sheeran – Shape of You
  3. J Balvin, Willy William – Mi Gente
  4. Maluma – Felices los 4
  5. Bruno Mars – That’s What I Like
  6. Chris Jeday – Ahora Dice ft. J. Balvin, Ozuna, Arcángel
  7. Nicky Jam – El Amante
  8. Jason Derulo – Swalla (feat. Nicki Minaj & Ty Dolla $ign)
  9. DJ Khaled – I’m the One ft. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper, Lil Wayne
  10. Enrique Iglesias – Súbeme a la radio ft. Descemer Bueno, Zion & Lennox

1) So reggaeton is super popular now, huh?

Duh. It’s been mildly popular in Latin America since the late ’80s, but in the mid ’00s Daddy Yankee’s Barrio Fino LP essentially propelled the scandalous genre into the big leagues. I recently covered reggaeton’s mainstream success in this long-ass rant.

2) You knew “Despacito” was gonna be on the list, but how come it’s not the Justin Bieber remix?

“Despacito” was already popular in the Spanish-speaking world way before the Canadian got to it – in fact, I think the song had been out for almost 6 months when Justino Bieberto released his own “remix” (basically the same song sprinkled with some new phrases on top).

If 5 other Spanish-sung tracks made it to YouTube’s top 10 without Bieber’s help, it’s a curious indication that Justin probably helped himself out more than he helped Fonsi-Yankee.

3) How come Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Britney, or any of America’s most popular singers are not in the top 10, since they usually dominate it?

Well, not all of them have released new music. Taylor Swift did, and the fact that she didn’t crack this top 10 is quite interesting.

But also not interesting at all, because maybe, just maybe, audiences might finally be tired of listening to the same 4 Swedish producers over, and over, and over.

Reggaeton is old hat to most Latinos, but to an international audience, that shit is fresh.

4) But, but, but AMUUURICAAA, nationalism, the English language, Trump, white power!

Listen, ever since MTV became a thing, most white teenagers in America want to be anything but white, even if the Trump era appears to say otherwise. Those same teenagers may turn conservative country music lovers later in life – it happened to my skater friends from high school — but, as young bucks, that “urban” lifestyle really titillates white people. That’s why Eminem is, much to the horror of this writer, still a thing.

Point is, reggaeton plays into all of the “urban” aesthetics, plus white America always has a Latin-curious thing going on (see “La bamba,” “Rico suave,” “Macarena,” “Suavemente,” or any other crossover hit).

5) Is reggaeton even reggaeton anymore? Or “urban”? Or whatever the fuck?

Nope. Besides a few exceptions, current reggaeton is basically just regular pop music with a different backup track (drum machine pattern, mostly). The original reggaeton, which was offensive, misogynist, political, highly sexualized and demonized, has been sanitized for mass consumption.

Again, I covered all of that here.

6) Are that many people in the US really, really listening to watered-down reggaeton? Let’s talk numbers.

Yes and no. This YouTube list is a global list, not just an American list. That indicates that a lot of people in the rest of the world also caught the reggaeton fever. But, speaking of numbers, there’s another possible reason as to why this genre suddenly blew the fuck up on YouTube.

There’s over 600 million people in Latin America. That’s double the amount of US Americans, but people Latin America may not be consuming their music the way many Americans do. I speak of iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, etc. Some of those are paid services, and I’m inclined to believe most people in Latin America are not paying for them. Americans probably are.

I hypothesize that people’s personal radio stations in Latin America consist entirely YouTube videos, and not Deezer/Pandora/Spotitidaltunes playlists. All of this means that Americans may be amassing more numbers on paid services instead of just YouTube.

7) How come there’s no women on this list?

Well, check out #3 again, but also know that there’s not that many reggaetoneras, which is a shame.

At some point, Ivy Queen managed to develop an audience, but, sadly, she’s a bit past her prime now, and I really can’t see her making a significant comeback. There’s a few new prospects, such as Tomasa del Real and Ms Nina, but I can’t see them being allowed into the Balvin/Maluma/Yankee/Jam club anytime soon.

There’s also Cardi B., and she sings reggaeton songs in her car, nail salons, and other places, apparently. But she’s not really a part of the reggaeton boom — not yet, anyway. (Give it time, though.)

8) Um, is Enrique Iglesias technically a reggaetonero? Wasn’t he, like, some dorky rich kid in loose sweaters?

Enrique was a dorky rich kid in loose sweaters, but that was back in the ’90s. Later he moved to Miami, started hanging out with Pitbull, Wisin & Yandel, Romeo Santos, and “reinvented” himself as a dorky rich kid with reggaetonero friends. Now he piggybacks off whatever trend is popular in the mainstream, just like most global stars, really.

It’s good for Quique’s career, I guess. But probably not for his lineage, since his dad appears to be ashamed of him. Isabel Preysler, his mom, is dating Mario Vargas Llosa, a Nobel laurete, so I can’t imagine her being super proud of her use-an-ass-as-a-pillow son:

So now you know.

LIKE/FOLLOW RICTUS ON FACEBOOK OR TWITTER, YO.

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Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is that freaky fish sex movie you’ve been waiting for

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The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro’s latest flick starring British actress Sally Hawkins, is the freaky fish sex movie you’ve been waiting for – if that’s the sort of thing you’ve been waiting for, I mean. It’s also an unconventional love story about very conventional love, and Michael Shannon, the antagonist, plays a great asshole.

Warning: Spoilers ahead, so don’t read the rest of my nonsense if that’s a problem for you.

