Mocking the Spanish Language in Vegas

For many years, I ran the Spanish-language version of a travel website, and one of my (sometimes painful) jobs was reviewing Vegas shows. There really are many more bad shows than good shows in Vegas. After 14 years in town and more than 300 shows, I've seen some really, really bad ones. My least favorite include the ones that play on racial stereotypes while not being funny and that showcase people who don't have much talent. The show I saw this week, Criss Angel Believe at the Luxor falls in all categories.

I will spare you the painful details about the hype, hubris, demented bunnies, goth-like dancers, and fake-corpse chewing creatures as well as the amateur-like execution of basic magic tricks (doves from a hat, anyone?) and get to the point: cultural insensitivity.

Some of Criss Angel's sidekicks are clearly Hispanic. When Criss, who has a terrible sense of comedic timing, asks the main sidekick, whom he refers to as "maestro" to do something, the maestro answers in Spanish. That part is actually quite hilarious, as the maestro throws in some fantastic profanities at the resident black-leather-wearing magician. This is where it goes downhill: Criss Angel says that he wants to speak Spanish now that he's been learning it, so he instructs the maestro to open the damn "box-o" and the "lid-o" and to take off the "lock-o". Fellow magiciain David Copperfield does something similar, but he shows that he appreciates the importance of the Spanish language in this country and doesn't mock it. He asks for the translation of "lock" and then shows off his Spanish counting skills "uno, dos, tres, dos-dos." Criss Angel, on the other hand, comes across as a culturally insensitive entertainer who enjoys making fun of Hispanics. Addressing language and race is always a tricky subject, it can work well if you truly are funny, show some respect for the subject you are making fun of and are geniuine-- all of which Criss Angel lacks.

Just like many people who were at the show, I was pretty dumbfounded. This is a Cirque du Soleil show, which is one of the powerhouses of high-end productions on the Strip and creators of some of my favorite shows in town. As is widely known, Cirque is a French Canadian company and is composed mostly of international performers. Why would the talented team at Cirque allow Criss Angel to be so culturally insensitive?

Statistically speaking, nearly 20% of the audience in that showroom was Spanish-speaking., and just like I, the ones I heard from weren't amused. Adding an "o" to every English word does not make it Spanish, just like adding "-akos" to everything doesn't make it Greek (hint: Criss Angel is of Greek descent).


Anonymous said...

Criss' girlfriend is actually from the Dominican Republic and speaks Spanish - so I doubt he is mocking HER !

Anonymous said...

I agree with your blog to some extent - but Criss has NEVER shown much class or style (judging by some of the trash he has been seen with the past 2 yrs.), so what do you expect? He's always seemed like a street thug to me.

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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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