Coronavirus's Effect On Social Media, And 'Selena: The Series' : It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders Coronavirus has transformed pop culture and placed its creation in the hands of anyone who has social media. Sam chats with E. Alex Jung, a writer at New York Magazine, about pop culture's shift this year to the internet. Then, Sam talks to Alex Zaragoza, senior staff writer for culture at Vice, about her beef with the new Netflix series Selena: The Series and the exploitation of Selena.

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The Internet Culture Of Quarantine, Plus Selena's Legacy

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The Internet Culture Of Quarantine, Plus Selena's Legacy

The Internet Culture Of Quarantine, Plus Selena's Legacy

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SAM SANDERS, HOST:

Hey, y'all. Sam here.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: So as 2020 comes to a close, I have been thinking a lot about all the things that helped me get through this crazy year - chocolate-covered almonds, shorts and pants with elastic waistbands, Netflix, countless pints of ice cream. But when I really think about it, one of the things that I absolutely could not have survived 2020 without is public radio. Every day this year, through the protests and the pandemic and the recession, I have listened to an NPR podcast or an NPR member station, or I have watched a Tiny Desk Concert. So I give to multiple NPR member stations because I want public radio to be around next year, as well. Listeners, I am asking you right now to give to the NPR member station of your choosing because I bet that you relied on public radio a lot in 2020, just like me. When you give to your NPR member station, that support flows through the entire public radio system to keep all of us, including this little old show, on the air.

So go right now to this link - donate.npr.org/sam, and we will get through the rest of this year and 2021 together. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: Hey, y'all. You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Sam Sanders.

So this week and next week, we are stepping back to take in this dumpster fire of a year in all of its dumpster fire glory and take stock of how the pandemic has affected everything, including the things that we created, consumed and enjoyed throughout 2020. And, y'all, it's more than just Netflix. Trust me.

You know, so many of us were stuck at home for much of this year, but that did not mean that the Culture - capital C - came to a complete standstill. If anything, a strange kind of Internet culture flourished in its own weird way, and it came to reflect the horror and the absurdity of this year.

E ALEX JUNG: I think it's this digital hellscape that we all sort of entered in 2020.

SANDERS: My first guest this episode, he calls the phenomenon quarantine culture, and he says quarantine culture might have started way back on March 11, when the whole country was just on the cusp of a nationwide shutdown. And where else would quarantine culture start but on "The View"?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORLD'S GONE CRAZY")

MARY J BLIGE: (Singing) Gone crazy...

JUNG: Whoopi Goldberg, you know, she's at her usual seat at the head of the table at "The View," and she says, welcome to "The View," y'all.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE VIEW")

WHOOPI GOLDBERG: Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to "The View," y'all. Welcome to "The View"...

JUNG: And then she just keeps saying, welcome to "The View," welcome to "The View," welcome to "The View," welcome to "The View," like, over and over again.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE VIEW")

GOLDBERG: Welcome to "The View" - "View," "View," "View."

JUNG: And the camera just pans around to empty chairs in the studio audience.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: No one was there.

JUNG: No one was there.

SANDERS: Nobody was there.

JUNG: Not a single soul.

SANDERS: That is E. Alex Jung. He's a writer at New York Magazine. He recently wrote a story all about quarantine, or quar, culture.

JUNG: You know, I think a lot of the seeds of quar culture were planted way before quarantine, which is, I think, the same thing that you could say about the pandemic or the current state of our political institutions, too. And so I think all that quarantine did was it sort of compressed and heightened that feeling and that kind of culture of how we were experiencing the Internet and how the Internet was creating this kind of collectivist, for lack of a better word, art-making.

SANDERS: What are the other, I guess, components or characteristics of Alex's quar culture?

JUNG: It's partially this feeling of everything feeling kind of broken, including yourself...

SANDERS: (Laughter) OK.

JUNG: ...Right? Like, your brain is a little broken. Everyone else's brain is a little broken. It's maybe a little grief-stricken, too, right? So I think there's a kind of coping mechanism aspect to all of it, but it's, like, this sense that everything is absurd, that nothing makes sense, that the adults have left the room, the house is on fire and no one is reacting, apparently.

