So I wanted to talk about a recent experience I had in light of the discussion on tropicalization we had in class a few weeks ago. On Thursday night I went to the Portland Blazers game against the Knicks at the Rose Garden, and the Blazers ended the game with over 100 points (105-90). Apparently the Blazers have a deal with Taco Bell where everyone in the audience gets a coupon for a free chalupa if the Blazers get more than 100 points in a game. So when they were getting close to 100 points, the crowd began chanting “Cha-lu-pas! Cha-lu-pas!” whenever we had the ball. Here’s a video of the chant from a Blazers game (it’s a common occurrence):
Honestly, I thought it was pretty funny, since I’ve never had a reason to chant “chalupas” before. But then what they showed on the jumbo screen in the center of the court after the “chalupa shot”, as the shot that gets the 100th point is called, was made, got me thinking about our discussion of the tropicalization of Hispanic cultures.
I know the video above just shows the word ‘chalupa’ on the screen after 100th point is scored, and some of the players are shown eating chalupas, but when I went on Thursday they showed a clip of Blaze the Trail Cat (Portland’s mascot), decked out in a Mexican poncho and sombrero while he danced around eating a chalupa. Then there were short clips of some of the Blazers team members dancing around while eating chalupas. I’m really sorry, but I have searched the internet high and low and I cannot find an image of Blaze the Trail Cat in his Mexican getup. Maybe it’s new.
But the point is, the Taco Bell advertisers went out of their way to make the association between eating their chalupas and being Mexican, or at least having a ‘Mexican experience’. They put the mascot in traditionally Mexican clothing and had him dancing around. By showing this image, they were promoting the trope of the fat, happy Mexican who eats tacos all the time–or in this case, chalupas. Basically, they were fetishizing the consumption of their chalupas as a uniquely Mexican experience, as if saying “Look! Taco Bell’s chalupas are SO Mexican that Blaze the Trail Cat has to dress up in a poncho and sombrero in order to eat one!” This is, of course, ridiculous.
Having the players on screen dancing around while eating their chalupas also got me thinking of the Chiquita banana commercial that we watched in class. In that, the singing banana lady is dressed in what Americans think of as specifically Latina clothing, like the hat covered in fruit, and dances and sings while telling the audience how great it is to eat bananas. The clip of the Blazers mascot was basically the same thing. It showed the cat in what Americans think of as specifically Mexican clothing, and–instead of singing about how great chalupas are–showed Blaze and the other players dancing around, looking really happy to be eating them. The same sort of tropicalization is taking place here. Companies are promoting stereotypes in order to sell their products and give them a specific, exotic ‘brand’.
This got me curious about other Taco Bell marketing strategies. Obviously everyone knows the “Yo quiero Taco Bell!” Chihuahua that they used for a long time. The same sort of tropicalization took place around this dog, as he was often wearing a sombrero and whatnot. Here’s an old Taco Bell advertisement from 1997 with the Chihuahua:
This addresses the same trope of Mexican culture, that eating tacos and other Mexican foods (specifically, Taco Bell’s foods), makes Mexicans happier than anything else in the world. In this commercial, the dog ignores a pretty little lady dog who is making eyes at him, just so he can get some Taco Bell. And the advertisers set the whole thing to very Hispanic-sounding music, so that the whole Taco Bell franchise is associated with Mexican culture.
Yet, despite Taco Bell’s numerous, ridiculous attempts to show Americans how Mexican their product is, they have failed twice to set up companies in Mexico, once in 1992 and again in 2007. The second time, they even attempted to advertise themselves to Mexico as serving authentic American food. Talk about changing your message to suit your audience. But this pretty much proves that the tropical, happy Mexican person who they always depict eating their food is nothing but fiction.
This just goes to show how incredibly wrong tropicalization can be. Obviously people in Mexico don’t actually dance around wearing ponchos and sombreros while eating chalupas–but people in Mexico don’t even LIKE Taco Bell! They can’t keep their franchises open there! Clearly their food is not considered by Mexicans to be the epitome of Mexican cuisine, as the company would like to make Americans think, if they actually attempted to market the food as American dining in Mexico. So Taco Bell’s blatant association of their food and what Americans think of as stereotypical “Mexican-ness” is obviously extremely purposeful, and misrepresentative. They tropicalize and they know it.