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A craze of colossal proportions

Zombie walks, kisses, haircuts: Someone's always trying to set a record in Mexico City.

December 31, 2011|Ken Ellingwood
  • The living dead snarl for the camera in November. Nearly 10,000 people smeared with fake blood lurched through Mexico Citys central plaza in what organizers said was the Worlds Biggest Zombie Walk.
The living dead snarl for the camera in November. Nearly 10,000 people smeared… (Marco Ugarte, Associated…)

MEXICO CITY — Mexico is setting a record pace -- again.

Hardly a month goes by without someone here breaking a world record, or claiming to. The world's biggest cup of hot chocolate. Most people kissing at once. Longest carpet of flowers. Biggest group haircut.

Recently, people were flocking to the parking lot of a stadium in Mexico City to see what promoters called the World's Biggest Nativity Scene: a faux Bethlehem covering five acres and populated with 1,000 life-size figures.

On Dec. 13 came recognition for the World's Biggest Soccer Tournament, with 12,000 teams and a player roster larger than the population of the city of Glendale. In November, the living dead took center stage: Nearly 10,000 people smeared with fake blood lurched through Mexico City's central plaza in what organizers said was the World's Biggest Zombie Walk.

The record-setting phenomenon is, in part, testament to the eye-popping scale of the Mexican capital, the venue for many of the record-breaking stunts. About 20 million people jam this place. On many days, it's a certainty that you are stuck in the World's Most Hopeless Traffic Snarl or packed inside the World's Hottest and Most Crowded Subway Car.

Having so much humanity available means it's not hard to scoop up at least a few thousand for the most obscure record-setting event. In the recent zombie walk, ghoulish participants gathered to call for an end to discrimination, collect food for impoverished children and draw attention to a Mexican horror film festival.

Event organizers are gathering videos, lists of participants and other evidence to have the zombie walk registered by Guinness World Records.

The quest for world records can be a way to boost a social cause, as when 4,125 people in pink created the longest human ribbon in Mexico City in October to publicize the fight against breast cancer. Or the event can serve as a gimmick for tourism or other commerce.

Mexico City authorities have hyped some of their seasonal projects as record-setters, including the biggest ice-skating rink (344,000 square feet) and artificial Christmas tree (362 feet high and 115 feet across).

This year's gigantic Nativity scene was mounted by a Colombian company that charges as much as $5 to enter. The village, with 57 separate scenes and looking like something out of "Life of Brian," is done up with fake camels and palm trees and actors in robes and sandals. Robotic plastic figures depict the biblical story of the Annunciation, when the archangel Gabriel tells Mary that she is to give birth.

Adrian Lozano, the project's media director, said the installation set the record last year in the Colombian city of Cali, but that this Mexican version is even larger. "We wanted a big city that would provide a platform for the whole world to see," Lozano said.

Some regard the records fixation as plain silly and say it may be a sign of a shortcoming in the Mexican makeup.

"We don't like to compete. They are records based on the idea of not competing," commentator Carlos Elizondo Mayer-Serra once wrote. "If we have the tallest Christmas tree in the world, it's only because our city government decided to use our taxes to make one taller, and called in a Brazilian company to do it."

But during a period when Mexico has suffered economic troubles and horrific drug violence, what's a better diversion than making the world's biggest taco (200 feet long in the city of Queretaro in November) or getting the most people to dance folkloric ballet at the same time (457 dancers in Guadalajara in September)?

Pablo Guisa, who organized the zombie walk, said most of the Mexican records, such as the mass kiss in Mexico City two years ago (39,897 people), are "pretty stupid." Nonetheless, he said, they help take the pressure off.

"In a country with so much violence and so many crises, to be able to take people out of their reality for a moment to be part of something bigger is, in the end, a good thing ... even if the effort is a bit empty," Guisa said.

With so much record-chasing, Mexicans sometimes find that the only marks left to smash are their own. Astronomy buffs here announced this month that they had surpassed their record for mass moon-gazing, with more than 15,000 people peering through 2,753 telescopes.

And anyway, who doesn't want to leave a mark?

"In the United States, they're very perfectionist. Mexicans try, but we tend to settle for less," said Lily Juarez, a Mexico City native who lives in San Antonio and was visiting the Nativity display.

"We say, 'If we don't reach it, that's OK,' " she said. "But we do like to break records."

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ken.ellingwood@latimes.com

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