Latin American Studies Mass Media and Consumer Culture in 20th-Century Mexico
by
Anne Rubenstein, Kevin Chrisman
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 June 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0247

Introduction

In 20th-century Mexico, as in many other places, consumer culture and mass media have shaped everyday experiences, helped give meaning to ordinary lives, and opened up spaces in which political ideologies could be created and contested. Cultural forms such as dance, song, cuisine, clothing, and sports have been deployed to distinguish regions from one another, while at the same time, print media, radio, television, recorded music, film, and other cultural forms have connected Mexicans across regional and international borders (and across lines of gender, class, ethnicity, language, religion, political affiliation, and more) from the 1880s to the present day. Consumer culture—meaning the distribution, sale, and use of mass-produced goods such as clothing, as well as agricultural commodities like sugar and coffee—linked Mexico to a wider world in the historical era in which Mexico joined in the global process of rapid-fire modernization. The study of mass media and consumer culture in Mexico has been, at its best, highly interdisciplinary: historians and art historians, literary critics and cinema studies specialists, sociologists, and ethnographers have worked with journalists, folklorists, ethnomusicologists, and others in developing a sophisticated scholarly literature. This literature has its roots in two interrelated schools of scholarship: one that interpreted the products of culture industries as well as the creativity of ordinary people in a search for clues to Mexican national identity, and another that interpreted both locally made and imported mass media to understand how they shaped and supported the political, social, and economic status quo, both locally and globally. Since the 1980s, however, scholarly attention has broadened its focus from the images, narratives, movements, sounds, and objects produced by Mexican and foreign culture industries, and recent scholarship has looked to processes of creation, distribution, criticism, and consumption as well. Identities—whether regional, national, local, ideological, sexual, or political—are no longer understood as stable categories, but rather as a highly contested set of ideas, stories, and pictures that have changed radically over time. Much scholarship on mass media and consumer culture now begins with the understanding that culture industries have provided the tools with which discourses of identity could be shaped and reshaped, and that audiences and consumers have sometimes picked up those tools and turned them to their own purposes. And they have moved beyond taking the nation as a central category of analysis to ask how Mexican consumers and culture industries have participated in international and transnational processes of modernization.

Overviews

Scholarship on mass media and consumer culture has its roots in the disciplines of art history and literary criticism; art historians, literary critics, and other scholars continue to study specific consumer goods and media narratives, including high art objects like novels and paintings (as well as exemplary works of less highly valued forms, like comic books and pop music) on their own terms. At the same time, anthropologists and political theorists such as William Roseberry (see Roseberry 1989) shaped scholarly understanding of Mexican culture as a whole by borrowing the concept of hegemony from the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, which gave them a mechanism to explain how certain forms of religious observance, popular celebration, and mass media narrative could simultaneously reinforce the power of Mexican and foreign elites and hold a space open in which ordinary people could question that power. More recently, scholarly attention has turned to studying the specific processes through which popular culture has been made and consumed. These studies are of profound interest to readers who want to ask broader questions about modern Mexican history, politics, economics, and culture. One of the pioneers of this approach was Carlos Monsiváis, whose influence on cultural studies of Mexico remains powerful—see Monsiváis 1981, Monsiváis and Bonfil 1994 (cited under Audiences and Spectacles), Monsiváis 1995 (under Sports, Leisure, and Sociability), and Monsiváis 2008 (under Cinema). A graceful and allusive prose stylist, most of Monsiváis’s prolific writing on gender, sexuality, popular culture, daily life, and politics has not found the English translations it deserves. Two edited volumes by historians and other scholars—Joseph, et al. 2000 and Vaughan and Lewis 2006—reveal the influence of Monsiváis in the wide variety of cultural forms they analyze and the breadth of approaches their contributors take. Similarly, in Gallo 2005 the approach to questions of modernity and modernism through the historical analysis of a careful selection of five technologies owes a debt to Monsiváis’s insistence on seeing Mexican culture as a unified whole and rejecting cultural hierarchies; Rubenstein 2010 sees mass media and popular culture since the Mexican Revolution as the staging ground for a series of political struggles, again echoing Monsiváis. Gallo 2005 also exemplifies another tendency in scholarship on Mexican consumer culture and mass media: contextualizing the Mexican experience in relation to transformations in the cultural history of the United States (Limón 1998), the hemisphere (Bauer 2001, Delgado Moya 2017) and the world (Gallo 2005).

  • Bauer, Arnold. Goods, Power, History: Latin America’s Material Culture. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

    This book examines a far wider time period than just the 20th century and a far wider geographic range than just Mexico, but it provides a helpful framework for more limited studies by setting up a model that places all kinds of commodity production, distribution, and consumption into the same framework. It is especially strong on textiles and clothing, and on agriculture and food.

  • Delgado Moya, Sergio. Delirious Consumption: Aesthetics and Consumer Capitalism in Mexico and Brazil. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017.

    By analyzing the works of leading artists and poets of postwar Mexico and Brazil, Delgado Moya shows how figures like Octavio Paz and David Alfaro Siqueiros resisted and adapted to larger changes in consumption and aesthetic production.

  • Gallo, Rubén. Mexican Modernity: The Avant-Garde and the Technological Revolution. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005.

    Gallo analyzes what he calls the “other Mexican revolution,” the ideological and cultural transition from the Porfiriato to the (post-)Revolutionary era, through the prism of five material manifestations of modernity: cameras, typewriters, radio, cement, and stadiums.

  • Joseph, Gilbert, Anne Rubenstein, and Eric Zolov. Fragments of a Golden Age: The Politics of Culture in Mexico since 1940. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000.

    The entries in this book on sports, music, film, television, food, and tourism all take up the relationships among consumers and producers of popular culture and the Mexican state.

  • Limón, José E. American Encounters: Greater Mexico, the United States, and the Erotics of Culture. Boston: Beacon Press, 1998.

    In this wide-ranging book, the anthropologist José Limón finds evidence for a deep mutual attraction between Mexican and US cultural actors in the literature, music, and other artworks produced on both sides of the border.

  • Monsiváis, Carlos. Escenas de pudor y livianidad. Mexico City: Grijalbo, 1981.

    This book describes changes in youth culture over the 1950–1975 period by examining Mexican popular culture: movie stars, styles of dance and popular music, spectacles, and habits of speech and sociability.

  • Roseberry, William. Anthropologies and Histories: Essays in Culture, History, and Political Economy. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1989.

    This collection of essays in Marxist anthropology opens with a bravura reading of a festival in Tepoztlán, and moves from there to critique much previous ethnography of Mexican culture. Roseberry’s vision of culture as a site of dialogue and contestation, including his introduction of the concept of hegemony, profoundly influenced later historians and ethnographers of popular culture and mass media.

  • Rubenstein, Anne. “Mass Media and Popular Culture in the Post-Revolutionary Era.” In The Oxford History of Mexico. Edited by William Beezley and Michael Meyer. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    This survey of mass media and popular culture—with some reference to consumer culture—sees mediated narratives and imagery, as well as the political struggles around them, as growing from the central tensions inherent in Mexican history in this era: processes of state formation and urbanization, changing racial and gender ideologies, economic and demographic shifts.

  • Vaughan, Mary Kay, and Stephen E. Lewis, eds. The Eagle and the Virgin: Nation and Cultural Revolution in Mexico, 1920–1940. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.

    This collection of essays explores a range of post-Revolutionary social and cultural campaigns that contributed to a national culture. New technologies (especially cinema and radio) allowed artists, intellectuals, politicians, and entrepreneurs to reach larger audiences, while developing a nationalist ideology helped to generate new narratives and imagery across a range of cultural forms.

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