On the Popular Canonization of Entertainers

12 07 2009


As a follow up from last week’s post, I present to you a few notes on “folk canonization” of singers in Latin America. The first is the already mentioned Carlos Gardel, whose tomb in the Chacarrita cemetery of Buenos Aires is a popular shrine complete with ex-votos thanking the deceased singer for “favors granted”. To be fair, I was reading that such ex-votos only began to appear about thirty years ago, so it may be a more “modern” phenomenon.

One author summarizes Gardel’s appeal with a very succinct formula:

Carlos Romualdo Gardés, conocido como Carlos Gardel, presenta dos de los rasgos esenciales para constituirse en un santo popular: murió joven y dramáticamente.

Carlos Romualdo Gardés, known as Carlos Gardel, has two of the necessary qualities that constitute being a folk saint: he died young and dramatically.

One personal anecdote: the way one porteño friend in seminary spoke of Gardel and his music, I found such a “popular canonization” hardly surprising. And this was in an ultra-correct, Lefebvrist religious house. I am kicking myself now that I didn’t go out of my way to visit Gardel’s tomb when I was down there.

Another Argentine artist “canonized” by the populace is the cumbia singer, Gilda, as you can see from this program on South American television:

According to a report from a couple of years ago from the Mexican newspaper, La Jornada, some believe that the tomb of Mexican singer, Pedro Infante, who also died quite young and tragically, is also miraculous. The face of Pedro Infante was grafted onto the early 20th century outlaw, Jesus Malverde, leading to an indirect popular canonization of the singer by those devotees.

I sort of experienced this phenomenon when people in my predominantly Mexican-American hometown “freaked out” when Selena was shot by one of her fans back in the late 1990’s. Since she was a Jehova’s Witness, I don’t think many of her fans “pray to her” the way some Argentines would pray to Gilda or Carlos Gardel, but given another context, such a cultus would hardly be surprising.