Exploring representations of Latinx people from Scarface to Narcos, this book examines how pop culture has framed Latin America as the villain in America's long and ineffectual War on Drugs.
If there is an enemy in the War on Drugs, it is people of color. That is the lesson of forty years of cultural production in the United States. From Scarface and Miami Vice to Narcos and Better Call Saul, and from social media to gritty memoirs, popular culture continually positions Latinos as an alien people who threaten the US body politic with drugs. Jason Ruiz explores the creation and endurance of this trope, its effects on Latin Americans and Latinx people, and its role in the cultural politics of the War on Drugs.
Even as the focus of drug anxiety has shifted over the years from cocaine to crack and from methamphetamines to opioids, and even as significant strides have been made in representational politics in many areas of pop culture, Latinx people remain an unshakeable fixture in stories narrating the production, distribution, and sale of narcotics. Narcomedia argues that such representations of Latinx people, regardless of the intentions of their creators, are best understood as a cultural front in the War on Drugs. Latinos and Latin Americans are not actually America's drug problem, yet many Americans think otherwise—and that is in no small part because popular culture has largely refused to imagine the drug trade any other way.
Jason Ruiz is an associate professor in the Department of American Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of Americans in the Treasure House: Travel to Porfirian Mexico and the Cultural Politics of Empire.
This is a fascinating cultural history of media representations of the War on Drugs. Written in lively and accessible prose, Narcomedia turns passive consumption of film, television, and news into active and critical engagement, persuasively arguing for these media’s political and cultural significance and profound impact on the meanings of Latinidad.
~Camilla Fojas, author of Border Optics: Surveillance Cultures on the US-Mexico Frontier
In this well-researched and thought-provoking study, Jason Ruiz illuminates how the rise of drug trafficking–focused films, TV series, and media texts, from Scarface and Miami Vice to Breaking Bad and Narcos, have been intimately tied to US political rhetoric that has scapegoated Latinas/os as eternal foreigners and threats. A sobering but important exploration of narcomedia and its impact.
~Mary Beltrán, author of Latino TV: A History
Jason Ruiz offers a compelling cultural history of popular media representations of the War on Drugs and the transnational Latinx communities with which it is so often associated. Skillfully reading Latinx presence in/to some of the War on Drugs’ most iconic media texts, Ruiz shines a light on how dominant understandings of Latinidad have informed popular representations of illicit narcotics in the US since the 1980s. Narcomedia’s nuanced analyses of Latinx media representation and its triangular focus on the US, Colombia, and Mexico render it a vital contribution to many fields, including Latinx studies, American studies, cultural studies, Latin American studies, queer studies, and media studies.
~María Elena Cepeda, author of Musical ImagiNation: U.S.-Colombian Identity and the Latin Music Boom
A concentrated, rigorous look at Latinx representations in late-20th- and early-21st-century 'narcomedia,' or 'communication forms that emerge from drug trafficking'...Ruiz’s observations are incisive throughout. He is at his best, though, when directly addressing the 'how' and 'why' behind the production of problematic Latinx representations...Narcomedia itself makes important inroads into paving the path ahead for Latinx representations in US-made film and TV. Ruiz’s book is a fine example of the scholarly vigilance and clarity of thought needed to hold the abidingly white-centric entertainment industry’s feet to the fire in their ongoing representations of Latinx people on-screen.
~Los Angeles Review of Books
Chapter 1. “Say Goodnight to the Bad Guy”: South Florida, Cocaine, and the Many Faces of Scarface
Chapter 2. Miami Vices: Whiteness and Otherness in Representing the Criminalized City
Chapter 3. “The Most Alive Dead Man in the World”: Plotting the Death of Pablo Escobar
Chapter 4. Dancing toward Revenge: Queer Representation and What It Means to Be Seen in Narcomedia
Chapter 5. Dark Matters: Breaking Bad and the Suburban Crime Drama
Chapter 6. Bad Hombres: Narcomedia at the US-Mexico Border
Chapter 7. From Public Enemy to Global Media Commodity: Pablo Escobar Transformed
Epilogue. “It’s Time for a White Man to Leave the Building”: Centering Latinidad in Narcomedia
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