And so we're all just, like, watching this catastrophe happen and unfold in real time, and we're sort of trying to process it, right? And I think the way that we process it is through this - like, I think the language of the Internet has always skewed towards comedy, surrealism, absurdism. And so all of those things have just been really amped up in quarantine.

SANDERS: OK. Give me the top three examples of Internet quarantine culture in 2020.

JUNG: Oh, wow.

SANDERS: I mean, I'm not going to tell you what to say as your top three, but I kind of want you to just unpack the whole Raven-Symone crying while eating peanut butter jelly thing 'cause that is, like, peak quar culture (laughter).

JUNG: OK. So Raven was in "The Cheetah Girls"...

SANDERS: And also in "That's So Raven" on Disney.

JUNG: Yes. She's a child star, and she and one of her co-stars from "The Cheetah Girls," Kiely Williams, they're sort of, like, supposed to be addressing this, like, long-standing beef that they have, right?

SANDERS: Through an Instagram Live.

JUNG: Yeah, on her Instagram Live.

(SOUNDBITE OF INSTAGRAM LIVE VIDEO)

RAVEN-SYMONE: OK, Kiely.

KIELY WILLIAMS: What?

RAVEN-SYMONE: (Laughter).

WILLIAMS: What?

JUNG: The conversation ends. It seems fine, right? Whatever. The camera is just continuing to record Raven, and she's eating a sandwich. She kind of, like, rolls it up, and then she just starts laughing to herself. Like, it's like this...

SANDERS: While eating the sandwich...

JUNG: Right (laughter).

SANDERS: ...Looking at I don't know what.

JUNG: (Laughter) And it's kind of, like, a little maniacal, a little, like, you know, a touch of evil, perhaps.

(SOUNDBITE OF INSTAGRAM LIVE VIDEO)

RAVEN-SYMONE: (Laughter).

SANDERS: So then this tail end of an Instagram Live of a former child Disney star takes off on the Internet and becomes its own meme. So people...

JUNG: Right.

SANDERS: ...Take this footage of Raven-Symone, child star, laughing on Instagram while eating peanut butter and jelly and began to use it in all kinds of funny, weird ways online. And ultimately, someone sets it to music.

JUNG: Yes. So, you know, a very famous clip of classical music, Mozart's unfinished Requiem In D Minor. And so, like, that little - whatever - 20-second clip of her laughing to herself gets shortened by another user. The backing track is added of Mozart. And then it just, like, takes this really perfect Platonic quality to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOZART'S REQUIEM IN D MINOR, K 626: LACRIMOSA DIES ILLA)

SLOVAK PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA: (Singing in Latin).

RAVEN-SYMONE: (Laughter).

JUNG: Whatever that feeling is, is, like, perfectly captured in that little moment, right? So everything kind of gets dissected and broken up and changed and manipulated and turned into a text that you can use, which I think is really fascinating about memes.

SANDERS: So then when you write about quarantine culture and the ascendance of memes like that, you point out that it's also kind of a business story. You know, the Raven-Symone laughing meme set to classical music did not come from Netflix, did not come from any major studio. It came from the Internet. And 2020 and quarantine culture, in many ways, prove that the old gatekeepers of entertainment are losing control of the culture.

You know, you point out these examples of, I guess, old-school entertainment culture feeling really dated this year - you know, that video of Tom Cruise going by himself to see "Tenet" in a theater this summer. It's, like, ugh - that doesn't work now. Or, like, even these big networks trying to release television seasons all about COVID - most of them fell flat. The fact that, like, TikTok won when Quibi did not is a story of quarantine culture, also just really the story of the old establishment becoming less relevant when it comes to entertainment.

JUNG: Right, right. And I think that something that was really funny is that, you know, Tom Cruise doing that promotional video of, like, go watch "Tenet" and, like, him, like grinning his Tom Cruise grin and being, like, I love the movies, or back to the movies.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOM CRUISE: Back to the movies.

