With rapid-fire delivery, clever intermittent editorials, and a papi-knows-best bravura, R.J. Aguiar is the maing front and center of the Rebel Report. A co-production between Flama and Latino Rebels, the webseries is aimed at bilingual malcontents interested in policy, social justice, funny repartee, and tired of mainstream media’s aloofness toward el pueblo — which is preeetty much all of us. With just a handful of episodes under their belt, the Rebel Report has thus far covered Iguala, Ferguson, and the tendency for overzealous gesticulation among Latinxs. (Guilty.)
No stranger to internet popularity, Aguiar has been streaming across devices with work/life partner Will Shepherd as part of NotAdamandSteve.com, where Aguiar and Shepherd post a video a day about trivial life shit, what they call “a gay in the life.” Sounds simple right? Wrong. It’s precisely this understatedness that has drawn over 180,000 subscribers from all over the world to their YouTube page. Coming from families that struggled to understand their sexuality, Aguiar and Shepherd wanted to create a virtual space to dispense advice, share oatmeal recipes, and fawn over their epileptic dog Dobby to viewers from across the globe. The site is a homegrown web colony from two people who have made community building a priority because they have first-hand knowledge of how it can make a difference. From their humble beginnings in Florida, the couple has since relocated to Los Angeles with the support and sponsorship of YouTube’s Next Up program.
It is Aguiar’s awareness of the multiplicity of issues concerning this generation of Latinxs and how these issues intersect within us and around us, that makes him the perfect broadcaster for Latino Rebels. The man who defies the rules of how much information can be dispensed in a matter of 60 seconds took a breather with us to talk about what it’s like to share yourself with thousands of people and why Jessica Rabbit is the ultimate partner in crime.
I have family that lives in West Palm so I have a little bit of an understanding of what life in Florida is like.
“I started to come of age in that post-9/11 hysteria and I really feel that’s when Jon Stewart and The Daily Show really came into its own.”
Well. You have to split Florida into three different regions. You have South Florida, which is what a lot of people think of when they hear Florida. That’s where all the Hispanic community is thriving and everyone is bilingual and all that, that’s South Florida. Then, you have Central Florida, which is all of that Trayvon Martin bullshit, that’s Central Florida. And that’s where all the old people and the snowbirds and where Disney is, it’s just… that’s the pocket of crazy.
I wouldn’t call it a wasteland because there’s a bunch of shit there including Tampa, where I’m from. And it was nice place to grow up but not without it’s weirdness. And then you have North Florida, which is basically South Georgia. Florida is a mutant in that the further north you go in Florida the further south you are.
So what were the top three hang out spots for the disaffected teenager in Tampa, Florida?
My friend Evan had a house right on Hillsborough River, right where it delta-ed. His family’s place was this couple acres in a lot that was just surrounded by river and water. And his parents were really awesome in that they would let us run around their giant yard and play Manhunt and get into trouble, play mud football and drink and hop in their hot tub and skinny dip in the river, and have fires at their fire pit and that sort of thing.
When you were younger, was there a media personality or film, TV show that you remember watching that influenced who you are and what you do today?
I know it’s kind of a cliché to say nowadays but Jon Stewart was huge. 9/11 happened when I was in seventh grade so I started to come of age in that post-9/11 hysteria and I really feel that that’s when Stewart and The Daily Show, all of that really came into its own. He was one of the first people to remark, “Guys there’s something wrong here. Something’s not right,” and that was extremely seminal for me, while I was getting my communications degree that was something that I noticed in my academic studies. Not only did 9/11 change the entire face of news as we know it but here, all of a sudden, was this kind of voice of reason in the hysteria that emerged and continues to this day.
My first ever report as a newsie, working for WVFS Tallahassee, was on how satire played such a vital, massive role in the 2008 election. How it really managed to influence the conversation. It was when social media really came into its own and I think that political satire as a means to seriously have conversations as far as the way that we form policy and all of that, both of those things really came into their own and it was great to watch it happen in real time. For example, Colbert’s performance at the 2006 White House Correspondent’s Dinner, I think will forever go down in history as one of the greatest moments in satire because it was just one of those classic moments that the people in power didn’t get the joke until it was way too late. Where he was already in the room and I think the only thing that was funnier than his monologue was just the very muted, muffled laughter that was just so uncomfortable. Everyone was just like, “Do I laugh? Is it okay?”
There is this culture in journalism that I refer to as “the call out” people constantly calling each other out. And now you’re talking about 9/11 and that hysteria, I wonder if journalism’s fall into “the call out” has a lot to do with our inability to decipher what is real post-9/11. You can watch mainstream news and not get a real sense of what is actually happening.
“…Because you’re a human being, you are incapable of being completely unbiased.”
