In 1984, the Mexican government passed a law that prohibits the modification or misuse of national symbols: the flag, the coat of arms, and the anthem. (The law also indicates how and when the presidential sash is to be worn.) Musicians, artists, poets, and writers are regularly denounced and even fined for violating the law, at least when they express views that are critical of the government. Meanwhile, Mexicans are allowed to produce and prodded to buy all kinds of merchandise stamped with these symbols, from stuffed golden eagles to green, white, and red beer koozies. These are on especially conspicuous display on September 15, when Mexico’s Independence Day is celebrated and the president pronounces the ceremonial “cry of independence” at the capital’s flag-cluttered Zócalo.
In response to the government’s efforts to ensure that the national symbols are only used to aggrandize the state, Juan Caloca, an artist from Mexico City, created a video game, High Treason, with the programmer Emilio Peláez. (The soundtrack for the trailer, which appears on this page, was created by Esteban Aldrete.) High Treason situates the player in a harrowing version of the National Palace, home to the offices of the president, the federal treasury, and the state archives. Navigating the palace, whose colonial facade dominates the Zócalo, the player is shuttled into a network of subterranean dungeons, which act as galleries. The palace appears as an ironic national pavilion, filled with images and objects that undermine (and in many instances deface or desecrate) Mexico’s most sacred symbols—or, at least, their manipulation by the government. These are visions of the country as it is or might be, not as the government would like for it to be seen.
There is something unnatural, even sinister, about the transformation by a government of the sentimental attachment that fellow citizens are likely to express for one another into a passion for the state, as the historian Eric Hobsbawm notes in Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality (1990). Hobsbawm observes that the “basic loyalty” dictated by the nationalism that emerged in Europe in the nineteenth century “was, paradoxically, not to ‘the country,’ but only to its particular version of that country: to an ideological construct.” In order to win devotion, the government wields flags, coats of arms, anthems, as well as chauvinistic rhetoric and exclusionary laws; citizens are directed to pledge allegiance not to each other but to the leaders and institutions that claim to represent them. (The Mexican flag and coat of arms were standardized and officially established by President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz in 1968, weeks after protesters raised a red and black banner at the Zócalo and chanted, “We don't want the Olympics, we want revolution!”—and weeks before the military massacred hundreds of students in Tlatelolco Plaza.)
Hobsbawm warns against merging the people and the nation with the state, which involves the “homogenization and standardization” of inhabitants. Residents of Mexico, for instance, might previously have called themselves Mexican without having to adopt an identity that was forged in the halls of power. The regulation and enforcement of this identity through language, education, and other means of molding and controlling citizens might spark a “counter-nationalism.” Caloca suggests that this idea is especially appealing to Mexicans, given the government’s unwillingness to care for citizens or uphold the rule of law. Just after Independence Day, Mexico marked the third anniversary of the disappearance of forty-three students at a teachers college in Ayotzinapa, which has become the emblem of the government’s abject corruption and disregard for justice. (Forensic Architecture recently created a platform that presents evidence and a reconstruction of the event; Triple Canopy published a conversation between the journalist John Gibler and the writer Gabriela Jauregui about the crime and the structures that inflict—and normalize—violence on marginalized populations.)
Caloca collected the images that appear in the game as part of his ongoing investigation of the use of Mexican national symbols by the state and by those who are promoting alternatives to the official brand of nationalism and fomenting opposition. The game includes images produced by and taken from Anabel Chirino, Jose Emilio Pacheco, Jonathan Hernández y Pablo Sigg, Cristóbal de Villalpando, Enrique Guzmán, Leopoldo Méndez, Smek, Demián Flores, Cagle Cartoons, Canijo Chaneque, Javier Arango, Patricio, Antonio Díaz Soto y Gama, Normalistas de Guerrero, Mexican Jihad, El Deforma, Grupo Mira, Tercerunquinto, Brizno, El Proceso, Cesar Martínez, Marcos Castro, Esteban Aldrete, Aldo Flores, Carolina Caycedo, Miley Cyrus, Paulina Rubio, Leonardo Morales, Tony Furia, Yollotl Alvarado, Pepelipe, Congelada de Uva, Daniel Lezama, Diego Madero, Garo Duran, Hernández, Sergio Witz, Joaquín Segura, Canek Gutiérrez, Leonel Salguero y Trini, Marcos Ramírez Erre, Minerva Cuevas, Nahúm B. Zenil, Rolando de la Rosa, Jazael Olguín, Francis Alÿs, Gabriel Escalante, El Fisgón, the Mexican Secretariat of National Defense, La Jornada, the Zapatista National Liberation Army, y Steve Greenberg, entre otros. Caloca also incorporated images of the desecration of national symbols that were posted without attribution online; he’d like to thank whoever committed and shared the documentation of those acts.