Bunker, Steven B. Creating Mexican Consumer Culture in the Age of Porfirio Diaz. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2012. xiii + 333 pages. Cloth, $50.00.
The historian Steven Bunker offers a notable and often fun history of the modern consumer culture that bourgeoned in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Mexico City. Porfirio Diaz was the Mexican president who ruled from 1867 to 1910. After decades of tumultuous upheaval following Mexico's independence from Spain in 1821, Diaz's reign brought relative political stability. Foreign investment and government funds turned Mexico City into a showcase of the latest high fashion, thrilling amusements, and technological wonders. In Creating Mexican Consumer Culture in the Age of Porfirio Diaz, Bunker demonstrates how Mexico's political and economic elites looked to new consumer products to foster national development. More than simply an elite project, the new consumer culture allowed a broad section of Mexico City's population to take part in a modernization effort.
What marked the consumer culture that emerged in the late nineteenth century as modern was mass marketing and mass consumption. Bunker begins by telling the story of the El Buen Tono cigarette company and its pioneering of new types of advertising. Aiming to showcase the modern factory in which machines rolled over 3.5 billion cigarettes a year, the company's general director, Ernesto Pugibet, invited a famous French opera singer to take a tour with the city's press in tow. The company's in-house advertisement department--one of the few in Mexico at the time--used new technologies to reach a wider public that it hoped would associate its product with modernity. For example, Mexico City residents saw the El Buen Tono logo printed in the sky on the side of a dirigible and in the streets on a roaming "Electric Man" illuminated with light bulbs. Other companies began their own publicity campaigns in response. Before long, advertising became a lucrative business and a new professional field. Bunker gives an account of many patents sought by Mexican inventors who hoped to pioneer other illuminated and mobile advertising methods, such as a walking mechanical dog that roamed the streets with advertisements on its back.
New buildings provided a modern setting in which to purchase the mass-produced goods advertised throughout Mexico City, where German and French families built some of the world's earliest department stores...