Is altruism overrated? Is it actually a disguised form of egoism? Should we reconsider the importance of placing ourselves first in life? That’s what the Culturico article I was tasked to illustrate is about.

Such an abstract idea seemed difficult to depict in images at first, but the mention of Don Quixote gave me the idea of him shedding his armor (the symbol of his altruism) to reflect on his behavior. The pose is a nod to Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker.

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Final Illustration

¿Cómo sobrevivirá Cindy en CDMX? Spoiler alert: muy fácilmente.

Debo confesar que vi  Cindy la regia por morbo después de la controversia que causó en redes sociales la opinión de la crítica de cine Fernánda Solórzano. Ella hablaba de una obra arriesgada que no caía en los clichés de las comedias románticas, dándole un respiro al género y siendo un gran logro para el cine mexicano mainstream. Ahora que la he visto, entiendo de dónde viene esta adulación: la película es transparentemente progresista, específicamente feminista y pro-LGBT+. Sin embargo, en su intento por ser políticamente correcta, el guion falla en crear un conflicto interesante y, extrañamente, evade hablar del clasismo, a pesar de que el personaje y la premisa se prestan naturalmente para explorarlo. ¿Estamos realmente ante un “parteaguas” en el cine mexicano, o nuestros estándares son tan bajos que un discurso social progresista básico eleva el valor de una película a niveles de admiración?

La opinión controversial

Ya conocía la tira de Ricardo Cucamonga de cuando estudiaba la prepa en Monterrey y me parecía muy acertada su representación de una chava de clase alta de San Pedro (una que otra compañera de clase era muy parecida). Con el paso del tiempo ya no conectaba con el humor/crítica social y dejé de seguirle la pista, pero cuando supe de la existencia de la película me entró la curiosidad: ¿cómo funcionaría un personaje que personifica el clasismo, hipocresía y doble moral de la clase alta regiomontana como protagonista en el cine? Inicialmente suponía que harían algo al estilo Nosotros los nobles, o tal vez parecido a las Niñas bien o Blue Jasmine de Woody Allen, donde una mujer privilegiada y clasista es confrontada con las desigualdades de clases sociales y el humor o drama resultar naturalmente de ahí. Pero no fue nada de eso, la solución de los realizadores del filme fue crear otro personaje superficialmente parecido al original pero eliminando sus defectos más pronunciados para hacerlo más digerible o likeable y de paso (intentar) crear un modelo a seguir feminista.

La nueva Cindy está reformulada para no incomodar a nadie, tal vez solo a la gente conservadora. Es excesivamente inocente, dulce, open mind, creativa y completamente adaptable al cambio. Su mayor defecto podría ser su ingenuidad, pero esto no le trae mayores problemas. Sus mayores sacrificios son no tener un novio rico y vender sus aretes caros para ayudar a alguien más. A pesar de la comprometida actuación de Cassandra Sánchez Navarro, el personaje resulta muy poco interesante al ser tan perfecta. Constantemente los demás personajes nos tienen que recordar lo excepcional que es la protagonista, halagándola por su inteligencia, buen gusto al vestir, su manejo del inglés, buen ojo para el diseño, su belleza, etc. Consigue un trabajo, amistades y pretendientes sin hacer gran esfuerzo. El resultado de todo esto es una historia completamente feel-good, pero hueca al momento de pretender dar sus enseñanzas feministas.

No quiero decir que las lecciones sean malas, pero están presentadas de una manera muy artificial, casi didáctica. En una ocasión Cindy expresa textualmente que ella tiene el derecho de “compartir su cuerpo” con quien ella desee y eso no tiene nada de malo. O en el clímax de la película, Cindy rescata de su familia homofóbica a la novia de su prima, literalmente entrando a su casa y dando un discurso de cómo hay que ser uno mismo para ser feliz. Por momentos parece que uno está viendo un capítulo de La rosa de Guadalupe progre.

