Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mexicans Air Gripes of US with Style Move over Mickey. Mexico Satirizes Latest US Cultural Imperialism in 'Burton Helms' Ads

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mexicans Air Gripes of US with Style Move over Mickey. Mexico Satirizes Latest US Cultural Imperialism in 'Burton Helms' Ads

Article excerpt

Over the past few months, Mexican television viewers have gotten to know Burton Helms, an archetypal ugly American. He talks loud, slaughters the Spanish language, and assumes Mexicans will accept that this slippery neighbor from the north knows what's best for them.

Lately, Mr. Helms has taken to wearing a black mariachi hat with puffball fringe and sourly serenading viewers with professions of his love for Mexico.

Burton Helms is the advertising creation of Telefonos de Mexico, Mexico's longtime telephone monopoly. For the first time, Telmex is facing the opening of the telecommunications market and competition from foreign companies, among them American giants AT&T and MCI. To help fend off that competition, the none-too-popular Telmex came up with Burton Helms to convince Mexicans, who must choose their long-distance carrier by next month, that the scoundrel they already know is better than one with a gringo accent. Given Mexico's current hypersensitivity over US interference in internal Mexican affairs, the Burton Helms advertising campaign looks to be a stroke of genius. With his name - a play on Helms-Burton, the US law designed to tighten the Cuba embargo by punishing foreign companies that dare trade with Castro's regime - his arrogant swagger, and his obliviousness to cultural sensitivities, Burton Helms conjures up everything Mexicans detest about Americans. Helms's Telmex creators know Mexico's sensitivity to America's weight and influence is always just under the surface. But the ongoing battle in Washington over whether Congress should sign on to President Clinton's "certification" of Mexico as a worthy partner in the international drug war has raised their hackles. What Burton Helms isn't accomplishing on his own, real-life members of the US government are giving him a hand with. A House committee voted Thursday to override Mr. Clinton's certification of Mexico's scandal-ridden drug program. And an uproar followed Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's remark to Congress last week that the US government was putting Mexico "under a microscope" to see how it cooperates in the antinarcotics battle this year. …

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