Moderator: Mary Corbin Sies, American Studies, University of Maryland
" Naco es Chido? ('It's Hip to be Naco?'): Mestizaje, Hybridity, and Representations and Meanings of Naquismo "
Mateo Munoz and Ana Perez (American Studies and Women's Studies, University of Maryland)
The term naco is associated with lower-class, dark-skinned peoples thought of as racially and culturally distinct. A recent popular culture trend in Mexico and the United States has attempted to expand and redefine the significance of the term naco through commodification and re-appropriation. Does broadening the meaning of the term naco have the potential to produce a new meaning that transcends race and class? However, it appears that these processes tautologically redefine and reaffirm racial and class taxonomies. Ironically, popularizing the term naco as an aesthetic removes it from its socio-historical context that attempts to deracialize the significance of naco while relying on the concept of an authentic naco. What technologies of globalization mediate and remediate the ideology(s) and associated images of naco? For example, a National Public Radio program aired in 2004, centers on a company ironically named NaCo. that sells novelty T-shirts. Interestingly, the NPR program was recorded in Mexico City , translated into English and then broadcast and interpreted by a U.S. audience. These popular shirts are found in upscale boutiques as well as in the tianguis , or flea markets that sell pirated imitations; with textual and visual designs that rely on American and Mexican cultural hybrids that reference icons such as American rock bands and films. In response to piracy NaCo. is continuously generating new T-shirt designs that rely on the concept of an authentic naco. In this discussion we use an interdisciplinary approach to grapple with cultural production and representations of the (in)authentic naco. We submit that NaCo. T-shirts are popular cultural artifacts that simultaneously reaffirm and redefine notions of an authentic naco.
"Witnessing the Fall: The Crisis of the Permeable Self"
Christine Muller (American Studies, University of Maryland)
On September 11, 2001 , approximately one in every six of the dead from the World Trade Center 's North Tower jumped to their deaths. Once the American media self-censored its coverage, U.S. news viewers and readers would likely not learn the distinguishing characteristics of most of those who jumped. Rather, those who jumped remain in cultural memory only as undifferentiated human beings characterized by shared vulnerability, shared mortality. To perceive those who jumped without perceiving the kinds of identifying markers that allow us to tell ourselves we are qualitatively different from them, different enough to distance us-the-safe from them-the-endangered, we grasp how tenuous the separation between us, the safe, and them, the endangered, can be.
Such witnessing prompts both identification with and resistance to the falling figures. While recognizing these figures as human beings like ourselves, we also recognize their dilemma as something we too would never want to face. Witnessing in this way the precariousness of others and so, conceivably, that of our own agency and bodily integrity, foregrounds our sense of self by violating it, by showing what we cannot completely control: our lives and the circumstances that affect them. This breach generates a sense of our selves as permeable. In effect, the permeable self is the experience of tension between identification with and resistance to those who are vulnerable because their vulnerability prompts consideration of our own contingent power and fortune. This unresolved unsettlement persists within American cultural memory as an untrumpeted specter of September 11.
"'We Rock With It, Roll With It': An Exploratory Look at Hurricane Katrina and Hip Hop-Led Leadership"
Kache Boyd (American Studies, University of Maryland)
Hurricane Katrina made landfall August 29 th , 2005 . In her wake, amidst the devastation and disaster, the floodgates of a different kind of storm burst at the seams. What ensued has since become a six-month long debacle of reaction, repair and distant retribution. Although there have been (and will continue to be) moments of painful clarity, courageous demonstrations of the power of perseverance and hopeful instances of relief, we remain a nation torn. Yet, there is a collective dialogue taking place that offers stupendous possibilities to advance our national discourse on the divvying of power, balanced politics and effective leadership in addition to reevaluating the proximity and access certain communities have to specific resources. American culture, though not monolithic, is to a large extent fascinated with the perception, cultivation and practice of "leading". We learn from the many mass-mediated outlets which speak of and to the "pulse" of America that a popular conception of leadership does exist and has since been challenged. It is in this spirit that I began with a topical emphasis on young, black leadership through the lens of Hurricane Katrina news coverage.
While questions of race, responsibility, representation and leadership on a bureaucratic level swirled all about in the bulk of mainstream news coverage, a quieter conversation focused on grassroots mobilization was emerging. At the center of these two falsely-dichotomous discussions were very similar questions: who and where were the "leaders?" As the inescapable reality that several arms of local and national leadership had "dropped the ball" crystallized itself on the global stage of visional and print press, attention turned (albeit briefly) to the American public. Solicitations were issued on mass for donations of time, tangible goods and most importantly, monetary gifts. Benefits and fundraisers were organized and charitable celebrities were highlighted. And while individuals from all facets and genres of the entertainment industry joined the cause, there became an acutely pronounced correlation to Katrina's "voice" and hip hop. With no intention of discounting the tireless work or selfless contributions of "everyday" Americans, it was out of these cursory observations about who was and was not labeled a leader and why, that this project began to take shape. I propose to investigate the various ways in which vehicles of popular culture (radio, television, internet and print media) have reported and begun to frame what may become the master narrative of Hurricane Katrina, its victims and subsequent "heroes".
This study will illuminate and test some major relationships between leadership, power and popular culture, as well as reveal much about the dominant and more subversive discourses on hip-hop. Furthermore, I posit that a critical analysis framed around the notions of "leadership", "representation" and "responsibility" as relative to community membership in hip-hop will explicate the historical significance that many of the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts hold to matters of national crisis in the future.
Return to CHASA 2006 Program