6 Insane Things Happening Throughout Mexican Cartel Culture
Anyone who watched Breaking Bad gave at least a little bit of serious thought to joining a Mexican drug cartel. But where Hollywood does a pretty impressive job of glorifying criminals, it hasn't got shit on Mexico's utterly insane cartel culture. There, real-life kingpins become pop culture stars with their own media empires, complete with merchandise and youth fashion trends.
For example ...
Drug Dealers Have Over-the-Top Musical Tributes Written About Them
Before the invention of cups tied to long strings, mass communication relied on oral tradition. Music was used to educate people, tell tales of olden heroes, and remind everyone that smelling his dick is a great way to tell if your man is cheating. In that spirit of musical folklore, narcocorridos (drug ballads) are hugely popular in Mexico.
It's not hard to see the appeal for dealers. Famous performers singing hyperbolic songs about your exploits so you'll live on forever in musical infamy? If our exploits weren't limited to surfing the Internet and eating Hot Pockets, we'd be all over that.
Songs range from your typical pieces of bravado ("The Boss of Bosses," "The Badass of Badasses") to claims that sound like they were taken from fantasy novels ("The Lord of the Skies") to brags that probably sounded better in their heads ("The Man With the Hummer"). What they all have in common are lyrics that glorify crime and awesomely cheesy music videos featuring people strutting around in cowboy hats, more guns than a shooting range, and effects stolen from MTV circa 1987. If you didn't realize they were singing about dismembering and boiling people alive, it would be downright adorable.
We've always been suckers for the sweet, melancholic sound of the bazooka.
Lyrics like ...
With an AK-47 and a bazooka on my shoulder
Cross my path and I'll chop your head off
We're bloodthirsty, crazy, and we like to kill
... are no different from your typical gangster rap or that weird phase Leonard Cohen went through, but it gets worrying when you learn that many of these songs are inspired by real events. And the performers aren't underground folk artists like your college roommate -- this is a multimillion-dollar business where albums go platinum, major concert venues are sold out, and groups get nominated for Grammys while looking like this:
They didn't win any awards, but they went home with all of them.
Unfortunately, having a high-profile career where you sing the praises of people who want to murder their enemies tends to tick off said enemies. In one incident, 17 musicians and crew were kidnapped from a party and murdered, while Valentin "The Golden Rooster" Elizalde was shot after a concert, possibly because of an inflammatory anonymous YouTube video where pictures of dead cartel members were set to one of his songs. Apparently, the ensuing war in the comments section escalated to the point where murdering the artist behind the background music became the only reasonable course of action, so keep that in mind the next time you're tempted to question the integrity of a YouTube user's mother.
There's an Entire Genre of Ridiculous Low-Budget Drug Films
In the world of narco cinema, the cops are actual cops, the prostitutes are actual prostitutes, and the drunks are actual drunks who happened to stumble by the set. Films go straight to video, a $50,000 budget is considered extravagant, and if you take more than three weeks to shoot, who the fuck do you think you are, Stanley Kubrick? Prolific director Enrique Murillo boasts of having directed 26 movies in a single year, and veteran actor Mario Almada claims to have appeared in over 1,000 flicks. And honestly, they look pretty rad:
Between this and Kill Bill, who knew Sonny Bono was such a hardass gangsta?
The movies are hastily produced because they're usually based on current events (or hit narcocorridos). It's important to go from nothing to counting your profits in under two months, otherwise the memory of whatever violent event served as inspiration will fade from the minds of consumers. Also, it's apparently key to have a title that's either flat-out ridiculous (The Dead Squad, I Got Screwed by Gringos) or advertises the presence of a big-ass truck (The Black Hummer, Chrysler 300, The Red Durango).
Or The Pink Suburban, which looks like Tarantino crossed with a gay pride parade.
What makes these different from American B-movies like Sharknado, Transmorphers, and Cracked's upcoming cinematic debut I Thought I Married a Good Man but He Turned Out to Be an Alcoholic Walrus is that they're hugely popular. It's estimated that only 18 percent of Mexicans can afford to see a movie in a theater, and watching Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill run around doesn't quite cut it compared to shootouts and revenge plots dramatizing the real-life events happening around you every day. They're also big among Mexicans living in America looking for a ridiculous taste of home, and if you live in the right part of the country you can easily find them in Walmart.
Honestly, box art like that is about as patriotically American as you can get.
They're not exactly cinematic masterpieces, but we think Hollywood could learn a thing or two from them. If you need to film a scene in a strip club, go to a strip club. If you need an actor to play a security guard, grab a security guard. And if you don't give a shit about quality, spend $25,000 instead of $250 million.
