Sometimes I am accused of being overtly sensitive about language which surprises me because I consider myself to be open to interpretation and context when it comes to usage of language that might be deemed homophobic. I also believe that tramping down on homophobic expressions or banning certain words does nothing to solve the underlying intent when someone uses such language.
This gets complicated when it comes to Latin America. Words that are considered to be homophobic slurs in one region might not hold the same connotation in another region. Take the word "playo" which is used in some areas of Central America to describe someone who is or appears to be gay in a derogatory way.
Outside the region people wouldn't even know what it means.
Or take the word "mariquita" which could be interpreted as the diminutive of "maricón" and akin to calling someone a "little faggot" except the word is also used as a noun for the insect known in the United States as a lady bug.
Both definitions enter into play in this clip aired on Panamanian national television in a comedy skit show called "La Cascara" ("The Banana Peel"). It's crass and not particularly funny and the punch line is particularly offensive.
In the skit two cartoon characters representing a narcissistic and self-involved wealthy Panamanian woman and her peasant caretaker find themselves transplanted to her vacation home in Miami where she introduces the caretaker to her Miami neighbors: Carlos and Ricky and their twins, a not so veiled reference to out pop star Ricky Martin and his family.
The "joke" hinges on the woman explaining to the caretaker that Miami is "inundated" with "mariquitas" (little fags) which the caretaker interprets as there being infested with lady bugs. The show thinks it's hilarious to paint the caretaker as a dim idiot who inadvertently calls Ricky Martin a faggot to his face while explaining why he is spraying pesticide in Martin's face.
It's not the first time that the show has skirted bad taste and homophobia. In a different skit God asks a "good angel" to recommend ways to promote goodness and love between couples while "Lucifer" tries to trick the "good angel" into having God accept gays as being good and loving which is ultimately rejected.
Agustín has often fought what sometimes seems a lonely battle against homophobia in Panamanian media and has been trying to draw attention to "La Cascara" and its homophobia for months with limited response.
He does have allies in the Panamanian LGBT advocacy organizations but their calls against homophobia are often just as easily dismissed.
Unlike the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) in the United States, there are no media watchdogs in the Latin American region able to support anti-homophobia efforts such as Agustín's. GLAAD does have a Spanish-language media department but it's limited to the Spanish-language shows and publications produced and aired in the United States media market.
What Agustín has gotten in return for his advocacy is a public war of words with the producers and comedians involved with "La Cascara" and attacks from people who are fans of the popular show on Twitter and Facebook.
I found this clip to be particularly offensive so I offered to bring it to wider attention by adding translated subtitles and making people aware of what passes as comedy on this particular show.
If you have any ideas of how to support Agustín's efforts you can reach him through Twitter at @agusclement. Currently he is a morning anchor of the "Despierta Ya!" show on Bésame 91.3FM and produces and directs children's plays.
- Meme (The Backlot)