Crafting Identity: A week at the theater


(Note: I’ve posted comments and summaries of the texts of several books that I have had in my Master’s in Communications degree. This isn’t one of them, though it is by one the professors I have had for said degree. But it is the book I have most enjoyed reading from that academic background. I am sharing my own perspective on the book, and doubtless have missed much of the scholarly point and may even have misunderstood some of it. For the scholarly among you, I apologize for that. For the rest of you, I encourage you to read more deeply than you usually do with my “scholarly” reviews. This one is more fun, and more worth it.)

Chapter 2: Judgment Days II: Pastorela Tales in Tocuaro

The second chapter begins with a more academically-worded introduction to the topic, but fortunately proceeds into another story of another event: this time the four-day pastorela celebration in Tocuaro. Here there is no social judgment of social betters. Instead Shlossberg describes the pastorela and its social and spiritual significance.

Shlossberg sees ”an alternative, ‘oppositional’ set of claims about identity, community, belonging and tradition are routinely expressed within the pastorelas that I have observed.”

How? In this case, instead of a cultural event where the state asserts its power, this is a celebration from below, where humor is used by the lowly to speak to those in power, and bring them, figuratively, in contact with them.

The Pastorela is a multivoice drama with music and dance that  features two key sets of players: the Shepherds and the Negritos.

The shepherds are played by four pairs of local boys and girls, aged 7 to 13, whose part is to be on the road to Belen (Bethlehem) to adore Jesus in the Manger. They dress in traditional, basically white costumes, and do a line dance through the crowds toward Belen. They represent the true Church, while also representing the allegorical Everyman.

The negritos represent the sinful. These are masked characters, some traditional, many drawn from the current political and entertainment scenes. They attempt to be protectors, but are weak, and attempt to draw the shepherds away from their path. The negritos try to guard the Son of God but are not able to do so because of their human limitations.

One of the most interesting things described in the chapter is Pavel-the-Negrito. Shlossberg had just come to the community in 2004 when the festival came around, but by 2005 he was well known by many for his ethnographic role. He had mentioned to some his journalistic experience. So they put him into the play as a journalist. Anytime he used his camera, his doppelgänger would do the same things, and whenever he filmed Pavel-the-Negrito, his counterpart would mock film him. You really need to read the chapter to get the full impact.

The other point that is brought out in the chapter, that I feel is well worth mentioning, is how cultural studies look at traditional arts, and look at mass arts, but don’t often look at how the two influence each other. From chapter one we get the judgment that the mass corrupts the traditional. Shlossberg suggests we study the way the two positively can interact, when not restricted by such social judgments.


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