- Luis Miguel:La serie, Class-Based Collective Memory, and Streaming Television in Mexico
Netflix's first Spanish-language original series, Club de cuervos (2015–2019), was also its first original series for the Mexican market. Four years later, Netflix original content from Mexico includes multiple seasons of this acclaimed comedy along with insipid reality TV, middlebrow thrillers, and the Oscar-winning film Roma (Alfonso Cuarón, 2018). In February 2019, chief content officer Ted Sarandos announced that Netflix Mexico would produce fifty television shows and films over the following two years, making it the platform's international territory with the most targeted productions.1 Given its standing in the Netflix ecosystem, what does this territory reveal about how a foreign subscription video-on-demand service interacts with a country's industries, politics, and cultural trends?
To answer this question, we must look at the first half of 2018, when one Netflix series captivated the cultural conversation in the country. Luis Miguel: La serie was an authorized, fictionalized depiction of the life of Mexican pop superstar Luis Miguel. It premiered on April 22 with a new episode every Sunday until July 15, paralleling the weekly schedule followed by coproducer Telemundo in the United States. The show received wide acclaim from critics and fans, bolstered the star image of its lead actor, Diego Boneta, and revitalized the public perception of the singer, who had fallen out of favor following numerous personal scandals and canceled tours. Yet it also proved a bellwether for another major national event: the election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) as president and the overwhelming defeat of Mexico's longtime de facto ruling party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI).
The audience engagement during the show's run and the connections between that engagement and the political significance of AMLO's victory reveal an emergent class self-reflection in and through new media. For the middle- and upper-middle-class Mexicans who watched the show in its initial run, the weekly ritual of watching and commenting on social media tackled not only the content of the [End Page 137] episodes but also viewers' recollection of the events therein, namely the move toward a neoliberal economy in the late 1980s in Mexico.2 Such discussions foregrounded a dissatisfaction with the long history of power brokerage in Mexico and thus were akin to the rhetoric surrounding the presidential elections. These responses to Luis Miguel: La serie provide a sketch of the broader structure of feeling against the country's political and media elites emerging in the lead-up to the national elections. I do not mean to imply a causal relationship between the release of the Netflix series and the election of AMLO in July 2018. Rather, particular aspects of the reception of the show prefigure the reasons for supporting the eventual president and offer a window into how middle- and upper-middle-class Mexicans saw themselves, their recent past, and their future at this juncture in 2018.
Class is central to understanding the connection between the reception of the show and the emergent political landscape. Netflix is not yet widely available across Mexico. Access to high-speed internet service remains heavily stratified, with 85 percent access for households in the top 15 percent by income bracket and around 25 percent access for those in the lower 45 percent by income bracket.3 Netflix consumers thus tend to live in urban areas and earn above the country's median income. Likewise, the perception of Netflix's content in Mexico stands in opposition to that of national broadcasting giant Televisa, known for its traditional telenovelas and their negative class connotations. Although we cannot assume that it was watched by all sectors of the Mexican population, the case of Luis Miguel: La serie does help illustrate the reception implications of Netflix's class-stratified audiences, the enduring appeal of melodramatic genres in television, the political implications of viewer responses on social media, and how audiences may reflect on their positionality when encountering content from foreign streaming services.
Netflix operates within a class-stratified media ecology in a number of ways. Differential access to high-speed internet separates...