Budget Miranda Priestly

Me parece muy peculiar cómo el guion de María Hinojos pretende dar lecciones de empoderamiento femenino, pro diversidad, sexualidad libre y demás, pero evita a toda costa explorar el clasismo y racismo que caracteriza a la clase alta mexicana, a pesar de tener el vehículo perfecto para hacerlo. Por ejemplo, creo que nadie utiliza la palabra “naco” ni una sola vez, a pesar de estar en el léxico común de este tipo de personas. Esto es una oportunidad desaprovechada, que ignora lo que hizo al personaje original popular en primer lugar. Las aventuras de Cindy en CDMX no tienen consecuencia alguna, incluso al final la protagonista regresa a Monterrey y se reintegra perfectamente a su círculo social, más “empoderada” suponemos, pero no hay manera de comprobarlo porque no interactúa con nadie, ni con su mamá con quien tuvo una fuerte discusión sobre el sexo casual ni con su amiga que le advirtió que no se fuera a “deschongar”. A pesar querer ser una comedia romántica subversiva, predeciblemente termina emparejada con el chico “pobre” de buenos sentimiento, que de igual manera a nadie en Monterrey le importa. ¿Tal vez su entorno no era tan malo en realidad? Quién sabe, el punto de la película es pasarla bien.

En comparación con una comedia mexicana de Omar Chaparro y Martha Higareda, definitivamente hay una intención intelectual distinta en Cindy la regia. Quiere dar lecciones importantes de vida, sobre todo para mujeres jóvenes, pero lo hace a base de cucharadas de azúcar. El humor de comparaciones Monterrey VS CDMX en ocasiones sí es chusco y los personajes pueden ser muy tiernos por ser tan inofensivos, pero la falta de conflicto, esencial para un buen guion, hace de esta una historia aburrida. El corazón está ahí, pero el cerebro no.

I was inspired by the angels Baruch and Balthamos, two characters that first appear at the end of The Subtle Knife, the second book in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Their book description is tricky to imagine: they seem to be made of light but appear amost invisible to the eye during the day.

I admire that their relationship is not hidden from the reader. They are explicitly in love and are quite affectionate towards each other, without it being treated like an oddity or pandering. Good LGBT+ representation in children’s/YA fantasy is always welcomed.

Happy Valentine’s Day! 🏳️‍🌈❤️

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Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy of books is known for its very explicit anti-religion themes, which can be straightforwardly interpreted as atheist. Watering down this aspect to avoid controversy was one of the reasons the 2007 Hollywood movie adaptation, The Golden Compass, didn’t succeed. Fortunately, the BBC/HBO TV series appears to be on the right track by following the books more closely in this regard, and I couldn’t be more excited. The exploration of religion and spirituality is one of the reasons these books are some of my favorites. I believe it is important for media aimed at young people to explore these ideas and hopefully spark introspection and reflection.

My Religious Background

I was raised Catholic like the majority (81%) of the Mexican population. Since I was a kid I became aware of religion’s role in our life; it was everywhere: in holidays, everyday speech, jewelry, in household paintings and imagery, and even some of our core societal values. As I got older I started questioning my own beliefs and, coupled with my awareness of other religions, let myself contemplate other spiritual options besides my family’s faith.

As a teenager with a queer sexuality, I was severely at odds with Catholicism. The shame and guilt associated with homosexuality was so harmful that distancing myself from the Church was a logical and definite step to move forward in my life. Besides, as a rational thinker, many concepts from the Bible rang hollow to me.

I believed in being good and helping others, but I couldn’t accept the more out there, faith-based ideas like an omnipresent god, sin, or an afterlife in heaven (or hell). Despite having made up my mind though, I respected the taboo of never openly questioning my family’s religion, like it was something so personal that it was outside of the realm of critique. Pondering about existential questions alone would become a mentally exhausting and lonely activity.

Thankfully, when I was around 19, a college professor recommended Pullman’s books to the class. He hyped them so much that I bought them soon after with my first summer job paycheck. Upon starting reading The Golden Compass, I felt this was a different kind of YA fantasy novel, compared to ones like Harry Potter (which I also liked a lot). I was immediately intrigued and fascinated by daemons, the physical manifestation of people’s souls. Lyra’s story was thematically complex and theologically challenging. This was not only a highly entertaining story with endearing characters, but also a bold and ambitious work of fiction about how to find spiritual fulfillment without God or religion. Reading them was a very rewarding and satisfying experience that I wish I had gotten to know sooner.

