10.08.2006

The thunderous return of NBARS



For any of you new to this blank-fest, one of our most treasured (and oft-neglected) traditions is that of monitoring NBA Racial Semiotics, or NBARS. In the past, we've brought you such dusty gems as Bobby Sura, white Negro; T-Wolves rim relativism; and Billy Hunter's errantly declared race war.

Today, though, I interrupt my increasingly half-hearted NFL watching to report the following: Gilbert Arenas is now officially a Latino. As most of us dimly know, Arenas is half-Cuban; this is of great interest to Andreo, my girl, and anyone else whose chromosomes spring from an island nation just off the coast of Miami. I have witnessed at least one Cuban octogenerian refer to him as "my Cuban friend." For the rest of us, though, it's a funny factoid, one that has little or no bearing on the way we interpret this blog's unofficial heart and savior.

In the spots for Arenas's new signature Addidas model, though, they're giving his surname the full-on ethnic pronunciation. Maybe it's a market-by-market thing; to be sure, Houston is a place where this added info might boost his rep. Yet I heard this on a corporate hip-hop station which, as much as it may acknowledge this city's Latinos, remains focused on marketing blacknusss. You have to wonder, then, just what's being done with Our Friend. He's unlikely to be transformed into a People's Champ like Najera, or even a partner-in-Otherness like Ginobili is in this state. If anything, he's closest, identity-politics-wise, to Melo, whose Puerto Ricanitude is one of basketball's best-kept secrets.



Of course, the major difference there is that Anthony can easily, for lack of a better word, "pass" in the world of commerce. At this point, the face of Stop Snitching is thought of as city black, not Rican in the least—this despite his fetching choice of fiances. Perhaps the marketing logic—and best believe, this is done purely with profit maximization in mind—is that Arenas has gained such a rep for zaniness that it's best to pawn him off on the Latinos, those desperate for NBA heroes and maybe more accepting of Agent Zero's sensibility. I really don't know enough about non-Jews to know how Latinos in general, and Cubans in particular, would judge Gilbert's behavior. But from this slight detail of pronunciation, I can only surmise that Addidas has decided this is the best demographic to try and sell the Association's foremost eccentric to.



Addendum: From the mouth of the aforementioned romantic companion of mine: "It's probably easier to be a Black American than it is to be a Black Latino." She also suggests that, in addition to getting scorned by the mainstream, Black Latinos are a harder sell to their very own people. Quoth: "The whole idea of Latin American identity in America is whitewashed. It's run from the top up by the whitest, most powerful, and most visible Latinos." While my first inclination is to add that this is doubly true for Cubans, and that Arenas would instantly become one of the most famous Black Cuban-Americans, I might be greatly underestimating the effects of MLB defectors like EL Duque or Contreras.

26 Comments:

At 10/08/2006 4:48 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

A good friend of mine is a girl born in Venezuela. Despite the fact that she and her family spoke the speediest Spanish, they were all of Russian descent, with Russian names, etc. Listening to her talk, you wouldn't have any idea she was pale white, with blonde hair and blue eyes, and very sun-sensitive. I always found it entertaining that she defined herself as Hispanic when necessary, i.e., for financial aid purposes in college. Also interesting was the fact that she unequivocally qualified as such under our school's definition of Hispanic, so it's not like she was a fraud or something.

I guess what I'm getting to is that Latinism holds a special place in NBARS or any RS because it's got the added feature of a flexible definition. (While different in certain ways, there's a corollate in the "Who is a Jew" discussion.) There are different ways to be Latino, if not different levels of Latin-ness.

Some people think this is some sort of diminution of race as part of who a person is, but I don't see it that way. Must duality be necessarily unjust, and if it must, what's the beef about it?

In an increasingly mixed world, I'll welcome the day when Race as Ingredient is the understanding, rather than Race as Identity.

(disclaimer: I'm half-Filipino, and I grew up in an white rural area. My Filipino cousins think of me as half-white; in fact, I've even been introduced to other Filipinos as such, i.e., "This is my cousin Salt, he's half-white." Except they used my real name.)

 
At 10/08/2006 5:11 PM, Anonymous boris said...

Any form of race has a flexible definition, not just being Latino, which is the very interesting point of this analysis. The marketing of MJ/Cheese Eyes was essentially based on his whitewashed persona, if not his skin. The thing is, while the relationship between race and ethnicity is always elastic, some racial groups are given more elasticity than others, and no prizes for ranking those.

