Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Mi Ultimo Blog

Well well well...
We have reached the end! Hard to believe in a few weeks Summer will be here, long days at wreck beach and enjoying the Sun finally after 8 long months. All in all, this class was not entirely what I expected. It was harder, more theoretical and more academic than I had imagined it would be. I must admit, after reading many of the essays, I would put that packet down and have not much of an idea of anything I had just read. However, what I found interesting about this class, is even though I found the material challenging and confusing, after leaving the lectures, I felt that I really had come to many new understandings. I guess many of the readings just needed a bit of an explanation and once I caught on, my perspectives on many previously. For example, I was truly angry after reading that article about the Coral Reef, because I really couldn't understand what the author was getting at. However, once it was explained to me in a way that made sense, this perspective has become really useful in understand culture in new ways. Things that should have been easy, like defining what culture even is (I am an anthropology student) proved to be difficult, but it was in overcoming that difficulty that I felt that I really learned a lot. I enjoyed learning about Murals in Mexico, and the U.S. Mexico border as a contested space that both brings cultures together, and also divides them. I enjoyed discussing things like Soap Operas and Futbol that seemed trivial at first, but came to represent much more about Latin American culture and society upon closer inspection. I really enjoyed discussing the element of performance in the case of the Zapatistas...but I must admit, I'm still a bit unsure about how I feel having discussed J-Lo's butt in depth in class, never thought I would see that day. I like the idea that cultures do not merely come to exist out of a slow and natural process, but rather there is intension, power struggles, and strong social forces that have always and will continue to shape culture, as culture is fluid and easily maliable. Certain elements of this class pushed my comfort levels a bit, such as having a blog (never thought I would be the blogging type) and being called on randomly in class by Jon (that always freaks me out a bit).

All in all, its been real. Have a good summer everyone!

Friday, March 20, 2009


I seem to have gotten behind on my blog in the midst of due dates, essays, exams, etc. But better late than never. In Oritz's article, he brings to light the concept of transculturation, even suggesting that he is the one to coin the term. He poses this term during the rise of peoples growing usage of 'acculturation' suggesting that this phrase is too limiting in its scope. He uses the world 'transculturation' to "express the highly varied phenomena that have come about in Cuba as a result of the extremely complex transumtations of culture that have taken place here." He describes that Cuba's history is defined by a mixing of people, cultures, ideas, etc. The Spaniards mixed with the indigenous populations, killing the majority, but the remainders nonetheless influenced eachother. In description of this, Ortize writes: "A revolutionary upheaval shook the Indian peoples of Cuba, tearing up their institutions by the roots and destorying their lives." As the slave trade ferociously brought Africans to Cuba, though marked by incredibly injustices perhaps on par with the treatement of indigenous populations, Africans and Africans culture mixed with indigenous and European cultures creating more cultural mixtures. Ortiz feels that 'transculturation' is a better way of describing the phenomanon that took place in the way of cultural mixing in Cuba, as the process of transistion from one culture to another does not consist of merely 'acquiring' another's cultures, but is undeniable also the result of an uprooting and loss of previous culture. I agree with him here; cultural mixing is not merely a result of one taking up the ways of another, but is also the result of the loss that comes along with coercion, subordination, and violence in the process.

In response to this, Millington feels that we must examine this term more closely as he feels that it is being overused. He feels that "these terms seek to excercise some critical leverage on the heirarchichal binaries of imperialism/neo-colony, centre/periphery, identity/otherness, which apparently hold Latin America in their iron grip. The sense is that what is produced by transcultuation or hybridisation does not fit within neat binaries, that it straddles, mixes and disrupts." Millington feels that bunching many terms together under one 'master term' is confusing and at times, inaccurate. What I liked most about this article was when Millington puts into question that optimistic views of marginilized sectors of society as a basis of resistance, when he feels that their marginalization is at best an urgent reminder "of what needs to be done." While on one hand, in looking at marginilized groups throughout history, we do not want to remove their agency and reciliency in maintianing their own culture in the face of oppression, at the same time, is this triviallizing the injustices they underwent and looking upon the situation too optimistically? Is the idea of culture resiliency in the face of oppression too easy and an optimistic of a conclusion? I thought it was interesting that he actually presented a conclusion on how he felt these issues are to be better addressed: "In my view, the best way of redrawing the cultural-political map is not to shrink back into narrow self-affirmations but, on the one hand, to expose what the dominany cultures are and how they work and are transformed...[and] on the other hand, in order to find and define emancipatory spaces we need to continue trying to understand how specific processes of transculturation function..."

