There was an eerie feeling in Mexico City’s Benito Juárez Airport on the morning of July 1 as I made my way to Guadalajara to talk about global Hollywood, greening the media, cultural citizenship, and the new right of cultural studies. Quite a mouthful.
Less than a week earlier, a few hours after my arrival in the capital, three police officers had been shot and killed by others in uniform whom they were about to arrest for narco trafficking, in the Benito Juárez food court.
And today was the general election. Eighty million voters would determine who held the Presidency for the next six years.
It added to the palpable tension from the violence of a few days earlier.
In other ways, life seemed calmer. No party-political audiovisual advertising is permitted in the immediate run-up to voting. So Mexican TV screens, which had been filled with accusations and promises for many weeks, fell relatively silent.
As did much of the population. Elections here take place on weekends. And the ley seca (‘dry law’) mandates that no alcohol be sold during that time.
Vibrant bars in La Condesa and corner-store bodegas in Coyoacán alike lose their custom as a patriarchal state ensures that elections are not affected by drunkenness.
But other developments brought the 2012 vote into question.
One was the advent of Yo Soy 132, a space in which Mexican students recovered their heritage of protest against corrupt politics and the bourgeois media.
Yo Soy 132 has given hope to progressives and opponents of clientelismo across the globe because of its distinctive, organic voice.
The group’s innovative presidential debate, held on line and watched in public spaces provided a stark contrast to its conventional TV cousins. Not to mention the dullards doted on by dweebs whom we are expected to watch in the US equivalent.
Yo Soy 132 was reacting to media coverage of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). The party has a genealogy of authoritarianism, paternalism, and corruption that arches across its seven decades in power. That long hegemony ended in 2000 but was reborn in 2012.
The country’s biggest media player, Televisa, dominates Mexican TV. The PRI and Televisa help form an oligarchy that is all-too-typical in the Americas: the party has paid the network for positive coverage of its politicians and negative critique of its opponents.
And Guillermo Orozco’s research indicates that several telenovelas also provide subliminal support for the PRI that viewers accept uncritically.
Meanwhile, the network’s profitable presence in the US was under threat.
Univision and Telemundo have had a cozy duopoly on Latin@ television for years. Their links to Televisa and TV Azteca respectively have consigned US hispanohablantes across the country, who come from over twenty nations, to programming dominated by Mexican fare.
But a new player will appear on the North American scene in August: Mundo Fox, run by you-know-who and the Colombian giant RCN Televisión.
Unlike the family targeting of its established rivals, Mundo Fox interpellates young funsters. Its marketing plays on biculturalism via the tag ‘Americano como tú’ (‘American Like You’). The emphasis is on the ability to switch codes and cultures, to be simultaneously Latin@ and Yanqui.
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Sources tell me that talent from Univision and Telemundo is ankling those nets and inking with the nepotist-in-chief’s latest nice little earner. (I hope readers enjoyed that last sentence. The first part echoes Variety’s slanguage . The second mocks Mockney).
The conversi are frustrated by the duopoly’s conservatism. Mundo Fox, by contrast, promises a creative environment with incentive to innovate.
Observers of this strategy will recall angloparlante Fox’s arrival as an upstart network in the late 1980s. As now, offering greater freedom to producers and addressing new audiences was key. Along with other factors, such as deregulation of cable and satellite channels, it helped end the hegemony of ABC, NBC, and CBS.
Will something similar happen with Mundo Fox, such that ‘Americano Como Tú’ becomes part of the Zeitgeist?
Or to return to the Mexican election, could Yo Soy 132 perform that role?
With the marketing power of News Corporation behind it, I suspect Mundo Fox will succeed. But I’m much more interested in the bold conviction of Yo Soy 132. Let’s hope this exciting movement, and civil society more broadly, continue to scrutinize the media-political oligarchy.
Photography by Paula López Caballero and the author. Toby Miller is Distinguished Professor of Media & Cultural Studies at the University of California, Riverside. You can follow his misadventures at tobymiller.org and the ‘culturalstudies’ podcast on iTunes or as an application for your smartphone.