Barry Gifford
David Perry, Photographer

Barry Gifford, according to the poop piece that comes along with Bordertown, has gotten high raves from the likes of the New York Times Book Review ("existential gusto"), the Washington Post, ("the hot dark of the innards") --- and has been further praised by the likes of Armistead Maupin, Alan Cheuse (NPR) and Digby Diehl (Playboy). He has also garnered awards from PEN, the ALA, the Premio Brancati of Italy, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

But bless me, if what we have here is any example of his talents, we would urge Jesse Helms to get on it at once --- to thrash him on the floor of the Senate for pure artistic smarm, and take away any past, present, or future grants pending from the NEA. For Gifford is an opportunistic writer, with a passionate commitment to putrescence, and, despite some throw-away rants about American corporations, he sports a not-too-subtle distaste for Mexicans.

Theoretically, this is an unflinching description of The Border, that new mega-country --- neither pure Gringo nor pure Latino --- that extends from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific. But Bordertown is, in reality, an extended exegesis on sex, murder, sex, drug trafficking, sex, killings, sex, corrupt cops, sex, pimps, and a most noisome fascination with whoremongering:

    We were set upon by four prostitutes [in Tijuana], two of whom immediately pulled down their tops and showed us their tits...

    Country girls who charge ten dollars for a combination blow job and lay....

    All these putas are carefully made up, most overly so...

    In some doorways two or three of the younger girls, maybe from the same town, sit together, joking, coming on to the parade of shopping dicks, never forgetting why they are there...

If we didn't know better, we would suspect the author of being a male chauvinist pig, but his words about Mexican men suggests that his chauvinism bears no sexual restrictions whatsoever:

    In Coayacan it's a tradition to stick a turkey in a basket and dance beside it before sacrificing it. Afterwards, those in attendance smoke cigarettes and talk about the good old days, before fighting over who gets to drink the turkey's blood.

What is most galling about Bordertown is the pretense of A-R-T --- tics and twitches of design taken whole from Wired: slop-over type, crude drawings stuck atop pictures and words, print layout that makes the old Berkeley Barb look like an illuminated manuscript, and so many grainy photos that we suspect the in-house photographer of coming down with The Terminal Shakes.

The assumption is that our neighboring country to the south is a hot-house of blood, smegma, and vaginal juices coupled with lazy, indolent politicians, murderous drug-smugglers, and heartless thieves who run the whole show, while --- contrariwise --- hard-working, honest, and innocent gringos on this side work day and night to prevent this filth from slopping over the border. One page is devoted to the Border Patrol, and the representative of "La Migra" is shown friendly and smiling --- in fact, the only smile in the book: certainly a smile that few Mexicans will ever see. "Illegal immigrants" and "illegals" are the operative nouns here, despite the fact that those who have a modicum of sensitivity use the word indocumentados.

Ecology, anyone? Before Operation Gatekeeper, would-be workers came across (and drowned in) the Tijuana or Rio Grande Rivers --- but since we've forced them into the mountains, they're guilty of screwing up the ecology with their incessant (probably terrified) running through the canyons. They are, willy-nilly, says the author, destroying fragile plant life, and "grinding down the root systems." The death of plants is evidently more important than that of humans --- or at least is reported more accurately:

    In the last two years, the Border Patrol has logged more than twenty immigrants' deaths in the (San Diego) region...

Not so. Official numbers for the winter of 1997-1998 in San Diego County, as compiled by the County Coroner's office and the Mexican consulate, is a figure more than ten times greater than this.

If the blood message of Bordertown doesn't come clearly enough via the words, David Perry's lurid (and shaky) photographs will fill you in: blood-encrusted bodies, fat whores, seedy old men, butcher shops filled with fly-specked cow bodies, and not a few faces shot away. Our saintly mother once said, "if you can't say something nice about people, don't say anything at all." If she were around, bless her heart, she would wash out Gifford's mouth with strong lye (spelled "lie") soap. Until then, the Mexican government should immediately set about taking away his walking papers, not allow him within spitting distance of the country he finds so gross.

--- Lolita Lark

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