For several days now, there has been an image going around on social media of what looks to be a set for the upcoming, Hangover 3 movie, a sequel to its successful first installment (and not that critically acclaimed second one), which has promised to include Tijuana, our city plagued with violence, success, progress, creativity and setbacks, all at the same time. In other words, nuance is our only friend.
The set appears to replicate Tijuana in the city of Nogales. Or at least, it intends to double for the myth about what Tijuana is and looks like, taken almost directly from the old "Kamp Krusty" episode of The Simpsons in 1992.
Before my, ahem, grievances begin (and they aren't against what you may think), we need to get some things out of the way.
We don't exactly know what happened, why they chose to go out to the middle of the Arizona-Mexico border and build their own Tijuana instead of filming only a few miles south of Hollywood and even less miles north of where they filmed Titanic (1997) and Pearl Harbor (2002). We aren't really in an inconvenient place. It's more likely that Arizona was both cheaper, and easier for them to get away with the false idea of Tijuana being no more than a border town stuck in the 1920s. The Baja California Tourism Secretary told FoxNewsLatino.com that they, while not enthusiastic about the way Tijuana would be represented on film, weren't opposed to the project and even invited producers to come and sea more of what the city has to offer. But, Nogales got the role of Tijuana, instead of Tijuana getting the role of Tijuana.
On the other hand though, there was a large pushback by many in the city, both in the real world and social media online, to prevent this "image" of Tijuana from being presented as the truth. For years now, many have been obsessive about how the stereotype would hurt the work put into both the recovery from the drug war violence and the financial crisis.
But all those who fear a movie, have to remember that the key to better the image of Tijuana is as simple as it is daunting: just improve Tijuana. Image and P.R. worries should only concern us in so much as it affects our way of life or helps attract investment for the city, but it shouldn't be just to make us feel good.
This fear about portraying a caricature of Tijuana as a wild border town with shingle roof houses and cobbled-stone streets (there are almost none in Tj) is mostly a response to our insecurities about the real and dangerous types of crime and problems affecting both our city and Mexico. We can only dream of the times of when our "worst" problems were merely prostitution and too many drunk Americans.
The "image" problem or fear of Tijuana not always being this icon of Mexican-American blend of cultures and Baja food, but the more common image of it being full of Las Vegas type of fun, distresses mostly big businesses that rely on tourism. And even so, businesses that say "NO" to investing in the region based on what they see in The Hangover, The Simpsons, Weeds y other media, perhaps aren't really worth keeping in the first place. Maquiladoras, software companies, restaurants, financiers and other sectors come here because it's good for business and see much more than a small town full of curios. What we should be doing, more than worrying about movies, is putting more resources into business development agencies, both public and private, so that they may attract truly valuable and important investments to the region, including film industry ones. And of course, helping natives succeed and improve their own lives so that Tijuana may thrive with its own people.
In the end, the type of crime or "bad publicity" that comes out of several films about Tijuana isn't even the one that really worries foreigners and investors. Multinational companies are used to petty crime and worse looking cities than Tijuana in the world. Instead, it's the beheadings, the bodies dissolved in acid, shot, hanged and kidnaped stories that scares them and are sadly unique to the Mexican drug war.
Can anyone seriously believe that The Hangover will affect TJ's reputation? I'm not saying that we should proudly wear the myth as a badge of honor, but neither should we be saying NO or throw only mixed signals at a multimillion-dollar production.
We could've and should've done a better job of keeping some of the production and benefit for our local economy, as it happens with national sports teams, assembly plants and conventions. It is very likely that even then they would have gone on and built their pueblo in Arizona, but at least producers and actors would've had the chance of seeing Tijuana for what she really is. And of course, the economic spillover would've been good compensation for our troubles.
But, as I said, we only got to keep the same old image of a small, dingy border town and none of the money.
Jose Luis Sanchez Macias is a Communications major from the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California university. He has been part of the iDigital Creative Studio team in the city of Tijuana, as a Marketing Analyst and writing for some productions, as well as a collaborator on the first public television channel in the city, tvTijuana, highlighting his hosting duties in the CocinArte cooking show on the same channel, and general production assistant.
Currently, he works as a Writing and Editing Collaborator and Translator for the Bilingual Business Development Magazine, Business Conexión in Tijuana.