I want to share some thoughts on Colombia’s media culture, the heightened state of aggression it inspires as well as, an alarming superiority complex propped up by cocktail parties and self-laudatory marketing.
This is exactly what resounded with the sad events surrounding an alleged rape on the premises of the much visited and admired Andrés Carné de Res restaurant in Chía. There can never be justification for rape. So, mark my words carefully – this is not an opinion piece on rape, just an observation on media, and the mayhem generated over a mini skirt comment.
I know the venue well. I have been a client of this “all things Colombia” restaurant for decades. It saddened me that there could be a crime committed in such a joyful place, especially one in which every square inch is closely monitored by CCTV. And given the trajectory of late night rumba at Andrés, security staff are always most vigilant and prevalent. Try raising a fist in Chía and count the seconds it takes for a bouncer to turn up at your table. Andrés Jaramillo has been running his steak house for more than 3 decades, and has seen it all.
Andrés Jaramillo works tirelessly to provide a safe party environment for tens of thousands who walk into his two venues, seven days a week. In fact, I would go on and say, that each and every one of the journalists who are churning out Jaramillo’s unfortunate “mini skirt” phrase, have all celebrated birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, soccer matches at Jaramillo’s eclectic houses of fun. And they will return, asking at the door for their table namesake overlooking the dance floor, and sipping whiskey until the first light of dawn.
Jaramillo treats everyone like a friend of his “casa” and talks candidly with journalists about his life, how he started his roadside grill, and his passion for Colombian junk. He is not nurtured by crisis control groups, nor, until now, has faced a major Public Relations crisis. In fact, Jaramillo is so connected with his venues, that he is there almost every weekend, making sure his guests are having a good time, and he personally oversees details other restaurants would overlook – such as the way a napkin is placed, the tidiness of special bags for easily-lost items, and that the vallenato ensemble serenades you as an “Illustrious visitor.”
But the story here isn’t Jaramillo or his untimely – and unnecessary – “mini skirt” remark. I will not repeat his comments, as I would be following down the same vindictive track as the very uncultured, media culture, I am about to criticize. The story is about interpretation on a legal side, and misinformation by social media.
The victim claims she was sexually assaulted. We must take her word on this. Video evidence and verbal/written testimonies may challenge this. Only judges should judge the evidence, not media. A young man has been identified by the Andrés Carné de Rés’ security team as the person who committed the alleged assault, and his future in the hands of lawyers and prosecutors. Jaramillo has been working closely with the police since the tragic incident happened and came out to tell his understanding of the events. Too much ‘confianza’ with the media here, being his mistake.
Social media was malicious, examining every vowel of Jaramillo’s “mini skirt” comment, rather than asking the authorities to come forward to reveal evidence about what really happened that night in the parking lot. Then, the “untouchables” of print and airwaves, with their pulse on the nation’s moral code (even if that code is too impulsive and vindictive). Did they rack up more ratings by dragging the honest reputation of a man as well as, one of Colombia’s most respected business leaders, through the black ink?
Jaramillo isn’t implicated in the rape, rather has tried to help solve a difficult, second-by-second drama, which leaves too many questions still at odds. From the “City of the Moon” – Chía – he sent Wednesday, a written apology to “all men and women” regarding his erroneous choice of words. “It doesn’t reflect my philosophy of life,” states the restaurant owner. And regarding the mini skirt: “I am the son of a generation that made its mark and had the mini skirt as one of its leading icons. I love mini skirts, because beyond the aesthetics, they are an expression of freedom.” Good choice of words.
So what then with all the journalist wannabees, the socialite bloggers, who jumped on the “We want blood” bandwagon because of a desperate urge to be taken seriously in a media world where jobs are scarce, and require basic investigation and reporting skills? It seems bizarre that one can tweet beyond oblivion, asking to boycott a venue that gives hundreds of their fellow students steady work, without any responsibility. Such is the misuse of online media.
So much of what has been written over this incident seems written out of anger and spite. Jaramillo is not the story, and his words will hardly divert the course of an official investigation. And a yet-to-be proved rape in Andres Carne de Rés would hardly be a story if one takes a hard look at reality on the ground and the fact that in this country, every day, women and children are abused, and as is often the case – in the “safety” of their own homes.
These stories and testimonies are not covered by the “investigative” teams of radio stations and newspapers, nor commented upon by estrato six thirtysomethings who think that because they have their finger on twitter, they can push aside ethics.
Neither are the stories of the many boys and girls who have their legs blown-off by land mines covered with so much determination. The persons implicated in this criminal case come from well to do families. They enrolled in top Universities. One of them studied Law. They can afford to pay a hefty cover fee for a Halloween theme bash. They are also all too aware that a night out at Andrés Carné de Res costs more than the equivalent of the nation’s monthly minimum wage.
I get the impression from the virulent comments on social media that many who are clamoring for a boycott of Andrés are not motivated by some high moral force, but by social resentment. It’s very much like bullfighting. It rarely comes down to the animal. It’s about being disengaged. Feeling disempowered. An outcast. Mr.Jaramillo is undoubtedly a business maverick and because of his success, there will always be those who want him beaten.
Too often media preys on the downfall. On ignorance. On sensationalism. Many journalists are infatuated by their ratings, having their pictures in the society pages of the very magazines which are owned by their radio stations, which in turn, are owned by the television conglomerates.
Some journalists love to be wined and dined in restaurants courtesy of communication agencies and with PR reps who in turn, request a positive write up in the newspaper, or a 10 second sound “bite” – heard by millions in rush hour who struggle to earn their three meals a day. In many prestigious newspapers around the world, just receiving a Christmas gift from a “Free press” company will get you fired.
Colombia’s national and infectious trait is envy. This nation of otherwise happy and industrious peoples, suffers from a heavy anger when it comes to the success of others. “If you do well, you must be doing something wrong,” says one saying here. “If you are successful, you must be corrupt,” says another. To say the wrong thing is to set yourself up for ridicule. But to print the honest thing is to celebrate a victory over frivolous and mediocre media.