Popular Culture in Latin America

Posted by: | January 27, 2009 | Comments Off on Popular Culture in Latin America


This week’s reading "The Faces of Popular Culture" by Rowe and Schelling explored the way traditional indigenous cultures of Latin America and modern culture coexist. One often thinks that the isolated native Indian populations of Latin America live suspended in time, untouched by the characteristics of modernization that we in the West are familiar with: Capitalism, urbanization, globalization, etc. Rowe and Schelling show that this notion that these civilizations are unchanging and placid is not always true by exploring how native Latin American culture has evolved with Spanish conquest, religion, modernization, capitalism, etc.

My favourite part of the reading is the description of the transition of Mexican artefacts from everyday indigenous life to the museum. It is interesting to note that many decades ago, Mexico, along with most other Latin American countries, started using their indigenous cultures as the markers of its national identities. One can draw a clear parallel between this and the use of Native culture to represent Canada. It is unusual how the culture of the historically oppressed, low socio-economic indigenous populations is often commodified for tourism’s sake. Indigenous culture is used to represent the countries internationally (the first example coming to mind being the use of the Inuksuk as the Vancouver 2010 Olympic symbol). With regards to the commodification of Mexican artefacts, Rowe and Schelling state that “The urban and tourist consumption of these artefacts causes them to be increasingly decontextualized and resignified on their journey to the museum and the boutique” (p 65). The authors are talking about the way common vessels of indigenous cultures are not being used for practicality or ritual anymore, but for tourism consumption and anthropological examination. I cannot say whether this is a negative thing or not, as there are both pros and cons to the issue. This tourist and anthropological interest in indigenous cultures is not necessarily harmful (although it can be), on the contrary, it promotes protection and general respect of the cultures. However, the “decontextualizing” of the cultures is where there is a problem, as when the culture is commercialized, its physicality, purpose and cultural/spiritual meaning is altered, resulting in the non-original vessel of culture. Maybe the situation is not exclusively positive or negative, as the alteration of indigenous culture is, in some sense, development, as it is not becoming stale and static in the shadow of modernization. The authors go on to describe how Joaquin Lopez Antay, a great escultor creates retablos that have obviously evolved with the interests and demands of the public. I found interesting the claim that Lopez Antay is creative, inventive and even progressive in his craft while retaining the “richness of the tradition”. Alterations for commercial and investigative purpose to indigenous culture render it incongruent to the original, as it is “decontextualized”. However, perhaps this decontextualization is a more desirable alternative than the complete eradication of a culture, or its extinction due to its inability to evolve with the rest of the world.



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