Academic journal article Framework

The Young, the Damned, and the Restless: Youth in Contemporary Mexican Cinema1

Academic journal article Framework

The Young, the Damned, and the Restless: Youth in Contemporary Mexican Cinema1

Article excerpt

Over the past decade a growing field of research in the United States has focused on youth, film, and youth cultures. These studies have been driven by many factors, including increased awareness of young adults as an important niche market2 and debates over youthful "deviance" (whether measured in terms of the supposedly anti-social lyrics of rap, violence in the schools, or the nihilism of Gen-Xers). By analyzing the filmic representation of young adults and their role as consumers, these studies explore ways in which cinematic portrayals confirm or resist dominant youth discourses and ways in which young people respond.

Similar studies in Latin America have been scarce, despite the recent proliferation of films about young adults. The "New Argentine Cinema" has produced many intimate tales about the young in low-budget works like Pizza birra faso/Pizza, Beer, and Cigarettes (Adrián Caetano and Bruno Stagnaro, 1997) and Nadar solo/Swimming Alone (Ezequiel Acuña, 2002) as well as in more commercial films about middle-class youth like No sabe, no contesta/Doesn't Know, Doesn't Respond (Fernando Musa, 2002). Colombian director Víctor Gaviria's films on marginalized youth (Rodrigo D: No futuro, 1990 and La vendedora de rosas/The Rose Seller, 1998) have won international acclaim. In Mexico the growth in youth cinema can be traced to the 1980s, when the media conglomerate Televisa began to produce films with already contracted pop stars like Luis Miguel, Lucero, and Gloria Trevi.3 Since the early 1990s, films like Pelo suelto/Loose Hair (Pedro Galindo, 1991), La primera noche/The First Night (Alejandro Gamboa, 1997), Amores perros/Love's a Bitch (Alejandro González Iñárruti, 2000), and Y tu mamá también/And Your Mother, Too (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001)-all of them featuring young leads-have been top Mexican box-office domestic draws, occasionally and remarkably rivaling imported Hollywood blockbusters.4

The Mexican films share a number of thematic preoccupations and stylistic tendencies with their U.S. counterparts. As in Rebel without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955), Pretty in Pink (John Hughes, 1986), and Boyz in the Hood (John Singleton, 1991), the Mexican works tie youthful deviance to the "crisis" of the traditional family and feature the sort of spatio-temporal disjunctions typical of U.S. music videos. Nonetheless, there are key differences. Mexican films more typically tie their lament over the fall of patriarchal structures to a macro-political critique. As noted by numerous historians, from the 1930s until the late 1980s, the Mexican state acted as benevolent guardian that successfully "managed" its citizenry through topdown policies and pro-nationalist rhetoric. By the late 1980s the privatization policies initiated under President Carlos Salinas de Gotari (hand-in-hand with the ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA]) severely undercut the state's ability to play benefactor to established interest groups and many cultural institutions. As argued by Alex Saragoza and Graciela Berkovich, starting in the 1990s, Mexican films registered this shift through allegorical narratives that comment on the decline of the patriarchal state in narratives about private lives.5 At the same time, the youth films' disjunctive aesthetic highlights their protagonists' spatio-temporal isolation to register a decentered subjectivity typical of those living in "industrializing" countries whose place in a globalizing world is particularly uncertain. In analyzing such works, a cue should be taken from scholars like Rob Latham who look beyond the practices and representations of young adults in both individual and larger socio-political realms to see how the concept of "youth" functions as a mediating sociocultural mechanism during different stages of capitalist development.6

Thus, it is important to situate recent youth films alongside concurrent public discussions about "the problem of today's youth," which vary regionally but frequently intersected in the Latin American context with issues over the legacies of the past and the significance of neo-liberal economic globalization. …

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