Urban Female Youth Culture in Chile : Pelolais vs. Pokemones : It is About the Politics Bobos

080318_Pokemon_dl-vertical.jpgIt’s been quite a few years since I’ve lived in Chile, but thanks to my Chilean partner, my half Chilean children, and DirectTV, I keep up with Chilean culture which is why I was kind of pissed off by Newsweek‘s one dimensional interpretation of urban youth identity in Chile summed up by the Pokemones vs. the Pelolais.

According to the Newsweek article, Pokemones are all about looks, sex, and materialism and nothing of substance. They are, according to the article the new urban tribe taking advantage of a good Chilean economy with no political inclination at all.

Absent from the article, and corrected by one commenter, is the fact that the majority of Pokemones (so named, correct me if I’m wrong) not for the cartoon characters per se but because like the Pokemon characters, they are many. There is power in being part of a group and every group has an ideological enemy. In the case of the Pokemones, that enemy would be the pelolais.

Pelolais, in Chilean slang, means the straight haired girls. The pelolais are described as cuicas – preppy, rich girls. They follow the upward trend of the ever expanding Chilean economy, ignoring disparities. Of course this too is a stereotype.

The funny thing is that this debate, which according to Newsweek, has nothing to do with politics, is drawn along gender and sexual lines. Pokemones are seen as more androgynous, flouting traditional female beauty standards in favor of a more dark, almost goth aesthetic while the pelolais stick to a more traditional model of beauty. Being thin is part of this as is being hetero. The Newsweek article points out that Pokemones don’t care about the gender of their sexual/kissing partners. In a country that remains socially conservative and gay repression is very real, how is this not political?

I think Newsweek wanted to find a scandal worthy story in the Latin American third world success that Chile is played up to be and what better way than to tale a completely one sided look at disenfranchised young third world women.

I know I got some Chileno readers….weigh in!!!

Read the article at Newsweek’s website (where I took the image for this commentary from).

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4 comments on “Urban Female Youth Culture in Chile : Pelolais vs. Pokemones : It is About the Politics Bobos
  1. Well I know nothing about what’s going on in Chilean “youth culture”, but it doesn’t surprise me that big media gets it all wrong… when it’s pop culture, young people and ESPECIALLY young women, misinterpreting & misinforming seems to be the name of the game. Maybe it’s stupidity, sloppiness & ignorance, but it’s also that I think that the people who make the editorial decisions can’t even COMPREHEND that young women are not stereotypes or stupid..maybe that would be too challenging to their world view.

  2. I agree, I don’t think they’re looking to pick on a Latin country in particular. The popular US morning show Today (formerly the home of Katie Couric) runs a scandalized “look-what-the-kids-are-doing-now” story once every few weeks to scare all the parents and freak them out over some ‘trend’ that hardly exists. Any mistakes in analyzing Chilean culture from New York comes from an attitude of knowing it all without even doing some research.
    I’d even be willing to be that this story was sourced by some intern who spent a semester in Santiago and noticed all the ‘weird’ Pokemon dressed kids, but didn’t pick up much else in between the boozing.

  3. Hey Maegan,

    I am chilean and also a political scientist. The way I see it, you’re both accurate and inaccurate in your analysis.

    Although the Newsweek article is certainly sensationalist and limited in its point of view (as most of their articles are), they do point out that there’s a political connotation to the movement, although the pokemones don’t realize it themselves. So you’re right about the fact that the movement has a strong anti-conservative speech, namely the heightening of personal liberties, and it exists in opposition to what’s established.

    The specific opposition to the traditional and conservative pelolais is a fact, but not a political action per se, since pelolais is not a political movement either. I also believe that this opposition is only one aspect of a more complex phenomenon.

    Therefore, even when pokemones aren’t willingly political they do act politicaly and are a result of political, economic and social processes. I could write a whole article about that, but the highlights are:

    - They are a product of the new democracy and the prosperous economy
    - They exist in opposition to other social classes and subcultures, mainly “flaites” (low income, hip-hop like, and often associated with criminal acts) and pelolais (high income and traditional ruling class), but also emos, punks, thrashers, goths, brits, electronics, etc.
    - Their political position comes from the exact fact that they don’t have a speech and don’t care about politics: they are politicaly apathic
    - They stand against their parents and any parental figure, although in a non agressive way. It is the parents who finance this behaviour, but they don’t understand it since teens in a modern democracy live in a completely different world than their parents did through an era of idelologies and lack of democracy
    - Their necessities are satisfied and they are teens…why would they care about politics?

    I’m sure I’m missing many other points, but I hope this will give yuo and the readers some material to think and discuss about.


    Jorge A.

  4. Gracias for coming here and sharing your insight. I can appreciate the point that non-political engagement is political engagement in an indirect and passive way perhaps.

    I would hope that you would write an article!

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