U.S. Intellectual History Blog

They Can’t Deport Us All: Chingo Bling and the Politics of Interruption, Part I

We don’t always remember to do it, but historians almost always benefit from attending carefully to sonic practices. Music, sound, expressive aurality–all tend to serve, for whatever reasons, as uniquely reliable barometers of the arrival of the new. As Ernst Bloch once noted: “Nowhere does change penetrate as deeply, and most of all nowhere does the timespan in which this change takes place have the same vehement tempo and brevity as in music.”[1]

With Bloch’s insights in mind, and with our ruminations on interruption and its politics and Lacan and Chicana/o aesthetics still in the rearview mirror, I think we are prepared to turn to the work of a particularly fascinating (and psychoanalytically sophisticated) musical interrupter: Pedro “Chingo Bling” Herrerra III, of Houston, Texas.[2]

Chingo Bling 1

Known by a variety of punning nicknames––the “Ghetto Vaquero,” the “Tamale Kingpin,” the “Versace mariachi”–– Herrerra has, over the course of the last decade, produced an extraordinary body of parodic music that bridges the gap between the ludic radicalism of Con Safos and Los Anthropolocos and the streetwise poetry of Texas underground heroes like Devin the Dude and Bun B.

By skillfully deploying a sophisticated series of comic strategies––rooted equally in Chicana/o oral and pop culture traditions and in the DIY culture of Houston hip-hop (wherein selling home-dubbed tapes out of car trunks has often been the privileged form of commodity exchange)–– Herrerra returns the gaze (and its aural equivalent–the eavesdropping ear, maybe?) of majoritarian forces of “law and order” and their ad hoc securitized revisions of traditional white supremacy, switching the joke, as Ralph Ellison once put it, to slip the yoke.

In keeping with the line of research we have been pursuing of late, we will want to situate Chingo Bling’s work as a labor of interruption—a technology which necessarily occasions a change in the situation in which speaker and listener are situated.

Particularly interesting, in this respect, is Chingo Bling’s 2007 release They Can’t Deport Us All.[3]  As Herrerra told the LA Times, in the wake of a series of violent assaults upon the vans and billboards that advertised They Can’t Deport Us All‘s release to the residents of Houston, Texas in the summer of 2007: “It just brings to light, I guess, the feelings at the core of this debate: the fear, xenophobia, ethnocentrism, and all kinds of good stuff.”

As They Can’t Deport Us All’s promotional campaign ramped up, conservative voices like Michelle Malkin began to target Chingo Bling as a uniquely menacing ideological force:

Understand this: The adoption of Chingo’s “They can’t deport us all” mantra is the adoption of a radically ruinous open-borders fallacy. Since we “can’t deport them all,” they argue, we should deport no one. To the likes of Chingo, national security concerns are a joke. Border Patrol officers are pigs. And jihad is a joke…[4]

What was it that about They Can’t Deport Us All that made Malkin so nervous?

It is a simple question, but it does not necessarily yield easy answers. Next week, I will try to think through some possibilities, drawing on our discussion of Lacan and the politics of interruption, and, with any luck, developing its ideas further.

[1] Ernst Bloch, “The Philosophy of Music,” in Spirit of Utopia, 45-46.

[2] Daniel Hernandez, “Latino rapper lets the ethnic insults fly; The Houston artist pushes the edge on satire as he hits Southern California.” Los Angeles Times, Dec 2005, E. 1.

[3] Agustin Gurza, “Comic rapper’s CD stirs serious reaction.” Los Angeles Times, 26 May 2007: E 1.

6 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Looking forward to the next installment. This may seem like an unrelated question, but I wonder if any political philosophers (or historians) out there have done any work on heckling? I ask because heckling is an interruption, but also because this form of parodic music seems to me to be a type of heckling. I wonder about the political work that heckling accomplishes in a democratic setting. – TL

    • Here’s a short piece from NPR that raises a few interesting issues about the political work of heckling: often comes up in democratic politics, power challenge, seasonal phenomenon, singular-to-collective experience, etc. Here are two intriguing excerpts:

      1. [California psychologist Pamela Rutledge] “attributes the abundance of contemporary heckling to the shifting communications landscape, from a traditional, top-down, mass-media, one-directional model to an Internet-driven, troll-baiting, many-to-many, anybody-can-say-anything-to-anybody model that ‘has increased individual beliefs in the ability to speak up, be heard, and to expect not just a response but a two-way exchange.’ ”

      2. “Is a heckler protected by the First Amendment? This is up for debate — depending on where and how and why the heckling occurs. Heckling at a hockey game is not considered the same as heckling at a campus lecture. Organized disruption is often treated differently from individual outbursts. According to the National Lawyers Guild, ‘Although the law is not settled, heckling should be protected, unless hecklers are attempting to physically disrupt an event, or unless they are drowning out the other speakers.’ On the other hand, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education that if free speech is protected, it should also be protected from disturbance and interruption.”

