Carlos Monsivais died today in Mexico City at the age of 72. He was one of the few true intellectual figures in Mexico who was read by ordinary people, through his column in El Universal and, before that, in La Jornada. His career is difficult to categorize, since he had a wide range of interests he wrote about, including movies, popular Mexican music, poetry, Mexican dialects and vocabulary, politics (he hated Carlos Salinas de Gortari), cartoonists in Mexico, comic books, painters (he wrote a biography of Frieda Kahlo), and the Chiapas rebellion of the EZLN (he was partially sympathetic), to name a few. He seemed to have a knack for analyzing some aspect of politics or culture in just a few paragraphs, from a fresh perspective, and it would suddenly become the conventional wisdom of the urban literate classes in Mexico City. It was considered a distinction to have Monsivais write a prologue to one's book, and he wrote hundreds of them.
Like many intellectuals in Mexico he was deeply influenced by the massacre of students in Mexico City in 1968, and it caused him to begin a long reflection on problems in the Mexican political system. Like the late columnsits Herb Caen in San Francisco and Mike Royko in Chicago, he loved his native city and could write about it and the people in it, with humor and depth.