Popular Culture: “American Me” Movie

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The consumption of mass media has become so integrated into the society that the content comes in varying shapes and forms. From billboards and hit singles to the Box Office, the exposure portrays people from various walks of life. However, the depiction of the Hispanic population shows a large amount of negative stereotyping in television shows and movies.

Popular culture in this context refers to the culture considered to being to the people under the guise of the democratic populism and authenticity. Popular culture like many other cultures, owes its imaginative past to the hard-earned achievements of the past. However, it should be taken to note that culture can at times have frustrating and complex definition or meaning that is differentiated on the basis of the dispersed intellectual and traditions of a diverse environment. This context looks at popular culture in the film American Me.

Directed by James Olmos, American Me is a 1992 film. The film is based on a true story revolving around a Mexican American male spending over half of his life in prison (Maslin). The main protagonists, grew up in the street of Los Angeles, where he joined a local neighborhood gang. He and his friends got sent to prison at an early age of 16 for burglary. In prison, he started one of the biggest group, the Mexican Mafia, which gave him and all other Latinos, a way to survive. Olmos inputs the conceptual illustration of how Hispanics are hardwired to the life of crime.

The main protagonist goes by the name Santana. His parents were Zoot Suitors in their days and not liked by society. In the film, during the riots (zoot riots), sailors raped Santana’s mother and assaulted his father (Ebert). Santana grew up in a tense relationship with his father who resented him as he was not his real son. However, he discovered this at a later part of his life. His relationship with his father forced him to stay out on the street for most of his childhood life.

At the age of sixteen, he killed his first person, garnering respect and power. He loved the newfound power that he came to found the Mexican Mafia while in prison. The Mafia later expanded to the city. The Mexican Mafia was supposed to keep the Latinos united and prevent people stronger than them from taking anything from his people. He used his power to guarantee the safety of his people by making them pay rent (Ebert). He and his counterparts, JD and Mundo, were in charge of everything in prison, the Folsom State Prison. They were in control of drugs, gambling, and prostitution.

Whilst in prison, the Mexican Mafia was up against to different gangs, the Black Gorilla Family and the Arien Brotherhood. They managed to deal with everyone but this involved constant battles to maintain power and respect. Nothing in the system could prevent Santana from running things.

Audiences often draw on the social circumstances that attribute to the meaning a value of popular culture. Most at times, the meanings can be in form of patterns that are represented in the social organization systems that are structured towards diversity in the socioeconomic, status, race, gender, nationality, religion, sexuality and age among others.  There are charts on the cultural production of relation such as those of the US/Mexico borderlands expressing the aspects of local, hemispheric and global relations of the border as being imaginary as depicted in the movie. For instance, some of the scenes in the film are extremely graphic from an episode depicting the secret drug smuggling operation and the atmospheres of strip searches that surround the murderous conspiracies of inmates against one another. With the different gang affiliations in the prison, the movie depicts the boundaries within the prison on the basis of race. The Mexican Mafia comprise of Mexicans and the main protagonist Santana gains power to become a hardened drug dealer that presides over operations not only within the prison but extending to the whole city where his operations reach out to people from his ethnicity. Furthermore, the film is a depiction of events from the Zoot Suit Riots. In the Zoot Suit Riots, thousands of American sailors and service men in the state of California attacked Latinos that were associated with the “Pachuco” culture. The Zoot Suits were seen as a symbol of pride and considered by rioters as a symbol of unpatriotic and extravagance in a time of war. The result was tension between European Americans and Mexican Americans that later ignited the gang conflicts depicted in the film

Drama, great literature and myths all take abstract ideologies from universal ideas such as those of love, death, betrayal, envy, revenge, ambition. All these aimed at establishing the cultural power aimed at expressing the sense of feeling of being human (Arnould and Craig). These literary themes have been illuminated in visual cinematic sector such as The Godfather (1972) and Raging Bull (1980). While seemingly superficial in comparison, to a certain degree, the culture of celebrity and entertainment performs a similar function. Contemporary culture celebrities are treated as mythical archetypes to whom all sorts of extreme attributes are assigned, whether grace or beauty (Arnould and Craig). In the movie, Olmos creates an interesting illusion of Santana who keeps all of his secrets well hidden. He also engages in chain smoking since having cigarettes is considered to be a symbol of status in prison. Also, in the movie, he stands hunched with his eyes on the ground, speaking of hard truths, the true depiction of a natural leader. The whole basis of the movie was that the prisons control the underworld drug traffic. Even after being released, he falls n love with an understanding woman and is already a big figure due to his tenure in prison.

The critical approach to popular culture further emphasizes how the popularity in entertainment serves to increase the profits of giant corporation, for instance, Coca-Cola as some examples. The purchases of items from this large organization increase the gap between these organizations and small companies such as local businesses. This kind of inequality among the local business and multinationals are involved in the global platform in places such as china. This form of social inequality exists between nations such as the US and Mexico which exemplify the condition of export processing zones in the latter state where sweatshop factory workers stitch brand name clothes and shoes for renowned companies such as Reebok for a few dollars a day.

Rituals of rebellion are the staple of western popular culture, as has been for most of the centuries. In the European age of monarchs, court jesters were permitted to provoke kings and queens, similar to the masks of the current and former political figures including the president without the fear of negative consequences. For instance, in holidays such as Halloween, adults tend to dress in a kind of drag such as chain gang inmates or gunslingers that are very popular as are the outfits that are worn by occupants involved in undesirable or otherwise dirty work. American Me depicts these traits in the prison setting where Olmos and his gang are depicted in their prison uniforms.

The film moves on to the dreadful impacts of Santana’s crime empire that is based upon a new generation of Hispanic youths that are involved in the drug trade and who is blatantly depicted. The ability of the film to sound a warning to other young men in similar circumstance is the cause of it being most valuable.

It is important to bear in mind that popular culture does not always succeed in the commercial sense. This is particularly due to the fact that popular culture is dependent on the fame of an actor or one that is simply renown for just being famous despite the lack of talent. American Me was not successful in the Box office as it made losses worth $3 million after its release (Ebert).

Even in other shows such as Breaking Bad, there is a negative stereotyping towards Hispanic males as they are labeled as violent and heavily involved in the criminal and gang related activities. This comes as a result of the Mexican drug war that led to Hollywood taking advantage of this. In the show, Latino’s are depicted as aggressive, money hungry, self-centered drug dealers with the two main antagonists in the show being drug Lords (Griswold).

In other films such as A day without a Mexican, Hispanics are negatively represented in that the movie tries to imagine a world where Mexicans never existed. The movie groups Latino’s together as the Mexican ethnicity as there are no depictions of the different, cultures, beliefs, traditions, or the languages. In the movie, the sudden disappearance of all Mexicans causes extreme hardship for all the Caucasian people as no one will be left to park your car, serve you water or mow the lawns, a clear illustration that Mexican’s occupy the undesirable jobs.

The generalization of Hispanics in the film industry results in an inaccurate portrayal of the diversity that exists within the Hispanic community. It disregards the educated Latinos that have a positive contribution to the society.

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