Cartels Worship Their Own Saints
So you're a drug kingpin and/or someone who aspires to be one, but you want to stay on the good side of the Lord. What to do? Well, if you're in Mexico, you can pray to one of the Narco Saints, since when you're looking to pray to someone who will help you commit a kidnapping and murder, your options are otherwise limited.
"You want help with what? Dude, do you even know who I am?"
There are a range of Narco Saints, but two lead the pack. Old-school favorite Jesus Malverde is a bit like Robin Hood, if instead of living in Sherwood Forest he took up residence in "Mexico's Pot Sack," a term we swear is real. A mythical bandit king, he's the patron of drug dealers and other criminals. Like traditional saints, there's an entire industry dedicated to slapping his mustachioed face on candles, soaps, and prayer cards. Unlike traditional saints, these products are sold next to Malverde-branded beer and a trilogy of action movies with names like Jesus Malverde III: Infierno en Los Angeles.
There's even a rapper who performs under his name. Just imagine Iggy Azalea rapping about her vagina under the name Mother Teresa on the soundtrack for Mother Teresa II: Cut Ya in Calcutta and you'll start to understand how surreal this is.
I help the poor, I feed the hungry, and I heal the sick
And there ain't room, at the inn, for my brontosaurus dick.
If Malverde is your grandfather's stoic drug saint, Santa Muerte is the hip and edgy saint of today's modern dealers. Saint Death has recently skyrocketed in popularity in Mexico and now has an estimated 8 million followers (some estimates are even higher). On one hand, it's easy to understand the appeal of a nonjudgmental saint who's quick on the miracle uptake for everything from romance to job hunting. On the other hand, Saint Death sounds like the title of an album recorded by your high school band, and many of her portrayals look like the album art you airbrushed onto your first van.
The patron of criminals, the impoverished, and 12-year-old Call of Duty fans.
That's all well and good if you're just offering up some beer in exchange for a date with the cutie down the hall, but one cartel hitman confessed to chopping up and burning people alive in the name of Santa Muerte. Stories of human sacrifices and shrines found at buildings used to house kidnapping victims are not as uncommon as they should be (extremely).
But who can stay mad at a saint so pimp she wears a money dress?
That's what happens when you worship a saint who's just as happy to help you smuggle cocaine across the border as she is to help you find your missing car keys. And the next time you wonder why you can buy Santa Muerte candles at your local Walmart, remember that she's part of the fastest-growing religious movement in the world. Sleep tight!
But if you're looking for an even stranger holy figure in narco circles ...
A Drug Dealer Wrote an Autobiography That's Treated Like a Bible
Nazario Moreno was a complex man, a term we use because "clearly cuckoo" might inspire him to haunt us from beyond the grave. He was raised with 11 siblings by an alcoholic father and a violent mother, like a really sad version of The Brady Bunch. He fled to the United States to sell drugs, and he claims that when he returned to Mexico, he traveled the country as a hobo to gain wisdom. He then found religion, and while normally that would be the start of a feel-good redemption story, Moreno incorporated his worshipping into his drug dealing.
Having raised his WIS and CHA high enough, he proceeded to create the Knights Templar, Mexico's strangest cartel. To give you an idea of just how weird this part-cult, part-crime-ring is: a raid on a stronghold turned up 120 plastic medieval helmets suspected to be used during initiation ceremonies.
Although, at this point, it wouldn't surprise us if they were really into LARPing.
Moreno, who earned the nickname "the Craziest One" for reasons that should be becoming obvious, wrote a "code" for his cartel that was pretty high-minded considering he sold drugs for a living, and he announced his presence to the world by throwing decapitated heads into a disco. Excerpts include "The members of the Order must fight against materialism, injustice, and tyranny in the world" and "swear and promise to always seek to protect the oppressed, the widow, and the orphan." Now's a good time to mention that Moreno was influenced by superhero comics he read when he was a kid.
Able to grow extra chins in a single meal.
After years of drug-lording, Moreno took advantage of the fact that everyone thought he was killed in a gunfight to settle down and write a pair of books and maybe finally finish that spice rack. They Call Me the Craziest One is an autobiography, while My Thoughts is a combination of self-help, philosophy, and evidence of severe head trauma. Both are heavily influenced by/rip-offs of Wild at Heart, an Evangelical book that argues male Christians need to act like manly man men. Wild at Heart became required reading at cartel boot camp, presumably while wearing those helmets.
