Friday, April 2, 2010

Enrique Martin Morales aka Ricky Martin

A popular news item last week was singer Ricky Martin’s announcement that “I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man.” Writing in 2001 for a LatCrit symposium, Will the Wolf Survive? Latino/a Pop Music in the Cultural Mainstream, 78 Denver U. L. Rev. 719 (2001), I remarked on the LatPop phenomenon of 1999 and 2000 as showcasing artists (the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, and Martin) who were generally bilingual, young, attractive, light-skinned, and heterosexual. While I mentioned that Ricky Martin was dogged (most famously by Barbara Walters in 2000) about his sexuality, his lyrics and those of the other LatPop stars nonetheless tended to focus on the opposite sex, as in his smash single She’s All I Ever Had, or his 1999 anthem Livin’ La Vida Loca about the impetuous woman who took his heart and money.

The story here some ten years after I wrote the article is less about Martin’s announcement on his sexuality, which probably surprised few, but on the aftermath of the LatPop explosion. As I speculated in 2001, U.S. media and the music industry are famous for according their subjects fifteen minutes of fame and moving on. Some ten years after these artists burst on the scene and Christina Aguilera and Enrique Iglesias performed together at the 2000 Super Bowl halftime show, and the same year the Republican National Convention used Martin’s La Copa de Vida as its theme song, this phenomenon has passed. What is left is the desperate poverty of many Latino/a families, rampant hate crimes against Latino/as, restrictive immigration policies, accusations that Latino/as are ripping the social and cultural fabric of the United States, and other indications that life for many Latino/as in the United States is not the stuff of a Ricky Martin song where you frolic in the rain and order French champagne. Surely Latino/as did not “arrive” through the LatPop explosion. The popularity of Ricky Martin and others did not repair broken schools, economies, and immigration policies that hold Latino/as back. The doors that opened for Ricky Martin did not always open in the same way for Latino/as with darker skin, those speaking English with an accent, or those not speaking English at all.

Despite his commodification as an artist and the diluted music served up for mainstream audiences, Ricky Martin and the other LatPop stars at least displaced a small dog hawking tacos as the mainstream media ambassador for Latino/as. And Ricky Martin did seem far removed from the derogatory and menacing image of Puerto Rican men in West Side Story. Viewed against the incessant images propounded today on hate radio and other mainstream media of the undeserving or even criminal Latino/a immigrant, I hope that years from now we don’t view the LatPop explosion as the zenith of the artistry and contributions of Latino/as in the United States. Rather, I expect someday Latino/as will claim their rightful and long ignored place in our cultural record on fronts that extend far beyond musical artistry and that Latino/as won’t have to change their names, mask their sexuality, or speak in English to collect their reward.

1 comment:

  1. Professor Bender,

    Maybe the bigger aspiration is that Latin American artists are one day able to have their culture embraced in the United States without succumbing to the diluting demands of crappy pop radio. Celebrities of all cultural backgrounds change their names and mask their sexuality (Rock Hudson?), so it's not purely a Latin American phenomenon.
    I think you're right about the language barrier though. It's rare that anything of cultural worth manages to make waves in the US with it's original language intact. I've had friends refuse to watch "It's a Beautiful Life" because there was too much reading involved.
    Someday, maybe.


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