by Fernando J. Contreras
The day my father purchased a satellite dish marked the end of Mexican TV. I didn’t have to depend anymore on the six government-controlled channels, where comedy was achieved by ridiculing blacks, gays, housewives, and the uneducated poor. Sports analysts delivered a lengthy tirade of clichés while flanked by curvaceous women in bikinis and high heels whose job was to smile, hold a soccer ball, and turn to show their backsides when prompted. Drama was dispensed through soap operas, all of them about a poor woman who fell in love with a rich man, and had to endure the bullying of the ruling upper class with Christ-like spiritual strength. This was the way church and government used television to indoctrinate rather than to enlighten while they kept the education budget to themselves.
American television gave me choices. I didn’t have to wait until Sunday to watch the Top Ten Video Hour because I could gorge on unlimited music videos on MTV and VH1. The highlight of my junior high school graduation happened before the ceremony started. I was changing into my tuxedo, in my room, and the World Premiere video of U2’s With or Without You came on. This was the beginning of the 24/7 programming cycle, which now seems slim compared to today’s options, but those were the days where Chris Berman sounded fresh and unpredictable, Michael Jordan and the Bulls were on, Bill Cosby joked about pudding, Bruce Willis romanced Cybill Shepherd, and Scott Baio had a job.
It didn’t matter that the satellite dish covered most of my backyard, and that to change channels I had to wait for it to swing at a snail’s pace. I didn’t care that all of this was illegal, nor that I had to wait three days for the repairman to install a new pirate card every time the US authorities scrambled the reception.
Fast forward past the 90’s, Y2K, and the Dubya presidency. Then, about ten years ago, it dawned on me that I was paying $70/month for 900 channels of crap. The news had moved away from covering events and exposing corruption to a partisan model where facts were spun to fit an ideology. Shows became vehicles for product placement. Even ESPN began to hype-up athletes in their shiny studios through speculation and overstatement — remember “The Decision” and that hour-long Sportscenter fully committed to the “legend” of Tim Tebow? The irony was that the more hours of programming we had, the shallower it all became. The 24/7 monster became a shower of headlines and contrived twists, and it left us no time for reflection.
To that add YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Xbox, iPhone apps, and so on. How is Hades United to survive in the midst of such a craze?
I just finished a short story called “All You Need To Know.” Prior to starting it, I set myself several rules: 1) Use characters that never meet, 2) Zero plot, 3) No real character development, 4) Everyone dies, 5) It should still be funny, entertaining, and insightful. These dares prompted me to avoid telling a conventional story, given that my goal is not only to produce excellent fiction, but to innovate new ways to tell stories — to create meaningful literature. It’s a lot of pressure, especially since very few people enjoy reading short stories.
Now that I’m done, I’m very proud of “All You Need to Know.” However, I have no idea what to do with it. More than the writing challenges I set for myself, the harder task is still to come. Publication is not the issue because even if I were to share it on Hades United, the problem becomes one of focus: How to attract the right audience, one that would recommend the story enough for it to gather the attention it deserves? This is the kind of story that is better than the ones published in the New Yorker, so I want it to count.
How do I get people to believe? That’s what I’ve been struggling to figure out.