The Magazine

Life Outside the Mainstream

Dec 24, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 15 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Someday, when the shareholders of the Washington Post Company pause to ask themselves where it all went wrong, one of the exhibits that might be brought to their attention is a front-page essay in the December 12 Style section by Paul Farhi entitled “A Star They Could Not See: Mainstream media’s belated discovery of Jenni Rivera stirs some anger among Hispanic Americans.”

Jenni Rivera

The Scrapbook does not wish to diminish the tragedy of Miss Rivera’s death, which occurred in an airplane crash in Mexico last week. But the Post’s apparently insatiable appetite for exposing the bigoted heart of the American soul gets a little annoying at times. 

It is true that Jenni Rivera, who sold several million albums in her career, did not attract too much -attention in the “mainstream media” until that career ended violently. But does this prove, as Farhi suggests, that “once again it’s possible to live in parallel Americas, with the larger part only dimly aware of the enormous things happening in the other one”? Well, perhaps. 

Yet Farhi claims that this reflects not the plight of a Mexican-American singer who sang exclusively in Spanish, and whose renown was almost entirely confined to the Southwest and to Mexico, but racial prejudice against Latinos. To that end, he approvingly quotes an agitated columnist in the Orange County (Calif.) Weekly, Gustavo Arellano, who is furious about the media’s “pathetic record on reporting on a mega-superstar [who] operated in plain sight under a media that, like [sic] usual, didn’t bother to pay attention while she was alive because she was a Mexican and popular mostly to Mexicans.”

Well, as it happens, the “mainstream media” had reported on Miss Rivera in her lifetime, although mostly in places (the Los Angeles Times, for example) where her admirers were concentrated. It is also true that a certain percentage of that coverage was not about her singing but about the trial and conviction of her ex-husband for molesting their young daughter. Which proves, in The Scrapbook’s experience, that coverage is almost certainly guaranteed for celebrities when things go wrong.

But was Miss Rivera’s comparative obscurity in, say, New England, or in the pages of the Washington Post, really a symptom of anti-Hispanic bigotry? The Scrapbook would tend to agree with Farhi that there are “parallel Americas.” But if, for the purposes of argument, we confine ourselves to pop music, it is worth asking how much coverage the Post Style section has lavished on, say, the reigning polka king in America (who has, no doubt, sold millions of albums), or the leading name in Christian rock, whose fame, we suspect, is spread across the continent? 

The late Jenni Rivera may have gone largely unmentioned in the “mainstream press,” but that is probably better than sarcasm, or side-splitting contempt.

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