Alarma!

(Editor’s Disclaimer: There are graphic and disturbing images and subject matter in the links of this article and the embedded videos.)

All share a common destiny – the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean… This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all… For the living know that they will die,  (Ecclesiastes 9:2-3, 5).

Death is the great equalizer. In Mexico, it also makes for a thriving, macabre tabloid industry with a fleet of corpse-hunting paparazzi.

The Prensa Roja (Red Press) or Nova Rota (Red Page), is a type of tabloid crime paper that readily capitalizes on the common yet ridiculed human fascination with death. And it does so at the extreme edges of the spectrum. Photo spreads feature the most gruesome subject matter photographers can find.

Who better to find, film, and document those photographers and this phenomenon than the fearless crew of VBS.TV, as they spend seven days tagging along on rides with David Alvarado, a photojournalist for Alarma! Magazine.

Produced and directed by Santiago Stelley and Bernardo Loyola, this web documentary covers some insane ground and is definitely not for the squeamish or faint of heart. Bernardo writes, “We drove all over Mexico City in the old Beetles at full speed, running through every red light while chasing ambulances and looking for dead people from 10 at night ’til 5 in the morning…The blood…smelled like rusted metal. It was dark and very scary.”

Basically there are a group of these photogs who hang out each night at the centrally located Monument to the Revolution in Mexico City. They wait to get a call (they’ll receive several throughout the night) of the location of a murder scene or grizzly accident. They rush off to hopefully beat the police or next of kin to get the best photos for their respective newspapers and magazines, the gorier the better.  One photographer comments, “if you shake [our] paper it will drip blood.”

Depending on the day, the deathploitation rags are filled with full-page spreads of decapitated bodies still bleeding, burned bodies still smoking, disemboweled bodies, or bodiless heads, uncensored and in full color. While the magazine prints bizarre and horrific copy to explain and lend context to the images, Miguel Angel Rodriguez Vazquez, editor in chief of Alarma! explains the pictures are what attracts the most interest.

When Miguel is asked how he would describe Alarma!’s readers he says, “I think anyone can read Alarma! We had the idea that they were middle to lower class people, factory workers, not well educated…But I’ve talked to doctors, lawyers, journalists, and, in a way, we all feel attracted to death. Especially Mexicans. We have a friendly relationship with death. We laugh with death. We have a day for it on November 2 (Dia De Los Muertos). It’s like we are not afraid of her. We’d rather be friends and talk to her like buddies.”

I’m not sure if being friends with death and talking to her like buddies means taking pictures that look like these, but maybe Alarma! has some merits beyond the shock factor. Can you live life to the fullest if you’re afraid of dying? Does looking at the aftermaths of mortal shotgun accidents and successful suicide attempts make you less afraid? Does Alarma! help to desensitize its readers from fear of death? Is that good or bad? Is that fear what makes us respect life? Or do we live life more fully because we are less afraid?

I don’t know the answer to any of these, but I don’t think you can walk away from a documentary like this without coming away with these kinds of questions. And I think that’s what makes VBS’ Alarma! worth checking out.

In spite of the heavy and exploitative subject matter, I’m very much in favor of encouraging you to watch the whole series, if you have the stomach for it. It’s horrible, it’s violent, it’s disgusting, it’s exciting, and it’s somehow very human. Check it out at VBS.TV.

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