(APPLAUSE)

JUNG: Like, that part does feel quarantine culture because it's, like, out of touch and weird...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

JUNG: ...And funny, right? Like, you watch that and you're - like, you're thinking, what are you doing?

SANDERS: Yeah.

JUNG: That's the core brain, core culture aspect of it, is that, you know, like, these extremely famous, powerful people are incredibly out of touch. Right now, they sort of don't get to dictate the terms of their portrayal in some ways.

SANDERS: Yeah. So then if we're seeing this year, especially in pandemic, where there are these ascendant social platforms - TikTok, Twitch, YouTube, Instagram - that are creating the culture that feels the most of-this-year, does that mean that we're entering a reality even post-pandemic that's a little bit more egalitarian, that's a little bit less controlled by the traditional Hollywood players? Or do we all revert to form once a vaccine hits?

JUNG: That's a great question. I do not know.

(LAUGHTER)

JUNG: I don't know. I do feel like this has permanently changed us. I'm not really sure, like, what that means. I know that what we're doing is creating free content for tech companies, though.

SANDERS: Yeah. This is what I can't make sense of when I am thinking about quar culture, as you define it. Like, on its face, it's a little weird. It's a little sad. It's a lot absurd. And it seems to just creep out of the concrete of the Internet and just appears out of nowhere, which seems cool, you know?

But also, like you said, like, these places that seem egalitarian, where anyone can make a TikTok or anyone can go on Twitch and play right next to AOC or anyone can make a YouTube video or Instagram, it's still all feeding these large corporations controlled by very powerful rich men. And all those things work on algorithms. Like, it's still controlled by a computer. Is - should I be sad about that or just say, that's show biz, baby?

(LAUGHTER)

JUNG: Yeah. No, I think you can do both.

SANDERS: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

JUNG: And I think that that sadness mixed with cynicism and disillusionment is part of that attitude. Like, you know, when people were so surprised about, like, K-pop's fans...

SANDERS: Yeah.

JUNG: ...Disrupting the...

SANDERS: White supremacy.

JUNG: ...Dallas PD snitch cam - yeah, exactly. Like, they were so surprised that, like, this group would be politically active and mobilized to sort of mess up, you know, Trump's Tulsa rally or whatever. But it's, like, have you ever been to a K-pop concert?

SANDERS: (Laughter).

JUNG: You know, like, they're mostly women. They're mostly women of color. They're queer people. They're young. They're incredibly online. And they are more likely to have kind of, like, leftist views. So, of course, they're going to do all of this. Like, I think that is something, that kind of political activism that happens online, that will only continue after we get out of or if we get out of quarantine.

SANDERS: Yeah. You know, what I loved most about your essay was that you compared this cultural moment, this moment of quarantine culture where absurdist art is flourishing everywhere - you compare it to the aftermath of World War I. Explain that for our listeners.

JUNG: Yeah. Well, I was trying to, you know, grapple with this idea of absurdist art. And, of course, the one that leapt to mind most specifically was dada. Like, dada emerged among expats in Zurich, and they were fed up. They were like, the bourgeoisie and the establishment are so messed up. They've gotten us into this world war. There's also, you know, the 1918 pandemic that comes via U.S. soldiers to World War I. So there's literally a war happening on the continent, an outbreak of a flu that's killing people, and these artists are like, what the eff is going on, right? And so they wanted to create an artistic movement that would reflect that absurdism. And I think that that's - that, to me, is very much what quarantine culture is, right? It's this reaction to the deterioration of our social institutions and kind of throwing up a middle finger to them and laughing at them.

SANDERS: You know what I find interesting, though, when we compare this moment of absurd, almost dadaist art to the dada era, you know, about a hundred years ago? With dada back then, you could point out the artists that spearheaded it. Oh, that one, that one. You could name them. With this era of absurd quarantine culture and art that seems to come out of every corner of the Internet, it's harder to give credit where it's due. Like, who first made the meme? Do we - you know, the woman who is the star of the "You About To Lose Yo' Job" song.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JOHNNIQUA CHARLES: (Singing) You about to lose your job. Get this dance...

