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  • Writer's pictureGEM LAB

Latin American Digital Politics and Culture Workshop

with Dr. Colette Perold, Dr. Juan Llamas-Rodríguez, and Joaquín Serpe

//March 17, 2023

//2:00-5:00 PM

//GEM Lab

//1250 Guy, FB 630.15

//Register on Eventbrite

The Latin American Digital Politics and Culture Workshop brings together a wide array of approaches to the study of the infrastructures, policy, and content that buttress Latin America’s online culture. It does so by focusing on the three biggest media markets in the region: Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina. The workshop features the presentation of Dr. Colette Perold (University of Colorado Boulder) on the historical role that IBM played in shaping foreign policy and establishing some of South America’s earliest digital media markets, Dr. Juan Llamas-Rodríguez’s (University of Pennsylvania) critical examination of the social media uses of the neologism “whitexican,” a term that complicates debates surrounding Mexican national identity, and Joaquín Serpe’s (Ph.D. candidate, Concordia University) work on the role of international SVOD platforms in the creation—and potential depletion—of Argentine historical serial narratives. Covering the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking context, this event provides a transnational and nuanced understanding of how digital media informs Latin America’s present-day and future political imaginaries.

Respondents: Joshua Neves, Masha Salazkina, and Ishita Tiwary


Dr. Colette Perold

Assembling the Continental Computer: Free-Trade, the Cold War, and the Origins of South American Digital Media Markets

This talk analyzes the creation of early digital media markets in South America through the study of the International Business Machines (IBM)’s operations in Brazil. Based in the U.S. but operating across South America since the 1920s, IBM most aggressively consolidated its continental reach during its transition to modern computer production in the 1960s. Capitalizing on political debates over how to regionally integrate South American markets, IBM built the framework for the first South American free-trade agreement, whose first iteration covered IBM products only. Against the explicit wishes of Latin American economists and technicians who sought regional integration to decrease Latin American economic reliance on the United States rather than increase it, IBM used the agreement to solidify its market dominance in the region. It did so by employing a “distributed manufacturing” system it first implemented in postwar Europe, using the South American free-trade agreement to vertically integrate its own production of its earliest transistorized, general-purpose computers. With one of IBM’s most significant Latin American operational hubs in Brazil, IBM used this continental reach to regain its market control in Brazil at precisely the time when its continued operations were most put at risk by competitor firms and nationalist political movements. Coopting the language of Latin American economic autonomy and aiding U.S. Cold-War foreign policy priorities, IBM crafted the South American regional integration project in its own image, foreclosing opportunities for domestic digital media companies to enter digital technology markets for at least two decades more.

Colette Perold is an Assistant Professor of Media Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her research focuses on the relationship between media technologies, labor movements, and U.S. foreign policy, specifically the ways in which multinational IT companies shape U.S. foreign policy priorities in Latin America. She currently holds the 2022-2023 Brooke Hindle Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Society for the History of Technology and an NEH Digital Humanities Grant for the development of media supply chain mapping software and curricula.

Joaquín Serpe

Based on a True Story: Biopics and the Exploitation of Argentine Fiction on SVOD Platforms

Recent biopics of Argentine popular figures have allowed international SVOD services to position themselves strategically within the local market. Drawing heavily on the nation’s reputation for its sports and politics, these series have enabled Netflix and Amazon to step into the role of suppliers of Argentine stories—ones that simultaneously appeal to popular tastes within the country, while also offering local flair to global markets. In 2019, Netflix released a series on the controversial boxing champion Carlos Monzón and another on the life of international soccer star Carlos Tévez. Amazon made its entry into the Argentine market with the much-awaited biopic of soccer legend Diego Maradona and Disney released yet a new dramatized adaptation of Eva “Evita” Perón.

These series continue traditional Argentine storytelling tropes and traits, e.g. the rag-to-riches narrative and an emphasis on melodrama. SVOD biopics also extend an effort that was already underway to create an audiovisual archive of Argentine popular culture, which was primarily supported by public institutions, rather than private ones. This paper explores the recent phenomenon of Argentine biopics by looking into their production structures. By examining the extent to which SVOD platforms magnify characteristics already present in the history of Argentine television, this chapter reveals how the strategies of Netflix and Amazon have shifted from a model in which they merely supplement national TV networks to one in which they are directly competing with them, even threatening their stability. This process was well underway due to 2018’s economic recession but is accelerated in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. This work draws on interviews with producers of the biopics showing how deals between video streaming platforms and the major national production companies have affected the local audiovisual market, often to the detriment of smaller independent producers.

Joaquín Serpe is a PhD candidate at Concordia University, Montreal, and affiliated faculty in the Department of Visual and Media Arts at Emerson College in Boston.

Dr. Juan Llamas-Rodríguez

Whitexicans, or the Racial Politics of Digital Culture in Mexico

Created in November 2018, the Twitter account Cosas de Whitexicans has become a hub for content related to “whitexicans,” a neologism used to satirize certain social practices of middle and upper-class Mexicans. There is no consensus on the origins of the term “whitexican” yet it remains a powerful magnet for all sorts of satirical and/or critical commentary on the behaviors and mores of the Mexican elite. For several cultural commentators, the popular uses of whitexican index both (1) a historical continuity between the effects of Spanish colonialism and U.S. imperialism in Mexican elite culture; and (2) a breakage from nationalist conservatism to post-national cosmopolitan consumerism within said culture. In this paper, I build on existing critical analyses of the social media uses of the term and extend these insights to think about whitexican as a heuristic to examine the emergent and residual struggles over class, race, and indigeneity present in new media platforms in Mexico. First, I consider how industrial and press discourse around Netflix as an alternative venue for “Mexican” content traffics in classist stereotypes about mass versus niche streaming content. Then I examine how online debates surrounding the rising celebrity status of non-white Mexican actors — particularly Yalitza Aparicio and Tenoch Huerta — evidence anxieties about the international reception of Mexican identity. As a socio-digital invention, whitexican signals new cosmopolitan formations for Mexican identity in the digital age and, at the same time, reveals potential avenues for disrupting the homogeneity in hegemonic formations of this national identity.

Juan Llamas-Rodríguez is assistant professor in the Annenberg School for Communication and affiliate faculty with the Center for Latin American and Latinx Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He has published in journals such as Feminist Media Histories; Television and New Media; Film Quarterly; Lateral; Social Text; and the Journal of Cinema and Media Studies. His book, Border Tunnels: A Media Theory of the US-Mexico Underground, will be published by University of Minnesota Press in fall 2023.


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