TV Azteca, Oster Kitchen Appliances, and Mexico's Privileged

Curator's Note

 My approach to integrated (in-program) advertising is to analyze how its presence in a text alters cultural representations.  The curated video is a compilation of the Mexican broadcaster TV Azteca’s product placements in its telenovelas and orients us to the general style of its integrations, while I focus on two specific examples. 


In Spring 2008, TV Azteca integrated Oster kitchen appliances from the U.S. corporation Sunbeam.  In the morning magazine show Venga la alegría, the chef demonstrates how Oster’s blender can be used for making salsas.  As she mixes traditional ingredients, she communicates the product’s uses, its quality steel parts, and its three speeds.  Although adapting the blender to Mexican taste buds, the chef avoids time-honored cooking methods.  Traditional cuisine could have been presented thus:  the chef would have mashed the ingredients along the surface of a mocajete, a bowl and hand-held grinder made of volcanic rock.  The blender alters Mexican cuisine as it renders the ingredients less chunky and less richly-flavored.  The chef sells the blender to an urban middle-class audience and excludes Mexicans of lower classes and rural regions.  To compare, the folk song “Cumbia del mole” celebrates the mocajete in the state of Oaxaca, a rural state with a large indigenous population and widespread poverty.  Too traditional and not consumerist, the mocajete and many of its users have no place in Venga la alegría. 


A scene of TV Azteca’s telenovela Vivir por ti (To Live for You) dramatizes family fun with the maid who uses an Oster blender to make licuados (a milk beverage with fruit and sugar).  In Mexico, maids are disparagingly called muchachas.  Literally “girl,” the term refers to a lower class or indigenous woman; it may signify an ignorant and untrustworthy person or a beloved (though subordinate) member of the family.  The scene plays on the beloved muchacha as she gives aunt-like advice, communicating to the children and to the viewer the product features, such as its reversible function.  Conforming to Mexican television’s racial stereotypes, and in contrast to telenovela stars, the mestiza (mixed race) maid is representative of Mexico’s majority. The parents and the children are white, upper-middle-class urbanites and the melodrama’s protagonists.   Illustrating a race- and class-based division of gendered labor, the maid takes care of the kids and cooks with Oster appliances, and wealth allows the mother to pursue other interests.  The muchacha sells the Oster blender by playing the foil to the status and the lifestyles of the protagonists and of TV Azteca’s and Oster’s higher socioeconomic target audiences.


So what exactly does the in–program advertisment of a blender alter, according to your interpretation? In my view, the cultural representation of muchachas in telenovelas is not altered, but reinforced, and this is nothing new. What I would like to understand better is what you imply when comparing the Oster blender with a molcajete.

Certainly, the molcajete is a traditional instrument for preparing food in some parts of Mexico. However, I would not associate it exclusively with poor rural Mexico –after all, as a nationalist urbanite, it‘s kind of cool to get an authentic molcajete when you go shopping for folk artesanías. They are not particularly cheap either. The Oster blender, on the other hand, has been for years a popular instrument in Mexico, as can be seen in street–based juguerías and fondas. People are willing to invest in these expensive blenders because they are quite effective, not all Mexicans like chunky salsas, and most prefer quick, smooth licuados. ‘Traditional Mexican cuisine‘ has nothing pure about it that these technologies will contaminate or ‘alter‘ in a fatal way –if this is what you were trying to imply.

I do see the violence of representation in Mexican television. However, I think it is more directed to muchachas than to middle class white women. Low class Mexicans desire technology, and power, as much as anyone else. And the media exploit this.


Thanks, Gabriela, for your questions and comments.  To explain what these in-program advertisements alter, let me provide more context. The privatization of the state network Imevisión that resulted in TV Azteca (1993) was one of the consequences of the nation’s shift to neoliberal economics, which also dramatically increased the presence of global advertisers in Mexico.  Through its in-program advertising, the broadcaster has been transforming its programming into a vehicle for global advertising.  In addition, TV Azteca promotes to advertisers the higher socioeconomic segments in its sales meetings and materials.  In turn, the network programs primarily for those segments, and the differentiation of its  telenovelas is its focus on the lifestyles of the urban, middle and upper-middle-classes.  Although the integration of the blender does not change the stereotype of the maid as subordinate and racialized, what it does do—as a more subtle alteration—is express the maid as a foil that validates the lifestyles and status of the privileged protagonists and target audiences. 


Regarding the molcajete, the middle classes sometimes use it or the blender depending on preference or convenience (indeed, Mexican people do like a variety of tastes and textures).  Tourists and the urban middle classes may also like the molcajete because they perceive it as cool, authentic, or folkloric.  So the molcajete is not as the blender in use or symbolic meaning:  the Oster blender is a modern consumerist appliance and a global product from a U.S. corporation.  I am not arguing that traditional Mexican cuisine is pure or contaminated by these technologies in a fatal way.  Instead, I contend that the blender hybridizes salsas by mixing traditional cuisine with global consumer technologies.  Furthermore, while it is true that Mexican people of all socioeconomic levels desire technologies, this network is not exploiting the desires for technologies on the part of poor, indigenous people from the state of Oaxaca and other regions:  TV Azteca neither sells nor programs for them but targets Mexico’s privileged in urban areas in order to sell these preferred audiences to its predominantly global clients and to sell to these audiences products like Oster blenders.

From an economic point of view it makes sense to say that people with money to buy products are the target of TV Azteca, since they are the audiences that TV Azteca sells to its clients. The usual thing is to explain in this way the increasing exclusion, at the level of representation, of the Mexican poor and indigenous as well as the reinforcement of their subordination in figures like the maid. Without underestimating the rationality of this approach, it is not clear to me how it allows for or generates an interesting, critical conception of cultural hybridity. Perhaps I was too quick in reading your approach in this way, but it all seems to come down to the evils of neoliberalism as they can be seen in Mexican television. My concern with the molcajete was in fact a concern with what I see as a susceptibility in this approach to oppose Mexicanness (in the figure of the poor and indigenous) to technology and capitalism. We could also interpret the ‘mixture‘ of the molcajete and the Oster blender as an opportunity to de-essentialize (de-folklorize) the nation. I am aware that this will not, in turn, solve all the power differences and exclusions that exist out there, and that need the economic point to be made, but perhaps it will help to read cultural identity in a more complex way, as a process and not as a thing. Since I am currently starting to work on this topic, I would be glad to know more about the cultural/critical side of your approach to telenovelas -precisely at the moment when narrative is being subordinated to in-program advertising. Perhaps we need more than an economic approach to examine the critical challenges posed by (neoliberal) alterations of Mexican cultural representations.  

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