The Americas 61.2 (2004) 298-300
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This is a study of the interaction between the expansion of U.S. business culture, revolutionary nationalism and state policies in Mexico. Julio Moreno sees a crucial [End Page 298] relationship between "[t]he use of consumption and material prosperity as synonyms for democracy and national identity"(p. 3). He clearly understands that U.S. businesses which engaged in some ways with Mexican revolutionary nationalism and the widespread desire for material progress were in a different category from firms that defied the sovereignty of the state, most notably the petroleum industry.
Moreno places the Mexican desire for material progress at center stage as he traces the ways popular culture interacted with U.S. businesses, such as Sears Roebuck; by contrast the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson was initially less successful because it came to Mexico with a much higher level of arrogance in that it expected Mexico to replicate U.S. views and practices with great fidelity. In exploring the more successful approach by Sears Roebuck, Moreno shows how agency and ideology interacted. Sears' employees were able to tap into the programs and ideology of the revolution to force their employer to adapt to Mexican social policy, at one stage even forcing the president of Sears in Mexico to resign. A number of topics that have been infrequently studied receive attention such as the professional register, advertising, trade fairs organized by the Secretaría de la Economía Nacional (SEN) and even small promotions more akin to those run by a chamber of commerce. Moreno sees these promotional and advertising campaigns as agents of democratization. Similarly, attention is given to trading stamps and a myriad of other business practices including consumer boycotts against U.S., Chinese and Spanish interests. Mexican advertising executives are especially critical to the process of negotiating and bridging cultural divides between U.S. exporters and Mexican consumers. The wartime activities of the Office of Inter-American Affairs (OIAA) headed by Nelson Rockefeller are explored, especially attempts to measure and mould public opinion in Mexico by influencing the media of mass communications. Advertising campaigns that aided U.S. manufacturers as they accommodated Mexican nationalism were especially favored by the OIAA.
There is an interesting analysis of Mexico's material progress as an aspect of globalization in that Mexico's interaction with other countries and regions was seen as a motor force of progress. Thus consumerism for the urban middle class became an alternative to arguments about imperialism. Even the representation of standards of beauty became part of the cultural negotiation between the United States firms and Mexican audiences. An anti-modernist campaign emerged by the late 1940s and Moreno's contribution to our understanding of the phenomenon focuses upon the Catholic Church and especially Archbishop Martínez as a mediator between forces of industrial modernity, the government and such groups as Acción Católica. At one point in 1949 they were even successful at blocking a Miss Mexico beauty contest.
The strengths of this book are many. Although several of his topics have been covered before, he has gone further than other researchers in looking at daily business practices and advertising campaigns. His research is very good and his analysis of that contact zone between the two business cultures offers important insights. His treatment of the selective use of rural memories for an urbanizing country is path breaking. [End Page 299] In spite of these accomplishments, it is possible to harbor doubts about equating democracy with consumerism. There is also a serious problem with Moreno's benign characterization of the pivotal Alemán regime. "In other words, Alemán changed the nature of government institutions by the late 1940s, but he did not abandon the ideals of...