Thai Government Bureaucrat By Day, Mexican Gangster By Night
March 24, 2014 5:18 AM   Subscribe

There's a new trend in Bangkok where males have embraced what they believe to be Mexican gangster culture, by emulating what they see on television and YouTube.
posted by gman (39 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh boy, cultural appropriation. It's problematic. And funny.
posted by codswallop at 5:25 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's not Mexican gangsters (that would be gangsters from Mexico who would probably be narcos), it's Mexican-American or Cholo or lowrider or LA gangster culture.

Here's a NYTimes article how about upstanding citizens from Brazil to Japan are adopting this culture, or at least its images. Quote:

“It’s kind of ironic because if some of these imitators are dropped into parts of L.A., the cops could arrest them or the gangs could roll up on them,” said Denise Sandoval, a professor of Chicano studies at the Northridge campus of California State University. “But the digital culture we’re in facilitates this fascination with L.A.’s urban culture, and it’s gaining momentum.”
posted by vacapinta at 5:32 AM on March 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


There was a post earlier that suggested that no one knows what to do with the gang culture. Give them all jobs, open a gang disney park in the middle of the inner cities, hire the real gang members as cast members and fly in all the fans from around the world to "live the life", safely of course. Win Win.
posted by sammyo at 5:37 AM on March 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


vacapinta: It's not Mexican gangsters (that would be gangsters from Mexico who would probably be narcos), it's Mexican-American or Cholo or lowrider or LA gangster culture.

Yeah, I was just talking to a buddy of mine who's lived in Bangkok for the past 25 years, but is from Southern California, and his opinion is that this is basically some sort of hybrid thing they've seen in movies and online. For instance, the hand gestures and gold jewellery isn't originally from Mexico.
posted by gman at 5:40 AM on March 24, 2014


Huh that guy's rap flow is pretty hypnotically listenable. Someone send him some beats!
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 5:51 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


For instance, the hand gestures and gold jewellery isn't originally from Mexico.

Not sure what you mean. The hand gestures are gang signs - usually letters from the gang's name.
posted by vacapinta at 5:55 AM on March 24, 2014


vacapinta: Not sure what you mean. The hand gestures are gang signs - usually letters from the gang's name.

He's saying that the hand gestures and jewellery originated with the black gangs and was then adopted by Mexicans. When he was living in California in the 70's and 80's, the Mexicans would never have given those gang signs or worn big gold jewellery. Whereas a lot of the clothes and cars that you see black gangbangers wearing/driving on TV, movies, and in videos, originated with the Mexicans in Southern California a long time ago. Anyway, I'm relaying a conversation about a topic I really don't know shit about.
posted by gman at 6:16 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh boy, cultural appropriation.

I'd call this more cultural hybridity, I think, or maybe cultural syncretism. There's a blending going on and a performativity that's more than just appropriating.

The guys interviewed at the beginning look to be aware of that, when they give their day jobs but then claim to be "gangsters at heart" -- they know this is a constructed identity or performance that they are having fun with, and also carefully separating themselves from real gangs and gangsters in Thailand.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:24 AM on March 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't think the original gangstas will care so much that some guys in Thailand jacked their style.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:45 AM on March 24, 2014


(But I eagerly defer to the inevitable participation of original gangstas in this thread.)
posted by LogicalDash at 6:46 AM on March 24, 2014 [7 favorites]


Commenters on this thread: I would be really careful about what you're saying here. There's been some talk that a gang is roaming around MeFi, calling themselves the "mefs" - and they dislike gang talk on the blue.

They're rumored to:
- get blue tattoos of plates of beans, adding one bean per year in the gang
- show up uninvited at irl meetups to drink beer and other illegal things
- doing complex hand signs (unclear what the signs are, but some have said that it's the number "42" in binary)
- having a secret dance, the "M-walk", which looks from a distance like a geek/dad dance but actually spells out through complex feet movements the letters "L T R M E A F I T E" - which probably have a meaning, yet to be determined

you've been warned.
|\/| 4ever
posted by Riton at 6:52 AM on March 24, 2014 [13 favorites]


Commenters on this thread: I would be really careful about what you're saying here. There's been some talk that a gang is roaming around MeFi, calling themselves the "mefs" - and they dislike gang talk on the blue.

Also they hide under your car at night and slash your achilles tendon when you go to unlock your door. Also also they cruise around with their headslights off and kill people who flash their lights at them! It totally happened to a friend of a friend!
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:58 AM on March 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


So they're dressing like how they perceive Mexican gangsters to be dressing, using what they believe to be gang hand signals, getting tattoos, wearing sunglasses inside, riding motorcycles, and trying their hand at freestyle rapping? But they're not trying to move large amounts of illegal drugs, engaging in human trafficking, wielding firearms in public, or popping caps in asses?