My Thoughts makes Moreno and his cartel out to be a group of divine warriors on a mission to defend society (through murder and meth distribution), while his autobiography is so open about his struggles with substance abuse, it's remarkable it didn't vanish in a puff of irony. The books not only found an avid audience among criminals, they became bafflingly popular among the general population. They're illegal, but that hasn't stopped civilians from clandestinely distributing them, while the cartel just leaves boxes full of copies on random buses like fucked-up bookmobiles. And because Moreno has been on the path to Narco Sainthood since his for-realsies death in 2014, it doesn't seem like his work will be going out of print anytime soon.
It's like a cosplay outfit for meth heads.
The Clothes Drug Lords Were Arrested in Created a Fashion Trend
Let's harken back to the distant year 2010, an innocent time before we all started twerking our Pinterests. In a short span of that halcyon year, seven drug lords were captured, including public enemy No. 1 La Barbie, because in Mexico ruthless criminals get nicknamed after toys for little girls. The arrested men all had two things in common -- their profession and the fact that they were brought in while wearing Ralph Lauren polo shirts.
Three things, if you count hideous neckbeards.
This launched a fashion trend -- criminals, wannabe drug dealers, and everyday civilians started wearing knockoff Ralph Laurens. The fad proved especially popular among teenagers, both because all the cool kids were doing it and because it let them mess with the police ("Am I a criminal, or do I just dress like one? You don't know, sucker!"). Polos suddenly made the statement "I'm a ruthless badass" instead of "I'm an insufferable douchebag whose parents are going to buy me a yacht as a graduation present."
Although, there's a lot of overlap.
Street vendors were quick to respond to the demand, with the different styles being named after the drug lords who were caught in them. You can even get your own name embroidered on the back, like a sports jersey but way more useful to the police if you commit a crime. As always, the government has publicly complained about the trend while acknowledging that there's little they can actually do about it, while Ralph Lauren has refused to comment because there's no way they'd come out looking good regardless of what they said.
The media has noted that, while this isn't the first fashion trend to have been inspired by drug dealers, it was the first widespread one and the first to not be derided as tacky. Christ, how bad were the previous fads? Did a bunch of dealers get arrested in parachute pants?
Maybe when they call it high fashion, it's just a pun.
Drug Dealers Are Buried Like Pimp Pharaohs
Throughout history, powerful people have been buried in tombs that reflect both their era and their accomplishments. Pharaohs were laid to rest in magnificent pyramids, communist heads of state were embalmed in austere mausoleums, and ornery union leaders have been given unmarked graves in construction sites. But most historians agree that no pyramid, tomb, or parking lot has got shit on narco mausoleums, because King Tut didn't achieve timeless transcendence by installing a surround-sound system.
Between kitchenettes, playrooms for kids, cable, and other amenities, the resting places of drug lords are nicer than our living places. But that's what you get when you spend $420,000 on a goddamn castle.
If that's not hiding at least one trebuchet, we're going to be extremely disappointed.
It seems absurd, but when your industry's retirement plan is "get shot by the police," you don't exactly need to save for your golden years. It's a culture that's all about living large and showing off your wealth while you can. And that's why you can find a Mexican cemetery full of more clashing architectural styles than Disney World.
Jardines del Humaya is a surreal landscape where multi-story mausoleums built of marble, ivory, gold, and titanium are covered in tacky posters of their occupants wielding assault rifles. The mausoleum of a drug pilot is even adorned with crystal planes, because anything is possible when your bank account is large and your favorite architectural style is "yes."
Or "fuck yes."
And being dead is no excuse to stop the party. If you decide to take your next vacation to a drug lord cemetery because it's cheaper than Cabo, you might come across a lavish party being thrown in honor of a mausoleum's occupant. Organized by specialized party planners that charge around $3,000 a shindig, there will be lighting, altars, landscaping, and themed decorations. If the deceased was big on gambling, for example, you'll be able to spin a roulette wheel near his corpse. And, presumably, the sound system will be put to good use.
"Party at Joel's place! You can crank the music as loud as you want and no one in the neighborhood complains!"
Less lucky visitors will discover why bulletproof glass is used in construction, as every now and then a drug lord's enemy will decide that death is no reason to forgo a retaliatory attack. Or you might just discover a decapitated head at the entrance of a tomb. At least they won't have to take it far.
For more on organized crime, check out 5 Inspiring Acts of Kindness by Terrifying Crime Syndicates and 5 Bizarre Real Life Gangs That Put The Warriors to Shame.
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