This week my brilliant friend Megan and I submitted a draft of our essay on Veronica Mars and feminism to our editors. (Yay!) As we were brainstorming and planning our paper, I kept coming back to the relationship between fictional Neptune, California and the U.S.-Mexico border. Clearly, I had the border on my mind after the research I did about Juarez, but there’s also a lot about border politics in Veronica Mars.
I find a lot of elements of Veronica Mars unsettling. I think I’m supposed to. But one of the most persistent points of irritation is the depiction of the U.S.-Mexico border. Neptune, California is located somewhere between San Diego and Los Angeles, just a daytrip from Tijuana. Someone more familiar than I am with California geography deduced that this means that the town is probably in San Diego County, which sees a pretty large amount of cross-border traffic as well as the tech-related affluence represented by the 09ers on the show.
A lot of narrative energy is given to dwelling on the economic disparity between the 09ers and everyone else in Neptune. The 09ers are the elites and Neptune is a “town without a middle class.” In this framework, there’s clearly some difference between the Mars family and that of PCH biker Eli “Weevil” Navarro (who I love). It’s hard to know the exact economics of the situation, because it’s TV and our heroine still has plenty of stylish duds, etc., but as much as Keith and Veronica stress over their financials, a lot of the time I suspect that the difference between Veronica and Weevil is based just on race. The Mars family may be broke and living in smaller digs, but Veronica’s still a pretty blonde girl. Weevil, on the other hand, is not only from the wrong side of the tracks, he’s a Latino JD whose grandma cleans Logan Echolls’s house.* Yikes.
There are not many Latinos on Veronica Mars. Aside from the PCH Bike Club, the only one that comes to mind is Carmen, the self-described “Coconut” from season two. That said, in terms of the border, on the show Latinos aren’t the border crossers. Instead, the audience is treated to the repeated exploits of 09er boys using Tijuana as their perverse playground. In addition to the numerous references to going to “TJ” to party, there are three particular examples of 09ers using Mexico for illicit purposes.
- 1.5 “You Think You Know Somebody”: In this episode, Veronica helps figure out who stole Troy Vandergraff’s car (hint: it’s him) after he, Logan, and Luke get stranded in Tijuana (see below). In the trunk, Luke had stashed a pinata full of steroids and is freaked out about the consequences from the dealer he’s working for.
- 2.11 “Donut Run”: In one of the more ridiculous plots of the series, Veronica helps Duncan escape across the border with his and Meg’s baby. In fact, this is not the first time Duncan escaped across a border. In 1.21 “A Trip to the Dentist,” Keith tracks Duncan down in Cuba, where he’s hiding because he thinks he killed his sister. Oh, Duncan.
- 3.7 “Of Vice and Men”: Logan enlists Veronica to prove that Mercer (the worst) isn’t the serial rapist at Hearst (spoiler alert: he is), but he can’t give Veronica his alibi because they were in Tijuana, where Mercer burnt down a motel. They also left without helping or seeing if other people were okay.
In these three examples we see teenagers crossing the border with ease, acquiring drugs (and an implication of prostitutes), escaping from the law, and committing crimes without consequence. My first impression is that Veronica Mars simply represents U.S. privilege on the border and the way that U.S. citizens, particularly the wealthy, white, and male, can use Mexico to do their dirty deeds with impunity. I find it pretty troubling that the only people we see/hear crossing the border on the show are white and usually up to no good. Given the complicated discourses about immigration, militarization, crime, and violence on the border over the period the show ran, that seems like a really jaundiced view of things.
But, as I thought about these issues more, I think what the show is trying to do, although imperfectly, is align these behaviors with the show’s “bad guys” in a way that portrays this type of privileged border crossing as a bad thing. This doesn’t work with Duncan. The other limitation of this argument, however, is that Logan is as responsible for leaving the scene of the motel fire as Mercer is and he never faces consequences beyond a breakup with Veronica. Further, Logan crosses the border to party more than anyone else (i.e. the weekend of Lilly’s murder), and because we are supposed to love Logan, it comes off as “boys will be boys.” Given that, aside from Carmen, Latinos in Neptune are generally portrayed as lower-class or as criminals**, even if they are loveable ones, and even if I think the show is attempting to shed a negative light on U.S. privilege, the show more clearly replicates this privilege than critiques it.
*One of the aspects of Veronica and Weevil’s friendship that I find fascinating is that they use really similar skills to make their income. While Veronica has her detective prowess to earn cash from 09ers (and others) when they get scammed, robbed, or want dirt dug up, Weevil uses his own brand of cleverness and intimidation to earn money on gambling and cons–sometimes the ones Veronica’s investigating. As Megan pointed out, it’s no wonder Weevil made such a good PI for the brief time he worked as Keith’s assistant. Veronica and Weevil are both outlaws and Robin Hoods in their own way, and I love it.
**Consider how often public defender Cliff McCormack’s off-screen clients are Latino or African American. Also, the defendant in “One Angry Veronica” is a Latina falsely accused of assault. There’s also the racist and homoerotic banter between Logan and Weevil. Speaking of Weevil, organized crime in Neptune is comprised entirely of the Mexican PCH Bike Club and the Irish Fitzpatrick family. Nonetheless, when I tried to find a list of Latino characters on the show, I found a lot of articles about Veronica Mars on Latino news sites. I chalk that up to Weevil being an awesome, nuanced, non-stereotypical portrayal. Oh, and Francis Capra plays the kid in Kazaam. Children of the ’90s, I thought you should know that.