Academic journal article Nineteenth-Century Prose

The Making of a Mass Media in Spain

Academic journal article Nineteenth-Century Prose

The Making of a Mass Media in Spain

Article excerpt

Spain's slow move to a mass media relative to more industrialized nations like England and France is symptomatic of what has been called its uneven transition to modernity. This essay explores the technological and ideological obstacles to the mass production of periodicals by focusing on Blanco y Negro [White and Black], Spain's first moderately priced illustrated weekly magazine that enjoyed a meteoric success by combining images and text to sell ideas as well as products. The installation of its own factory with rolling presses, its lavishly illustrated advertisements, aggressive publicity campaigns, appeal to multiple classes of people, generous use of photography, color, and field reporting, and its lack of allegiance to a particular political party or institution--in other words the adoption of most of the techniques and policies of modern western journalism--insured the continued success of Blanco y Negro into the twentieth century. By overcoming a host of technological and economic obstacles that generally plagued its competition, and especially by appealing to centrist and nationalist concerns, by the turn of the century Blanco y Negro, though perhaps still not definable as a mass-produced magazine, had become a commodity that came more and more to seem like a necessity for large numbers of people, allowing it to advertise itself as Spain's most "popular" illustrated magazine.

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In the mid-nineteenth century, what Walter Benjamin famously called the aura of the unique image began to fade as the mass reproducibility of images became possible, even though the most remarkable reproduction of a work of art lacked the original's presence in time and space, the changing physical circumstances that rendered it unique (220). The transformation that wrought this depreciation was not merely the advent of photography, since printing presses long before its invention were capable of the mechanical reproduction of images, but the application of photographic processes to the mechanical reproduction of images vastly expanded the field of vision. The implications of the invention of photomechanical engraving, then, far exceed the aesthetic sphere in which it is usually considered having facilitated an addiction to visualism that is crucial to the understanding of modernity. Illustrated magazines of the 1860s and '70s, while still dependent upon traditional intaglio and xylographic engraving techniques, were already publishing images specifically made to be copied. The problem was that these images could not be reproduced on a mass scale. What the new photo technology and machinery of the 1890s facilitated was the truly mass production of artwork that was essential for the expansion of magazine circulation destined for the burgeoning middle classes. These new technologies would transform the daily newspaper as well, hitherto mostly devoid of images. By the 1930s the end result was the modern format newspaper as we know it today, with illustrated supplements combining leisure reading with photojournalism, illustrated fiction with scientific illustration, image-driven advertisement with photo portraits of the famous and powerful, photo reproductions of high art, and cartoon sketches of every possible variety in which secular themes predominated.

Long before the 1930s, however, photography had revolutionized the content of the illustrated weekly periodical in Spain. Between 1880 and 1900 engravings after photographs, and increasingly photo engravings, were inviting readers to believe that events, scenes, things, and people could all be brought before them in vivid detail, that the world was shrinking into the comfortable spot in an armchair. Because the photomechanical reproduction of images made it possible for larger numbers of people to enjoy this illusion, it played a key role in the democratization of the press. By the end of the century the growing urban classes addicted to press media could see projected back to them their own faces and physical surroundings with a heightened illusionistic effect and could thus imagine themselves as partaking in the experience of modernity as a shared experience. …

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