Personally, rather than it being a race-based plot about NBA branding, I see this as being simple capitalism. You have, in Black Latin Americans, a massive market, rapidly growing in economic power (despite being relatively poor and, yes, not "classically" high status). Who doesn't want to be in at the ground floor of that? Add to it that in many markets Arenas' daily commentary probably won't get reported like it does in the US, and his good looks, and his flashy game, and to me you have a product that will sell more sneakers south of the US than any other. Smart move by adidas.

 
At 10/08/2006 6:05 PM, Blogger The Electric Zarko said...

I see it as more of a reflection of how difficult it seems to be to market Arenas than a connection between his personality and the perception of Latins.

While I'd love to see a commercial series along the lines of the Agent Zero campaign suggested by Wizznutzz, he must be a nightmare for your standard marketing department. He isn't thug enough to do something along the lines of Melo's B.More spots and he isn't well known enough to ride on just being A Star.

So rather than slip into the Dolddrums of Ray Allen, Adidas sez, wait, this cat has a Cuban parent. What if we build on that? Can that give us the kind of leverage we need, especially when the game is exploding in Latin America? It's a solid hook and not one that I think has a lot to do with personality except in the sense that his personality to some extent kills some of the mainstream advertising motifs.

 
At 10/08/2006 6:11 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

Boris, I'm not sure how being black or being white is flexible in the way I described. There's far less range there. You know how, whenever you see Hispanics listed in polls or statistics, you see them as "non-white Hispanics"? You don't see "non-rural blacks", similar appellations. Those terms just don't multitask the same way, whether it's a result of an American cultural filter or simply the essence of Latinism itself.

As far as the money theory, I see what you're saying, although the idea of a large multinational corporation "getting in on the ground floor" of a black-Latin emergence leaves me both queasy and curious as to whether Gil would feel the same.

 
At 10/08/2006 7:25 PM, Anonymous boris said...

salt_bagel, I agree with you that in the US white and black identity aren't as flexible as Latin identity, but I was just making the point that there is flexibility around those roles, in counter to your point that "Latinism holds a special place in NBARS or any RS because it's got the added feature of a flexible definition." The difference is one of degree rather than kind in the ethnic identity, unless you start getting into the idea of the spanish speaking americas as kind of a nation in the same way as "United States" is that can cover a whole range of racial identifications.

And just to be clear, I don't support multinationals exploiting growing third world economies, but it is a fact of life in this game...

 
At 10/08/2006 7:33 PM, Anonymous Jeff Reguilon said...

Did they also pronounce Adidas "ah-dee-das" in those commercials?

 
At 10/08/2006 8:04 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

no, everything else was straight anglo.

and i don't think i've ever heard anyone wonder if kg is less marketable because of his skin tone. nor can i think of any black player whose accesibility has been hindered by complexion. though maybe this is proof that that, throughout history, that has been first and foremost a concern within african-american communities, not for the country at large.

 
At 10/08/2006 8:06 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

I figured you weren't on the side of those capitalist pigs. How's Natasha these days?

As for the other part, I'll admit to generalizing for the sake of hardening the statement. Another way to put it is the simple fact that "Hispanic" is muddled enough to require extra clarification at all. It's like, "Which meaning of Hispanic are you talking about?"

Also, the number of people who would embrace an Estados Unidos de America Latina are probably many, and not all of them are up to no good.

 
At 10/08/2006 8:24 PM, Blogger T. said...

Shoals - the real question was it 97.9 the Boxx or Party 104.9?

85% of the DJs at 104.9 are Latino. Half the DJs at the Boxx are Filipino. But I don't know what that says about someone appropriating someone else's culture.

 
At 10/08/2006 8:32 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

pretty sure it was 104.9; regardless, both stations are focused primarily on playing black artists, which makes this appeal to their latin audience all the more conspicuous.

 
At 10/08/2006 11:09 PM, Blogger T. said...

all over town, party 104.9 is known as the latino hip hop station and the boxx is the black hip hop station. (I'm pretty sure kpty is owned by univision)

this is a moot distinction should the arenas commercial be running on all channels though.

 
At 10/08/2006 11:19 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

HOUSTON, I BARELY KNOW THEE.

there is absolutely no difference in what they play, as far as i can tell.

this would be the difference between "conspicious" and "especially conspicious," if anyone's keeping score.

 
At 10/09/2006 12:05 PM, Blogger skinny said...

which one plays the reggaeton?

that's the real question.

