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Special Issue Articles

Vol. 4 No. 2 (2023): Digital America

Semiospheric Borders and the Erasure of Latinx Subjectivity in Culture Shock and Sleep Dealer

March 25, 2022


Recreating the problematic relationship between the U.S. government and the influx of migrant laborers, films Sleep Dealer (2008) and Culture Shock (2019) both reflect a state of exception existing on the U.S.–Mexico border. In both films, the border is represented as a peripheral locus where the migrant subject is emptied of humanity and political subjectivity, in thrall to the panopticon embodied by the American immigration and border enforcement system. In their real world, the migrant protagonists are denied an access to the central, culturally dominant space; instead, they are offered a virtual realm, a digital access that is subordinated to the level of legitimacy they achieve. The blurring between the organic and the cybernetic contributes to shape a dehumanized borderland realm, at the service of a nativist state power that tries to obliterate the presence of migrants despite their fundamental role in the U.S. capitalist economy. However, the cyborg subject embodies the possibility of resistance to that same power. Relying on their humanity, and yet through the projected digital versions of themselves, the protagonists can eventually counter the dominant order—albeit mostly to an individual extent. Drawing on the relatively extensive academic literature on Sleep Dealer, this analysis highlights similarities and differences between the two films, focusing in particular on Culture Shock and how its virtual reality device allows an expansion on the topics of forced assimilation and erasure of Latinx subjectivity.


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