Week Seven: The Export Boom as Modernity

In the lecture, Alec Dawson revealed that the concept of modernity is usually split up into 4 categories when looked at by historians and analysts. Innovation includes the improvement of society through development and the creation of new things. Emancipation suggests the emergence of liberalism and rights. Secularisation promotes inclusivity because places and people of power would not have a religious bias. And finally, universalism combines these 3 categories into a 4th one that favours the value of sharing modern ideas throughout society and the world and values rational thought above all else.

In the reading, Dawson also mentioned that modernity in Latin America can be seen through different lenses. Ideological and professional narratives clash to focus on certain aspects of Latin American modernity and create an incomplete narrative. But by looking at all the different types of narratives together, we can see the general, important themes and how they matter to these different lenses and points of view. Dawson again suggests 4 different narratives that exist in studying Latin American modernisation: tragedy, epic, comedy, and romance.

I’d like to take a look at these 4 ideas and see how the reading, “Porfirio Díaz, Hero of the Americas,” an interview conduced by James Creelman, fits in with them.

In the context of a tragedy, we can take a historical approach and identify elements of this interview that lead to the “tragedy” of incoming, brewing revolution to Díaz’ Mexico. Díaz says the middle-class is a recent development and it is considerably favoured in the order, progress, and prosperity of Mexico in this era. This shows the inequality, political and economic, that the other classes (especially the poor) face. How can they reap the benefits of progress if they are too “ignorant” to participate? How come this isn’t seen as the state’s fault? Why do the rich have no responsibilities in progress as they are too “preoccupied?” How come they aren’t contributing, working, or perhaps suffering in the same manner as the other classes? It seems even the rich aren’t free to participate in Díaz’ peace.

Regarding the epic narrative, immediately we can identify how this relates to Creelman’s portrayal of Díaz himself. The title of the interview names Díaz a “Hero,” and Creelman quotes an official as having said that Díaz is “one of the great men to be held up for the hero-worship of mankind” (139). Even the progress that Creelman identifies is written about in a very impressed and admired manner. This is the story of Díaz’ triumph over Mexico, a story of a self-made man transforming the country into a disciplined and practical one through his venerable independent thought. Interesting how Díaz is seen as the one fighting the good fight while so much of the country is repressed. Or is Díaz’ idealised portrayal by those who have an influential voice more the avoidable problem?

Dawson looks at the comedy lens through a 20/20 hindsight historical perspective, how we see how certain elements are left out of the primary document portrayal of Mexico and how that contributes to the revolutions. I believe this same idea can be applied to the Díaz document. Rather than exploring the tragedy of the victims through Mexico’s modernisation, we can see as Díaz lists all his achievements and Creelman admiring them, political progress and the idea of emancipation is greatly limited. Díaz seems to favour the middle-class and disregard all else. How can he ignore so much of the population and consider the poor “ignorant” and the rich “preoccupied” when they still contribute in their own way to Mexico’s development and subsequent revolutionary spirit? Is this class-based repression, one that could have been avoided if more attention was diverted from economics to politics, the reason for Mexico’s revolutions?

And of course, Creelman’s journalistic writing style is extremely romantic. As mentioned in the lecture, he describes Díaz in an incredibly poetic manner. He even describes the surrounding environment and the information he has learned about Díaz’ progress in the same way. Perhaps this reflects the narrative of the appeal of innovation, the romance of progress, that Creelman believes his readers will want to surround themselves with.


2 thoughts on “Week Seven: The Export Boom as Modernity

  1. Linda

    Hi Kelsey, thanks again for an interesting blogpost! I thought you did a great job of explaining this week’s concepts by interlinking the ‘lenses’ through wich Dawson views the story of modernisation with Creelman’s interview with Diaz. By folloing your example and applying Dawson’s lenses to the primary text it made it possible for me to read between the lines of Creelman’s overly positive presentation of Diaz and critically engage with the questions you raised here!
    Thanks again.

  2. elena faraci

    Hi Kelsey,
    I agreed a lot with your thoughts on the Creelman article. I found it strange that, while Diaz claimed to believe in universal education, he also wrote off the lower classes as too ignorant to participate in government. As you said, that should be seen as the fault of the state, not the people, but the article was doing everything in its power to portray Diaz as perfectly as possible. I initially didn’t think much about why Creelman was so insistently positive, but I think you were right in guessing that he was catering to his audience. Elites in the USA would likely enjoy reading about a supposedly inferior and underdeveloped country improving itself by becoming more like the US/Europe, and the idea of Diaz as a romantic hero who pulled himself up by his bootstraps to lead a nation into modernity would also appeal greatly to Americans.


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