no such thing as bad publicity

Los Pollos Hermanos

File under sad, but true: a fast-food burrito chain where a fictional drug trafficker runs his organization has become one of Albuquerque, New Mexico’s more improbable tourist attractions. As “Breaking Bad” finishes filming its final season in the city, the popular show has brought about a major boost to the local economy – yet it’s also creating a dilemma for tourism officials having to consider the ultimate cost of exploiting their city’s ties to a show that centers around drug trafficking, addiction and violence. (The show follows the fictional character of Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher turned meth lord.) While other popular television shows such as “Sex and the City” and “Seinfeld” have spawned a veritable cottage industry of location-based tours, “Breaking Bad” has provoked a pattern of drug-themed products springing up around town. The Candy Lady store recently capitalized on the show’s popularity by selling blue “Breaking Bad” meth treats – sugar rock candy that looks like the meth sold on the show. And the Great Face & Body shop developed a new line of blue bath salts called Bathing Bad. (For the record they are not the street drug known as bath salts.) Meanwhile, Masks y Mas Mexican folk art store near the University of New Mexico sells papier-mache statues of La Santa Muerte — Mexico’s Death Saint who counts drug traffickers among her devotees. (During the chilling opening of the show’s third season, a pair of cartel assassins is shown crawling to the saint’s shrine in Mexico to request some divine help.) Tourists are also flocking to sites that before the show were unknown and unimportant: the suburban home of White, played by Bryan Cranston; a car wash that’s a front for a money-laundering operation on the series; a rundown motel used frequently for filming; and the real-life burrito joint, Los Pollos Hermanos, which is a fast food chicken restaurant on the show. “It’s raised the visibility of the city,” said Tania Armenta, a vice president for the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau, which created a website of the show’s most popular places around town to help tourists navigate. But whether it’s a perception tourists might come to equate with, say Ciudad Juarez, remains to be seen. Until then there’s apparently no such thing as bad publicity.


a very visible visitor

The phrase “mixed feelings” doesn’t do justice to my long-held antipathy toward the island of Jamaica. Ever since dancehall artist Buju Banton had a late-80’s hit with the song Boom Bye Bye, which not only incited but also openly celebrated the murder of homosexuals, the country has been at the top of my shortlist of places to avoid. Jamaican criminal code prohibits sex between men (but not women, natch) and neither of the island’s political parties shows any support for gay rights. Moreover, according to both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, the country remains one of the most homophobic places on earth. What has long irked me, however, is the tourism industry’s perspicacity in the selling of Jamaica as a carefree, inclusive society – a marked contrast to the reported high incidence of anti-gay violence and a widespread social conservatism fueled by religious zealotry and the economic fallout from globalization. Yet as I mature – somewhat glacially, I’ll admit – I see in the last half of that sentence the unintentionally ironic parallels to our own social failings and am reminded of reading an interview with UK activist Peter Tachell, who claims that homophobia is a 19th-century concept brought by British colonizers and Christian missionaries and not an authentic expression of Jamaican culture. Perhaps if I stop my finger pointing long enough I’ll find out for myself. Which is why, dear readers, I am currently on a plane to a place I never thought I’d go. And feeling so very – visibly – gay.


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