Monday, January 11, 2010

Anatomy of a hashtag: #EstebanArceFueraDelAire

NOTE: This post replaces and expands on an item I wrote at the end of 2009. I'm replacing the post because it was a bit rushed and because, much to my surprise, it's suddenly become the most discussed topic in Mexico during the past few days.

The video: It all started with a televised segment from a Mexican morning show called "Matutino Express" which aired on December 18th.

In it, lead host Esteban Arce welcomes sex columnist Elsy Reyes to the show for what he says will be a discussion on the difference between 'sexual orientation' and 'sexual preference'.

At first, things seem to run smoothly as Reyes begins to define both terms. But, just as she begins to talk about the fact that homosexuality is not considered to be an illness, he stops her at the 1:23 minute mark of the video and asks "So, is it normal to be a homosexual?" Watch:

Reyes initially sidesteps the question and tries to be gracious about her host's grilling. But Arce wants a direct response from her. "There are things that are normal: Being a man or being a woman" he says,"To be a homosexual is normal?"

When Reyes finally says that many studies show that being gay is an orientation and, as such, it is normal, Arce cuts her off again by saying "no, no, no". He states that Reyes and others might consider homosexuality to be an orientation but asks, for a fourth time, "is it normal?".

Reyes attempts to answer once again but it's clear that Arce is not getting what he wants to hear from her. So he simply interrupts her once again and indicates where his thoughts are going. He says that "what is natural" is for a man and a woman to come together and procreate. He then asks if anything that deviates from sexual relations between a man and a woman is "natural" or "normal".

In vain, Reyes says that sexual relations are not only limited to procreation. Arce's response? "It's not what you believe - it's what it is."

When Reyes says that she is sharing knowledge from the many studies she has read and not relying on her beliefs, Arce responds "What studies! You don't need to be a genius to know that there's a female and there's a male!"

And the hits keep coming!

Arce jokes that "eating cheetos and masturbating in the afternoon" is a sexual preference but isn't necessarily "normal".

When Reyes brings up studies that show that homosexual behavior have been observed among other animal species, he says that male dogs who engage in sex with other male dogs have been deprived of sex for a long time and are "letting themselves go" and that their behavior is considered to be "animal dementia".

He also says that younger people are susceptible to "letting themselves go" and turning gay even "if they look to you like men". "There is a lot of degeneration and a lot of drugs", he explains, as if homosexuality could also be the result of using illegal drugs.

By the end of the segment, Arce doesn't seem to care that he is speaking over the expert they invited to the show and, as she urges tolerance, he keeps repeating that she shouldn't be giving the wrong information to people.

Finally, he states that sexual relations not meant for procreation and not between a man and a woman are not a normal or part of nature. He dismisses Reyes as she is still trying to make a point with an "OK, thank you, let's leave", and that is the end of things.

Initial reaction: The original YouTube video was posted on December 19th, a day after it was broadcast, by someone with the handle of MikeParkRevolutions. I first saw it through a Google Alert but I didn't initially post it because it was hard to identify the actual broadcast date and location. I recognized Arce from a Telemundo gossip show called "Cotorreando" so I erroneously assumed that it was from the United States and I was so incensed by it that I actually forwarded it to GLAAD on December 24th.

In the meantime, I uploaded it to my YouTube page and began to translate it for posting on this blog. With additional research, I found out that Esteban Arce had left Telemundo in 2007 and now worked for Televisa in Mexico. I finally posted the video and a brief note on my blog on December 29th. The women at Macha Mexico picked up on it on the 30th. Mexican newspaper Milenio had also picked up on it back on December 21st but the newsbrief drew little notice at the time. And I think that was it... until the new year.

On Monday, January 4th, my contacts at GLAAD, alerted me that they had sent the link I gave them to NotieSe and other LGBT media in Mexico. They also alerted me that Mexican LGBT news web-portal Anodis had just published an article about it ("People point out television host's homophobia"). Later that day, El Financiero picked up on a press release sent out by folks involved with Anodis demanding an apology from Esteban Arce ("Esteban Arce's homophobic comments are questioned").