Killing God (Spoilers)

Pullman’s anti-religious ideas are not subtext, but actual text in the story; Lord Asriel’s determined goal of killing God no matter the consequences is anything but subtle. The Magisterium, a more powerful and oppressive version of the Catholic Church, is the main antagonistic organization. We see a world which has fallen under their strict control, where free-thinking is discouraged for fear of repression. Any idea that challenges the Church is suppressed, in a clear parallel to not only the Catholic Church of the past, but other religions and authoritative regimes as well.

One of the worst characteristics of the Magisterium is their dreadful treatment of children. The Gobblers can be read as a metaphor for the child sexual abuse by the clergy. Severing kids’ daemons leaves them stunted for life or even dead, much like trauma does to real life victims. In The Amber Spyglass the Church purposefully tries to kill Lyra in an effort to stop her from (supposedly) bringing another Fall to humanity. The Magisterium is presented as despicable and corrupt to the core, in a deliberate attempt to show how unrestricted power and zealotry can affect people, especially young ones, living under a theocratic society.

God, referred to as The Authority, does exist in the world of His Dark Materials, but he’s not portrayed in the traditional Christian way. As the very first angel created from Dust, he gained his power by telling the subsequent angels and beings that the universe and all life on it were his doing. But as time passed, his body turned old and frail and his regent Metatron would take his place. Metatron doesn’t let The Authority die, in an effort to not disturb the control and influence they already possess in the multiple worlds.

One of the key symbolic moments of the final battle is when Will, unknowingly but compassionately, releases The Authority from his crystal prison. I interpret this scenario as Pullman saying the traditional God figure, an omnipotent all powerful ancient man, is an outdated concept that must be put to rest. It is meaningful that two children in a quest to understand the nature of life, death, knowledge, and conscience, are the ones that put an end to this old being. God, longing for rest, shows a peaceful and liberating expression as he finally dissolves into the air.

Knowing about the wrongdoings and corruption of the Catholic Church throughout history, there is something extremely satisfying and subversive about it being the main antagonistic force in literature aimed at a young audience. Pullman does not pull any punches, the criticism is not disguised or sugar-coated. Characters like Lord Asriel, Mrs. Coulter, the witches, and Mary Malone (my favorite) all spell out matter-of-fact criticism of Christianity. All this could very easily become preachy, but Pullman’s characters do have their own character arcs and goals, not limited to only spout out “agenda”.

Pullman has expressed that his books are not specifically anti-Catholic, but rather anti-dogma. In the end, the storytelling, in my opinion, succeeds because plot, characters, and world building are masterfully blended with thematic richness. The author encourages the reader to live life to the fullest and share our stories, to seek truth and knowledge but also to take a moment to appreciate the big and small wonders of nature, to value and nurture our emotional connection with others, regardless if they’re ice bears, witches, Texans, or from another world.

His Dark Materials power relies on making accesible deep (and sometimes tough) questions about our own spirituality. There are many ways in which we can find spiritual fulfillment, religion is not the only way. Everyone should be reminded of that, especially young people who sometimes don’t even know they are allowed to think for themselves about these matters.

A short time ago I received a request for an illustration to be printed on a black hoodie and now that I have pictures of the final product I would like to share them as my last project of the year.

Originally I was given a very rough notebook sketch of a boy drinking over a tram, from which I drafted my own version. The main limitation was to use only two colors besides black and white.

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Final illustration
Printed on hoodie

Happy New Year!

Not everything was good in the media landscape during the last decade, so to balance out my previous top 10 lists I have to talk about the bad stuff. These are six games, movies, shows, or albums that greatly disappointed me. Disappointment involves having a previous liking, fondness, or hope in something, so I don’t necessarily hate the following but rather was severely let down by them.

6. Pokémon Sword/Shield

Pokémon Sword and Shield are fun games, I’ve already clocked more than 30 hours in my file. Despite this, they are very disappointing to me. These were the first mainline Pokémon games on a home console (Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee don’t count) and developer Game Freak’s laziness is apparent everywhere.

The most obvious example is the cutting of more than half of the Pokédex, “Gotta catch ’em all” no more. The 3D models are evidently recycled from previous games, but they couldn’t bother to port all the previous ones over. Graphics look like upscaled 3DS visuals and feature horrendous pop-up that’s inexcusable in 2019. The world design is exteremely linear and boring, except for the Wild Area (that’s a cool idea). Max Raids are not fun, but rather frustrating and uninsipired. And the list goes on.

