restricted access 5. Tracking Culture
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five Tracking Culture C ontemporary cultural studies has largely overlooked the domain of folklore, or what in the preceding chapter I have also called “the poetics of everyday life.” That the Birmingham School did so, and that its American practitioners have also, may be explained by the possibly now founded fear of the “culture industry” theorists : that the English and American cultural spheres have, indeed, come to be wholly dominated by such an industry. Such a dominance might also account for the attenuation of once flourishing folklore studies in the United States. Alternatively and paradoxically, cultural studies itself may have become enchanted with the culture industry and its products and much less interested in more traditional, face-to-face forms of everyday expressive culture, especially in methodological terms. I raise these as debatable possibilities without resolving the matter. However, when it comes to the more culturally specific matter of Greater Mexico, the work of Américo Paredes, and contemporary Chicano /Chicana cultural studies, I have argued that the evasion of everyday vernacular expressive culture as a subject of inquiry and discipline has much less warrant. Earlier (to briefly illustrate my argument) I offered a brief example from this tradition taken from recent Mexican immigrant life: vernaculardrama in Los Angeles. But consideralso folk music inTexas, as well as in Mississippi, as Chávez (2010) has shown. He tells us of the autonomous , widespread, and dynamic presence of the folk musical form, the huapango arribeño, among Mexican immigrants from Querétaro and San Luis Potosí now mostly living in Texas, where such music flourishes in transnational, interactive, communal, dueling encounters called topadas. But it may well be counter-proposed that these are, after all, recent immigrants , perhaps from rural sectors of Mexico, and that later than sooner, « 134 » Américo Paredes these expressive performances—one “emergent,” one “residual”—will also give way in the urban, mass media life of Los Angeles, but also in increasingly urban Texas or, in the case of huapango, incorporated into mass media musical culture as “the latest sound,” perhaps beginning with participation in Austin’s South by Southwest followed by bookings and so on. Perhaps, but there is no evidence of such attenuation, and more than enough at least anecdotal evidence of other kindred performances in other genres in immigrant life. We could speak of tamaladas and posadas, but consider the now ubiquitous taquerías and taco trucks in Los Angeles and other places—the food, yes—but perhaps more significantly as sites of expressive conversation akin to Michael Bell’s Brown’s Lounge.1 But immigrants aside, the counter-argument might continue, what of third and later generation Mexican Americans—U.S. citizens? To the degree that they fashion their ethnicity through expressive forms, have they not become wholly the children of El Vez, George Lopez, Los Lobos, gang films, the occasional phrase in Spanish, occasional Mexican cuisine, lowrider shows and fashion, and Chicano art and literature? Perhaps, again, although I would say that the matter remains to be determined empirically before we reach such a conclusion, and I see little effort to do so, at least within the California cultural studies sphere that I have critiqued. Yet even as I have foregrounded a poetics of everyday life, I also continue to insist that such a poetics, including that which will follow in this chapter, is not some hermetically sealed domain wholly impervious to the rest of the world, including mass media popular culture. On the contrary, even while we recognize and value the autonomous creativity of everyday performers, it is also often the case that they fashion their performances from the materials of commercial and popular cultural life even while their creativity is self-generated and democratically shared without a dominant cash nexus. As Narváez and Laba (1986: 1) note, “popular culture refers . . . to cultural events which are transmitted by technological media and communicated in mass societal contexts,” whereas “folkloric performance is artistic performance which is transmitted and communicated by the sensory media of living, small group encounters.” However, in today’s world, it is often the case that, as Laba (1986: 17) also notes, “the social practice of folkloric communications is structured by the symbolic forms in popular culture and serves as a means by which individuals and groups ritualize, organize and make sense of those forms of their day-to-day experience .” This folklore–popular culture continuum is not at all inconsistent with Abrahams’s (2008) perspective, noted in Chapter 4...