SANDERS: No one knows her name. Is there a problem, when a quarantine culture is created throughout all of the Internet, in giving credit?

JUNG: That is a great question. I mean, the interesting thing is that I think that this is a more dadaist moment in the sense that it is more egalitarian, right? Like, in the sense that dada - the dadaists always wanted everyone to be a dadaist. There was this kind of, like, real populist mentality was that, like, dada was a sensibility that anybody could do. And that is kind of, like, an organic - like, the Internet has allowed for an organic manifestation of dada.

The bad part of that is that it becomes kind of authorless in that sense. And it's more this, like, mass of everybody participating, changing, shifting. You know, a meme isn't just a moment. It's everyone iterating on that thing over and over and over and over and over again - right? - until it's, like, even more absurd than it was when it first started.

SANDERS: Yeah. What's been your personal favorite moment of quarantine culture this year...

JUNG: Huh.

SANDERS: ...Personal pick?

JUNG: I mean, to me, it's, like, if I'm trying to specifically pick one thing, like, the - (laughter) like, there are things that just make me laugh really, really hard. And one of those is the Quibi show starring Rachel Brosnahan.

SANDERS: Oh, that's a classic.

JUNG: And she has a golden arm, and she's dying of gold poisoning.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GOLDEN ARM")

RACHEL BROSNAHAN: (As character) I can't take off my golden arm ever.

SANDERS: And yet she keeps the arm on (laughter).

JUNG: Yeah. Yeah. And her dying wish is that she's buried with her golden arm (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GOLDEN ARM")

BROSNAHAN: (As character) When I die, bury me with my golden arm.

SANDERS: But then, because quarantine culture, the better show to come out of this whole thing is the show where a guy hate-watches the Rachel Brosnahan-with-a-golden-arm show.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRAVIS FIMMEL: (As character) I will bury you with your golden arm.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Laughter).

SANDERS: And it's so meta.

JUNG: I don't think he was hate-watching it. I think he was really enjoying it.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

JUNG: Because I watched it - and I was like, this is amazing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: Coming up, we play my favorite game, Who Said That, with E. Alex Jung.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm your host, Sam Sanders, joined this weekend by New York Magazine writer E. Alex Jung. Alex, are you ready to play a most low-stakes game?

JUNG: No.

SANDERS: (Laughter) You're the first person who's actually said no, they don't want to play.

JUNG: I'm ready to do it, but I am terrible at games (laughter).

SANDERS: This game is quite simple. It's called Who Said That.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF ATLANTA")

KANDI BURRUSS: Who had been saying that?

PORSHA WILLIAMS: Who said that?

KENYA MOORE: Who said that?

BURRUSS: Who said that?

SANDERS: I'm going to share three quotes from the week of news and pop culture.

JUNG: OK.

SANDERS: And you just guess who said it.

JUNG: OK.

SANDERS: And no matter what, you're going to win 'cause you're the only one playing.

(LAUGHTER)

JUNG: Great. I'm so glad that I have no competition.

SANDERS: None whatsoever. All right. Here's the first quote - "For many, we were there for a lot of your firsts - first baby, first day of school, first day of college, first job, first home. And while it is time to say goodbye to the catalog, we are excited to embark on our next journey that will be filled with new firsts." What big corporation announced this week that they're ending publication of their iconic catalog?

JUNG: I have no idea.

SANDERS: They've got great meatballs in the food court.

JUNG: BP.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)

JUNG: Oh, OK. OK, so it must be Ikea.

(SOUNDBITE OF VICTORY TUNE)

SANDERS: It is Ikea. Yes. That quote comes from Konrad Gruess. He is a managing director of Inter Ikea Systems, a parent company of Ikea. And he was breaking the news this week that Ikea is discontinuing the Ikea catalog. This is what's so weird. When I saw this news, I realized I don't think I've ever held an IKEA catalog in my hand. But I was sad seeing this headline.

JUNG: (Laughter).

SANDERS: Why do I feel that way?

JUNG: Like, nostalgia as the emotional lure of capitalism. That's what I'm...