And then, Twitter: That afternoon I started noticing that my Tweeter feed had begun to show links information related to the incident. That was the first time that I noticed the Twitter hashtag #EstebanArceFueraDelAire (#EstebanArceLeaveTheAir) being used to ask Televisa to fire Arce. I found out that the President of Televisa's Board of Directors, Emilio Azcarranga, was also on Twitter (@eazcarraga) and I started urging interested Tweeters to send complaints directly to him.

On Tuesday, January 5th, Mexican mainstream media picked up the Twitter revolt. El Gráfico, a subsidiary of one of the largest Mexican newspapers, El Universo, carried the headline "Twitter lashes out against Esteban Arce" on its print edition (they also posted the video I uploaded on YouTube on its online edition).

Sex columnist Elsy Reyes, who also has a Twitter account (@elsyreyes) posted a link to her version of what happened during the taping of the show on her blog ("Clearing up what happened on Matutino Express and sending thanks"). She said that she had been astounded by the amount of attention that her seven minutes on the show had drawn and apologized to the LGBT community for not having been able to defend herself better and for not having been able to express her views completely. She also noted the "pejorative" and "homophobic" comments made by Esteban Arce but stopped short of calling him a homophobe. She said that she was still unsure whether he had meant his comments to be homophobic.

That evening on Tweeter, something amazing happened. Televisa's Azcarranga went online and wrote "A lot of activity regarding Arce, it's being taken into account. What you should know is that Esteban Arce does not have a Twitter account". I was elated. Here was Televisa's Board President using Twitter to acknowledge what must have been a barrage of complaints.

He was wrong on one account: Someone had taken advantage of the moment to open a Twitter account under Esteban Arce's name and was responding as if he were the real deal. One prominent reporter actually fell for it and interviewed the fake Arce for a national newspaper. Azcarranga wanted to tell people that the account was a fake but, unbeknownst to him, Arce did and still does have a Twitter account (@estarc62).

That night Arce also posted his own message on Twitter: "The virulence of many of those acting on the topic is incredible, I always defended the essence of the topic and never offended those who are not similar to me, that's all".

By Wednesday, January 6th it seemed as if every other press media in Mexico had picked up on the story. The YouTube video I posted had gone to the #1 position on YouTube's "Most Watched" list and thousands of people were logging in to watch each day. On Wednesday, the government also stepped in: The National Council to Prevent Discrimination (CONAPRED) announced that it was considering whether to act upon several complaints received about the broadcast and said that they would soon determine if there were merits to those who said Arce's comments had been discriminatory ("CONAPRED opens complaint against Esteban Arce based on homophobia").

As for Esteban Arce, aside from a couple of Tweets on the issue, he remained silent.

His apology came on the morning of Thursday, January 7th, when the first live edition of "Matutino Express" of 2010 aired live. Watch:

That's right. The only apology Esteban Arce made when he went back on air was to Elsy Reyes for having interrupted her. Using carefully edited clips from the previous show, Arce denies he is a homophobe and paints himself as the victim of intolerance. No mention of him having argued that sex between a man and a woman for the purpose of procreation as the sole "natural" and "nornal" human behavior in this world, no mention of masturbating while eating cheetos, no mention of teens "letting themselves go" into homosexuality, no mention of his repeated attempts to silence Reyes when she brings up academic research on the topic of homosexuality, and, most laughably, an argument that he in no way had meant that gays suffered "animal dementia" when he claimed that dogs who had homosexual behaviors usually were diagnosed which such an illness (he might not have said that gays suffered "animal dementia" but he certainly was making a direct comparison).

Arce also riles against "social networks", including Twitter, and says that the attention given to his statements are the result of people with "bad faith" uploading the segment online. To be expected, and as they did during the controversial segment, the other co-anchors back him up on everything and only speak up to say he is being victimized.

Note the absence of Reyes or anyone who might speak for the LGBT community to give their point of view (Reyes has said that, even though she was a weekly guest on the show, she has yet to receive an invite to come back).

On Friday, January 8th, CONAPRED served official notice to Arce that there were 18 complaints against him before the agency. If found guilty of promoting discrimination, Arce could face a year to three in prison unless he publicly apologizes for his statements on his show ("CONAPRED notifies Esteban Arce about complaints").

Out Mexican singer Christian Chávez, as other Mexican personalities have done, also went on air about his disgust with Arce.

