Agenda journalism? Check out the LA Times' gushy puff piece on Mexican gay cowboys

Agenda journalism, anyone?

Apparently, we're supposed to be impressed that there are gay cowboys in Mexico.

We're supposed to hail the "changing" values of Mexico as it emerges from its supposedly benighted macho traditionalism and embraces the same identical gay culture seen in the States, calling it all progress.

That's the sense one gets from the Los Angeles Times' gushy puff piece on a gay cowboy festival in Zacatecas, Mexico.

ZACATECAS, Mexico — All night long, cowboys swaggered into a packed nightclub, dressed to impress in shiny boots, tight Wranglers and wide-brimmed hats.

They had come to throw back tequila and Tecate, to sing along to blasting banda and to dance — chest-to-chest, legs entwined — with each other.

Each spring, hundreds of men from across Mexico and the United States make a pilgrimage to this colorful colonial city for an annual gathering of gay vaqueros — or cowboys. At private events held over a long weekend, they share carne asada and traditional folk dances and crown a cowboy king.

Number one, the story isn't news.

Gay subcultures have existed for decades in all of the bigger and more prosperous Latin American countries with big urban centers — Brazil, Argentina, Costa Rica, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela — and certainly next-door Mexico.  All of the big cultural and lifestyle trends seen in the West in the past four decades, for better or worse, have been just as big in Latin America as they have been here — hippies, punks, birth control, divorce, etc.  Why wouldn't gays be present there, too?

Big deal. 

Actually, the agenda journalism is all over the place in this piece, in an amazing bit of reverse cultural appropriation, stamping American values onto a Mexican nation, whether they're really there or not. 

Start with the homoerotic gush — the passages like these:

With his python boots and plaid shirt unbuttoned to reveal a plush tuft of gray chest hair, Escobar said the idea behind that first party was simple — if a bit self-interested.

"I like to dress like a cowboy," he said, "and I like guys who dress that way, too."


With his jutting jawline and square shoulders, Villalobos looked a little like the Marlboro Man as he greeted the stream of men walking into a bar in downtown Zacatecas on the convention's first night. 


Later, when the deejay dropped a bouncing ballad about forbidden love, "La Puerta Negra" by Los Tigres del Norte, Garcia pulled Renteria onto the floor. They embraced as they swayed to the music, each with a hand around the small of the other's back.


Courtships bloomed at the bar, in line for tacos and next to a table overflowing with cookies and cake. On one hot afternoon, many men stripped down to trunks and jumped into a pool, lounging on floating plastic toys.

They showed a picture of the men on plastic toys in the pool.

Sounds as though they want to excite a certain subset of their readership.

Meanwhile, Zacatecas is described as a "conservative" and "traditional" town, and by implication benighted, and to some extent, it is traditional (note that the event was "private").  But it's also got huge, outsized gringo influence from its urban areas, and not just from this song by The Iguanas about it:

Zacatecas is famous for its illegal immigration to the U.S., meaning many people come and go, bringing with them cultural ways and lifestyles from the States:

At least 20 municipalities in the Mexican state of Zacatecas have been nearly abandoned because of emigration to the United States.

In an interview with the newspaper El Universal, Ignacio Fraire Zuniga, a representative of the National Institute of Migration (known as INM in Spanish), said the state ranks third in the number of its citizens who have left, after Michoacan and Oaxaca. "If there are one and a half million Zacatecans here," he said, "in the United States there are another million and a half."

"This exodus should not fill us with pride," he said, "people who migrate to another country never do it for pleasure, but for necessity and it is something we do not want. [Mobility] should be something optional for people and not an obligation to have a better quality of life."

Is it all that unusual for a Mexican state that has a lot of cross-cultural influence with the U.S. to have a gay subculture in it?

What's more, the gay participants don't seem all that Mexican, or, for that matter, rural.  Character after character is quoted as flying in from the U.S. from the festival and otherwise flying back to life as an attorney or whatever:

After all, while the event draws actual cowboys — men leathered by long days tending crops or cattle — it also attracts accountants, attorneys and other city folk for whom donning western wear is both a kink and a lifeline to Mexico's rural past.

In other words, they're just imported gay cosplay enthusiasts playing cowboy, same as we see among the Village People, or among the denizens of Comicon or Renaissance festivals or the Juggalos, in their elaborate getups.  These people can be found all over.

Nor are they actual rural Mexican cowboys:

When the pair met a few years ago, Garcia, who is from Zacatecas, favored shorts and flip-flops. It was Renteria who converted him into a vaquero.

"You don't necessarily have to be from a ranch to be a cowboy," Renteria explained.

They're just Brokeback Mountain enthusiasts, which seems thin gruel for a big feature.

There were whoppers in the piece, too:

Cowboy culture is deeply ingrained in the Mexican psyche, with many of the country's most iconic historical figures — revolutionary fighter Francisco "Pancho" Villa, singer Pedro Infante, drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán — known for a tough country style.

Chapo isn't exactly a hero in most of Mexico other than in a few degraded ghetto subcultures.  That's not going to go over well, LAT.

Or this:

Here in the provinces, there's no question that queerness is still taboo.

Memo to LAT: That's states, not provinces.  Mexico doesn't have provinces.

The reality is that even though gay subcultures are generally tolerated in Mexico, it's true that the country can be pretty conservative in values, which suggests that this cowboy festival is really more of an artificial Western import foisted on us as progress than much of any evidence that Mexico is suddenly changing and yes, the Mexicans are generally he-men — if you want to see one indicator, well, someone asked this:

All we see here in this LAT piece is another bit of agenda journalism, this time promoting the gay agenda seen in the States and shoehorning it into Mexican culture to promote a narrative.  Hey, everyone's alike and the only universal truth is San Francisco–style gayness and its subcultures, right?

Color me skeptical.  There are all kinds of subtleties and differences with any importation of a Western idea into a country like Mexico that the Times couldn't have gotten the real story.  But in the age of advocacy journalism, who needs a real story?

Image: Screen shot from video by Mark Ortega via YouTube.

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