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How should we interpret the proliferation of cultural products that seem to celebrate narcotrafficking and violence? It is easy to assume this represents popular acceptance--if not enthusiasm--for criminality, however research on the topic suggests we should perhaps reconsider this perspective.

Narcocorridos, and other musical genres recounting stories of drug traffickers and hitmen, are perhaps the most commonly remarked upon aspect of “narcoculture.” Such songs must be placed in the historical context of traditional corridos that served as a form of transmitting folk narratives, but neither can they be understood as a purely popular folk stories.

Rather, the rebellious, anti-government streak that emerges from these songs--and indeed narcoculture as a whole--should be understood in the context of a broader response to social marginalization and the experiences of corruption and abuse.

In that sense, narcocorridos are popularly understood as a realistic, true-to-life, depiction of events that the government would prefer to sweep under the rug. Thus, even as they betray the folk narrative tradition of truth-telling, narcocorridos represent a voice that is absent in official discourse.

Perhaps most importantly then, narcoculture must be placed alongside the other cultural dimensions of drug violence, particularly the social dimensions of harm that results from violence. As part of a larger cultural complex that has emerged from the long war on drugs, “narcoculture” can be seen not as a popular endorsement of violence or crime, but rather an attempt to reckon with these forces.

Author: MIchael Lettieri

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