Comments on YouTube: Since MikeParkRevolutions posted the original YouTube video on December 19, it has amassed nearly 147,000 views and 5,106 comments. My translated version of the video has gathered another 62,000 and 790 comments since December 27th. My translated video of Esteban Arce's "apology" has drawn 56,000 views and 272 comments since January 7th and also reached #1 on YouTube's "Most Viewed" list in Mexico and #2 on the US "News & Politics" list (see top image).

Comments left on the videos I have uploaded range from those who are furious at Arce to those who back him unconditionally. What's striking is that a lot of those who back Arce and ask that gays "tolerate" his comments actually make the case for those of us who were troubled by his comments. One extreme example of this is the following comment:
I am in agreement that people should not be homophobic, but don't let gays mix with society. Send them to an island and burn them or something like that. I don't want my daughter to grow up with the idea that it's normal since they are even condemned in the Bible...
Or, more insidiously...
Well, he's right! It's not normal!I don't have anything against homosexuals. What's more, I have a lot of friends like that... and the majority are the best! But let's be realist. You need an ovum and sperm to create life. Period. He's not insulting anyone. Just saying what is the truth.
Arce is a wolf in sheep's clothing. By vilifying gays using the same language that fundamentalist religions use against that without actually saying that we are evil sinners, he can claim that he's just spreading simple facts and not being homophobic, giving an example to others of how they can actually justify their own homophobia in the language of freedom of speech and tolerance.

Overreaction? As media coverage of the clip in question grew during the week and coverage began to appear everywhere, complaints about media overkill also began to surface.

Some say that the outsize attention being given to Esteban Arce is actually promoting a show that had poor ratings and turninng him into a larger personality trhan he ever was. Others say that media have latched to the issue as a way to keep people entertained instead of focusing attention on issues such as increasing poverty and violence. Others say that to go after Arce and not go after religious and political figures who are just as homophobic but have more power is counter-productive.

Indeed, when Mexico City granted marriage rights to same sex couples two or three days after the "Matutino Express" segment aired on Televisa, Cardinal Norberto Rivera said the law was "perverse" and "immoral" and warned about the declining civilization. CONAPRED and other public interest groups have responded and asked them to measure their reactions and be more respectful of the LGBT community, but the reaction to their homophobic statements certainly hasn't reached the level it reached with Arce.

This might be in part because people expect such comments to come from the likes of Cardinal Rivera. He has made similar comments in the past and will make similar comments in the future. In other words, his words probably didn't surprise anyone, and even people who rejected his statements might have seen them as par for the course.

But, with Arce, that was not the case. Arce is supposed to be a somewhat neutral television show host and watching him become visibly upset that his fundamentalist religious views are being challenged by a guest and try to stop her by interrupting her at every chance is akin to watching a kid cover his ears and say "Nanananananana" when he doesn't want to hear something. And, as he found out, more than a few people thought his behavior more than reprehensible and decided to pass it along to others.

There are also rumors that Televisa, instead of reprimanding Arce, might give him a spot on a new night-time news magazine show (remember, this is the same Televisa network that recently was criticized for removing scenes of two lead male characters kissing from a television soap). If that happens, Arce might gain some additional viewers.

It's also true that he has gained notoriety, but for all the wrong reasons. It's his one television appearance that will probably forever define his career.

But what many are missing here is that Televisa and Arce might not have ever felt the need to respond or explain themselves if it wasn't for Tweeter and the same social networks that Arce described as lacking any "seriousness". It also puts other people on Mexican television on notice that similar homophobic shenanigans won't be taken down without a response.

As for those comments, perhaps my favorite thing has been this parody of a "Peanuts"cartoon strip, which uses Arce's comments to great effect...

[Source: Blog del Mono Hernández] Panel 1 - Voice coming from TV Set: "Eating cheetos and masturbating in the afternoon is a preference but it's not normal"; Panel 2 - Voice coming from TV Set: "When you put a dog in, they let themselves go, and that's considered to be 'animal dementia'"; Panel 3 - Snoopy: "The more I hear demented animals on TV, the more I care for you..."



KC said...

Nice to see work pay off sometimes. Congrats. And thanks.

Pure Cocoa said...

Good work!
Thank you for putting this issue in perspective and giving an overview of the situation as it stands.
Sorry to see he's getting publicity (though negative) from his homophobic statements.