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: I'm loving your optimism this episode.

(LAUGHTER)

JUNG: But I'm laughing about it, so it's fine.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: So you got a point. Here's the next quote. "We have had a clear priority, and this is to introduce sports, which are particularly popular among the younger generations, and also to take into account the urbanization of sport."

JUNG: Is it, like, EA E-sports?

(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)

SANDERS: The most prestigious athletic competition in the world.

JUNG: FIFA?

(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)

SANDERS: They light a torch when they...

JUNG: Oh, the Olympics (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF VICTORY TUNE)

SANDERS: Yes (laughter), the Olympics. So that quote comes from Thomas Bach. He is the International Olympic Committee president. He was announcing that break dancing, or, as they call it, breaking, is going to be included in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. How do you feel about that?

JUNG: I feel like Olympics are really about, like, someone doing something incredibly physical that I absolutely could not do. And break dancing 100% fulfills that, so (laughter)...

SANDERS: All I know is I won't be satisfied until there is an Olympic sport category for the dudes on the New York subway who yell out, what time is it? It's Showtime.

JUNG: Showtime (laughter). You know what? Maybe that'll happen in, like, 2040.

SANDERS: I mean, let's be real. Those are true athletes.

JUNG: Yeah.

SANDERS: All right. You got 2 points. Here's the last quote. "I have to always stay ready. Street ready, I always say. I have to keep my makeup on and keep my hair done. Like, when I'm in LA - I've told you about it - if it's going to earthquake, if we get an earthquake, I'm not running out in the street looking like you look now."

Who said that?

JUNG: I have no idea.

SANDERS: All right. This quote comes from a celebrity who is beloved on both sides of the political aisle.

JUNG: Oh, Dolly Parton.

(SOUNDBITE OF VICTORY TUNE)

SANDERS: Dolly Parton. She was talking to RuPaul in an interview for Marie Claire magazine. So what I think happened, Alex, is that during this Zoom interview, Dolly Parton kind of shaded RuPaul, I guess, for not being in full makeup.

JUNG: (Laughter).

SANDERS: I wonder, like, how long will Dolly Parton be on top of the world?

JUNG: Like, I think she doesn't give you enough, right? You just sort of get just enough to kind of, like, love the image. And I think that that is, like, what is so brilliant about her.

SANDERS: She's everywhere, but we never hear anything about her that she doesn't want us to hear.

JUNG: Right, exactly.

SANDERS: OK, last question for you.

JUNG: Yeah.

SANDERS: What is the first piece of real-life culture you're going to enjoy once a vaccine hits and we're allowed to go back to movies or concerts again?

JUNG: I want to go to a dance party. And I want there to be, like, drag performers. That is a thing that I really would love to do.

SANDERS: Yeah. I want to go to a block party where they just play the latest Dua Lipa album on loop the whole night...

JUNG: (Laughter)

SANDERS: ...Because we should have been dancing to that thing in the streets all year, but coronavirus ruined that.

JUNG: Yeah. Instead, we were in our rooms.

SANDERS: Yeah, dancing alone to Dua Lipa - now, that's quar culture.

JUNG: (Laughter) Yeah, it is.

SANDERS: Well, Alex, you won the game.

JUNG: I feel like I didn't, but I really appreciate...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

JUNG: ...Your helping me through all of those questions.

SANDERS: Listen. Everyone's a winner on IT'S BEEN A MINUTE. Well, Alex, thank you so much for playing the game and for helping explain the weirdness of 2020 - at least, how it played out online. I appreciate you.

JUNG: No, I appreciate you. Thank you so much.

SANDERS: Listeners, coming up, my next guest offers a takedown of a new Netflix series all about Selena.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

ANDREA GUTIERREZ, BYLINE: Hey, there. I'm Andrea Gutierrez. I'm a producer on IT'S BEEN A MINUTE. And before we get back to the show, just a quick reminder - if you love what you're listening to, if you appreciate how NPR has kept you informed in this bonkers year, please support the show and NPR by giving to your local station. To give, go to donate.npr.org/sam. That's donate.npr.org/sam. All right, back to the show.

