Imagine Otherwise: Juan Llamas-Rodriguez on the Visual Politics of Border Tunnels

Dec 11, 2023Podcast

In the latest episode of Imagine Otherwise (episode 158), we tackle the visual politics of border tunnels between Mexico and the United States.

To help us think through how these tunnels are represented and often overrepresented in US media, I am excited to have on the show Ideas on Fire author Juan Llamas-Rodriguez whose new book Border Tunnels: A Media Theory of the US–Mexico Underground (IoF affiliate link) was recently published by the University of Minnesota Press.

Juan Llamas-Rodriguez wearing a grey sweater, next to the cover of his book Border Tunnels, with the episode title

When the Ideas on Fire team was indexing this book, I was struck by Juan’s argument that visual representations of tunnels play a huge role in shaping border policy and anti-immigrant sentiment. 

For all of their visual obscurity and inaccessibility, they are hypervisible in media representations not only of the US–Mexico border region but also the bodies—both real and imagined—that are associated with the borderlands.

In our conversation, Juan shares his research into how border tunnels are represented in video games like first-person shooters, television news coverage like Anderson Cooper 360°, copaganda reality shows like Border Wars, and action films like Fast and Furious.

We also discuss why it is so important to think infrastructurally about media production and how designers and activists are using speculative design to reimagine what the US–Mexico borderlands are and the role of tunnels in that process.

Finally, we close out our conversation with Juan’s challenge to both media makers and media consumers alike to accept responsibility for the material consequences of representation and use it to create a world where the free movement of people across and beyond all borders is celebrated and realized.

You can listen to the episode in the player above or on your favorite podcast app. And be sure to check out the teaching guide and transcript in the episode show notes over on the Ideas on Fire website.

Episode citation: Hannabach, Cathy (host). “Juan Llamas-Rodriguez on the Visual Politics of Border Tunnels.” Imagine Otherwise. December 13, 2023. Produced by Cathy Hannabach and Ideas on Fire. Podcast. 23:39.

You might be interested in