Seductive Hallucinations of the "Mexican" in
William A. Nericcio
(Department of English and
Comparative Literature, San Diego State University)
Key sections of Tex[t]-Mex2
owe their debt, if not their birth, to the writings of French
post-structuralist guru Jean Baudrillard who died this week in Paris. Best known
for his writings on simulacra and simulation, Baudrillard was the go-to
theorist to cite when I was trudging up Buffalo Street hill in Ithaca to Cornell
University in the mid-1980s. If the Cars and the Talking Heads were the music
of that moment, then it was Baudrillard spinning the LPs of theory at that
time. With Derrida, Irigaray, Kristeva, Foucault, Barthes and Lacan, he was
part of the theoretical French wave that infected a whole generation of
humanities professors in the United States – that post-structuralist influenza
was as heady as absinthe. Here's a selection from my book's introduction
wherein I signal my debt to Jean – rest in peace.
* * * * *
From: Seductive Hallucinations
of the “Mexican” in America (University of Texas Press, 2006):
What obsesses me, what urges me to
bring these words to your eyes, is the network of signs in the U.S. mass media
that do yeoman's service representing the various peoples, cultures,
institutions, and corporations usually totalized, homogenized, and smelted
under the classification "Mexican" or "Latina/o."
But these signs (as semioticians, poststructuralists, and others within the
cultural-studies mall have taught us) are not representations of anything
Reality is a Utopia, a dreamy conceptual substance favored by politicians,
demagogues, and aesthetic-overdosed humanists. In analyses of Mexicans as well
as "Mexicans," we are trafficking as much with mass culture as masked
culture – here please call to mind speculations on Mexican subjectivity from
the once-lucid Octavio Paz in his Labyrinth of Solitude.
So I want to guarantee that we will not
spend the time we have here together trying to take off this mask, to
resuscitate the essential figure of some "real Mexican." If that were
possible, we could just change the channel or turn off the television every
time someone like Freddy López or Speedy Gonzales (or "Manuel" from
the BBC's Fawlty Towers) appears and, by doing so, halt the dissemination of
these extraordinary ethnic tropes.
"Real Mexicans"? "True Latinas/os"? We ought not to linger
in that snake pit. And we have 1980s Euro-wunderkind Jean Baudrillard, among
others, to thank for graciously saving us some ink. Baudrillard's critical
"spankings" rate a second glance, especially those moments in
"The Precession of Simulacra" where he surmises that "it is
always the aim of ideological analysis to restore the objective process."
Good enough. Most of us want little more than to even the score, set things
right, heal the rift, "restore" objectivity, and so on. But this will
The germ of this book was a vendetta I had for an animated Mexican mouse by the
name of Speedy Gonzales; but, in the end, I had to let the anger go.
Baudrillard, holding forth again, says: "It is always a false problem to
want to restore the truth beneath the simulacrum." Look behind Speedy or
beneath Freddy López and one will not find Mexican-hating illustrators or
Latino-loathing puppeteers (ok, maybe one or two; we are talking about animated
"Mexicans" created in California). More often than not, one will find
someone working sine dolo malo, "without fault, without an intent of evil,"
as the Romans used to say. But not always without fault—the autopsy of a rat
that appears within the pages of this book features enough innocent villains
and guilty angels to populate a Hollywood B film.
Hare” Michael Maltese and Friz Freeleng.
Brothers, August 1942)
And, to be frank, it is not just "Africans" (see "Fresh
Hare") or "Mexicans" that come off badly when it comes to
mechanical reproduction of ethnic types – check out these cute gringo kids from
my private collection of "ethnic" types (in particular, look closely
at the boy on the right, who has been digitally processed so much that his
"skin" takes on the texture of a Pixar-born(e)
computer-generated-image offspring of a CGI wet dream by the in vitro-cloned
hybrid child of Mengele, Geppetto, and John Lasseter).
So, I promise: we will not labor to discover the true "Mexican," nor
will we seek to restore the essential and true Latina/o phenotype and rescue
"our" representation from the clutches of a manipulative mass media;
rather, I want to try something much more modest and not at all perfectly
organized – my one genuflection to the niceties of organization was to order my
chapters somewhat chronologically in the order that they were conceived. This
may lead to some grumbling from the peanut gallery regarding the Lupe Vélez's
entrance in the later galleries of this labyrinth of horrors, when chronology
and history would place her first – but doing so would upset the gods that have
ordained this critical effort, and it is to them I must pay obeisance even
before the needs of you, my gentle, indulging reader.
© William Nericcio