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Opinion: The glorification of Pablo Escobar needs to stop

I recently saw Universal Studios’ new movie “American Made” (2017), starring Tom Cruise. The movie tells the story of Barry Seal, an American who started working with the CIA and then became one of the biggest drug smugglers during the Cold War.

Seal worked with the Medellín Cartel, led by the infamous Pablo Escobar. As in most movies about Escobar, he is once more shown as a relatable, charismatic, and even funny leader. Maybe he was. But he was also a drug dealer, a murderer and a high-rank terrorist. His glorification in the media must stop if we ever want to see Colombia succeed as a peaceful nation.

There’s a part in the movie where they play news footage of Colombia during the ’80s, with cars exploding, planes falling and people dead on the street. The voiceover describes Escobar as having a “unique management style.”

Unique management style.

Would you describe Osama bin Laden’s management style as “unique” as well? Because they’re essentially the same type of man: terrorists who bomb cars, blow up planes and kill thousands of people. Bin Laden killed close to 3,000 people in 9/11. Escobar was responsible for orchestrating just as many deaths throughout the years he basically reigned Medellín. Escobar, like Bin Laden, also blew up a plane, a music festival, and even the Department of Security – among so many other atrocities.

So why is it that Americans walk on eggshells every time they talk about Bin Laden, but they openly support TV shows, movies, and advertising about another terrorist?

Unfortunately, this goes far beyond the representation of Narco culture in the media. It’s engrained in American society; the admiration and glorification of Latin American drug lords is part of this country’s obsession with foreign gory scandals.

…Business Partners! #americanmademovie #pabloescobar #jorgeochoa #medellincartel @americanmade

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There’s a Drug lord-themed restaurant in Maywood, where you can order tacos named after some of the most infamous criminals out there: from El Chapo Guzman to Pablo Escobar, their menu is immensely creative, yet flat out disrespectful. Imagine the backlash if one of those tacos honored the man responsible for 9/11.

As such an important part of a nation’s history, I agree the story should be told. But the narrative has to change. It shouldn’t be about glamorizing the Narco lifestyle and trying to make the Narcos look badass. It should be about attempting to learn from it, so that we keep it from happening again. You shouldn’t watch Narco movies and want to imitate their slang and copy their mannerisms. Nobody ever imitates Bin Laden, do they?

Of course, there’s still that side of Medellín who still admires him. Escobar was like a Robin Hood to them; a big part of the money he got from drug dealing he used to better the lives of many people in Medellín. There’s a whole generation who grew up praising the man: growing mullets that resembled the hitmen’s, acquiring the same phrases and aspiring to become narcos. But building houses, and communities, and bridges doesn’t excuse him from his crimes. In this case, the end doesn’t justify the means.

My brother came to visit me last week and told me he got into a fight at a party in Orange County. It all started because a frat boy was wearing a shirt with Escobar’s face on it, and he thought it was so disrespectful he had to say something about it. I had never been prouder to hear my brother got into a fight.

I spent last summer working in Colombia, and there, you have to be careful how and when you mention Escobar’s name because everyone is so sensitive to it. It represents years and years of war, death and agony. It shows a side of Colombia that Colombians just don’t want to remember. It’s like Osama Bin Laden here. Except that you don’t see Colombians walking around with Bin Laden shirts and eating Al Qaeda-themed tacos.

Next time you’re thinking about making an Escobar joke, or sending a meme, or god forbid buying a shirt – please take a second to make that comparison. Would you laugh at a Bin Laden joke? Would you send a Bin Laden meme? I dare you to walk into a party wearing a Bin Laden shirt.

Categories: Opinion.

Top image: (via Wikimedia under CC with modifications by Sean Myers/Neon)

Miranda is from Guatemala. She's currently in LA pursuing a degree in journalism with a minor in cinematic arts. She's the editor for the International Desk at USC, and she's passionate about underreported stories about Latin America. She also enjoys binge-watching TV shows, running and writing, writing, writing.