Dude, whatever floats your boat. Hardly the weirdest subculture out there.
posted by valkyryn at 7:17 AM on March 24, 2014 [7 favorites]


Oh boy, cultural appropriation.

Nah. They're giving credit where it's due and are self-consciously emulating rather than commercializing. These guys are spending money, not making it. Anthropologically bizarre, but hardly problematic.
posted by valkyryn at 7:18 AM on March 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


I can hardly wait until suburban English teens begin emulating Thai hobby gangsters, who were emulating Mexican-American gangsters, who were emulating black American gangsters...
posted by GuyZero at 7:41 AM on March 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


Gangsters all the way down....
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:45 AM on March 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


I remember when I lived in Chiang Mai in the early 90s there was a vibrant and thriving "country and western"-type scene: Cowboy hats, belt-buckles, bleached-oxen-skulls-and-horns-lashed-to-the-front-of-the-pick-up; the works. It was pointed out to my by more than one Thai that life in rural Thailand was not unlike the life celebrated in hurtin' music, with moonshine, marginal agriculture and the consequences of unseen forces (Bangkok bankers etc.) all playing a role. The upshot was folks gathering in meticulously recreated saloons, swilling rice whiskey and listening to the Thai version of Waylon Jennings.

Fuck I miss Thailand.
posted by docgonzo at 8:08 AM on March 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


docgonzo: I remember when I lived in Chiang Mai in the early 90s there was a vibrant and thriving "country and western"-type scene...

Totally. Here's a short article with a photo.
posted by gman at 8:28 AM on March 24, 2014


Strikes me as a being a bit like cosplay or live role playing or historical recreation.
posted by Gwynarra at 8:29 AM on March 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


The idea of "cultural appropriation" being a uniformly bad thing in itself is a terribly reactionary idea. This is probably the most clear-cut example of self-acknowledged culture-as-costume cultural appropriation you are likely to see in your entire life. Why anyone would want to talk shit about 27 office workers in Thailand having fun in the park with the permission of their parents is another question entirely.
posted by Winnemac at 8:35 AM on March 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


Didn't Ice Cube go to private school? Change "Thailand" in this story to "Greater LA" and it's not "problematic".
posted by Brocktoon at 8:38 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Everyone wringing their hands, this is unmitigated awesome. It's Thai people having fun with a parody of a parody of a culture. This has way more to do with TV and music than gang-banging and dealing drugs. The only thing missing is women; am I wrong or is this the only woman in the video? She's not even in costume. Too bad there's not more ladies, the chola style is rad.
posted by Nelson at 8:49 AM on March 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


So, as a Mexican-American but not someone who has any family members who have ever been gang members that I'm aware of, here's the problem with cultural appropriation: Hispanic kids get judged as being generally worthless and unworthy of education and social services for dressing like this, for acting like this. Failed by the legitimate government of their communities, they turn to people they feel like they can trust, they form communities of their own--sometimes dysfunctional ones, but people don't join gangs because everything's okay in their neighborhoods and they're just bored. The broader US has firmly lumped gang members in with The Bad Guys, one way or another.

So it's not okay for a Hispanic kid to dress or act like this, according to the dominant culture of the US, and it would probably freak out a Thai tourist in Los Angeles, too. It's not cool or fun when it's done by the original population, it's a sign of being a member of a criminal element and shameful. But it's cool and fun when done by people in a completely different culture. And that's when it's appropriation. If I like tacos and you decide you also like tacos, that's not bad because you were considerably less likely to be judging me as an inferior person because of tacos. The part that's wrong is the "we're like cholos BUT NOT REALLY" thing. It's not nearly as bad as if they were in it for profit, but I presume if a subculture like this has any staying power, Thai clothing companies and the like will get in on it.
posted by Sequence at 9:05 AM on March 24, 2014 [10 favorites]


Han't it been cool fashion for some time now? Why Gwen Stefani, Rihanna, and Selena Gomez do it... Also, I think it's the reason there was suddenly a surge of Dickies, thin drawn eyebrows and that dark lip liner being a serious thing with the mid-riff showing tops in Amsterdam of all places, late nineties. You couldn't escape it in some hoods.
posted by dabitch at 9:21 AM on March 24, 2014


I remember when I lived in Chiang Mai in the early 90s there was a vibrant and thriving "country and western"-type scene

Did any of the Thai country singers record? I'd love to hear them if they did.
posted by jonmc at 9:37 AM on March 24, 2014



So it's not okay for a Hispanic kid to dress or act like this, according to the dominant culture of the US, and it would probably freak out a Thai tourist in Los Angeles, too. It's not cool or fun when it's done by the original population, it's a sign of being a member of a criminal element and shameful. But it's cool and fun when done by people in a completely different culture. And that's when it's appropriation. If I like tacos and you decide you also like tacos, that's not bad because you were considerably less likely to be judging me as an inferior person because of tacos. The part that's wrong is the "we're like cholos BUT NOT REALLY" thing. It's not nearly as bad as if they were in it for profit, but I presume if a subculture like this has any staying power, Thai clothing companies and the like will get in on it.

