Gossip Girl Acapulco Sounds Terrible, But It Has Promise

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 5 2013 12:40 PM

The Promise and Peril of Gossip Girl Acapulco

gossip_acapulco
Will Pedro Torres turn Gossip Girl Acapulco into biting social commentary?

Univision

Tonight sees the premiere of Gossip Girl’s Mexican spin-off, Gossip Girl Acapulco. As fans of the show may know, this is not the first international adaptation of the series. And if you haven’t been to Acapulco lately, transplanting an American series about well-to-do teens on the Upper East Side to a spot once famous for attracting Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, John and Jackie Kennedy—and even, more recently, Bill and Hillary Clinton—may not seem odd.

But people who actually live in the area or know Mexico well are well aware that such past glamour has long since faded. In the late ’60s and ’70s, new buildings cropped up and the older ones lost their grandeur and glitz, and beaches like Cancun and Los Cabos rose to international prominence. Acapulco began to cater mostly to local visitors. In the last few years, especially, ever since Mexican authorities took down cartel leader Arturo Beltrán Leyva in Cuernavaca, drug wars have roiled the city. Beltrán Leyva reigned over Acapulco and its surroundings, and his death left a dangerous power void; in the months that followed his capture, violence escalated as different cartels vied for dominance of the port city.

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Today, on its website, the U.S. Department of State advises American travelers who visit Acapulco to “exercise caution and stay within tourist areas,” recommending that they avoid the older La Costera area of Sinatra’s time in lieu of the newly developed Zona Diamante in the southern part of the city. Even locals are careful—and many have simply stopped going to Acapulco at all. As the New York Observer’s Anna Silman said about Gossip Girl Acapulco, “Let’s hope this new round of Gossip Girl only sees Blair losing her virginity, and, not, on top of it, her head.”

A cheap shot, perhaps, but not entirely off-base. Indeed, the launch of Gossip Girl Acapulco is explicitly meant to counter the city’s violent image. Guerrero, the state that Acapulco is in, is footing part of the bill for the show. Though government sponsorships are not uncommon in Mexican television, Gossip Girl Acapulco is expected to reach more audiences than your average telenovela—and, in doing so, promote its titular home city. The trailer, which came out earlier this year, introduces a cast of actors that look strikingly similar to the American cast and a script that seems to be a word-by-word translation of the Gossip Girl pilot. Except, of course, that instead of emerging from a train in Central Station,  Sofía López-Haro—Serena van der Woodsen’s Mexican counterpart—drives up to her house in a convertible BMW, screen down, pouting under the glare of the hot tropical sun.

There is more to Mexico than the drug war. There is more to any country than what consistently makes international headlines. But the Guerrero government has made an odd investment here: Supplanting the violent image of Acapulco with one of excessive luxury only highlights the inequalities that taint Mexico’s socioeconomic landscape.

On the other hand, therein lies the show’s opportunity. Yes, Gossip Girl Acapulco could glamorize inequality—or it could offer biting social commentary. And Pedro Torres, who is producing the series, is certainly capable of such social commentary: His highly acclaimed show Mujeres Asesinas (Killer Women), an adaptation of an Argentine thriller, centered on a team of detectives who solved crimes committed by women. The show was groundbreaking in its nuanced examination of the emotional pressures that women face in Mexican society.

Gossip Girl Acapulco will have even more opportunities to comment on stifling social tensions, given its potential for widespread popularity. The show, which finished filming a few weeks ago, is expected to be a primetime success. Will Torres stick to the script, or will he wield the show’s popularity to make a point about Mexico’s elites? I, for one, will be tuning in to find out—if, that is, I find I can actually stomach a rewatch of Gossip Girl.

Mariana Zepeda is a Slate intern.