I love Guillermo del Toro because he’s not Alejandro González Iñárritu, meaning that, unlike the other Mexican powerhouse director, Guillermo’s stories don’t consistently bank on putting characters in miserable situations – see Amores Perros, Babel, Biutiful, The Revenant – in order to cheaply exploit the audience for super sad feels.

Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer in the film The Shape of Water.

At times, Guillermo’s use of monsters and the fantastical may seem like a gimmick, but he’s an excellent storyteller, and that’s his real forte. Not always, sure  – Pacific Rim was horrible, let’s be real – but Memo is usually consistent, and The Shape of Water is very much the Guillermo everyone loves.

A very quick synopsis: The Shape of Water is the story of Elisa Esposito, a timid mute played by Sally Hawkins, who cleans a government lab. It’s set in the early ‘60s, and the mousy woman has a funny gay neighbor, who’s also her closest confidant, and a cool coworker, played by Octavia Spencer. One day Elisa builds a strong bond with a freaky sea creature that was secretly brought in to her even more secretive workplace. Elisa tries to rescue the fugly thing before it’s killed and dissected for science stuff. 

Michael Shannon, the antagonist, is an awesome, off-putting, oddball asshole. Listen, fuck sentimental Jon Hamm in Mad Men because, as evidenced by his role in The Shape of Water, Shannon is the kind of vintage American dick that would have kept me from sleeping through that boring-ass, slow-paced show. Dude is super sexist, racist, petty, violent – you know, a typical ‘60s man, or any man in any era, really. Michael keeps this movie together, and he really delivers, especially in a hilarious sex scene.

Michael Shannon in The Shape of Water.

There’s lots of Guillermisms in place: nostalgia for old technology, relatable otherworldly creatures, beautiful cinematography – though, oddly, there’s no gears anywhere. From Cronos to Hellboy, clock-like gears are always a thing in Memo’s movies, but not here. However, the most notable rehash of all his ideas is a big one: the kafkaesque fishman in The Shape of Water is basically a mute Abraham Sapien, from the Hellboy universe.

Again, although this is an unconventional love story, replace the monster with a socially-awkward incarcerated man, and the movie becomes a very conventional love tale. The Shape of Water is engaging and it never feels slow, but the storytelling is not exactly perfect, at least structurally.

For example, the bond between Elisa and Frogface – I don’t know the monster’s real name – is rushed, and it almost fucks up the whole movie. Her case as to why she would befriend a crazy-ass, violent creature is brought up too late in the story, and by then too much shit has already happened.

Abraham Sapien, from the Hellboy universe.

Plus making The Shape of Water into romantic flick also feels like a wasted opportunity, or a lazy crowd-pleaser. I don’t want that from Memo. If the movie’s focus would’ve been limited to developing a strong, unusual kinship with an anthropomorphic monster, deeper emotional angles could’ve been explored. Instead, a silly love story was wedged in because people can’t see movies without them? Hollywood? I don’t fucking know.

And, listen, I’m no prude, it’s fun to imagine banging some horrendous fish – props to Guillermo there  – but Frogface’s character isn’t sufficiently developed in order for the audience to truly believe there’s an involved, emotional relationship. The protagonist would also need to be more eccentric, and not so well put together. As a result, some of the scenes have the same seriousness as vintage creature porn (very NSFW, don’t click on the link).

The film is still fun to watch, but it’s mostly because of Guillermo’s solid visuals, and the cops and robbers angle. Michael Shannon really carries the movie with the occasional quip by Octavia Spencer, who’s still working at that lab from Hidden Figures, apparently. Sally Hawkins’ acting is solid, too, and FISH SEX.

Go see it, why not. See the trailer below.

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Dramatic messages from my aunts hinder my process of trying to become a normal person

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Sometimes I peek outside my bedroom window, look at people’s ugly hairdos from afar – I live on the 4th floor of a dilapidated building in the Lower East Side – and wonder, “why can’t I be like them? Why can’t I go on with my life without being obsessed with petty shit? I, too, wanna enjoy Froyo. I wanna mingle with strangers, talk about the weather, and play frisbee in a park while listening to Maroon 5.”

But I can’t.

I can’t because of my family – specifically, my dramatic Mexican aunts – and the way they work up my neurosis. My mom is fine; she’s a stern, quiet, austere militant woman. But my aunts, whom I love and have a close relationship with, somehow passed a telenovela-esque gene my way.

Need proof? Here’s a redacted message from one of my tías. She sent it to me today at 3 in the fucking morning:

Which loosely translates to:

“She’s like a sister to me and I’ll be really sad [if she leaves]. I’m going to miss her. Another bitter Christmas for me. God, what a cruel life. Alright, mijo, take care of yourself!”

My aunt is upset because my mom – her sister-in-law – is considering moving from California to Oklahoma, where my sister lives. Now my aunt is close to committing suicide, or something.

But the best – and most dramatically endearing – part of her message is her cute, modest sign off: “alright, mijo, take care!” Like she just didn’t tell me her Christmas is about to be ruined by my mother.

Then again, it’s also genuinely endearing that she has such a strong connection to my mom, a woman she’s not genetically related to. The Latinos-are-super-family-oriented stereotype doesn’t usually sit well with me. Half of my immediate family does hate each other and, although movies like Coco show otherwise, Latino families can be just as fractured as any.

But my aunts are cool. I still love them, even if they hinder my process of trying to become a normal, Maroon 5-loving person.

Just kidding. Maroon 5 sux. I wouldn’t piss on them if they were on fire.

Oh and the woman pictured in this post is not my aunt, but Talina Fernández, an aunt-like woman whose dramatic statements have been seared into the collective memory of many Mexicans:

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