Bridges, Tunnels, Fences, and Moats: Border Visual Metaphors in The Bridge (TV series, FX, 2013)

Curator's Note

Borders are often used as two-dimensional metaphors, as the lines separating two geographically defined places, and/or two sovereign territories. The result of this two-dimensionality is that the outcome of border crossings is imagined, simply, as entering and exiting. Space, however, is never two-dimensional and borders do more than produce the possibilities of entering or exiting. Borders, particularly the border between USA and Mexico, present a rich array of possibilities for crossing.

Some of these possibilities are found in the TV show The Bridge (FX, created by Elwood Reid, Bjorn Stein, and Meredit Stiehm, 2013). Set against the backdrop of economic exploitation made possible by neoliberal understandings of free trade, this popular and critically acclaimed narrative fictionalizes the conditions of cartel and, often sexual, violence in Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, TX, two cities that illustrate perfectly possibilities for border crossings.

Cd. Juarez is a sprawling city of roughly 1.5 million people defined from its origins in 1659 as both a city and a transportation pass. Originally named El Paso del Norte (The Northern Pass), the city has continuously been a place in between, even before the US-Mexican war of 1849 cut it in the middle and officially made it a pass marking the crossings back and forth between Mexico and the US. It is only until the 1930s that some documentation was required to move across the bridge that has defined the two cities, their proximity, shared history, and their economic value to their respective nations. Sister cities no more, the bridge is also the watery scar of a war that separated them yesterday and today, that marks their difference, antagonisms, and current tense relationship.

Cd. Juarez is the bloodiest city in Mexico; El Paso is the safest in the United States, a contrast all too visible that disjoints that which is together. These are two human settlements in roughly the same landscape complicated by an international order, metaphorically represented by the border, that granted legitimacy to the US land grab of the xix century, and the economic laboratory of hyper-capitalism today that has made the southern half an economic dynamo energized by the labor differential between nations. The essence of neoliberalism is not this lurid exchange; it is the stories that remake it as economic heroism. The land of opportunities in Mexico, Cd. Juarez, is a bloody red hued dust bowl.


As you point out, the idea of a border as merely a line separating two places is very limiting, and I think that this series emphasizes the ways that borders are just as much about connecting spaces as they are about separating them. The title itself - The Bridge - foregrounds the connective function of the border before the narrative even starts. As various storylines develop, this connectivity remains central, as no story is limited to just one side of the border. Personal relationships, business deals, and criminal activities have roots on both sides, and it is the connection of the border that makes the potentially fragmented narratives complete. A visual image from the trailer that I find particularly striking is the brief shot (about 6 seconds in) of the vehicular traffic lined up at the border. The lines of cars on the roadway (especially with their red tail lights glowing) suggest arteries in the human circulatory system - a reminder that an ongoing flow is necessary for the health and well being of the entire region.

Media also serves (or can serve) a connective function. In "La Venganza" see yesterday's post we saw how modes of representation circulated and were taken up in divergent contexts (e.g. Mexican audiences watching American films that featured stereotypical images). Hector's images of crossing remind us that being able to move back and forth does not eliminate inequality---the "bloody red hued dustbowl."

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