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El Narcotraficante

Mark Cameron Edberg
Foreword by Howard Campbell
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  • Book Info
    El Narcotraficante
    Book Description:

    Since the late 1970s, a new folk hero has risen to prominence in the U.S.-Mexico border region and beyond-the narcotrafficker. Celebrated in the narcocorrido, a current form of the traditional border song known as the corrido, narcotraffickers are often portrayed as larger-than-life "social bandits" who rise from poor or marginalized backgrounds to positions of power and wealth by operating outside the law and by living a life of excess, challenging authority (whether U.S. or Mexican), and flouting all risks, including death. This image, rooted in Mexican history, has been transformed and commodified by the music industry and by the drug trafficking industry itself into a potent and highly marketable product that has a broad appeal, particularly among those experiencing poverty and power disparities. At the same time, the transformation from folk hero to marketable product raises serious questions about characterizations of narcocorridos as "narratives of resistance."

    This multilayered ethnography takes a wide-ranging look at the persona of the narcotrafficker and how it has been shaped by Mexican border culture, socioeconomic and power disparities, and the transnational music industry. Mark Edberg begins by analyzing how the narcocorrido emerged from and relates to the traditional corrido and its folk hero. Then, drawing upon interviews and participant-observation with corrido listening audiences in the border zone, as well as musicians and industry producers of narcocorridos, he elucidates how the persona of the narcotrafficker has been created, commodified, and enacted, and why this character resonates so strongly with people who are excluded from traditional power structures. Finally, he takes a look at the concept of the cultural persona itself and its role as both cultural representation and model for practice.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79812-0
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Howard Campbell

    It’s six o’clock on a weekday evening in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico. Radios in the colonias, barrios, and cantinas are tuned to XEPZ 1190, Radio Norteña. A familiar jingle wafts over the airwaves; it’s ‘‘Hour of the Corridos,’’ with ‘‘el Abuelo Chabelo’’ (Grandfather Chabelo, a playful inversion of a popular Mexican television character, Chabelo, an adult dressed in children’s clothing who is the star of one of the main children’s programs).The phones start ringing. The first caller, a child, wants to hear ‘‘El Gato de Chihuahua’’ (The Cat from Chihuahua). El Abuelo asks the child to solve a riddle and...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Prologue: Narcocorridos and the Meaning of the Drug Trafficker Image on the U.S.-Mexico Border
    (pp. 1-11)

    Woody Guthrie once asked, ‘‘Why do people set down and write great songs and ballads about their outlaws . . . and never about governors, mayors or police chiefs?’’¹ The answer is easy. An outlaw is someone ‘‘disgusted with trying to live decent in the richman’s system,’’ who tries to ‘‘whip the world down to his size’’ and finds out he cannot, because the world is much bigger than he is. But he tries. He may die trying, but he tries—and ‘‘goes down shooting.’’ By contrast, ‘‘politicians don’t even try. They shoot the bull and the hot air, but...

  7. 1. Corridos, Cultural Representations, and Poverty
    (pp. 12-24)

    Before reviewing research results concerning the interpretation of narcocorridos and the construction of the narcotrafficker persona, let us consider some basic questions and issues. Assessing narcocorridos and their representations of the narcotrafficker is a useful study in the process of cultural-image construction, dissemination, and transformation. In addition, however, such an assessment may inform broader questions concerning the interaction between poverty, viewed within a context of social stratification, and cultural processes. What does a shared, ongoing condition of poverty and subordinate status do with respect to the systems of signification, symbolic fields, identity, and notions of self, discourse, and day-to-day practice...

  8. 2. Investigating Narcocorridos and Their Meaning in the U.S.-Mexico Border Context
    (pp. 25-46)

    As a particular case in which some of the general concerns mentioned in Chapter 1 may be elucidated, the research on narcocorridos is intended as a preliminary investigation regarding their role, in combination with social conditions, in shaping the creation of a cultural archetype or persona—the narcotrafficker—and the pattern of action that ties violence, power, money, and drugs to political, social, and regional themes for which the narcotrafficker is known.¹ Produced and distributed through well-known yet ‘‘underground’’ channels, these songs feature archetypal heroes, or ‘‘big men,’’ who are involved in the drug trade, smuggling, drug use, or other...

  9. 3. Interpreting Narcocorridos
    (pp. 47-103)

    Following the research plan (see Appendix 1), I collected interview and observation data in several domains, and I will report it here in a similar format: a brief narrative analysis of a sample of narcocorridos; listener interpretations; social context; the impact of mass media market on the nature of these corridos; and connections between the narcocorrido persona and personal action (i.e., practice). In Chapter 4 I shall discuss and synthesize the role of the narcotrafficker persona as a cultural figure, the social context in which that figure gains resonance, and a number of propositions about the role of such ‘‘cultural...

  10. 4. Narcocorridos and the Cultural Persona of the Narcotrafficker
    (pp. 104-130)

    Using the data summarized in the previous chapter, we can now return to the research questions and draw some preliminary conclusions. First, are narcocorridos, and the narcotrafficker (narco) persona they feature, primarily a genre of representation that has arisen out of the world of the subaltern, the dispossessed, and the poor within a framework of social stratification? The answer to the question is a mixedyes and no. It would be easy to essentialize narcocorridos this way, under a schema wherein they are representations employing a traditional narrative form featuring a cultural persona that symbolizes resistance to the oppression of...

  11. Photo section of narcocorrido tape and CD covers
    (pp. None)
  12. Appendix 1. Research Methodology and Sample Interview Guides
    (pp. 131-140)
  13. Appendix 2. Spanish Texts of Corridos and Narcocorridos
    (pp. 141-162)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 163-166)
  15. References
    (pp. 167-174)
  16. Index
    (pp. 175-190)