What's Up with D-List Latinidad?

Curator's Note

A popular 2015 Super Bowl commercial featured the teenage Marcia, from The Brady Bunch, morphing into Danny Trejo, the 70-year-old Mexican-American actor best-known as Machete in Robert Rodriguez's films. Despite being a D-List Latino celebrity, Trejo earned a certain cool factor after his Machete “star vehicles,” which made fun of his stereotypical embodiment of violent Latino masculinity. Since then, the Snickers ads are the closest Trejo has come to starring on a mainstream project. His other works have been stereotyped bits in mainstream films (prisoner in Muppets Most Wanted) or leads in low-budget action movies (ex-convict uncle in Strike One).

Best-known for playing “jock” A.C. Slater in Saved By the Bell (1989-93), TV host Mario Lopez represents the opposite of Danny Trejo's aged rugged masculinity: young, dimple-smiled, uncool. However, both earned D-List status by embodying stereotypes of Latino manhood. Mario Lopez continues the smooth, (initially) hot TV Latin lover model of Erik Estrada and Lorenzo Lamas, whose hit shows were followed by decades in the lowest ranks of US media (low-budget action, reality shows, Syfy classics).

CHiPs (1977-83), Renegade (1992-97) and Saved By The Bell were never hip, critically-acclaimed “water cooler shows." Their critical appreciation demands an ironic and/or nostalgic stance. And these Latino D-listers had to adopt a self-conscious, parodic relationship to their images. While choosing clips to illustrate them, another narrative emerged about aging masculinity. Estrada, Lamas and Lopez became famous for their youthful, suave (cheesy?) good looks. Though played for comedic effect, Lorenzo's face lift in Leave It to Lamas (2009) shows the need to maintain Latino male desirability by being “ageless” (as Mario Lopez is often described).

Of course, white performers also face aging, typecasting and D-List descents. Kathy Griffin's My Life on the D-List (2005-2010) was built around her comic attempts to escape the bottom of the celebrity hierarchy as a middle-aged woman. However, what happens when stardom and celebrity are tied to the successful portrayal of ethnic or racial types? Does Latino media offer an alternate hierarchy? Given the more limited opportunities, what are the real chances of ever escaping D-List Latinidad?

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