Latin America’s New Label
Etiqueta Negra, Vol. 5, No. 38, July 2006, Lima In recent years, journalism has suffered from two vices: an obsession with the superficial and a growing frivolity. Latin America is no exception. The region’s newsstands are dominated by Spanish aristocracy-obsessed society magazines, such as the ubiquitous ¡Hola!, and American-style celebrity glossies. Latin American newsstands weren’t ...
Vol. 5, No. 38, July 2006, Lima
Vol. 5, No. 38, July 2006, Lima
In recent years, journalism has suffered from two vices: an obsession with the superficial and a growing frivolity. Latin America is no exception. The region’s newsstands are dominated by Spanish aristocracy-obsessed society magazines, such as the ubiquitous ¡Hola!, and American-style celebrity glossies.
Latin American newsstands weren’t historically overrun with fluff. During the 1930s, a great generation of Argentine writers, including Jorge Luis Borges, gave birth to the journal Sur. Mexican poet Octavio Paz recovered the tradition in order to found the literary magazines Plural and Vuelta, both seminal publications of the Spanish-speaking cultural world of the late 20th century. All of these magazines share the same vocation and structure; each of them wed creativity and serious reflection. They are magazines in the original sense of the word: genuine warehouses in which nearly all manifestations of thought comfortably reside.
Perhaps mindful of this tradition, Latin American journalism has long failed to give its readers a publication capable of mixing trivial topics with long-form, elegant, and reflective texts and smart nonfiction writing. Instead, the Latin American continent has been presented to the world through fantasy, with millions of readers coming to know the region thanks to the imagination of novelists like Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende. Recently, however, a segment of the region’s journalistic ranks has rebelled against the magical realist aesthetic. For these authors, a region with Latin America’s reality (the true one, not the imaginary one) is no longer open to fantastic interpretations. This editorial shift should come as no surprise; it’s perhaps only natural for a region with such a brutal 20th-century history to contemplate its reality rather than construct imaginary storylines.
Given this context, The New Yorker, with its emphasis on reflection and reporting, has become the natural editorial model to follow. No other magazine in Latin America has been able to emulate that publication’s elegance and dynamism as well as Peru’s Etiqueta Negra, which means "Black Label" in Spanish. (Indeed, New Yorker staff writers Jon Lee Anderson and Susan Orlean appear on Etiqueta Negra‘s masthead as consultants.) Under the tutelage of founder Julio Villanueva Chang, a 39-year-old Peruvian journalist who approaches magazine creation as an artistic craft, young Lima-born editor Daniel Titinger has built a glossy that has become a journalistic bastion of serious reflection with touches of whimsy. Its pages are home to the continent’s most established contemporary writers, such as Mexico’s Juan Villoro, renowned for his elegant prose, and Peruvian novelist Santiago Roncagliolo, recent winner of the Premio Alfaguara, the most prestigious Spanish-language literary prize. The magazine also opens its pages to the reportage of emerging young writers from around the globe who have fresh, unexpected points of view.
Unlike the vast majority of tradition-bound Latin American magazines, Etiqueta Negra has faith in the attention span and intelligence of its readers. The magazine’s stories reveal the editors’ commitment to good literary sense as well as a unique, unpretentious worldview. Until now, in a practice that’s reminiscent of Britain’s Granta, each issue of Etiqueta Negra has focused on a single theme. The magazine’s July 2006 issue on fear was a classic of the genre, and included an amusing debate on horror cinema, an article on vampirism, and a beautifully written essay on air travel phobia — all unrelated topics on the surface that effectively coalesced inside the pages of Etiqueta Negra. Although the magazine’s cover stories will continue to be somewhat thematic, Etiqueta Negra will soon broaden its scope to become, as Titinger puts it, "an even freer magazine that allows us to publish all those other stories we left out because of the previous structure."
When it comes to its art direction, however, Etiqueta Negra leaves all resemblance to The New Yorker behind. The magazine’s covers are sleek and mostly monochromatic. The glossy pages have a clean, airy design and are filled with clever illustrations and provocative photography. Perhaps due to their knowledge of the ferocious periodical market in Latin America — in which image tends to be, literally, everything — the editors have emphasized readability, paired with a playful spirit. Etiqueta Negra is a rara avis on the Latin American newsstand; one can easily imagine picking it out from the crowd because of its content and modern design. Etiqueta Negra is the perfect embodiment of Latin America’s bright future in journalism. It is also, in a certain sense, a good role model for other publications that are looking for a way to represent a regional identity while, at the same time, creatively defending a great literary tradition. It does not underestimate the reader, nor is it a slave to the market. It is a magazine that is not afraid of reflection, and yet does not take itself too seriously. That’s a considerable blessing for today’s Spanish-speaking newsstand.
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