Mythopoesis and El Santo, the Saint of Paper

Salvador Plascencia, Saturn, dizzies reality and fiction in The People of Paper by painfully, explicitly forcing his own life and melancholy unto his characters. Before Frederico de la Fe’s “war for volition and against the commodification of sadness” (2.53) focuses its might against the author and readership of the novel, Plascencia hints at the disintegration of pure fiction in the text by referencing real people and writing in their voice, constructing mythical biographies for celebrities that may be his heroes in real life. He weaves a myth of Rita Hayworth as a Latino woman who refutes her identity, a construct given uncomfortable implications when Smiley sees Saturn’s pinup in his dingy, grief-stricken apartment. Similarly, the reverence given to Santos belies the intimate process of writing in which Plascencia engages, as he transforms folk hero and Mexican Luchador icon El Santo into, quite literally, the saint of his namesake.

To those unfamiliar with the joys of Lucha libre, Santo would be the equivalent of a burly, living Superman. Rodolfo Huerta changed Luchador guises for a few years before settling into the famed persona and silver mask of El Santo, choosing to keep his true identity a secret until his unmasking  and ignominious defeat at the hands of friend-turned-rival Blue Demon. While initial fame stemmed from pure wrestling, El Santo became revered as a cultural icon in Mexico and northern Latin America, known for the moral character, wisdom, and fighting prowess he developed as a pop-cultural icon. Star of comic books, 52 films, and plentiful folk stories, the Santo name is a living legend of which few icons could compare cross-culturally. Certainly his filmography is appreciated for its camp in this country today, but in the 60’s and 70’s when the films were in release these were informing the imagination of a young generation, commanding fantastic box office revenues and cultural awareness.  Enjoy Santo en el Hacha Diabólica (in which Santo battles a time-traveling executioner and learns that he is, in fact, a reincarnated saint), and marvel not at the glorious camp but the nature of storytelling in the film.

Culturally, El Santo is an act of mythopoesis in a living man’s body. To properly understand the value and impact of these films and stories, imagine if in every Will Smith movie he was not playing characters but himself. Imagine a man who can be seen battling legends (Santo has tangled with Stoker’s and Shelley’s paper terrors before, in addition to a mess of Latino folk creatures) in film just as much as down the street, in public, at events. He was not a man to drop character: there was little to no divide between his cinematic, wrestling, and public personas.  As such, when he is unmasked and revealed to be a saint by Mil Mascaras, yet another real person under Saturn’s watch, the ensuing Vatican tussle does not seem far removed from the events of a Santo comic or film. A generation of imaginative children and wrestling fans had already taken Roldolfo Huerta and made him into a Saint of Paper, a walking myth, one of the few who are venerated still in their lifetime. Saint Francis may have lived to see the papacy guarantee his calendar day and place in heaven, but Huerta saw his culture turn him into El Santo, a saint who could afford to kick ass.

As Saturn internalizes his cultural shames and desire into Rita Hayworth’s biography, it is not hard to imagine a young Plascencia idolizing his masked hero. Santo’s given name in the text, Juan Meza, is a reference to another Mexican fighter, a worldwide success. Tiger Mask, the representative in Santo’s hagiography for Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras, is again another real wrestler: in this case another living fiction, a superhero character from an anime fashioned onto Satoru Sayama. In Meza’s passing, he requests the mantle of Santos be passed onto “a worthy protege to carry the name and elude his holiness” (2.219), an oblique commentary on the Son of Santo, a social activist/Luchador who has not quite lived up to his father’s fame or character. It would not be a stretch to consider Saturn having a certain zeal for professional wrestling,  and as a counterbalance to Hayworth’s projected shame El Santo serves as a proud symbol of Mexican heritage fleeing invasive, western Catholicism for the honour of fighting.  Saturn peers into Santo’s martyrdom as Plascencia fills in the blank eyes behind that silver face with the only logical conclusion to the myths, the cowlick and potpourri-scented odours of a saint. The People of Paper are those that live beyond a text, the fiction which break into the author’s home and crash on the reader’s couch. While Huerta was a man, he is just as much El Santo, the patron saint of myth-generation, a story.

~Benjy Blanco


~ by benjyblanco on March 29, 2010.

%d bloggers like this: