"Ricky Martin Ain't No Dixie Chick": Or, How We Can Learn A Few Things about Citizenship and Invisibility from Popular Culture

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

In a San Juan, Puerto Rico, concert held in February 2007, the pop singer Ricky Martin made an obscene gesture with his finger while singing a line about having his picture taken with President Bush. This essay uses the backlash emanating from the gesture to illustrate a two-part argument: (1) after September 11, 2001, American citizenship (both political and cultural) became a tenuously tied to ideas about patriotism and non-immigrant status, and (2) patriotism was linked to an unyielding support for President Bush and his administration. We can see demarcations between notions of "the citizen" versus "the other" in United States mainstream discussions of the finger incident. Responses to the reports about Ricky Martin's gesture showed a distrust of his Puerto Rican body, which stemmed from a general distrust of deemed non- and un-American bodies. The essay outlines a specific relationship between social narratives, popular culture, and post-9/11 constructions of citizenship. [Key words: Ricky Martin, citizenship, colonialism, popular culture, Dixie Chicks, (un)Americanness]

The big immigration bill is dead for now. Some are saying the Republicans didn't really want this bill because it's really more useful for them to have a wedge issue of illegal aliens, the same way they had gay marriage in 2004.

That poor Ricky Martin. He just can't catch a break.

-bill maher. quoted in daniel kurtzman's (2008) "immigration jokes"

The pride of Ricky's star persona is based on the fact that a certain packaging of Puerto Rican performative talent can be competitive in the marketplace and able to integrate the internal colonies to metropolitan-and global-circuits of accumulation without the need to alter the current political status or assimilate to the United States of America.

-frances negrón-muntaner (2004)

Introduction: The "Incident" and Purpose of this Essay

In February 2007, on a warm Friday night, Ricky Martin gave a two-hour concert in San Juan, Puerto Rico. According to the local press, the concert was an average Ricky Martin show, nothing all that remarkable, with one particular exception: while singing the song "Asignatura Pendiente," an indulgent song about the perils of fame and the draining anguish of having too much money and material possessions, the usually well-behaved Martin proceeded to make an obscene gesture with his hand. But more than a random and momentary jump to the wild side, the hand gesture was strategically deployed during a specific line in the song about having his picture taken with President Bush. To be more precise, Ricky Martin showed the middle finger of his lefthand when he sang President Bush's last name.

When studied in depth, the reactions in the mainstream United States to this seemingly trivial event support the two-part argument of this essay: (1) after September 11, 2001, the category "American" (including notions about American citizenship- whether political or cultural) became a tenuous category tied to ideas about patriotism and non-immigrant status; and (2) patriotism was synonym with an unyielding support for President Bush and the policies of his administration. In Containing (Un)American Bodies, Bloodsworth-Lugo and Lugo-Lugo argue that beginning with the statement "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists" in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the administration of former President Bush "reinvigorated a series of oppositional pairs through rhetorical means" (2010: 1). Another important feature of the Bush administration was the consistent attempt to (re)construct the notion of "the American people" or "Americans," which, they argue "is constructed in a unified way" (2010: 19). Moreover, "'[t]he American people are taught to guard against what is 'un-American,' while implicitly defining the very categories 'American' and 'un-American' in the process" (2010: 19). This constant quest to articulate un-Americanness as something distinctly separate from Americanness, leads post-9/11 U. …