Refried Elvis: The Rise of the Mexican Counterculture

Refried Elvis: The Rise of the Mexican Counterculture

Refried Elvis: The Rise of the Mexican Counterculture

Refried Elvis: The Rise of the Mexican Counterculture

Synopsis

This powerful study shows how America's biggest export, rock and roll, became a major influence in Mexican politics, society, and culture. From the arrival of Elvis in Mexico during the 1950s to the emergence of a full-blown counterculture movement by the late 1960s, Eric Zolov uses rock and roll to illuminate Mexican history through these charged decades and into the 1970s. This fascinating narrative traces the rechanneling of youth energies away from political protest in the wake of the 1968 student movement and into counterculture rebellion, known as La Onda (The Wave). Refried Elvis accounts for the events of 1968 and their aftermath by revealing a mounting crisis of patriarchal values, linked both to the experience of modernization during the 1950s and 1960s and to the limits of cultural nationalism as promoted by a one-party state.

Through an engrossing analysis of music and film, as well as fanzines, newspapers, government documents, company reports, and numerous interviews, Zolov shows how rock music culture became a volatile commodity force, whose production and consumption strategies were shaped by intellectuals, state agencies, transnational and local capital, musicians, and fans alike. More than a history of Mexican rock and roll, Zolov's study demonstrates the politicized nature of culture under authoritarianism, and offers a nuanced discussion of the effects of cultural imperialism that deepens our understanding of gender relations, social hierarchies, and the very meanings of national identity in a transnational era.

Excerpt

This is the story of how Mexico’s “Revolutionary Family” —in its political, cultural, and social manifestations—became irrevocably frayed. Because my focus is largely urban centered, and on Mexico City especially, the story is necessarily biased. By focusing on the social and cultural transformations wrought by rapid modernization during the 1950s and 1960s, it largely ignores the still overwhelming (though no longer majority) rural population in favor of an analysis of the new middle classes. Mexico’s peasantry appears, but mostly in the guise of urban migrants, the new lumpenproletariat struggling to assert a voice from the margins. Still, the 1968 student movement, which forms the basic point of reference for this story, was in itself an event centered in the nation’s capital and drew its ranks from the middle classes. Mexico City is by no means an encapsulation of Mexico as a whole, nor can “middle-class values” adequately encompass the question of ideology, but the student movement—despite its geographical circumscription—had a profound effect on the nation at large. The challenges to one-party rule that the students raised were indeed national challenges, affecting Mexicans well beyond the center of the country.

The crisis of authority that the Mexican regime faced in 1968 had its parallel in the middle-class family, which also experienced the conflicts of youth dissent. As such, 1968 was a social and cultural event as much as a political one. From this perspective, the student movement’s challenge to the dominant political structure reflected less a spontaneous organizational response to repression and the wastefulness associated with the staging of the Olympics than a cumulative crisis of patriarchal values. The student movement of 1968 was not the start of a new historical consciousness but its pivotal event, a fulcrum that articulated the restlessness and rage for much of the youth of a middle class which had come of age during Mexico’s ac-

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