- Making Reality Sensible:The Mexican Documentary Theatre Tradition, 1968-2013
"Post-truth" has emerged as the description of the current political age, as though reality were an event with a before and after: the 2016 Oxford Dictionary's International Word of the Year was "post-truth," while the Society for the German Language selected "postfaktisch" as its 2016 Word of the Year.1 In the 2016 US political election, a campaign based on falsehoods and half-truths has succeeded, even though the reality of the popular vote, laws governing conflicts of interest, and plain facts would lead one to expect its downfall. This post-truth phenomenon is not limited to US politics; indeed, in Mexico, where the current president's campaign began years before it legally should have thanks to promotion by a powerful television conglomerate, including his highly publicized marriage to one of its soap-opera stars, the concept of truth is precarious. Mexico is among the world's most dangerous places to be a reporter: it ranked sixth on the Committee to Protect Journalists 2016 impunity index, with twenty-one journalists killed with complete impunity during the past decade.2 Freedom House ranks Mexico's press freedom status as "Not Free" and summarizes that "[j]ournalists and media outlets frequently face harassment, intimidation, and physical attacks, and self-censorship remains widespread in areas heavily affected by drug-related violence. The Federal Telecommunications and Broadcasting Act, known as the 'Ley Telecom,' signed by President Enrique Peña Nieto in July 2014, continued to draw criticism for threatening freedom of expression."3 The organization Article 19 reports 397 documented aggressions against the press in Mexico in 2015,4 and names [End Page 197] the state the "administrator of fear."5 As the press faces threats to its ability to freely and independently investigate and report on real events affecting the lives of citizens, the need for a forum in which experiences can be recorded and held up as examples is urgent. Mexican documentary theatre has positioned itself over the past half-century as just such a forum. In this essay I argue that Mexican documentary theatre, by presenting documentary and autobiographical evidence onstage, has emerged as an alternative source for reality in the face of unreliability and a lack of transparency from other sources traditionally associated with objective facts.
This informative role can be seen outside of Mexico as well, in the international tendency toward staging reality. What Yochai Benkler calls the "networked fourth estate," nontraditional media like Wikileaks have challenged the definition of the press, particularly with regard to the rights and protections enjoyed by the press.6 Benkler cites US court decisions regarding who or what should be regarded as the press, including Branzburg v. Hayes (1972) in which the United States Supreme Court noted that "[t]he informative function asserted by representatives of the organized press in the present cases is also performed by lecturers, political pollsters, novelists, academic researchers, and dramatists."7
It is this last category that interests me especially, as I believe that theatre in particular, in the Mexican case, has taken up the mantle of the responsibility of the press. As the press's independence and responsibility has waned worldwide and especially in Mexico, other discourses of truth, including the theatre, have expanded, positioning themselves as sources for the real story. Indeed, in the United States one of the first prominent public protests to the newly elected Trump administration took place on the stage of Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical Hamilton.8 While the administration responded with disdain, the symbolic value of this first protest had political repercussions outside the White House and can be linked to other public demonstrations and protests, thus demonstrating the inextricable and intense connection between the real and the theatrical. Borrowing from Jacques Rancière, I identify the contemporary stage's focus on the real as part of the aesthetic regime of the arts. For him, aesthetics is
the system of a priori forms determining what presents itself to sense experience. It is a delimitation of space and times, of the visible and the invisible, of speech and noise, that simultaneously determines the place...