Selena Gomez and the Hispanization of America
Pop culture is one of the most powerful forces shaping people today. From teenagers to adults (think of 40-something women trying to be Sex in the City and Desperate Housewives MILFs and cougars), pop culture shapes the way people want themselves and their lives to be. Even more importantly pop culture is both an indicator and shaper of the way the broader culture is going. That is why those across the Right make a grave mistake simply writing it off without engaging it whatsoever.
Working for a local suburban before and after school program at the elementary school in the morning and the middle school in the afternoon was where I noticed this. At the elementary school I was introduced to Dora the Explorer. This Nickelodeon cartoon is easily recognizable as pro-Hispanic legal and illegal immigration propaganda. The creator of the show has admitted as much. More intriguing was what I was introduced to at the middle school: Wizards of Waverly Place. This Disney Channel sitcom is about a family of wizards living on Waverly Place in NYC. Here’s the kicker: they are a mixed family with a white father played by David Deluise and a Hispanic mother played by Marie Canals Barrera. Their children are older brother Justin, middle sister Alex, and youngest son Max. Justin is played by white actor David Henrie. Alex and Max are played by half Hispanic/white Selena Gomez and Jake T. Austin respectively. Both are very Hispanic looking. The thing about this set-up is that there is no mention of the fact that they are a mixed family. There is no Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner moral crusade to legitimize the fact they are a mixed family, it’s simply taken for granted.
Instead the show focuses the adventures and misadventures of the kids as they learn magic from their wizard father and later in wizard school. The obvious Harry Potter inspired scenario works extremely well. The episodes I watched with the kids had (pardon the pun) their own magic. The kids laughed at the jokes and were delighted by the spells. All the creative aspects: jokes, characters, and special effects were what they cared about. Like the creators intended the racially mixed family was taken for granted by them. Moving on to other jobs and activism I forgot about the show.
During this past summer I started watching the show on my own. Selena Gomez is a much bigger pop culture figure than she was when I was introduced to her at the end of 2008. After hearing her single “Who Says” I decided to start watching with an eye more critical from activism. Wizards of Waverly Place’s lack of overt racial politics makes its subtle ones more effective. First off all the white characters are dweebs. The white father keeps up the idiotic father motif so prevalent today. While not as bad as Peter Griffin of Family Guy or Homer Simpson of The Simpsons he is still seemingly dim-witted, clumsy, childish, and goofy. The older white brother Justin is the worst: socially inept, fashionably challenged, a tattle tail, a brown noser, and the butt of all Alex’s jokes. What about the other two kids? Little brother Max has all the typical foibles of a little brother and is for the most part harmless, a comic character but nowhere near the walking laughing stock Justin is. Now we get to the star Selena Gomez. Alex is fashionable, rebellious, often quick-witted, and spoiled (she’s daddy’s little girl). The contrast with Justin couldn’t be more clear: he’s a total loser and she’s so cool. This contrast is also clear with Alex’s best friend Harper played by white actress Jenifer Stone. Harper is the male Justin: she’s unfashionable (despite trying so hard to be), unrebellious (she’s constantly nervous of Alex’s schemes), and studious (unlike the lazy slacker Alex), in other words she’s a dork. Harper also isn’t presented as pretty as Alex with her slightly chubby baby fat. The characters present a picture of whites foolish and Hispanics stylish. But this is tempered by the fact all the characters love and support each other, making all I’ve described subtle and unconscious. Combined with the already mentioned lack of drama about being a mixed family the show effectively normalizes the Hispanization of America for kids today.
One of the most interesting things to come out of the show was in its direct to cable movie that premiered on the Disney Channel a couple months ago. The basic plot is that while on vacation in Hawaii, Alex has a fight with her mom and accidentally cast a spell so her parents never met. Now Justin and Alex must locate a secret cave on the island which contains a stone that cave reverse the spell while Max must keep their parents from meeting other people before the kids disappear (since their parents never met). The subplot of the movie is that a wizard must give up his magic powers in order to fall in love with a mortal. And this is exactly what the white wizard father does to fall in love with the non-wizard Hispanic mother. It is a perfect allegory for what is happening today: white America is giving up what makes it it in for the Hispanization of America.
Beyond Wizards of Waverly Place Selena Gomez symbolizes the Hispanization of America in pop culture in other ways. First off she is being made to represent the new girl next door. With the exception of Taylor Swift, white female pop stars are total whores. Starting with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera when I was in middle school to Katie Perry and Kesha today, the increasing whoredom of female pop stars is undeniable. Selena Gomez is different. While she is an undeniably pretty and attractive girl, her songs and image is not that of whoredom. They come off as young, lively, and girlie without descending into the snorting coke before getting banged in the bathroom stall image of Kesha. Any parents with standards of decency would rather have their daughter listen to Selena Gomez than the others. White female pop stars symbolize a decadent and dying white America whereas Selena Gomez symbolizes a young and vibrant Hispanic America.
And of course there is her relationship with Justin Bieber. They are the golden couple of teen pop today. In the minds of millions of white girls she managed to get Justin! A Hispanic girl! There must be something cool and beautiful about them! The biggest teen pop couple is a Hispanic/ white one and no one notices. Whereas still to this day black/ white couples can raise eyebrows, people don’t even bat an eyelash at a Hispanic/ white one. Is there any greater pop symbol of the Hispanization of America?
Pop culture is important and must be talked about, especially when it comes to the Hispanization of America. While I don’t think Selena Gomez is a raving La Raza type but a typical teenage girl living dreams of stardom, she is a pop symbol of the Hispanization of America.