I do not have a dog in a lot of fights. Sometimes, I do not even have a guppy in the fight.
At this time of year, gringo conversations are filled with lamentations and ash-tossing over the concern that transplanting the northern tradition of Halloween is going to obliterate the Mexican celebration of day/night of the dead. Some Mexicans have the same concern.
From an intellectual standpoint, the dispute is rather odd. Halloween itself, as we know it in America and Canada, has deep roots in Europe. But it was not until the 1920s in the United States that the dressing up in costumes and shaking down the neighbors in a trick-or-treat scam really started.
Of course, it is now one of the most expensive holidays in The States. For some social communities, the day is even bigger than Christmas -- with parties that will put Roman bacchanals to shame.
The history of day/night of the dead in Mexico is just as convoluted. The initial regional traditions were tamed by the Catholic church -- to the extent that certain religious symbols were required in all altars. The Mexican government further morphed the celebration in the 1960s by turning a regional celebration into a national holiday -- even for regions that had never celebrated it.
So. two hybrid cultural events periodically slip into this grudge match.
I usually avoid the topic. Not because I do not find it interesting, but because I think I know how this story ends.
This year I was pushed out of my smug neutrality. A couple of weeks ago, Omar asked me to buy him a Halloween costume. That surprised me. He has always been very active in his school's project to build altars in the local square. When the topic of Halloween has come up, he dismissed the northern invader with a sneer.
He needed the costume for a Halloween party with friends last Saturday. I suspect the party had roots in Hollywood movies.
There are plenty of Halloween costumes in the local stores and in Manzanillo. Unsurprisingly, most of them are based on characters from Hollywood comic book movies or Disney. When Omar showed me a photograph of what he wanted, I assumed that it was just another DC Comics character who had evaded my attention in my youth. (I think most of you know my brother and I were not allowed to read comic books.)
But I was wrong. The costume is based on a cultural icon, but not from the movies. Television is the culprit.
Netflix has purchased a Spanish-produced television services entitled La casa de papel -- the house of paper. It is a far-more alluring title than the humdrum English re-christening -- Money Heist.
I had never heard of the series. As far as I know, I have read nothing about it. And that surprises me because it is good. Very good.
The story line is simple. Eight criminals with various skills are gathered into a gang by the mastermind of the operation. The Professor. The goal is to take hostages and control the Spanish mint where the gang will print one billion worth of euros.
On paper, that looks like a flimsy structure for a heist story. But, the writers of this series have put together such an intricate and convoluted plot founded on character development, they were able to eke out two seasons of Spanish television. Even when the plot begins to sound unbelievable, it moves on quickly to the next point.
The character development is the key. Quite subtly, the viewer is manipulated into seeing the kidnappers as heroes (or, at least, antiheroes) much in the same way that viewers of Breaking Hard found themselves rooting for Walter White to succeed. Any show that can make us take out our Kantian moral imperatives for a little airing is one to watch.
As much as I like the series, I certainly will not recommend it for everyone. Some people will reject the good criminal-bad cop setup. They will simply not be able to get past that hurdle.
Then, there is the sex and language. The gang was required to abide by several simple rules. The first was "no personal relationships." Even before the heist begins, the inter-personal relationships begin with more sex than a fraternity kegger.
I must admit, for the most part, the sex is not gratuitous. The series is Spanish, and relationships drive the action. But, if naked young (and middle-aged) bodies offend you, you might prefer to watch something else.
For me, the language is the hardest obstacle to staying focused on the plot. Sure, the criminals and the cops are a hard-driven lot. But they sound like a bunch of eight-year-old boys who have just discovered the "f" and "c" words and need to prove to everyone that their intellectual development is handicapped.
I had a Mexican friend watch an episode with me. He reacted the same way as I did. He was unconvinced that anyone would talk like that. Interestingly, he could not understand most of the Castilian Spanish, and relied on the English subtitles.
But, those are quibbles. At least the first two seasons are worth watching.
Oh, and Omar's Halloween costume? It never arrived. And it is still not here today.
For him, Halloween has come and gone. For me, it simply will not happen.
That sentence may disclose my little secret. I do have a dog in the fight.