 
At 10/09/2006 12:07 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

neither one plays a ton, that's what i was trying to say earlier.

 
At 10/09/2006 12:30 PM, Blogger Joey said...

First, fuck a reggaeton. Just not enjoyable music. Sorry.

Second, I think Gilbert may have been cast as a Cubano because the media loves to play up these stereotypical stories about the wayward Latin immigrant just struggling to make his way in America equipped with his athletic prowess, wide-eyed optimism, and good cheer. We get those stories a lot in New York when players like El Duque emerge. We read and hear about how they're assimilatin, the quirky things they love about their new lives in America, etc.

Gilbert, given his predisposition for the eccentric, would seem to nicely lend himself to these topical tropes.

 
At 10/09/2006 1:49 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

"Gilbert, how are you adjusting to your new life in America?"

Imagining what might ensue warms my heart. Someone needs to reach the man with this question by the end of the season.

 
At 10/09/2006 3:06 PM, Anonymous Alex Peña said...

Wow, one of my favorite players is Cuban. Being Cuban, I sort-of feel a little prouder.

 
At 10/09/2006 4:10 PM, Blogger O.D.B. said...

No sign of an 'ethnic pronounciation' (in fact, dude sounds like he had never heard Gilbert's name before), but an interesting promo featuring Agent 0 - gotta love the all-white mannequins:

http://blog.washingtonpost.com/dcsportsbog/2006/10/arenas_goes_all_in.html

 
At 10/09/2006 11:18 PM, Anonymous girl's basketball said...

Only use "ethnic" pronunciations when it makes sense (i.e. that is the only way to pronounce the name). Otherwise it's silly.

 
At 10/10/2006 9:05 AM, Anonymous Kaifa said...

Sorry to go off topic, but I came upon three 60-second interviews with Arenas that had some very funny moments:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YEPqS4AlRA&mode=related&search=

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6m_mkvmXiHM&mode=related&search=

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fP8K_LfOLDg&mode=related&search=

 
At 10/10/2006 9:41 AM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

thanks for the links, kaifa!!

gilbert on international tourism: "they don't want me there, so i don't want to be there." bell hooks what?

 
At 10/10/2006 10:58 AM, Blogger Gladhands said...

This calls for an All-Latin edition of the Most FD List. Do the Brazilians count? Will Carlos Arroyo finally get some love?

 
At 10/10/2006 12:52 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

Off topic: Sixers/Suns 3pm ET today, live from Cologne! Two of our protagonists crossing paths in the Rhineland.

 
At 10/11/2006 4:37 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

Wow, a conversation on Latinos, and I missed it. Sorry for the late post. This is probably a marketing strategy, and points out a bigger topic: the NBA doesn't have a marketable player for American Latinos (whatever that means). There is yet to be a big, from the streets Latino star; the closest may have been Felipe Lopez, the Dominican high school star who SI profiled back in the day. Had he made it straight to the NBA, he would have been a hero to the Latino kids, with huge marketing potential. Unfortunately his career fizzled out at St. Johns. None of the Latinos in the NBA really have that marketability - not the South Americans like Manu, since they don't appeal to the large Latino markets in the US (Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and Cubans). The Mexicans or Puerto Ricans are like Carlos Arroyo, not really stars but role players. Carmelo Anthony could fit that role, but he isn't from a "Latino background" - he doesn't play up to his PR hertigage - he's from a black neighborhood in Baltimore, he doesn't fall in with the traditional reggaeton/salsa heritage; he falls in with a hiphop background, one that makes him seem fully assimulated by African-American culture. Ditto Gilbert Arenas, unfortunately. They can try to market him as a Cuban, but he doesn't play up to the background very well - he's not "Miami" enough. It's a marketing gap in the NBA big enough that you could fit Yao through it....

 
At 1/27/2010 7:43 PM, Blogger womenover30 said...

The Latin market already has Manu Ginobili born and raised in Latin America who is followed by all Latin youth and his image is shown in all spanish magazines... so I don't think the NBA sees in Arenas a role model to market for Latin kids.

By the way Latin is not a race but a culture shared by people who emigrated from different parts of the world to Latin America. So there is not an stereotypical latin person.

 
At 5/17/2013 3:28 PM, Blogger Jim Philips said...

I have to admit that it sounds pretty interesting to know more about the racial implications about it. People at price per head demo community is quite interested on it.

 

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