Norma Mendoza-Denton (University of Arizona)
10/16/2013 *in Rm. 345
This research intends to address the apparent paradox in the use of signifiers of cuteness (kawaii) in the visual culture of YouTube videos produced by young fans of Chicano (Cholo) rappers. In these videos, we find the juxtaposition of kawaii visual representations with talk about violence that characterizes the hypermasculine style of Cholo rappers. I begin by revisiting some of Anne Allison’s arguments about cuteness as cultural capital in the international rise of Japanese Pokémon, as well as some of my own work on semiotic hitchhiking and hypermasculinity in the portrayal of cholos, especially through creaky voice. Data collected from YouTube video postings by fans of Chicano gangster rappers will be examined for the layering of semiotic elements, both visual and linguistic. I further consider a related question: could Homies be the next Pokémon? Homies figurines and toys constitute material culture that both alludes to and longs for the 1920s zenith of Mexican artistic expression, and for the more recent Chicano prison and lowrider art. I will debate the question of the moral panics of Cholafied art by arguing that postwar Japan was in a particular space in its bid for participation in the global economy, and that Cholo references and the status of Latinos in the United States can not yet be “deodorized” (Allison 2003) in a similar way.