On March 19, 2015, the latest James Bond movie, Spectre, started filming in Mexico City’s historical downtown. As fans gathered around the sets, the excitement of having the famous 007 agent in our country built up. But along with the excitement came criticism of the Mexican government for selling out to the franchise. To understand the criticism we need to look at the Sony Pictures email hack. Back in November 2014, the hacking group identified as the Guardians of Peace leaked an incredible amount of internal communications emails from the company. Spectre’s script, along with other scripts and more TMZ-ready gossip (looking at you Angelina Jolie!), were leaked. The script was shadowed by the comments on the movie The Interview and the North Korea issue, but it revealed that Spectre would have a very James-Bond-like chase through the streets of Mexico City, among other spoilers.
On March 3, 2015, Tax Analysts broke a story that derived from the leak about the Mexican government offering between $14 million and $20 million dollars in tax incentives in return for changes to the script in order to portray a more positive image of the country. The demands were: 1) changing the nationality of the assassin in the first scene; 2) shooting Mexico City’s modern skyline as opposed to filming in the slums; 3) casting a Mexican Bond girl; and 4) changing a scene of a cage fight for one taking place in the middle of a Day of the Dead parade. Mexican officials did not comment on these claims.
Fast forward to 2016, in October 29 to be precise, over 250,000 people gathered along a 680 meters route to witness the first ever Día de Muertos parade in Mexico City. And we should thank James Bond for it. The parade included floats, giant skeleton marionettes, more than 1,000 volunteers, and props used in the movie. How can one of the most emblematic Mexican traditions, declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2008, take an idea from a Hollywood movie franchise and try to make it a new tradition? For centuries, Día de Muertos, or Dia de los Muertos as they call it in the U.S., has combined indigenous and Roman Catholic traditions. It is a visual representation of the two worlds that Mexicans navigate as a result of the Spanish colonization over 500 years ago.
According to Alejandro González Anaya, Creative Director of the parade, “as a result of the James Bond film, we have decided to take advantage of the spotlight and put on the streets a great offering which we give to our dead.” The hope is to create a new annual tradition to showcase Mexico’s tradition to the world and attract more tourism, which has declined significantly in the last decade as a result on the war on drugs. In 2015, Morelia, Michoacan, a state in the west of Mexico that holds some of the most traditional celebrations, reported an increase in tourism during the Day of the Dead (a national holiday) long weekend. The numbers went from 120,000 to 130,000 tourists, the majority from other parts of Mexico.
The government received much criticism for the decision to host the parade, with most criticisms based on the argument that it was a direct result from a Hollywood movie and that a carnivalesque parade is contrary to the essence of the Day of the Dead rituals. It would seem that the ideas of the private and the public conflict in the commemoration of the dead. Day of the Dead is about remembering the loved ones that have parted to the other world. We do this through altars that display photos of the departed and items, mainly food and drink, that they enjoyed in life. This is part of the private. A tradition that continues to be strong is visiting the graves of the dead, decorating them with cempasúchil flowers (marigolds) to guide their way from the other world, and spending time with them, sharing food, drink and sometimes music. This is also a private event, but that takes place in a public space, which is an interesting intersection.
So how can we understand hyper-mediation and space in relation to this parade? What role does assemblage play in Day of the Dead and new traditions? In order to understand assemblages, at CU Boulder’s Center for Media, Religion, and Culture, we have focused around the construction of meaning. Assemblage means that something is composed of different parts and there is a relational component that makes it a whole. Author Sanjay Sharma, in his article Black Twitter? Racial Hashtags, Networks, and Contagion, argues that everything is relational, and that relations take part in order to create a harmonious relation. Once you have the parts put together, they acquire a cohesive meaning that becomes more intense because of the relation established by them.
Thinking about hyper-mediation and assemblages in this tradition and particularly in this case, it is important to understand the use of space and how it has been transformed as a result. The concept of space takes many facets during Day of the Dead. As mentioned before, the intersections of the private and public spaces but also the construction of altars make us think about space. The place that the elements of the altar take is an important part of the remembering process; the living are decorating a terrestrial space in hopes that those who come from the other world will find their way and enjoy their stay.
The idea of a Day of Dead parade is not a new one. San Miguel de Allende, a city in central Mexico, has hosted the Festival de la Calavera for several years now. The festival includes music, public altars, and a parade. The difference is that in the case of the parade in Mexico City, we (and by we, I mean the inhabitants) needed to have James Bond in town to justify that it would be a good idea to organize a parade to attract more tourism. And more importantly, the parade was a way to claim back our public spaces, in this case, the streets. Claiming public spaces for recreation has been an important task Mexicans have been working towards with more impetus as a result of the violence in recent years.
The parade is a visible result of the convergence of assemblage between spaces, hybridity of cultures, and creation of networks. Hyper-mediation has brought the idea of a parade from a Hollywood fantasy to a reality in hopes that it will attract foreign tourism in a time of crisis of Mexico’s image abroad. The role of an American media product in a Mexican tradition has created certain expectations from abroad towards Mexico and within Mexico itself. But it also can be an opportunity to understand under the scope of assemblage the constant transformation of traditions. The continuous interaction with other cultures and the creation of networks are enhanced through the hyper-mediation process, in which we as viewers, in this case of Spectre, may see a reconfiguration of the Day of the Dead tradition. This happens for international tourists, for whom “we are trying to find a new brand, a new identity, rescuing the old and creating another option for the world to be able to come to our country.” And it also happens for Mexicans, who see a new representation of their tradition and a new opportunity to create community.
Under this idea of assemblage, fluidity is key, and we cannot understand the day of the dead without it. It is in its nature a tradition that has survived because of fluidity. From the indigenous rituals that merged with the Spanish Catholic tradition to the appearance of La Catrina -the iconic Elegant Skull which is now the popular representation of Death herself- created by Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada in 1910-1913. Traditions emerge, transform, and survive through assemblage of elements, and in this particular time of fast access to and distribution of information, it is important to revisit those processes. It is also important to understand how these elements can adapt and coexist. So Mr. Bond, as much as I do not want you to be the one dictating new traditions in my country, I do thank you for sparking the conversation that can allow me to understand my traditions through a different scope. I am yet to be convinced that the management of the Mexican government was the most appropriate in this effort, but as we say in Mexico: that is flour of another sack.