September 25, 2011

After seeing Carlos Mencia's show in Las Vegas on September 16th (Mexican Independence Day), I don't expect him to get an invitation from Don Francisco.

The hilarious and often controversial Latino comedian commented on a plethora of topics in his show, and he was his usual equal-opportunity offender.  He didn't even spare Spanish-language TV.  In his musings about education, he tied the poor academic achievement of Latino students to their parents' proclivity for watching Spanish-language TV.  Dios mio!

And then he zeroed in on Sabado Gigante--and this should be of interest to ALL agencies, Anglo and Spanish-language agencies alike.  Mencia argued that while US companies pay "millions of dollars" to celebrities to endorse their products, these same companies just pay Don Francisco to get his audience members to sing product jingles, such as "Sneekers, Sneekers..."  (that's "Snickers, Snickers...").

While there were ostensibly plenty of Latinos in Vegas because it was Mexican Independence Day (and there was a big boxing match the following night that involved a Mexican-American fighter), Mencia's audience was pretty diverse.  Yes, there were many Hispanics but you also saw plenty of Anglos and African-Americans.  Mencia's Comedy Central show "The Mind of Mencia," while off the air now, no doubt generated lots of fans for Mencia.

But it was Mencia's comment on Hispanic educational attainment that struck me because quite honestly it has crossed my mind in the past.  Inflammatory?  No.  Thought-provoking?  Yes, so I decided to dig a little.

Mencia, who once majored in electrical engineering at Cal State LA, is no dummy so he was referring to well-known Department of Education statistics that show Hispanic youth having a 17.6% high school drop out rate, compared with 5.2% for Whites, 3.4% for Asian and 9.3% for Blacks.   And the same stats show that immigrant students have higher drop rates than US-born children.

To be sure, Mencia has no shortage of detractors, and the many Anglo sales persons and executives at Spanish-language TV networks may not be able to relate to what he's saying, but he does raise a point that should not be ignored.  I could offer up my personal experience with this issue but that really requires an entirely separate posting.

As we Latinos continue to increase our numbers, and take our rightful places in American society, we can ill-afford to be ill-prepared.  While many of us will continue to consume media in Spanish and English, we cannot lose sight of the future.  If one day, we aim to run the company that makes Snickers,  singing about "Sneekers" may not be enough to get us that executive post.


Xavier, thanks for your great comments! And I completely agree with your comments about cable, especially Discovery en Espanol. But we also can't forget about our friends in Hispanic print. I can't recall a Spanish-language TV sales presentation that hasn't had some snarky comment about Hispanics and print...almost proclaiming with pride that we Latinos don't read. And there's the internet, which is now biting all of us in the ass. But more to Mencia's point...I think TV in general--English or Spanish-language TV--always programs to the lowest common denominator. However, the other night I watched the season premiere of "Boardwalk Empire," which once again reaffirmed how Spanish-language TV programming in the US has never had the equivalent of a "St Elsewhere," a "Six Feet Under," a "Law & Order." I think the genesis is the same paternalistic attitude that inspired Emilio Ascarraga Milmo many many years ago: "these poor people don't know what is best for them...but I do." Which sort of defeats the purpose of immigrating to the land of opportunity that is the US, doesn't it? Paternalism exists to varying degrees on both sides of the border, but making it our mantra in the U.S. is simply, well, un-American.

I like what you wrote and would like to add that the sad reality is that Spanish Language television has historically had a shortage of programming that is Inspirational and Aspirational to Latinos. We (ad agency media folks, driven by old school ad agency owners) have funded for far to long the stereotypes, the raunchy shows and the bad novelas that are a part of the Spanish Language television landscape Mr. Mencia rants about. I think this upfront season for the first time had programs that started to move the needle up, and the new competition from the scrappy smaller networks will only make programing better. As VeMe, Discovery Español and CNN with their high brow informative programing starts to make changes, we will hope to see more changes in Univision and Telemundo, that have started to get out of the formulaic design of Spanish Language TV as we knew it. Also the realization that Latinos live, work, love and dream in english too, is not forgotten and we will see more programing that is language agnostic starting to pop-up in the various channels and this is good. We do not live in a "one language" world, rather, we exist with our culture - proudly, and in our reality of English language. But then again that is only my point of view.

Manny - you are correct on the print, I did not delve into that as I was more focused on the TV aspect, but the second point you make, sadly - is very true. Programmers that "know" what the audience "needs" rather than creating engaging programing where they will become better. I do think we are starting to turn that corner, and at times, characters like Mencia are the ones that remind us of these gaps in where we are, to where we should be!!

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