Futbol y telenovelas

I found both of the articles for this week interesting and well written. I will admit, while I appreciate soccer to a degree, I am not a huge sports fan in general, and have never really understood the craze and obsession that goes along with it. However, after reading the article about futbol, I feel that I have finally come to understand the reality of the importance that futbol means to people. To many people in around the world, with Brazil being an epicenter to the excitment, futbol is not nearly just a game but rather is a canvas for which great cultural meaning and identity is constructed. Futbol is not mearly people kicking a ball around a field for entertainment sake, but is a site in which people come together to create a larger narrative about their lives and identities. In the example of the game in the 1950's, for Brazilians, this does simply represent a game that was lost, but rather is highly symbolic of greater loss. It was an event that came to speak as a national narrative of the people. The staduim that was built in preperation of the game was also not mearly a fancy staduim but rather a symbol of progress and pride for the Brazillian people at a time when they were constructing their national identity for themselves and the world to witness. I think this quote sums it up well: "the 1950 game is perhpas the greatest tragedy in contemporary Brazilian history. Because it happened collectively and brought a united vision of the loss of a historic oppurtunity. Because it happened at the beginning of a decade in which Brazil was looking to assert itself as a nation with a great furutre. The result was a tireless search for explications of, and blame for, the shameful defeat.' Reading this article made me think about how popular culture in general can come to have great signifigance when it is taken in by the people a symbol of national pride, nation and identity constructing.

As far as soap operas go...I will admit...I used to watch All My Children for many years when I was a child, namely because my Mom was into it, but I can definitly see the appeal. I mean, if you are going to watch bad television, why not just go all out for the aweful stuff rather that the mediocre stuff that tries to present itself as 'good' ? Soap operas and telenovelas get a lot of criticism, most of which is entirely valid, but I feel that they do play a role in bringing to light (an an entirely overly exagerated way) real issues that people face within society. In the case mentioned in the article, Por estas calles even acted as a mirror for political reality that people in Venezuela faced at the time. According to the article, "Por estas calles cannot be understood outside the context of Venezuela's political, economic, and social situation in the last decades of the twentieth century." Likewise, the author suggests that, "all feel affected by the world created in the telenovela, as long as it raises problems they beleive they have gone through themselves." Telenovelas can be a medium that bring family together to view characters and stories as they experience real drama that is often, an exaggerated version of problems rooted in reality. As we discussed in class, telenovelas often bring up isses in society that are highly taboo. They flirt with these issues, but almost always tend to be intensely moral; wrong doers will not come out on top in the end. These shows raise forbidden topics in order to demonize them.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Folk Culture and Modernity

While I found both articles very interesting and insightful, they were long, and at points difficult to understand, so I admit that I did some skimming to get through them. With that said, I think that both articles were good representations of many of the themes we have discussed in class in action. Murals symbolically represent many of the elements that we have discussed in relation to popular culture, counter hegemonic discourse, relationships of power, high culture and low culture, and a contestation of public space. Murals in Mexico are both a literal and metaphorical canvasses of self and societal expression. In them are embedded complex notions of history, oppression, and marginalization, resistance, struggle, and solidarity. Interestingly, figures such as Diego Rivera, who painted murals to challenge status quo ideas in somewhat controversial ways have since become figures of Mexican culture and nationhood, and their art which at one time acted as a canvass of expression of celebrating the people (in the Evita Peron context of the word) has since been elevated to the status of high art.