SANDERS: About a year ago, a teaser trailer came out for an upcoming Netflix show. And it got people really excited, including myself. That show finally dropped on Netflix last week.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SELENA: THE SERIES")

CHRISTIAN SERRATOS: (As Selena Quintanilla) When I think about being onstage and you on the bass and Suzette on the drums, nothing else matters.

SANDERS: This show is called "Selena: The Series." It is all about the life of singer Selena Quintanilla-Perez before her murder in 1995 when she was only 23 - right at the height of her fame. And a lot of people got to know Selena when Jennifer Lopez played her in a movie in 1997.

So this new Selena show, not everyone is happy about it.

ALEX ZARAGOZA: Do we really need another [expletive] Selena thing? Like, our...

SANDERS: That is Alex Zaragoza. She's a senior staff writer covering culture for Vice, and she wrote about that new series. Alex says she's a fan of Selena, but she is still critical of the show because Selena's image in that show - and in a bunch of other places - it is exploited.

ZARAGOZA: Same goes with, like, Frida Kahlo - we have our icons that they use over and over and over again.

SANDERS: Yeah.

ZARAGOZA: It's sacrilegious to, in any way...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

ZARAGOZA: ...Criticize anything directed even in the general area that is Selena - right? - because it's...

SANDERS: Alex knew she might get some flak for her opinion, but she was ready for it. And she says her beef isn't just with this one Selena series on Netflix. It's bigger than that.

ZARAGOZA: Here's my laundry list of issues (laughter). It starts from small things just, like - I mean, the wigs are tragic.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

ZARAGOZA: I think I made a joke, like, they looked like they fell off Sheila E.'s tour bus and got run over.

SANDERS: Ooh.

ZARAGOZA: They're just bad. Those are bad wigs.

SANDERS: I love a good Sheila E. reference, my goodness.

ZARAGOZA: You know what?

SANDERS: (Laughter).

ZARAGOZA: I was born in the '80s. I knew Sheila E. So I listened to...

SANDERS: Yeah. Yes. All right, so bad costuming, bad wigs.

ZARAGOZA: It had, like, an overall very Lifetime movie feel. So you're watching it, and you're, like, there's no real tension here. They portray Selena as this very meek, very small girl. Like...

SANDERS: But she wasn't.

ZARAGOZA: You know, listen. You watch any clip of Selena onstage, and that woman is a powerhouse. This is a woman...

SANDERS: Yes.

ZARAGOZA: ...Who's got curves, who's onstage and commands the audience.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SELENA: (Singing in Spanish).

ZARAGOZA: She knows how to work the room from, you know, being, you know, the sweet girl next door and very charismatic to, like, a total diva to, like, letting you know what's up. Like, she was...

SANDERS: Yeah.

ZARAGOZA: ...Incredible in every single way. And when you think about her at that - at the age she commanded this level of confidence. She - I mean, she died before she reached 24.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SELENA: (Singing in Spanish).

ZARAGOZA: That just doesn't come across on this series. Like...

SANDERS: Yeah.

ZARAGOZA: ...First you cast somebody - this is, you know, no disrespect to Christian Serratos who plays her, but, you know, she's a much smaller person.

SANDERS: Well, this is what you wrote that I found really interesting, that the casting of Selena for this show and casting of her before has kind of almost Anglicized her, taken away some of her curves, taken away her darker skin even.

ZARAGOZA: Right. And the quote that I attributed there is to, like, Mala Munoz 'cause she really brought this to light, too, when she was - and this was just based on the trailer. But yeah, like, the sort of, you know, slimming down of her features, making her more Eurocentric has been happening. I mean, it started sort of with Jennifer Lopez, you know, who's a little lighter-skinned, a little easier on the - and of course, this is Hollywood. Hollywood always wants to do, like, the hotter version of whoever. Right? I'm sure...

SANDERS: Or just, like, the lightest possible version of any person of color.

ZARAGOZA: The lightest skin, yeah. They are - they will run your skin through the wash and extra bleach it if they have to, right?