      As for connections with Chingo Bling, the question about whether heckling might overlap with parodic music centers on whether the heckling rises from mere interruption to disruption. And it seems the potential physicality of heckling underscores the difference. Still, it appears there is theoretical overlap if we can exclude instances of physicality in heckling.

  2. Tim, these are great questions. So great that I will certainly steal the idea of naming “heckling” as an important sub-category of subaltern interruption!

    Comedians hate hecklers, as I understand it, for a variety of reasons: 1) they monopolize time that cannot be divided in an egalitarian manner, even though stand-up comedy often simulates egalitarianism; 2) they are often hostile, aggressive, drunk, or some combination; 3) they require the comedian to switch gears from storytellng or joke set up to verbal combat; 4) they get in the way of a certain flow that people who study creativity seem certain exists.

    Yet–here’s the interesting part–comedians and most comedy fans rarely defend the notion that comedy shows should be heckle-free on the basis of these technical, labor-oriented claims. They tend to leap right to the First Amendment and free speech (which, if anything, would protect the heckler, not the comedian) and to the noble calling of comedians as tellers of uncomfortable truths, which is mostly pious nonsense (much of stand-up comedy is simple misogyny, racist stereotyping, paranoid aggression, homophobia, shock for its own sake, etc).

    As a person who studies cultural workers, who enjoys stand-uo comedy, and who once in a while even finds myself in a situation not unlike that of the comedian, my sympathies tend to be of the anti-heckling variety. But in recent cases of comedians going over the line–Michael Richards’s insane racist rant, Dane Cook and Daniel Tosh finding new levels of sexist menace–many die-hard comedy people conceded that audience reaction was warranted. This bears more careful reflection, I think.

    The heckler is often, it seems, a Hegelian figure: the heckling is a cry for recognition, having to do with what is painful about being an invisible audience member watching some one charismatic person have all the fun. I was discussing this with a dear old friend the other day, a professional clown who works in palliative care wards for very sick children. He confirmed my suspicion that one of the first things one must master as a clown today (because people do not automatically laugh at a clown, and sometimes are frightened of them) is not so much the cultural bias against clowns as the resistance to enjoying the division of labor into spectator-who-laughs and performer-of-funny things who mostly does not laugh.

    Tim–thanks so much for this great, generative prompt, and apologies for rambling so epically.

    • I love it when a conversation takes an unexpected, fun turn. I saw the topic of comics and live audiences when I scanned around, briefly, on heckling but I wanted to keep things “serious” here. 🙂

      Anyway, glad to contribute to a new line of thought in your politics of interruption work. – TL

  3. There’s a book waiting to be written someday about conservatives and hip hop. I’m very serious. I remember Andrew talking about 2 Live Crew and reactions to their raunchy music in the late 1980s and early 1990s. What Kurt’s written is excellent and reminds us that, despite hip hop becoming quite “mainstream” there’s still friction between that genre and conservatives. Of course, it helps that the musician in question is explicitly conservative.

    I remember coming across some interesting articles in the early 1990s in the National Review about hip hop. To say the least it was seen as part of a larger societal issue. But, I also think what Kurt’s raised here is a question of how much hip hop has expanded in the last twenty years. Thanks to more people of different colors and backgrounds embracing rap, I’d argue there’s more opportunities to use it as a political force AND for there to be a conservative reaction.

    I’m quite curious to see what you write next! This is an exciting topic.

    • Yes, conservatives and hip-hop could be a great book. I am actually writing a chapter on 2 Live Crew, so maybe I will preview some of that here…

      In The Hip Hop Wars, Tricia Rose comes close to arguing that post-50 Cent hip-hop has been co-opted by a certain corporate conservatism…

      At the same time, what Chingo Bling’s example emphasizes is a theme that Jeff Chang makes beautifully in his writing (and that Gaye Johnson’s recent work also highlights wonderfully): that hip-hop, while without question an African American form, has from the start served as a multicultural aesthetic coalition, organized around an ideal of unity in difference, or something like it. Part of hip-hop’s challenge to the media establishment has always been its challenge to demographic market segmentation…

      Interestingly, today, a conservative politician like Marco Rubio, or a reactionary journalist like Eli Lake, can flaunt their hip-hop fandom as evidence of their aspirational “coolness,” even as they work within the political imaginary that makes “hoodies” a symbol of inherent criminality, and inscribes “hip-hop murder trial” on the news channels’ chyrons…

      In any event–Robert, thanks for the great comments and the spur to think about this stuff further.

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