This article brought up notions of public space; what is public space and whom exactly does this space belong to? There seems to be a contestation on who can have total access to this space, as much if it is sanctioned by the state and thus has limitations on the extent of self-expression deemed acceptable. Likewise, this article shows that when this expression goes too far, it can be in fact taken back by the state, and as a result, like much of popular culture exists within the context of struggle. According to Campbell, "The current public visibility of Mexican muralism is afflicted with a bewildering duality. On the one hand, mural art continues to be accorded great national prestige as a public cultural form. On the other, the great bulk of the country's mural production...is destroyed (29)". Mexican Muralism, much like popular culture in general, is often a representation of the current struggles of the time. The author points out that today, as neoliberalism and privatization ensues and causes further inequalities, many of these themes are reflected within the sphere of public art.

I thought that the idea of "colonization of urban space by commercial advertising," was very interesting, as I have never really thought of it like this before. While here in North America we may not consider the state to be an instrument of blatant coercion or propaganda, at the same time, we have no choice in constantly being exposed to advertising everywhere we go. I suppose this advertising is a form of ideological indoctrination into the capitalist system. It is interesting to see how through taking over these spaces, public art acts as an arena for cultural contestation.

While reading this article, I kept thinking of my two trips to Oaxaca, one in June of 2006, and the other, last summer. During my first trip I unknowingly found myself in the midst of a very heated political conflict between the teachers of Oaxaca and the government. It was a time of a lot of chaos, violence, and police brutality, but was met with great organization of the people through huge rallies and public dissent. What started as a teachers strike was elevated as a reaction to state oppression to become a unified struggle between indigenous groups, activists, students, women, and many other supporters throughout Mexico against a political regime they perceived as corrupt and illegitimate. When I left Oaxaca the first time, the situation was very chaotic and much of the city was left in shambles. However, when I returned two years later, I was amazed at the amount of street art that seemed to blossom in the wake of this tense situation. The walls of the city seemed to become literal canvasses for cultural contestation, solidarity, and self-expression. Oaxaca is a very artistic city in general, but I was truly taken aback by the stories that were told in these walls. As the article mentioned, there were many layers of paint on these walls as many of the murals had been painted over by the state to be then taken back by the people, and so on and so forth. But in this contestation is a history of the struggle for power and self-expression; something that is very telling about popular culture in Latin America all together.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

In response to Tory's post

I agree with what you are saying here and feel that you have really explained well some of the key themes in the class. While Latin America represents a huge mixing of culture, race, tradition, belief, etc., it would be wrong to assume that this automatically signifies a sense of social equality. While the concept of 'Mestizo' may seem attractive in its inclusiveness, it is undeniable that a strong and even rigid racial hierarchy exists in much of Latin America. I think that a lot of this has to do with legacies of conquest and colonization as much of Latin America culture and history can be defined through shifting relations of power. However, I think that it is important keep in mind that in in the face of domination, there is a strong sense of resiliency that causes culture to constantly reinvent itself rather than merely being crushed.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Hard to believe that we are already half way done! So far, I have enjoyed many aspects of this class. In discussing many elements of both the meaning of culture and the people, and specific cultural traditions in Latin America, I feel that my knowledge has expanded in all areas. Interestingly, though I have taken many classes in anthropology, I feel that I have learned at least as much about what 'culture' is in this class, and likewise, am probably more confused by it as well. I have never really had the opportunity to study 'popular' culture to such an extent, and I find that it adds a fundamental dimension to the study and understanding of culture as a whole. I also find that I have been able to make connections about culture, popular culture, and the people that we have discussed in this class in many of my other classes, which is exciting.