SANDERS: (Laughter).

ZARAGOZA: Like - and they feel like they need to for some reason if - and so you get to the point where I said, like, often in watching Christian, it felt like I was watching the Jennifer Lopez-playing-Selena story, you know?

SANDERS: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

ZARAGOZA: We want to see her features who's - you know, this is a mestiza woman of - you know, she's of Mexican Indigenous descent. You know, we want to see her - we want to see that celebrated.

SANDERS: Get some color up in there.

ZARAGOZA: Get some melanin in there, you know?

SANDERS: Yes. You go on in your essay to say this isn't just about one show, that when it comes to the ways Latinos are portrayed in TV and movies, these same types of stories are allowed to be told. What are the same types of stories?

ZARAGOZA: I mean, this is sort of old tread territory - right? - in terms of Latinx representation on screen. We are typically, you know, tragic figures. You know, it's like the tragic immigration story or immigrant story. We are criminals. We're gangbangers. We're cartel drug lords, whatever. We're housekeepers. We're always in service positions. Or we're these, like, sexy Latin lover types. You know, you think of, like, Sofia Vergara. Like, they also love to do a lot of, like, the tacky telenovela thing 'cause it's, like, funny, and it's tongue in cheek. We see a lot of that.

SANDERS: Oh, it's loud and dramatic. They slap each other in the face. Oh, my God.

ZARAGOZA: We out here. We're rolling our tongues. We're throwing chanclas.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

ZARAGOZA: We're slapping our husbands, as we do. We're just mad all the time. I mean, if you watch any reality TV show, like, any time the, like, Latinx woman or man comes on screen, without fail, Spanish guitars. Oh, sexy Spanish guitars.

SANDERS: Let me tell you something. Listen. Alex, sometimes when NPR will do a story about Latino issues, they'll hit that same kind of music. And I'm like, y'all, we can't do that.

ZARAGOZA: Right.

SANDERS: We can't do it.

ZARAGOZA: And, you know, we notice that. We notice that.

SANDERS: Oh, yeah.

ZARAGOZA: It's just like, come on, man.

SANDERS: It's like, come on, y'all. It's 2020. You know, speaking of it being 2020, it is 2020, a year of racial reckoning. We've been having these conversations about representation for years now. And yet, these stereotypes about Latinos in media still exist. And one of the problems is, like, there's still this industry, the Hollywood ecosystem, it's controlled by mostly white TV and movie executives. And so even if you want to make Latino content, you have to make it palatable to them first.

ZARAGOZA: Right.

SANDERS: You know? And so besides totally getting rid of the current leadership and getting some new folks in there, which these studios haven't done yet, how do you overcome that problem, the fact that there's just white gatekeepers for brown content still?

ZARAGOZA: You know, if I knew, I'd be the head of Paramount Pictures right now, Sam, maybe. I'd be like, please speak to my assistants. I do not have time for NPR today.

SANDERS: (Laughter) Yes.

ZARAGOZA: I joke. I joke. But, you know, I think there is - it's a top-down thing because it's not just hiring more Latinos and hiring more Latinos of different backgrounds because, as you and I very much know, hiring more people doesn't necessarily change the structure.

SANDERS: There you go. Yeah.

ZARAGOZA: And your skinfolk ain't always your kinfolk, as we also know.

SANDERS: Oop. Say it again.

ZARAGOZA: Whoo. I'm just saying. You know, this requires, also, you know, Latinx people that are in Hollywood to address their own biases, to address their own blind spots, to address how they may be perpetuating these stereotypes by just being thirsty and wanting to get things sold.

SANDERS: You know, elsewhere in the show, I talked with another Alex about how the pandemic is totally changing entertainment this year and, like, the old gatekeepers of Hollywood just have less power as the Internet and TikTok and the youths and the memes are winning. And when I think about the reception of this "Selena" series on Netflix, that kind of maybe proves the point. Like, maybe these big power players aren't going to be leading the charge of the new content that actually appeals to these communities.

