Category Archives: Visual Cultures
I know there are some of you out there that have seen the above. Am I the only motha phugin’ spic who gets this shit? We used to call it “propaganda.” Now we call “patriotism.” Now…I know I’m not the only one looking through some colored lenses, so in case some of us missed it, here’s what’s going on in the above:
0) A elderly man stares at you, the viewer, with tender eyes. The white background suggests purity and the heavens. Large celestial wings protrude from his back and they give you a sense of authority and comfort. He sits as though waiting for you to say something, to call him for help. The spanish-language text reads: “Terrorism? Help yourself so that I could help you too,” then there is a website and phone number to call. The bold text at the bottom of the ad reads, “Keep yourself on guard,” and is flanked by two identity brands, one for the Ad Council, and one for Homeland Security.
While this may all seem well and fine, my uneducated, non-english speaking, brown ass can’t help but analyze it and argue that the above visually represents the illusion that “mexicans” are not the Other in this country, but instead part of the “Us,” when the reality is that visual representations like this merely promulgate the “Othering” of “mexicans” as well as “terrorists.” Furthermore, the above ad pits these two Othered parties against one another in order to have these parties unsuspectingly battle each other out for inclusionary status within the American psyche. This is a battle neither party wins.
I) Mexicans (because we brown folk are all motha phuckin Mexycaans in their eyes, aren’t we) want citizenship. So of course all the Mexicans are going to want to call if they see the above in order to be considered flag-waving, spandex-wearing, fat-ass hanging, stars and stripes bearing, patriotic Mr. Joe God Bless motha-phugin’ America Smith. Moreover–and herein lies the sweet, sweet bitter and disgusting irony–my grandma’s gonna pick up the phone, and call the authorities to report a bag full trash, and the feddies over from Ho-La Sick (Home Land Security) are gonna come knockin’ at her metal screen door, put her ass into a motha phuckin chariot van, and ship her no-document ass back to the mo-fo’in depths of mo’fo-in Culyacan. The very branch of our fine government that Others the “terrorists” is the very same branch of government that Others my spanish-speaking, welfare-collecting, tortilla-slapping, bean-frying, progeny-bearing grandmother. They want her to come forth from the thicket of American density and reveal herself so that she could think of herself as Mr. Smith (from above). This fine, fine branch of government actually believes that my grandmother doesn’t know she too is the Other.
II) If it is in Spanish, the assumption is that the person reading it reads no language other than spanish. Ho-La Sick seems to be saying, “Hey you, spanish-only speaking friend, why don’t you come on over here and tell me the four-one-one you’ve got…oh-and-by-the-way-can-I-see-your-papers?” That the ad is in spanish shows that the target viewer of this ad is some one who has not fully “integrated” into American english-speaking society.
In using a descriptor like “terrorism” the ad forces the viewer not think of a multi-perspectival definition of terrorism (because who walks around thinking that “terrorists” might be human?) but rather forces the viewer to revert back to a caricature of a “terrorist,” or a caricature of what “terrorism” looks like.
Furthermore, the spanish language text on a bus bench implies that brown people ride buses, which is not a bad thing unless you consider, as I have, the further implication: using spanish on a bus bench ad weds together the spanish language and bus-riding as an already highly stigmatized practice. In other words, that it is on a bus bench does not mean nothing. It means that brown people ride the bus. Riding the bus is stigmatized in our society because, “there must be something wrong with you if you ride the bus” (said by some random chick in her H2). The stigma of bus-riding stems from the fact that carless, homeless, crazies, and minorities ride the bus. That there is a spanish language Homeland Security ad in OCTA bus-stop ad space reinforces the idea that the low-paid, dregs of society (who can’t even read english!) ride the motha phuckin bus.
Here, I think of the way that the spanish language always seems to be essentially tied to kitchens and dish-washing sinks. Or how spanish seems to be essentially tied to manual labor trucks. Or the way that it is tied to those manos for hire who try to solicit work through their broken english. In other words, if you speak spanish only you are in a normatively disadvantaged position within our society, and if you speak spanish in addition to other languages you are still, at least in some socio-linguistic way, tied to the kitchen, the dish-washing sink, the labor truck, the Home Depot parking lot, or the bus bench–even when you roll by in your Prius.
III) In addition to linguistic boogy-monster-means, they simply must use the religious angle as well. All Mexicans are god-fearing catholics, protestants, or jehovah’s witnesses. Of course Ho-La Sick is gonna slap some motha phuckin wings on this old sweet brown man’s ass. WTPh.
IV) In addition to religio-iconclastic imagery, we’re also talking about brownie’s desire to make it through them pearly gates. Mexicans wanna go to motha phuckin heaven where the beans and tortillas are plentiful…and little streams of Tequilla come a-trickling down the rocks…and all the border patrol have wooden legs! Mexicans like to call this place The Big Rock Bean Mountain. Of course they’re gonna look at this, and buy into it by believing it. Even if they don’t pick up the phone their gonna think, “O, si veo una persona sospecho voy a llamar!” because they fear God and this?–this here is motha phuckin’ God’s country.
Well thank you very much Mr. Ho-La Sick and Ad Council. My grandmother and I salute you. We (along with our twelve relatives in our one-bedroom rat hole) feel much safer. We’ll make certain to keep ourselves “on guard.”
Or maybe it’s just all those pesky little Chicano Studies courses I’ve been taking (because those aren’t wrought with their own problems). Or perhaps it was the blasted visual cultures course.
Oh, and, Mr. Ho-La Sick…if I may: I just got a call from my Iraqi brother over in (you guessed) Iraq. He says that he just saw a poster warning him and his terrorist brothers of bean-chewing Mexican immigrants that are plotting to supplant them in all their low-paying, manual labor jobs. My Iraqi brother says he hears that we believe that we are entitled to all low paying shit jobs the world over because of Leviticus 3:2. He’s merely calling to fact check. Don’t worry, I told him that, since we all can’t read, we don’t exactly know what Leviticus 3:2 says.
Now that I’ve gotten all that off my chest (real men, after all, do have nipples), I’m gathering my trollops and trinkets, hopping on some public transit, and heading to LA. Who’s with me!?