Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria was a murderer and a terrorist responsible for the killings of over 3,000 people during his control of the Medellín cartel, approximately 600 police officers, and 107 after blowing up a commercial flight. While remnants of his memory are being torn down, such as a former home, and replaced with parks and memorials to victims and their families, most of which are still alive today and live with the loss of loved ones, why do people continue to glorify such an evil man?
Profits are one answer, given the ongoing production of Narcos on Netflix, and now there is also a video game in development based on the already inaccurate and insensitive show titled Narcos: Rise of the Cartels. A look at the game trailer immediately raises red flags, as the cartel member narrator states, “In Columbia, we’re seen as the good guys. This country is ours, we will fight for it. Choose your side”, where players take control of Escobar’s forces to build an empire on the bodies of Colombia’s population.
Narcos – Hollywood Nonsense With Some White Savior Complex Thrown In
When Narcos first aired in 2015, the dramatization revealed a number of issues, including an unnecessary white savior complex of its American characters in Latin America with their condescending voice-overs, casting actors who could not speak in a Colombian Spanish accent, and a description of Columbia as filled with bad people, when it was only a few bad apples, like everywhere else in the world.
In those first seasons, the most egregious sin lied not in these minor issues, but in turning Pablo Escobar into a larger than life anti-hero for viewers to root for. The Sopranos and Breaking Bad were brilliant shows that laid the groundwork for other projects to flourish with a focus on similar types an anti-hero personas. However, presenting Escobar as anything other than a ruthless murderer is not only dishonest, but an insult to the thousands who have died by his hand and their surviving families.
In one scene, Escobar is brutally eliminating anyone who opposes him, and in another, audiences are shown a man who loved his wife and children, and gave money to the poorest of the country. The duality of his character is presented in way that humanizes him, but why is that even an objective? Is there any possible justification for the murder of thousands of people? The only result of humanizing Escobar is insulting the memory of his victims and their families who today have only painful memories.
The result is that Escobar becomes idolized for North American audiences as a character to root for. He was wildly successful from a monetary standpoint, rumored to spend $2,500 USD a month on rubber bands to bind all of the cash he made, and this is what we see in Narcos. Yet, the human cost of his wealth is all but superficially touched upon.
In markets outside of Colombia, the show appears popular, with audiences eating up this ridiculous creation of Escobar. In Colombia however, the show is a complete joke. The Brazilian accent of Wagner Moura, the man who plays Escobar, is singled out for being incongruent with Escobar's Paisa background. Colombian TV critic Omar Rincón echoes a sentiment shared by most media and entertainment outlets in the country, as he wrote in El Tiempo,
"Narcos is the Miami and US vision of NarColombia – something like Trump’s idea of us: the good guys are the gringos ... and the narcos are comically dysfunctional or primitives with bad taste ... Narcos may do well outside Colombia, but here it produces anger and laughter."
Narcos: Rise Of The Cartels
Narcos: Rise of the Cartels is not a terrible idea because it glorifies violence. No, it's a terrible idea because it puts players in the shoes of a cartel that within living memory has destroyed families in Colombia, all with the goal of further propagating a romantic fantasy that Pablo Escobar was anything but a vile, evil man.
Sure, this isn't the first game to shine a light on the drug problems within Latin America, but its placement of the player as cartel members is problematic. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands at least offered a superficial presentation of problems in the area where its story takes place. Despite being largely inaccurate, and drawing the ire and formal complaint of the Bolivian Government, the overall story was at least one attempting to improve upon a bad situation.
What Narcos: Rise of the Cartels seems to offer, however, is the experience of growing the cartel and controlling the country, killing anyone who gets in the way. In the same way that no one should have to explain to a developer why it's wildly inappropriate to create a game with Adolf Hitler or Osama Bin Laden as the protagonist, Escobar too should be buried and left to rot, serving only as a lesson for future generations.
Does This Glorification Perpetuate Stereotypes?
Years ago, it would have been difficult to claim that such stereotypes had any effect on life beyond the screen, but recent events have changed that for the worse. In 2015, Donald Trump made his infamous quote,
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
This sentiment has continually been repeated ad nauseam ever since. Even if the wording has been ever so slightly different each time, the essence of the first message remains intact. Only recently, the El Paso shooter told police that he had traveled nine hours to explicitly target Mexicans at a Wal-Mart during the mass shooting. Regardless of one’s politics, nothing positive can come from continuing to construct and perpetuate the stereotype of the drug-dealing Hispanic as the norm in the Americas, and the glorification of an evil man.
For now, all we can do as consumers is vote with our wallets, and when Narcos: Rise of the Cartels inevitably releases, those wallets should stay shut tight to send a clear message to other developers. There is endless possibility for beautiful creation within the medium of videogames, and no room for idolizing monsters who have caused wounds still fresh upon the world today.