ZARAGOZA: Right. But, you know, to that - I absolutely agree. But to that, I also counter that they don't care. They want - it's about money. It's like, they don't care 'cause at the end of this - so this "Selena: The Series" is a monster hit. It's in the top 10...

SANDERS: Really.

ZARAGOZA: ...On Netflix. It's been a huge hit.

SANDERS: Oh, wow.

ZARAGOZA: There are people that love it. And fair play - if you love it, go ahead. That doesn't mean it doesn't deserve to have, you know, very fair critiques lobbed at it. Like, love it if you love it; hate it if you hate it. But at the end of it, like, the studios care for a hit. They don't necessarily care for something that is doing a service to the people.

SANDERS: Yeah. So then on an up note, what's your favorite Selena song?

ZARAGOZA: OK, it really depends on my mood. If I'm...

SANDERS: OK.

ZARAGOZA: ...You know, if somebody got me real pissed off, "Si Una Vez" is going to be the song that I bump 'cause I'm, like, talking straight to that person.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

ZARAGOZA: But when I'm in my feelings and I just want to, like, sing it out, "No Me Queda Mas" every time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO ME QUEDA MAS")

SELENA: (Singing in Spanish).

SANDERS: Thanks again to Alex Zaragoza. She is a senior staff writer covering culture for Vice. That new series all about Selena, it is on Netflix right now. It's called "Selena: The Series." Watch it for yourself, and see what you think.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO ME QUEDA MAS")

SELENA: (Singing in Spanish).

AUNT BETTY: Now it's time to end the show as we always do. Every week, listeners share the best thing that happened to them all week. We encourage folks to brag, and they do. Let's hear a few of those submissions.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

AKIRA: Hey, Sam. This is Akira (ph) from San Antonio, Texas. And the best thing that happened to me this week is that I passed my final certification exam, which now qualifies me to be an ESL-certified elementary school teacher for the great state of Texas.

KIM: Hey, Sam. This is Kim (ph) from Bellevue, Wash. The best thing that happened to me was on my 50th birthday. I largely boycotted celebrating until I can do so properly, but my mom, who lives about a half an hour away, stopped by to wish me a happy birthday. We talked outside, masked and distanced, for about 30 minutes. When she went to leave, she said, I want to give you a hug. We decided that if we looked away from each other and kept our masks on, a hug was reasonably low risk. Best birthday present ever.

BRUCE: Hi, Sam. The best part of my week is that I've been cancer-free for a year, and I was able to go give blood again.

AMBER: Hi, Sam. This is Amber from Seattle, Wash. And the best thing that happened to me this week was getting the results of my latest PET scan, which showed no evidence of metabolically active cancer and no new metastases, which, when you're stage 4, is the best news you can ever, ever hope for. And I'm so grateful to all my doctors, just medicine, everything. And I am never going to take my health for granted again. So thank you for listening to me, and thank you for all that you do. Have a great day. Bye.

AKIRA: Anyway, thanks for the show, and thank you for doing what you do.

KIM: Thanks for your show, and thanks for letting us share. Have a great day.

SANDERS: Oh, that was a great one this week. Two stories of cancer-free listeners - we love to hear it. Thanks to all those listeners you heard right there - Amber, Bruce, Kim and Akira. Listeners, don't forget you can be a part of this segment every week. Just record yourself sharing the best part of your week, and send that voice file to me at samsanders@npr.org - samsanders@npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: All right. This week, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE was produced by Jinae West, Anjuli Sastry and Andrea Gutierrez. Our intern is Star McCown, and I want to pause right now to say, Star, thanks for everything. This is Star's last week with IT'S BEEN A MINUTE, and we are very sad to see her go. Star is many things - good at all things journalism, pretty funny, great with the memes, a good illustrator and just nice to be around. We're excited to see what Star does next. We'll be watching and listening. All the best, Star. Our fearless editor is Jordana Hochman. Our director of programming is Steve Nelson. And our big boss is NPR's senior VP of programming, Anya Grundmann. Listeners, till next time, stay safe. Be good to yourselves. I'm Sam Sanders. We'll talk soon.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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