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Laura Roush, El Colegio de Michoacán (Mexico)

TThe Santa Muerte, the drug war and the mass media.

The Santa Muerte grew from a discreet, private focus of devotion before the 1990s to something very visible by the turn of the 21st century. This transformation coincided in time with the expansion of organized crime, shoring up the impression that the icon belongs to a coherent “narcoculture.” This paper focuses on the relationship of the Santa Muerte devotion to the mass media while asking about the ways that violence is narrated. It offers a reading of mediatic episodes that served to define the image as they constructed the drug war in public language, beginning with the 1989 case of the “narcosatánicos,” a scandal that predated the transformation of the Santa Muerte. It relates these episodes to the evolution of prayers at an altar in Tepito (in Mexico City), where the ritual was adjusted over time, balancing the needs of its congregation with a symbolic response to portrayals of devotees as criminals. Ironically, the ways that people use Santa Muerte iconography range from laments over violence, to indignation over blanket attribution of violent intentions to an entire population, to a language for making veiled threats, to the explanation of misdeeds. The footing of the average devotee is always unstable because there is a permanent likelihood that new acts of cruelty will be styled as sacrifice, either by reporters or by the perpetrator.

Laura Roush

Laura Roush studied German literature at the University of Michigan and obtained her doctoral degree in anthropology from the New School of Social Research. Roush specializes in the informal economy, illegality and power, memory and crisis. Her current main research project is about the Santa Muerte, both as an object of personal devotion as well as the subject of legends in the public sphere. Her recent publications are "La informalidad, La Santa Muerte y el infortunio legal en la Ciudad de México" in Informalidad e incertidumbre: ¿cómo estudiamos la informalización en las metrópolis? De Alba, Felipe, Alicia Ziccardi y Frederic Lesemann (eds.). México: PUEC-UNAM, and “Don’t Leave Me Unprotected”- The Heresy of La Santa Muerte in Social Context" in Huffschmid, Anne (ed.), Global prayers: Redemption and Liberation in the City. Berlin: MetroZones.