Actor playing El Chapo on new Netflix-Univision TV Series

One media outlet in Mexico has poked fun at Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán's international cultural prominence with a spoof article claiming he will be immortalized in a new video game. While evidently untrue, the article underscores the very real and growing fascination with representations of narco culture in both the United States and Mexico.

According to an article in SDP Noticias' "Pitorreo" section, known for providing commentary that melds fiction and humor with the goal of sparking debate on prominent national issues, the fake video game would chronicle the many "exciting adventures" of Mexican drug lord El Chapo, who (in real life) is set to be tried in a US court in April 2018 on drug trafficking charges. 

The satirists at Pitorreo wrote that the game would feature El Chapo and other characters as figurines in the style of the popular LEGO children's toy series. The game would have 25 levels in which the player could assume the identity of El Chapo as he flees from police, escapes prison, and makes a "mockery" of Mexico's security policies.

The LEGO Group said in a statement to InSight Crime that it "has not and does not intend to launch a video game based on 'El Chapo' or any topic related hereto."

Though fictitious in this case, news of an El Chapo video game would nevertheless be almost expected in the midst of a proliferation of real media projects that seek to profit off of the growing popular mythology surrounding the infamous, now-imprisoned Sinaloa Cartel boss.

The most recently released of these El Chapo-related projects is the television series "El Chapo," co-produced by Univision and Netflix, which premiered on April 23 and is set to run for three seasons, Variety reported.

Relatedly, several El Chapo movies are also set to receive the Hollywood treatment with Sony Pictures' "Hunting El Chapo" reportedly opening in October, followed by Fox's upcoming movie, "The Cartel," based on a best-selling novel of the same name. 

The growing interest in depictions of El Chapo on the big screen is not limited to the US entertainment industry. In 2016, Mexico saw the controversial release of "Chapo: El Escape del Siglo" ("Chapo: The Escape of the Century"), which premiered in over 300 theaters and chronicled the drug kingpin's second escape from prison.

Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, who starred as a drug trafficker in the record-breaking 2011 Mexican telenovela "La Reina del Sur" ("The Queen of the South") -- of which El Chapo is reportedly a fan -- recently told Excélsior that she also intends to make a movie about the drug boss.

InSight Crime Analysis 

SDP Noticias' spoof story both highlights and lampoons the growing commercialization of narco culture in both the United States and Mexico, exemplified by the proliferation of El Chapo-related media projects. 

In 2015, the release and subsequent popularity of the Netflix series "Narcos," which chronicles the rise and fall of Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, and the Oscar-nominated movie "Sicario," which revolves around the story of an agent of the Federal Buerau of Investigation (FBI) seeking to dismantle a fictional Mexican cartel, served as further signs of narco culture's successful expansion into the mainstream American media market.

To be sure, the international fascination with popular depictions of organized crime is nothing new. But the continued spread of and demand for representations of narco culture outside of Mexico has been documented in the rise of restaurants, clothing and costumes, and real video games that all take inspiration from actual criminality. 

Robert J. Thompson, media scholar at Syracuse University, told Rolling Stone that the popularity of cartels and their violent behavior among US audiences can be explained by Americans' cultural affinity for "the noble criminal" and others who operate outside of the law. This has been demonstrated by the widespread critical and popular acclaim for shows like the high-school-teacher-turned-meth-dealer saga "Breaking Bad" and Italian mafia drama "The Sopranos."

"We as a culture have really gotten used to the dissonance that comes with watching a show where the main character is a bad guy," Thompson said. "And it's not just fictional characters -- that ongoing infatuation has naturally extended to true-crime figures ranging from John Gotti to Pablo Escobar." 

SEE ALSO: InDepth Coverage of Narco Culture 

This trend has been met with backlash from officials throughout Latin America who often decry the "Hollywoodization" of narco culture, claiming that it perpetuates negative stereotypes surrounding countries in the region and normalizes the violence caused by organized crime.

However, these officials do not have to look to the US entertainment industry to find popularized, often dramatized depictions of drug trafficking. In Mexico, authorities have repeatedly condemned the supposed glorification of narco culture in "narcocorridos," popular Mexican folk songs about organized crime, and narcotelenovelas, Mexican soap operas revolving around the same subject.

Miguel Cabañas, an associate professor at Michigan State University who studies the cultural representation of drug trafficking, previously spoke to InSight Crime and offered one potential explanation for the persistent fascination with representations of narco culture among Mexicans. He argues that they broaden the debate on the country's organized crime dynamics by focusing on some of the larger political, economic, and cultural issues not touched on in the official discourse, such as the perception among the poorest sectors of the population that drug trafficking remains one of the few opportunities for upward social mobility. 

Drug trafficking films like "El Infierno" ("Hell") and "Salvando al Soldado Pérez" ("Saving Private Pérez") have dominated the Mexican box office in recent years, and narco telenovelas like "Queen of the South" enjoy huge popularity, both in Mexico and throughout the Spanish-speaking world. Projects like these have proven the huge money-making potential of narco entertainment. So -- at least from a commercial standpoint -- LEGO may want to rethink its position on the El Chapo game.

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