Televisual Tunnels and the Publics of the U.S.-Mexico Border

On Thursday, March 25, at 6:30 EST, I’ll be delivering a lecture for the Boston Cinema and Media Seminar. I was invited by Bentley University, one of the member institutions of the Seminar, to talk about my border tunnels book project. Bentley Assistant Professor Jim Miranda will be the respondent.

To receive the zoom meeting ID, please email BASLINGER@bentley.edu. Participants will be able to ask questions and join the conversation after the initial presentation and dialogue.

Presentation Abstract:

Between 2005 and 2020, tunnels underneath the U.S.-Mexico border constantly appeared in broadcast and cable news programming in the United States. At both the local or national level, television news features dedicated airtime to obsessing over the architecture and function of these illicit border infrastructures. Tunnels offered unique entry points for media producers covering “border issues” because, by design, the structures remained outside of public view except for their media representations. By coordinating with border policing institutions, television news programs could promise exclusive access for their viewers to these hidden structures. At the same time, producers used these opportunities to try out new technologies and formal strategies for imaging the underground.

In this presentation, I examine the industrial arrangements, technological affordances, and textual forms that shaped the figural representation and political significance of border tunnels on U.S. television news. I argue that, while the potential for visual experimentation proved enticing for television producers, this continuous return to televising tunnels also overstated the structures’ importance within cross-border dynamics. Tunnels became alternatively thrilling and threatening. Ultimately, the popularity of tunnels as a televisual figure created a public that understood a minor trafficking structure to be a major national security issue, eventually allowing the “tunnel issue” to capture other border issues, such as migration and sustainability.