That’s true. And not just the whole post-9/11 hysteria but what I feel social media has helped put to rest is this sort of illusion of there being a singular truth and there being true objectivity when it comes to someone’s perspective. That was the traditional model that you try to have in the old days of news, where these are facts, this is true and that’s it and you can trust everything that I say because it’s been thoroughly researched and fact checked and we have removed our own subjectivity out of our report, which… to a certain extent yes, it’s possible to reduce your subjectivity but because you’re a human being, you are incapable of being completely unbiased and so I think that what’s happening.
People are starting to realize that and I feel like satire has definitely helped play a role in that, that we’re putting to rest this notion that true objectivity exists for one person. Now, with the birth of what people are calling blog journalism or citizen journalism, people are just offering up their perspectives and allowing you to kind of do your own research and draw your own conclusions from that, which you know who is to say that one version is better than the other?
That is the truest expression of post-modernism because nobody knows what the fuck is going on.
It’s true. And it definitely kind of illustrates how spoon-fed we’ve been in the past and I think a lot of people want to go back to that. They don’t want to have to work. They want to be told what to do and what they know. It’s understandable why people might want to think that way because it’s very easy but that’s just not the world we live in anymore.
Given the current media environment if you’re not able to deconstruct, you’re going to be lost.
How did you hook up with Latino Rebels? How did the Rebel Report come about?
“People are so turned off by news nowadays [because] it’s: here’s all the shit that’s fucked up in the world, good night.”
I got hooked up with them through Flama. I got approached to just start doing videos for Flama and I’m like, “Yeah, of course.” And it was Mario, one of the guys in charge of Flama that saw a pilot that I did called Look Out, which was kind of a similar thing, which was done with a more LGBT slant where the goal was to go through the week’s news and kind of say what you need to know, why you need to know it, editorialize it a little bit and make sure you cite the sources and also give calls to action. That is something [calls to action] that I think is missing. Why people are so turned off by news nowadays is that it’s: here’s all the shit that’s fucked up in the world, good night.
Take an Ativan. See you in the morning!
Exactly. And like what the fuck am I supposed to do with that information? Whereas if you say, “Here’s what you need to know. Here’s why it’s important. Here’s why you need to know this and here’s something you can do about it. Click here to go to this petition. Click here to donate to this cause. Click here to learn more about net neutrality.” Etc., I feel like that’s a great way to turn people from passive observers to active participants. Look Out didn’t go anywhere but I’m told that Mario saw that and they approached me to audition. All the Rebel Report people are in New York except for me. When I originally auditioned it was to be a correspondent on Rebel Report and not to be the host because they were like, “We’re going to need a host that’s in New York, obviously.” So I’m like yeah, that’s fine. I’m going to be a correspondent. And then I did a sixty second piece on Ferguson, and they just saw that and were like, “This is our guy.”
Let’s talk a little bit about Not Adam and Steve. I’m impressed by the way you guys put yourself out there and candidly talk about yourselves, your family, sexuality, etc. But where do you draw the line? How do you decide what to share or not?
It takes some getting used to. You do get used to being open as your default. We’ve been daily vlogging now… this is our third year. It gets easier. It’s not hard to determine what goes in and what stays out. As far as like, personal finances, I’m not going to go into that. I’m not going to go into the really nitty-gritty details of our sex life or our relationship or if there is an issue that we have. There definitely still is a boundary that you make and it’s not that difficult to maintain because we’re the ones doing all the shooting and all the editing. It would be an entirely different story if there was a camera crew inside our house and there were some producers making certain decisions. I guarantee you, you would have a far different picture of who we are and what we’re like if that were the case.
Our goal is to definitely maintain an air of accessibility and authenticity but if there is something that we don’t feel comfortable sharing, it’s not difficult to leave it out or cut around it. When it comes to stuff that will stay out, that will forever be out of our social media: if there’s an emergency with our family or with some of our close friends. We signed up for this whole daily vlog shit. They didn’t.
What is the goal or what are you guys hoping to accomplish?
“We set out to change the world by being normal.”
You’re showing that it does get better, that there is a life outside of where I live in Kansas or where I live in Saudi Arabia or West Africa. We got a message from an LGBT homeless shelter in New York City that was showing our videos to show that this is what is coming in your future. It may be bad now but here’s where you’re headed. There were all these messages that started trickling in and we’re on to something, we’ve stumbled onto something here. It was very accidental. I would love to say that this was part of our master plan all along. And I still to a certain degree don’t get it but I’m not going to fight it. If people will watch, I’ll keep going. We set out to change the world by being normal. That was when we really had a picture of what we were looking to accomplish with it.
Do you really not give a fuck what people think? Has there been any instance when that hasn’t been the case?