Still, these games sold like crazy and they do have some good stuff in it. The new Pokémon designs are still pretty creative and inspired and the music is amazing. Pokémon, I love you, but you can do A LOT better.

5. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

crimes grindelwald

I consider myself a moderate Harry Potter fan. I read all the books, even the fanfic-y script for Cursed Child (which I cannot judge as harshly without seeing the play) and watched all the movies. I respect and admire J.K. Rowling for her creativity and imagination that created a worldwide beloved franchise. I thought the first Fantastic Beasts movie was OK, I did enjoy it and hence thought that things could only improve in the sequel, right? Wrong!

The worst sin of The Crimes of Grindelwald is just how BORING it is. The plot is convoluted and suffers from too much characters doing nothing interesting. There are some very stupid story decisions, like the lame romantic misunderstanding between Newt and Tina, the shying away from Dumbledore’s sexuality, random, unnecessary baby murder (twice!), a surprise Dumbledore sibling (this might change in the following movies), Nagini is a human and serves nothing to the plot, and some more I’m probably forgetting.

J.K. writes good stories, but not good scripts. WB shouldn’t let her write the following movies, or at least bring in some help.

4. The Handmaid’s Tale (TV Show)

handmaids_tale

The Handmaid’s Tale started out as a faithful adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel, the first season covering the original book. It was shocking, gripping, tense, frightening, and very socially relevant. Without more source material to adapt, however, the show turned into a repetitive, glacially paced torture porn borefest.

When you set up the rules for a fictional world, disregarding or ignoring them constantly breaks the suspension of disbelief and makes the story fall apart. June should’ve been killed a thousand times by season three, but her plot armor is so thick that there is no suspense anymore. The fakeouts of her escaping Gilead are so tiresome now that I don’t care anymore. Those lingering close-up shots with a monologue from Elizabeth Moss were interesting the first times, but after seeing them for the hundreth time you feel exhausted.

Meh. At least Atwood released The Testaments and gave a (arguably) satisfying conclusion to Gilead.

3. Utopia by Björk

utopia_cover

I’m all for experimentation in music, but Björk is just fucking with us now. Utopia is avant-garde pop that is not pleasurable to listen to. There are almost no hooks or interesting melodies to latch on to, the Arca beats are cringe-worthy to put it mildly, and songs are just too long without creating an interesting progression to justify it, they just fall flat.

To give her credit, she creates some pretty unique fairy-tale-esque atmospheres that are enjoyable, but would probably serve better as background music for a movie or videogame. By trimming the excess fat, getting rid of those awful glitch drums, and adding some more interesting melodies, this album would actually be very nice. Those nice flutes and inventive music videos are wasted here.

2. Silent Hill

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Silent Hill was once a very respectable survival horror franchise (I love 2 and 3 to death). Although it never reached Resident Evil popularity, it steadily gained its good reputation with its unique setting, monsters and psychological horror. The last decade, however, saw this reputation being dragged through the mud by stupid choices made by Konami.

The games after the fourth were not developed in Japan anymore and thus lost their unique Japanese horror sensibility. The two Hollywood movies were a mess, the second one in particular is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in a theater. The Silent HD collection was a horrible glitch-ridden mess that performed worse despite being in newer generation hardware.

And when things started to look promising again with a new game developed by Hideo Kojima, Guillermo del Toro and (almost) Junji Ito, Konami shut it down. How the hell do you fuck this up? Ugh. RIP Silent Hill.

1. Game of Thrones

Daenerys-Game-of-Thrones-Season-8-Episode-4

By now everyone knows Game of Thrones’ ending sucked. but this was a special kind of sucking because it retroactively made the series impossible to rewatch now, knowing it’s all for nothing. All the fascinating, complex characters and mysteries built during the previous years came crashing down violently. Nothing mattered in the end, the plot became nonsensical, characters turned into complete idiots, others were killed just to get rid of the clutter, and some others were kept alive because of fanservice.

The number one show in the last decade, the global phenomenon, the ratings (and piracy) king was killed in front of our eyes and we sat and watched and died inside. This show will go down in television history as a perfect example of how to turn gold into a turd. At least we have the books for a satisfying conclusion… Just kidding, George R.R. Martin will never finish them ☹️.