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From Superhero to National Hero: The Populist Myth of El Santo


This article analyzes several films from Mexican masked wrestler El Santo’s lucha libre series (1958–82) and explains their popularity and social function within mid-twentieth-century Mexican society. The analysis takes into account specific factors such as the role of the production system, the Mexican national film industry, and the social, political, and economic circumstances that contributed to the emergence of the lucha libre genre, as well as to the figure of El Santo as a mass-mediated phenomenon. It ultimately argues that these films created a populist mythological system that functioned to fill the social and political void that emerged as a result of the Mexican government’s transition from an inclusive discourse of agrarian populism after the Revolution (in the 1930s and 1940s) to one of industrial capitalism in the 1950s, which, by foregrounding modern ideals such as science, technology, and progress, was perceived as a threat to the stability and identity of the country’s masses. The existence of this discourse within the realm of the fantastical, I argue, allows for the recasting of the dominant historical narrative within the context of myth itself, thus creating a metaphorical sense of participation in the drama of history, for which the struggle inherent in lucha libre is the perfect metaphorical vehicle.