For the most part? Not really. But to a certain extent you kinda have to. Everyone has to care to a certain extent. Anyone who says they completely don’t care is either insane or homeless — homeless people, you can tell they don’t give a fuck. So a vast majority of the people who say they completely don’t give a shit what people think are lying. And that’s how society functions to a certain extent. You have to care a little bit. That’s why you shower and that’s why you wear deodorant and why…
You don’t run red lights.
Exactly. That sort of thing. I have to care what people think because I’m now hosting shit so I have to look vaguely presentable.
Has there been a time when something has gotten to you?
“Trolling is a new iteration of the same bullying and cruelty that we’ve been seeing for years…”
Oh, yeah. There’s times when we’re… I mean, you get like the “faggot,” that’s comical to me.
It’s expected. And boring.
My favorite comment is, “No offense, bro. Are these guys gay?” And I’m like, “You must be new.” That’s our favorite comment to get. And one time we were like, “Nah, we’re just really good friends.” But there’s sometimes when people will go out of their way to really try to find what gets under your skin. And it definitely has gotten to us on a couple of occasions but recently I had a revelation about trolling in general, and just how much it is our own failed mental health system coming back to bite us in the ass. In the sense that, we know what causes cruelty, we know what causes bullying. We know that when someone is dealing with difficulties in their life and they feel like they have no control over what is going on in their life, it is so much easier for them to externalize that on someone else than it is to deal with it in their own head. And they will always torment other people so that they feel in control. We know this.
So all trolling is a new iteration of the same bullying and cruelty that we’ve been seeing for years and years and years. And so, if anything, it’s making cruelty more accessible and more convenient to people who may not otherwise have the opportunity to be cruel because of physical limitations or being limited to just the people that you’re surrounded with. Don’t feed the trolls. Just block and move on with your life. But make no mistake that the longer that this trolling problem is allowed to continue, the more it’s going to escalate and the more of a threat it’s going to pose. The world isn’t going to end because of a disease or a meteor or whatever. It’s going to be some disgruntled kid who fucking opens up dams and hacks power grids and shit.
You recently clarified that you identify as bisexual and not gay despite public pressure to have you “choose a side,” and made a great case for a more complex approach to the classification of sexuality. As you’re aware, the Latinx community in the U.S. is incredibly diverse and our varied perspectives in/around sexuality can lead to strained relationships with friends and family. Are we as queer Latinxs expecting too much from the more traditional members of our community?
What I’ve noticed in my own my experience, not just in my personal experience but what I’ve heard other people describe, subscribers and that sort of thing (cause we do try to invite input from them and encourage them to send us letters and tell us their stories and tell us about themselves), the pattern I’ve noticed in whatever culture you’re talking about it doesn’t matter Hispanic, Muslim, WASP, the thing that I’ve noticed across all cultures is that when parents or family or loved ones or close friends react negatively it’s because they make it about themselves. “I don’t want to associate with someone like that because it doesn’t go with my beliefs.” “You’re a disgrace to the family.” “You’re an embarrassment to me.” That’s what happened to Will, unfortunately, with his dad. It was, “I’m not going to have a faggot for a son.” That sort of thing. Me. And whenever there is a more positive reaction, it’s because they are supportive of the person regardless of whether or not they get it, which that was my dad’s whole perspective. He’s like, “I don’t get it but I want you to be happy and I want you to be true to yourself.” And so that, as far as the way forward for the Hispanic or for any community in general, the greater global population, it’s just to encourage that mind set of you do whatever you have to do to be happy and you be true to yourself and I will do my best to support you in whatever you do but ultimately I just want you to be happy and be true to yourself.
So fuck, marry, kill: Tony Montana, Tyler Durden, and Jessica Rabbit.
“I know everyone is expecting me to say fuck Jessica Rabbit but I would probably marry her.”
I know everyone is expecting me to say fuck Jessica Rabbit but I would probably marry her. I would. Here’s the thing. Kill Tony Montana — immediately — immediately because the movie Scarface annoys me. It annoys me to no end. For multiple reasons, one of which is an Italian trying to be Hispanic. And the director Brian De Palma, I don’t think he has a good perspective of what is authentic to a Hispanic character. Pacino’s accent drives me up a fucking wall and the fact every rapper and dude-bro in existence completely missed the point of that movie. Nobody got it. It’s a critique of the 80s mindset of excess and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So kill Tony Montana. And people don’t give Jessica Rabbit enough credit as a character, I think. She’s a very rich character. And Tyler Durden is dangerous so I would only want to associate with him in the time it takes to screw his brains out and that’s it. Tyler Durden would be an amazing lay but keep him around long enough and he’ll blow up your fucking house. Jessica Rabbit is someone I would like in my corner.
She’s very loyal.
She’s extremely loyal and that whole notion of doing whatever it takes is definitely good to have in your corner.
Cunning and suave.
That’s the classic femme fatale. Knowing how to use what you have in order to get what you want. And I know she’s not shallow, too, because she married Roger Rabbit.