By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
One of the great disadvantages of the Internet, its critics say, is the ease with which people can spread misinformation. They fret that teenagers doing research will assign a white-supremacist tract the same value as, say, the Encyclopedia Britannica. They point to the recent PairGain hoax, in which an employee of the Tustin company allegedly posted a false news story that caused its stock to jump 31 percent, to illustrate the Web's dangers.
But on the other hand, while the Internet may make it easy to spread hoaxes, it also makes it easy to spread goodhoaxes.
Lalo Lopez Alcaraz and Esteban Zul have known this for years. The SoCal satirists (Alcaraz is also a cartoonist for the Weekly's LA sister publication) publish the 8-year-old zine Pocho Magazine, poking fun not only at a mainstream society that would turn all Latinos into the Frito Bandito, but also at themselves. And it specializes in parodies and media hoaxes designed to piss people off.
The zine is doing well—it's up to 20,000 circulation, both subscriptions and distributed around LA at record stores and the like. And they have a Web site—www.pocho.com—where they can irritate vast new groups of people.
Although Alcaraz and Zul are well-known in LA for all sorts of satirical stunts, ranging from making fun of Che Guevara to taking aim at the Taco Bell chihuahua, they're probably best known in Orange County as the mad scientists behind the Viva Bob Dornan site (members.tripod.com/~vivabob98/index.html). In his last-ditch attempt to win back his seat from Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who narrowly defeated him in a bitter 1996 race, Dornan took to sucking up to Latino voters in his district. He weakly attempted a few words of Spanish, claimed that he was the "true Latino" in the race, and in his most infamous stunt, sent out a campaign mailer featuring the Virgin of Guadalupe and graphic pictures of aborted fetuses inside. Given that Dornan had spent the past year and a half bashing Latinos and claiming that illegal immigrants stole the 1996 election, his Latino-nuzzling might have seemed ludicrous to anyone who didn't know Dornan.
But it got Alcaraz thinking. "I was inspired by Dornan's comments during his election campaign when he was saying he was the only true Latino in the race," he said. "That's what set me off: If Dornan had a Web site doing outreach to Latino voters, what would it look like?"
What it would look like is goddamn hysterical. The site, which went online last October, now features a front-page declaration of victory. "Praise the Virgin of Guadalupe and graphic abortion procedures, I have finally won an election fair and square over that cold tamale, Loretta Sanchez-Brixey!" "Bob" exults. "I'd like to thank all the illegal aliens who voted for me over and over again to elect me as the King of the Mexicans!"
The election may be long past, and Dornan may have taken his rightful place on the rubbish tip of history, but Alcaraz and Zul have preserved the site as a kind of monument to what you can achieve with the Internet if you're willing to offend absolutely everyone. On the site, Dornan explains how the Virgin of Guadalupe endorsed his campaign and lists his qualifications for representing his Latino constituency ("I have four children. Only four more little bambinosto approach the Mexican Family Values Pak size!"). There's even a picture of Dornan dressed in full Mexican-revolutionary garb.
"We got a lot of e-mails—some people got it and some people were angry because they thought it was real," Alcaraz said. "We always want to fool people and goad them into responding. That's what I like about the Internet —people write back and get real brave and talk all kinds of smack to you. The keepers are the really angry responses. Usually that's what we're going for, to get people pissed."
But the Dornan site, while brilliant, was not Alcaraz and Zul's first foray into the realm of faux politics. Back in 1994, then-Governor Pete Wilson decided to run for re-election on a divide-and-conquer strategy by scapegoating illegal immigrants—specifically, Latino illegal immigrants—for everything that had gone wrong in California. He made the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 the centerpiece of his campaign. His television ads showed hordes of illegal immigrants sweeping across the border in a none-too-subtle appeal to certain white folks panicking about the surging brown tide from the south. (See the Voice of Citizens Together Web site—americanpatrol.com—for a representative sample.)
So Alcaraz and Zul decided to found the Hispanics for Wilson movement in September 1994. (You can still see the original site archived on the Pocho site, at www.pocho.com/npi/hfw/hfw0.html.) Hispanics for Wilson urged the creation of "Self-Deportation Centers" to encourage all Hispanics to voluntarily deport themselves if Wilson won and promised to retrain white workers to fill their jobs in the "agricultural, restaurant and hotel maintenance arts." They also pledged to recruit Latinos dressed in peasant costumes and huge sombreros to campaign for Wilson.
The Hispanics for Wilson campaign fooled enough people that Alcaraz and Zul actually got invited to appear on Telemundo, the Spanish-language television network, and debate Prop. 187. So they donned kick-ass shades and showed up at a Glendale studio for the taping. People took them seriously. "I could even see the high school kids in Miami on the monitor screaming at us," Alcaraz told the Village Voice. "It was the longest hour of my life."
But Alcaraz and company aren't resting on their laurels: they recently gave the Pocho site a much-needed redesign. Now the "All Pocho Network" offers weekly updates on issues of burning importance to Latinos. A recent article suggested that Wilson was the mastermind behind Slobodan Milosevic's program of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, using the lessons he learned chasing illegal immigrants out of California. Another hailed the opening of Latinoland, a new theme park aimed at Latino children that was built on the former site of a toxic chemicals factory.
Given that Alcaraz and Zul specialize in pissing people off, it's surprising that they didn't get a bigger reaction out of Dornan, a man not exactly known for keeping his temper. Did he ever even see the site?
"I don't have a bloody nose, so I guess he didn't see it," Alcaraz said. "Or his son."Piss Wyn off at firstname.lastname@example.org.