May 28, 2008

Mexico says no to exploitation

Why didn't Mel Gibson's Apocalypto have the cooperation of the Mexican government? Because Mexico protects its cultural heritage from commercial exploitation. Here's the story:

Treasures of a Nation, Not Fodder for an AdEager to bolster tourism, Hidalgo State came up with a novel idea: an advertising campaign featuring a well-known actress wearing Hidalgo’s most eye-popping sites on her flesh.

“Hidalgo, under my skin” was the catch phrase for the ads, which featured the soap opera actress Irán Castillo covered with computer-generated images of mountains, waterfalls and monuments.

But federal officials were unimpressed. They did not object to Ms. Castillo’s lying seminude on the grass with hot-air balloons displayed on her body or lounging in a forest with images of rock faces on her flank or even sprawled on a beautiful mosaic wearing nothing but a beautiful mosaic. “We’re not moralistic,” insisted Benito Taibo, an executive with Mexico’s National Institute for Anthropology and History. “We don’t have an issue with her. She’s a pretty girl.”

But the institute did have an issue with Ms. Castillo’s wearing Mexico’s patrimony on her curvaceous form. Whether it was the stone Atlantes in Tula de Allende or the old aqueduct in Padre Tembleque or the former convent in San Nicolás Tolentino, imprinting one of Mexico’s treasures on a soap opera star was deemed a violation of the law.
The institute's other decisions:The country’s anthropology institute, based in Mexico City, does more than just serve as Mexico’s monument police. It oversees a vast collection of pyramids, shrines and other attractions, all more than a century old. With 800 researchers, the institute churns out academic treatises that seek to make sense of the country’s past. It also rejects anything seen as exploiting a historical artifact’s dignity.

That means that when a paint company recently asked if it could feature artifacts in a commercial, the institute said no.

The current crop of requests in a thick binder in Mr. Taibo’s office also includes one from the BBC seeking to film a documentary at a pyramid (Sí), another from a university professor seeking to do research at a site (Sí) and a third from a real estate developer who wanted to publish photographs of pyramids in his ads (No).

The institute’s staff pores over a movie script when a production company asks permission to film at a historical site to determine whether the story line is objectionable. “Apocalypto,” Mel Gibson’s 2006 film on the decline of Mayan civilization, received a no.

“We said, ‘You can film anywhere except in our historical zones,’ ” said Mr. Taibo, who is also a published poet. “It was a film loosely based on history, but it was a particularly bloody interpretation of our past.”
Comment:  I'm glad to see the institute rejected Apocalypto for its falsification of Maya history. It didn't stop Gibson from filming, but it may have slowed him down. More to the point, it prevented him from claiming the Maya and their descendants supported his apocalyptic vision.

Unlike Apocalypto, though, it's hard to see how the Hidalgo ad would hurt anything. It's promoting an interest in Mexico's history--literally trying to make it sexy. That seems like a decent idea to me. (It would be even better if they also used a male model to avoid the appearance of sexism.)


dmarks said...

Is this the Mexican government actually censoring/banning advertising by others?

Rob said...

I gather Mexican copyright law gives control of the images to the government. So it's refusing to let some people use the images. It isn't censoring the images after people use them. If that makes a difference.

dmarks said...

If the government bans some use, it is a form of censorship, even if before the fact. It seems like a cousin of sorts to bans on US flag-burning.

Rob said...

If you want to put it that way, perhaps.

A good analogy is with the US military's not permitting movies that intend to malign it use its bases or ships. I can see both sides of that argument. Should the military let producers use taxpayer resources to hurt it and thus reduce its effectiveness? If a movie causes a drop in enlistment, for instance, taxpayers will have to pay more to reach recruiting quotas.

As I said, the Hidalgo ad seems pretty innocuous. But Mel Gibson clearly intended to change the perception of the Maya from civilized and sophisticated to sick and sadistic. Should Mexico have helped him do it? Even if it meant film crews tramping through precious archaeological sites?

dmarks said...

I don't think so. But that is the libertarian in me, for one thing. I don't think the government should waste money to assist the film crews of private corporations. That's a form of corporate welfare.