Luis Estrada’s ‘The Perfect Dictatorship’, on Netflix, perfectly reflects our sensation-over-news era

Posted on September 26, 2020

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Way back in 1951, Billy Wilder’s ‘Ace in the Hole’, about an opportunistic newspaper reporter, was labelled ‘satire’. Today, it would be the reality.

In some countries, these days, there’s much talk about how the media — at least, the television media — are diverting the attention of citizens from real issues to sensational stories. There’s a term for this media strategy: “Chinese Box”. It’s something big that distracts attention so that the more vital news gets pushed to the background and people think these important political (or economic or social) things aren’t really happening. The “Chinese Box” strategy is about a story that people can relate to, a story that moves and engages them: maybe a sex scandal, or maybe something about trapped miners, or maybe even about actors using soft drugs.

The term comes up in The Perfect Dictatorship (now on Netflix), Luis Estrada’s political satire set in Mexico. It all begins with a visit from the US Ambassador. The President of Mexico greets him and sits down for a talk, under the watchful eyes of the press. He makes a proposition to the Ambassador. “If you open your borders to Mexicans, we can do all kinds of jobs even the black people don’t want to do.” He even uses the word “negros”, and repeats: “The Mexicans are better than blacks almost in everything.” What a fool! Doesn’t he see that the Ambassador opposite him represents… President Obama?

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