Had you any idea who Jenni Rivera was, until she died in a plane crash the other day? Me neither. Paul Farhi says this is significant:
The American-born Rivera has sold at least 15 million records — more than many other successful and widely acclaimed singers in the United States. But she did not enjoy much attention from the English-language media. Although she was bilingual, Rivera sang only in Spanish. Her most ardent, record-buying fans reside primarily in the American Southwest and farther south, across Mexico.
Rivera’s life and death suggest once again that it’s possible to live in parallel Americas, with the larger part only dimly aware of the enormous things happening in the other one. For all our instant connectivity, it’s possible for someone to be hugely famous and perfectly obscure — all at the same time.
For American elites, Mexicans and other Central Americans make an ideal new people to elect because they are so little competition for their own kids.
This is not a new phenomenon. When the superstar NASCAR racer Dale Earnhardt died in a 2001 crash, it was massive news among millions of people — but not elite media people. When I lived in Dallas, I noticed quite often that our Evangelical friends assumed that all Christians surely had heard of big-name writers or pastors in their communities; I had no idea who these people were. It wasn’t out of spite or indifference. It’s just that I never encountered these figures in my daily life and media diet. But they loomed so large in the daily lives of many Evangelical friends that it was hard for them to understand how anyone wouldn’t at least know their names.
Look, we can’t all know everything about every American subculture, and we shouldn’t assume hostility or indifference when the broader culture doesn’t know who our heroes and celebrities are. Still, it’s startling when a figure as immensly popular within a large subculture — people like Jenni Rivera and Dale Earnhardt — dies, and tens of millions of people have no idea who he or she is.
I’m glad Farhi wrote this, but I wonder if there were any soul-searching media pieces like this after Dale Earnhardt died. If so, please blog a link. If not, why do you suppose there wasn’t?