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Research The Groningen Research Institute for the Study of Culture (ICOG) Research Research centres Research Center for the Americas

CRA - Narcomedia: Latinidad, Popular Culture, and America’s War on Drugs

When:Th 15-02-2018 19:00 - 20:00
Where:Academy building, Heymanszaal
Jason Ruiz, Associate Professor of American Studies, University of Notre Dame

Narcomedia: Latinidad, Popular Culture, and America’s War on Drugs

According to various U.S. federal agencies, Latinx populations use illegal drugs at lower rates than the national average. Nonetheless, and related to the fact that Latinxs are disproportionately incarcerated for drug offenses, Latinos and Latinas remain overrepresented in U.S. media texts that tell the story of how the nation procures, uses, and abuses illicit narcotics. As depicted in countless examples from American popular culture, Latinxs are natural participants of the transnational narcotics trade and, to some, the instigators of America’s drug problems. This talk posits that scholars and students of Latinx studies and American studies must take these modes of representation seriously and that this process must begin by looking closely at how, exactly, Latinx drug narratives circulate in U.S. popular culture. To do so, it turns to a body of texts that I call “narcomedia”—a wide array of popular culture sources that have depicted Latinx populations and drugs as inextricably connected.

This talk consists of two parts. First, it will situate narcomedia texts within the broader tradition of representing non-white people and narcotics as mutually constitutive threats to the US body politic. Although drugs did not play a role in representing Latinos and Latinas in, say, early silent film, the characteristics that would go on to signify Latinx criminality and illegality were already forming in that period and look startlingly familiar to contemporary audiences. Second, building on that historical overview, this talk will examine the most recent cycle of Latinx drug films and series, focusing on those embedded in the so-called “Prestige Television” movement (series like Breaking Bad and Narcos) to argue that we are entering a period of renewed cultural interest in Latinxs’ roles in the international drug trade. In the end, this asks what is at stake in US pop culture’s representational patterns associated with Latinidad and challenges the audience to work demand fairer depictions.