The Spanish culture has been represented on numerous occasions in foreign TV and movies. However, a lot of these representations deserve a closer look; many of them seem to be the wild inventions of people with vivid imaginations and not such good fact checking skills. So as not to confuse you, we've created a short list of some of the most absurd, controversial, and in short, laughable representations of Spanish culture and Spain found in pop culture from around the world.
1 .Spanish culture comes from a single region. We should explain, even if some foreigners insist it is not so, that Spain is not one giant Andalusia where we all dance flamenco. There are many examples of this misconception played out on the screen, but the one that stands out the most is found in a serious documentary by BBC Two. The presenter is shown strolling around Monte Igueldo, in San Sebastian (the Basque country) while the soundtrack delights us with distinctive flamenco guitar in the background. It really caught our eye. It would be similar to making a documentary about a traveler walking through London, when suddenly "Flower of Scotland" begins to play in the background.
2. Confusing environments and landscapes. This is especially annoying and applies to many countries all at the same time. For example, in an episode of How I Met Your Mother, Ted Mosby shares that he was in Spain for a while. In the sequence we see things as ridiculous as a tango dancer dressed in typical flamenco dress or mariachis in Barcelona, which is to say that the writers who wrote the episode have never been to Spain, and that they have never been to Argentina or to Mexico either. The same thing happens in Bones; the protagonists spend their honeymoon in a Buenos Aires which seems more like Havana, Cuba than Argentina. Let's put the main character of the show La que se avecina, for an equally absurd example, in Boston having a great time participating in a boomerang throwing contest while drinking a pint of Guinness in Camden Town. Wouldn't that be just a little annoying?
3. Exaggerating a true behavior until it becomes a complete cliché; something typical exaggerated until it becomes ridiculous. An example from Japanese culture comes to mind… In an episode of the cartoon series Shin Chan, the family of the main character is surprised because they find that Barcelona comes to a standstill after lunch while everyone takes a siesta. However, that habit is only observed by some and usually only on the weekends; today hardly any Spaniards take a siesta on weekdays. Isn’t it so that no one thinks Japanese people celebrate the tea ceremony every day? Well, it is just the same in Spain with the siesta.
4. Thinking we all like flamenco. The majority of Spaniards recognize the cultural value of flamenco, but from there to saying we're all lovers of the genre exists quite a chasm. So when an international singer decided to add flamenco rhythms to a song sung in Spanish to sell more copies to Spaniards, most people felt a little put off. It would be just as risky to say all Germans like yodeling.
5. Mixing cultural representations together. If there were an actor-producer who received an Oscar for confusion it would be Tom Cruise. Mission Impossible II mixes las Fallas from Valencia with Spain’s Semana Santa (Holy Week) and in Knight & Day, the San Fermín festival is found in Seville, when in reality it is only celebrated in Pamplona. It would be as if we were portrayed an American family carving a Turkey on Saint Patrick's Day in the US.
6. Linking our society to backward times. For some reason, which we can't understand, Hispanic and Latino culture is often linked to underdeveloped countries. We can go back to examples like, inexplicably, the hipster series Portlandia, in which Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein pretend to be at an Internet Café in Salamanca with prehistoric computers and strangely embroidered tablecloths on the tables. No one would portray Sweden as a place where everyone still fishes for herring, now would they? So why is Spain portrayed as if it were still the turn of the 20th century?
7. Confusing accents and different ways of speaking Spanish. Even if a Spanish speaker is very careful included in a movie or TV show, in an intelligent and well documented way, an incorrect accent can ruin the whole thing. In Spain, an episode of CSI New York, in which an agent from the Catalan regional police appears with a Cuban accent, is particularly notorious. Remember the criticism Kevin Costner received when he played Robin Hood without being able to pull off a proper British accent?
8. Ignorance about the great works of our culture. Some works have been raised up on the shoulders of giants... and then jumped on wildly! We have noted that at times it is done for convenience; as in an episode of Los Tudor in which the master Holbein paints a courtesan that looks just a little too much like Venus at her Mirror by Velázquez for King Enrique VIII Other times it is done out of simple ignorance. For example, in a cartoon series from the 1980s in which a child dreams of being like Don Quixote and the knight appears as a typical brave knight from a fantasy story. We are happy that they wanted to include our culture in the story, but it would be as if we believed the theory that says Shakespeare was actually a Spanish author fleeing the Inquisition wholeheartedly.
9. Using stereotypes belonging to other countries. This one may look similar to number 3, but it is not the same; it is even more bothersome. The perfect example is an episode of MacGyver in which the main character helps a geologist escape the clutches of a Basque guerrilla group. We assume that the writers only knew about - and hardly - guerrilla groups from Latin America; so they created a Basque camp in the middle of a tropical rainforest with cabanas and even bananas. This was offensive not only to Spain but also to Latin American countries. It would be like saying Chicago is full of mobsters who dance the tarantella and communicate by moving their hands as if they were possessed.
10. If you add an "o" to the end of any word, it becomes Spanish. Sometimes screen writers get carried away with the temptation to create a Hispanic character and use names that sound good to them without taking something as basic as their validity into consideration. For example, in the Daredevil comics, there is a Spanish villain disguised as a bullfighter and called "The Matador.” His real name in the comics is Manuel Eloganto, a last name that simply doesn’t exist in Spanish. But the most surprising example is the Spanish conquistador from the Indiana Jones comics named Vasco de la Posco. We neither know what a "Posco" is or why this word is used with a feminine article. Perhaps the British historian we have just invented called Will Gromenauer can give us the answer.
So there you have it. Forgive our tone in some of these sections; but we think it will help to understand how we feel about certain misconceptions about Spain. That being said, and so that you'll forgive us, we invite you to come to Spain to learn about Spanish culture with us for real.