I really enjoyed the first two articles that we read by Williams and Keesing. I like the concept of culture being ordinary; that it is not an authentic relic of the past that can be found in a museum, or a form of high art only accessable to the elite, but rather it is all around us. Everything we see, from infrastructure and architecture, to human interaction and social relations sheds light on the embedded history that has sculpted the culture that we see today. Culture in Latin America can not be reduced to strictly indigenous culture or legacies of European culture, but rather it represent the mixing of it all. In comparing culture to a Coral Reef, I really enjoyed how Keesing dismanteled this idea, suggesting that culture is not simply a natural process that slowly changes over time and is unintentional in doing so, but rather culture is reactionary. Culture exists out of a serious of power relations and struggle that have conciously dominated and resisted domination. Forces of globalization, modernization, and colonization have effected culture, and people have continuously resiseted and reacted to these forces thus adding yet another dimension of the culture we see today.

In Evita Peron's book In My Own Words she adresses the 'people' in a passionite way. However reading this article brings into question, who exactly are the people? According to Peron, the people are generally those who have in some way been disenfranchised by the system, ie the women, the poor, the sick, the elderly, etc. Many definition of the 'people' can exist, but as this relates to the study of popular culture, one can see that culture can both come from a trickelling of culture from the elites of above, or an absorbing of culture from the masses of below. Cultural exchanges are multideimensional in their flows.

This concept is well defined in Rowe and Schelling's "The Faces of Popular Culture." Though this article cuased some debate in class, I feel that its aims were explain how parts of indigenous life and culture were 'crushed' during the time of conquest an colonization, there is a certain resiliancy of culture that have not allowed for domination, but rather hybridization and mixing of cultures. In this article we see the exchange of culture from 'top down' and 'bottom up,' along with an extreme hybridization of customs and religions. The authors note that as capitalism effects culture, commercial processes can make art pre-packaged and for profit, thus cheapining their form. Rowe and Schelling note that at certain points commodification can go too far and get eaten up by the 'culture industry' which leads to a degradation in quality and creativity. They suggest that history is not nuetral by guided by popular culture that can get absorbed into commercial and state culture.

Lastly, I will comment on the discussion of race. I find race a particularily interesting concept in Latin America. Through conquest, colonization, and slavery, many mixed races were created that further created social hierarchies. In The Cosmic Race Vasconcelos suggests that it is in the mixtures of race that make Latin America strong and unique. However through his language, it becomes very obvious that race is far from nuetral. Wade argues that even in the concept of 'mestizo' that signifies to many an inclusion of all, their still exists a strong sense of racial hierarchy, and this mixing has not equated to social and racial equality. In Latin America, generally speaking, lightness of skin often equates to social status, and black or indigenous colouring can often be found at the bottom of this hierachy.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Understanding Culture through Stories

I found this weeks readings interesting and thought provoking, but still challenging, though in an entirely different way that the readings prior. The Asturias readings represented a resignification of indigenous ideas and were loaded with symbolism about cultures in contact, hybridization of culture, and resilience in the face of domination. I feel that these are the types of readings that need to be read several times to fully understand the complex messages embedded in the sureal writing style. The style of writing was very poetic and beautiful, but in its non-linear style, it was hard for me to fully grasp the message upon first read. Though I'm not entirly sure how, I feel that these readings exemplify the concepts that we discussed in class about cultural flows moving in many directions, and a certain resiliance in the way that indigenous culture was practiced in the face of Spanish domination. In "The Legend of the Crystal Mask," Asturias refers to "the men with the worm white skin," which I assume alludes to the Spanish. In the same story, the priest concludes with the thought, "The one who adds creatures of artifice to creation must know that these creatures are rebellious. See, they have buried him, yet they remain!" I think that this quote refers to the idea that even if a group is 'dominated,' the nature of humans and of culture is that they will find ways to reinvent themselves in a rebellious way to fight back: culture and the human spirit are too strong to be broken.

As many of my classmates have mentioned, the second reading was a lot of straightforward with a simple plot and punch line. This story to me symbolized again the rebelious nature that people maintain even in the face of outward domination. While it may have seemed that Pongo was sucumbing to the outward domination of his Master, the end of this story shows that subtley, his spirit will not be broken.

I think that it is interesting to attempt to understand culture via understanding it through the interpretation of myth and story and I look forward to further discussing this in class.