Well said. As a whiteboy who digs the cars, the oldies, and the more old school cholo style from afar (east coaster), I wouldn't want to give that up, but to play dress-up would be kind of presumptive and insulting.
posted by jonmc at 9:41 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's not cool or fun when it's done by the original population, it's a sign of being a member of a criminal element and shameful. But it's cool and fun when done by people in a completely different culture.

I hear what you're saying. But I also get the impression that these guys do get hassled by the police for acting and dressing this way and do experience some social/relational costs beyond that, so it's not quite as clear cut as you are making it out to be.
posted by valkyryn at 9:50 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Eh.... clearly I'm talking about the chola fashion in particular. And I hear what Sequence is saying too, which makes the wearing it as a "cool" style when you're a million dollar Disney-kid a little weird. Like putting on a "tough" uniform you don't belong in. Gwen can get away with anything though.
posted by dabitch at 10:00 AM on March 24, 2014


> I can hardly wait until suburban English teens begin emulating Thai hobby gangsters, who were emulating Mexican-American gangsters, who were emulating black American gangsters...

It still wouldn't be any weirder than the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Yardbirds and the rest of the '60s guys who were emulating grizzled old black bluesmen.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:02 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Globalization is literally cyberpunk
posted by Apocryphon at 10:12 AM on March 24, 2014


American culture is a megaphone. Even a marginalized element within it sounds loud and powerful on the other side.
posted by FJT at 10:59 AM on March 24, 2014


> It still wouldn't be any weirder than the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Yardbirds and the rest of the '60s guys who were emulating grizzled old black bluesmen.

Yes, and they all got rich and famous while the black dudes' music they were stealing didn't. It's a perfect example of appropriation.
posted by zug at 11:16 AM on March 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


But I also get the impression that these guys do get hassled by the police for acting and dressing this way and do experience some social/relational costs beyond that, so it's not quite as clear cut as you are making it out to be.

To borrow an example, at the beginning, there were plenty of establishment types who thought that rock and roll was scary and possibly socially harmful, but the white guys who were playing that music were still not treated like black people. It doesn't have to be a totally winning proposition to be appropriative.

I mean, I'm not proposing we chase these guys down and have them flogged or anything. I'm just saying, there's a fundamental difference between dressing like some group of people because you actually like them and like the stuff they wear, and dressing like a stereotype of people you don't actually respect.
posted by Sequence at 11:58 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


I guess some people would say that both of those are "appropriative".
posted by LogicalDash at 1:00 PM on March 24, 2014


Elements of the mexican-style gangsta culture have been pretty widely adopted, throughout the various ethnic groups, in the US, for a while now. The slang, the cars, the clothes, especially the music…even white kids are into it, in some places.

I had no idea, until recently, that Gangsta had gone mainstream global…from Chavs in the UK, to the Sureño Armenian Jihadis in Syria, and now these part-time Thai wanna-be cholos, apparently.
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 1:04 PM on March 24, 2014


Didn't Ice Cube go to private school? Change "Thailand" in this story to "Greater LA" and it's not "problematic".

Ice Cube went to a trade school.
posted by Jairus at 1:20 PM on March 24, 2014


"Cultural Appropriation" is when you have two cultures and one of them is dominant in an oppressive way, i.e., colonial powers vs. indigenous peoples, and the "dominant" culture co-opts elements of the culture they are oppressing. It's the imbalance of power that makes it inappropriate and problematic. When two cultures are equals, or at least not seen as sharing a power struggle, things are very different. Or at least, that was always my understanding.
posted by the_royal_we at 2:59 PM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm not seeing this as "cultural appropriation" unless you believe that a bunch of guys in Thailand are somehow part of the dominant group, and are keeping Hispanic-Americans down. This seems more like some reverse-boy-who-cried-wolf thing: something is true so often that when it isn't true, people still assume it's true.
posted by Bugbread at 7:38 PM on March 24, 2014


I got the impression that at least some of the Thai men doing this sort of thing felt attracted to these cultural ideas and symbols because they saw them as a reaction to oppression, particularly by police.
posted by NoraReed at 7:56 PM on March 24, 2014


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