The year is 2000. Late August. New York City. You're a week shy of being newly-minted 20-year-old and find yourself in a sticky, sweating scrum of raza being pushed, pulled, and flung around a mosh pit around the center of Manhattan's club Exit. It's the local date of the six-band Latin Alternative caravan known as the Watcha Tour.
Mexico City's premier rap-rockers Molotov cap off their aggro set with "Puto," their NSFR(adio/Television/most any place with any grown-ups or children gathered) track from their 1997 debut, ¿Dónde Jugarán las Niñas?. You're angry at the club's awful sound system, the air-conditionlessness, the security guards, anything and everything--te vale madres todo! You lose yourself and begin jumping and shouting along ("Puto! Puto! Puto!").
You're queer. You sing anyway. You sing to the song's purported message about cowardice and rebellion and you willfully ignore its virulently homophobic undertones. You cheer and clap at the end. Then you swap moshpit war stories with your cousin while you wait for Café Tacvba to take the stage.
Cut to 2013. Springtime. You're a couple months shy from being a seasoned 30-something year-old. You're emailing about Molotov with some comadres from those very same days in the early aughts. Only today, you're all listening to them perform on Alt-Latino's SXSW showcase stream from the comforts of your respective outposts in Queens, Brooklyn, and Miami--not some now-defunct midtown concert venue.
Nostalgic, you're amused at the spectacle of leading a "chinga tu madre" audience call-and-response on (stuffy) national public radio. This time, however, the sound of a crowd shouting "Puto! Puto! Puto!" finds you aghast. It made you cringe.
You realized you're living in very different times. Same-sex marriage is the law of the land in many places, including the band's own home base, Mexico City. Of course, progress in LGBT civil rights has outpaced shifts in cultural attitudes towards homosexuality. But the song felt like an offensive relic--one that you were surprised was still being performed.
That's why you weren't shocked to learn last week that Molotov, in response to the brutal gay-bashing of a teen in Chile, would be removing "maricón" (a Spanish-language slur for homosexual men) from "Puto" ahead of its U.S. tour. But you wondered: why now? And why only in the States? The answer to both, it seems: years worth of pressure by stateside LGBT activists on the band and Jagermeister, its current tour sponsor.
Molotov didn't respond to an email for comment sent earlier this week.
It also made you question the sincerity behind a "solidarity" stand with a Chilean hate crime victim taken not in Chile, not in Latin America, but only in the States (before a tour through said country) and only conveyed in English.
Of course, the fact that Molotov's song "Puto" is just about chronologically old enough to catch Molotov live today doesn't escape you either. Molotov's humor is aggressive and immature. Its song lyrics are laden with crude wordplay. It's high school locker room fodder and, unfortunately, taunts and slurs like those "Puto" are still what you'd hear in many locker rooms.
The band's defenders are also quick point to the socially-minded part of Molotov's catalog, as if to somehow counteract questionable apples with progressive oranges. Songs like "Voto Latino," "Gimme Tha Power," and "Frijolero" champion equality as well as denounce corruption, racism, and xenophobia, yes, but you know better than to think being politically progressive precludes you from being homophobic.
The band has vehemently denied that their song is homophobic, and that may well be true, but the words themselves are too loaded and layered. Puto, joto, maricón, and marica—which are all in the song—sting for straight men to a certain extent because they're still readily-used pejoratives aimed at gay men. (There's also the weird glorification of machoness and violence in the song that seems to get less notice.)
At some point there has to be more of a reckoning about the climate and culture engendered by music, movies, TV programming with offensive content—and its role in perpetuating homophobia, bigotry, or misogyny. The Chilean gay-bashers have probably not been listening to "Puto" on repeat since 1997, or ever at all, but regardless there's something to be said about the way the media we consume influences or affirms our beliefs—good and bad. And while some would argue that songs like "Puto" are a by-product of widely-shared societal beliefs, either way, there has to be a discussion of the moral implications and real life consequences.
As artists, Molotov's members have the license to create the art they feel. As a consumer, you have the power to take it or leave it (particularly if it doesn't align with your values). Maybe this whole "Puto"/maricón omission serves a more useful purpose as a catalyst for that discussion. Because on its own, it's clearly an hollow gesture begrudgingly imposed on a 16-year-old song. YouTube concert clips of audience members filling in the verboten word confirm it. The question is: do you care?