I Don't Have to Show You No Stinking Badges! Analysis

Luis Valdez

The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Buddy and Connie Villa are Chicanos who, after thirty years of marriage, have risen from the barrio of East Los Angeles to a comfortable middle-class life in Monterey Park, a suburban enclave once wholly Anglo-American but now populated by successful immigrants. Buddy and Connie have achieved the American Dream of material success through their careers as Hollywood bit-part actors, having played those stereotypical roles of maids, gardeners, and bandits which Spanish actors have rarely been able to transcend. Buddy and Connie have few complaints, however, for their careers have enabled them to put their daughter Lucy through medical school and to send their son Sonny to Harvard Law School. Indeed, Buddy proudly refers to himself and Connie as the Silent Bit King and Queen of Hollywood.

The den of their tract home, where the entire play is set, is fitted with all the modern equipment of the good life, most notably a large console television and video recorder. This could be the den of any American home, since the only sign of the family’s ancestral heritage is an imitation Aztec calendar stone hanging above the fireplace. This artifact is less prominent than an old framed poster of the 1948 film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which starred Humphrey Bogart.

A short prologue introduces Buddy Villa and reveals the allusion of the title. It is late at night, and Buddy, who is fifty-seven with a slight paunch, is sitting asleep while the video recorder plays a scene from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. It is the scene in which Bogart and his companions are trapped in the mountains of Mexico by bandits, who are trying to prevent their escape with the gold they have mined. When the bandits approach, pretending to be federal police, Bogart asks to see their badges, to which a bandit responds: “I don’t have to show you no stinkin’ badges!” The scene ends with a gun battle, but throughout Buddy has remained asleep in his easy chair. Later in the play, Buddy reveals that he had his first professional part as one of the bandits in the film.

The first scene of act 1 opens on an early morning that finds Connie, an attractive Chicana of forty-eight, talking on the telephone to a friend when Buddy enters from his morning jog. Though Connie banters good-naturedly with Buddy, several serious issues form the subtext of their conversation. Buddy once had a “drinking problem,” and he continues to drink beer heavily, which may in part account for episodes of impotence. Buddy becomes annoyed when Connie rejects as unsalable his idea for a film script that would feature a Chicano spaceman. Buddy’s annoyance manifests itself in several racist comments directed at his Mexican and Chinese neighbors. Clearly, he feels trapped. Connie, on the other hand, seems content with having achieved middle-class status, and now she has identified her own goal of seeking bigger acting parts. One opportunity that may be offered her would take her on location to Panama for her first speaking part and first job without Buddy. Buddy unequivocally refuses her permission to take the role, and a clash is avoided only when her agent calls to offer...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

It is difficult to overstate the importance of this play’s primary dramatic device to the central themes of the play. This novel device is one of setting, for the play’s opening note states, “The entire set sits within the confines of a TV studio.” The intent is to draw an audience’s attention to “the theatrical reality at hand in our story.” In other words, this is a play—that is, a representation of life—that is inscribed within the unreality of a television situation comedy, and yet such comedies are themselves a constructed reality in which all too many American lives take place. The premise here is that life indeed imitates art, with the play continually calling attention to the theatricality and fictionality that underlies life.

This device is only a contemporary way of interpreting the Shakespearean metaphor that “all the world’s a stage.” Thus, near the end of act 2 Sonny rants that “Hollywood’s just a metaphor. . . . We’re locked into an image—HOLLYWOOD’S IMAGE—of us.” The difference, however, is that William Shakespeare’s metaphor implies a degree of volition granted to an actor free to choose a role, while Luis Valdez seems to deny that one can act anything but a predetermined role.

The crucial aspect of this device of the set as a television studio lies in the self-consciousness with which all the characters clearly see their lives, as determined by the fictional genres of Hollywood. At the end of act 1, after Sonny’s confrontation with his parents, he remarks, “I’ll keep the situation comedy from turning into a soap opera.” Later, in act 2, Sonny complains to Anita, “I grew up in this low-rated situation comedy.” This self-conscious attention to “theatrical reality” is a prelude to the play’s final scene, in which the drama becomes a metadrama—that is, a play that comments on its own processes. Sonny’s debate with the director over how Badges! should end is designed to destroy the illusion that real life is being represented on the same stage, at the same time that it points to the power of this illusion to shape people’s lives. There can be little mistake that the happy ending of the play-within-a-play that is “I Don’t Have to Show You No Stinking Badges!” is wholly ironic.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Bigsby, C. W. E. “El Teatro Campesino.” In Beyond Broadway. Vol. 3 in A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Drake, Sylvie. “Valdez—A Life in the River of Humanity.” Los Angeles Times, February 2, 1986, p. 36.

Elam, Harry J. Taking It to the Streets: The Social Protest Theater of Luis Valdez and Amiri Baraka. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1977.

Herrara, Jaime. “Luis Miguel Valdez.” In Updating the Literary West, edited by Max Westbrook and Dan Flores. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1997.

Huerta, Jorge A. Chicano Theater: Themes and Forms. Ypsilanti, Mich.: Bilingual Press, 1982.

Savren, David. “Luis Valdez.” In In Their Own Words: Contemporary American Playwrights. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1988.