TDR: The Drama Review 45.1 (2001) 7-30
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The New Global Culture
Somewhere between Corporate Multiculturalism and the Mainstream Bizarre (a border perspective)
"Gómez-Peña, you are trapped in between the currents of the global and the concrete. Make up your mind!"
(Soundbed by Tha Mexakinz, scratched & mixed with 1950s boleros)
In the last three years of the 20th century I stopped writing essays altogether. I concentrated mainly on performance and film scripts, spoken word poetry, and chronicles of my performance adventures. Why? The formidable changes generated by the cult of globalization and virtual capitalism created an unprecedented philosophical vertigo in me and my Chicano flota. This condition worsened due to the sudden socialization of digital technologies and the backlash against humanistic concerns and identity politics. We were entering a new, terrifying era. All our ideological parameters and political certainties were crisscrossing under our feet. Suddenly, binary models of understanding the world were no longer functional--us/them, right/wrong, progressive/reactionary, local/global, Third World/First World, alternative/mainstream, center/periphery, etc.--were constantly shifting fault lines in an ever-fluctuating landscape. It felt as if we were drunk in the middle of an extremely long 8.5 earthquake. For a few years, all we could do was mumble in our existential drunken stupor, and clumsily express our inability to assume simplistic positionalities or to unconditionally embrace a cause. All we could do was raise questions, myriad impertinent questions.
I must say that at least our skepticism was proactive, almost militant. As Chicanos, we had no delusions about one day becoming part of the new virtual capitalist project. As politicized artists, neither suicide nor taking up arms were viable options for us. What we did instead was to immerse ourselves in the epicenter of the millennial earthquake, in hopes of understanding its causes and nature through direct artistic praxis. This bipolar condition of ranchero [End Page 7] nihilism and proactive humanism became the very substance of our performance work. We performed constantly and everywhere we could: from the streets to chic museums, from community centers to international festivals. The stage became both the ultimate battlefield and the ground zero of the search for clarity.
To complicate things even more, the alternative art world, our main base of operations and transgressions, was crumbling all around us due to funding cuts and rampant gentrification engendered by the virtual "gold rush." Our desperate colleagues, especially those not protected by academia or an established position in the commercial art world, were trying to figure out ways to reinvent themselves and cross over with dignity into other realms: film, TV, publicity, computer design, digital arts, the new global art world, you name it. Some did. Others were lucky to still find a place in the overpopulated and highly competitive realm of academia. Many others gave up.
During those trepidatious years (1996-1999), my close collaborators and I undertook various "crossover" adventures with different degrees of success. We created a "lowrider/Spanglish" opera; participated in some experiments for cable TV, staged populist performance extravaganzas camouflaged as "ethno-techno raves," and "political peep shows" and designed a couple of performative Websites. I also decided to return to radio journalism, this time as commentator for All Things Considered (NPR). Why did we go through all this trouble? We had no other option. We were definitely not willing to accept the omnipresent lethargy, much less sing along with the hip new dot.com mantra. We wanted to force ourselves to be "present" at the crossroads of change (what a corny term, que no?) as cultural witnesses and social actors, to literally walk on the debris of the world as it crumbled in front of and around us. Luckily, this "presence" kept us both politicized and outraged.
Now the waters seem to be settling down a bit, just a bit, and I am coming out of my perplexity. As the year 2000 unfolds, I have decided to begin...