Radio Nation: Communication, Popular Culture, and Nationalism in Mexico

Article excerpt

Radio Nation: Communication, Popular Culture, and Nationalism in Mexico. 1920-1950. Joy Elizabeth Hayes. Tucson, AZ:, The University of Arizona Press, 2000. 154 pp. $35 hbk.

Radio Nation is a substantive contribution to the understanding of modern Mexican culture and society. The book offers a sharp analysis of thirty years of development of radio broadcasting and the implications for political power and the society at large. Hayes focuses on a passionate period after the Mexican Revolution, when "the Mexican state invested heavily in cultural policies and projects designed to modernize and nationalize the country's dispersed citizenry." To a large extent, says Hayes, the Mexican state wanted "to harness and control cultural processes unleashed by the Revolution's popular uprisings and armed struggles." She also analyzes how radio policies in Latin America were partly shaped by the radio industry of the United States and how radio became the point-of-the-lance for the international expansion of markets for U.S. products and the "American" way of life.

"The modern nation would be inconceivable without mass communication technologies that extend cultural practices, symbols, and narratives to millions of people simultaneously across great distances," It might sound like a simple truth, but when the subject of the analysis is a country with such complexity, the challenge is fascinating; because Mexico is not just any ordinary country where mass media has widespread influence, it is also a particular case for study because of its history of contradictions: a huge rural country ... but has one of the largest cities in the world; a nation that had the first important social revolution in Latin America . . . but "institutionalized" it through caciquismo and corruption; a nation that prides itself in the deep roots of its indigenous culture ... but at the same time establishes a fascinating love-- and-hate relationship with the powerful neighbour in the north.

Imagine this country with a large illiterate population of impoverished peasants that has just come out from several years of civil war, painfully emerging from a history of feudalism and marginalization. Hayes reports on and analyzes how this population faced the introduction of radio broadcasting while the state attempted to negotiate between public service goals and private pressures exerted often with the intervention from corporate interests in the United States. Radio became a new tool for accumulating political power, often in detriment of the nation itself, as shown by the rapid growth of the media empire owned by the Azcarraga family. During World War II the United States promoted the discourse of "panamericanism" from the Office of the Coordinator for Inter-American Affairs (CIAA) and through local allies such as the Azcarraga Group. Radio was instrumental for the propaganda project orchestrated from Washington, very much as television is now the main channel for the United States' antiterrorism discourse, with the distinction that today the U.S. government does not need local broadcasters to convey messages.

One of the strengths of the book is its critical analysis. …