Bad Language, Naked Ladies, and Other Threats to the Nation

A Political History of Comic Books in Mexico

Bad Language, Naked Ladies, and Other Threats to the Nation

Book Pages: 224 Illustrations: 16 b&w photographs Published: October 1998

Author: Anne Rubenstein

History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Mexico

In Bad Language, Naked Ladies, and Other Threats to the Nation, Anne Rubenstein examines how comic books—which were overwhelmingly popular but extremely controversial in post-revolutionary Mexico—played an important role in the development of a stable, legitimate state. Studying the relationship of the Mexican state to its civil society from the 1930s to the 1970s through comic books and their producers, readers, and censors, Rubenstein shows how these thrilling tales of adventure—and the debates over them—reveal much about Mexico’s cultural nationalism and government attempts to direct, if not control, social change.
Since their first appearance in 1934, comic books enjoyed wide readership, often serving as a practical guide to life in booming new cities. Conservative protest against the so-called immorality of these publications, of mass media generally, and of Mexican modernity itself, however, led the Mexican government to establish a censorship office that, while having little impact on the content of comic books, succeeded in directing conservative ire away from government policies and toward the Mexican media. Bad Language, Naked Ladies, and Other Threats to the Nation examines the complex dynamics of the politics of censorship occasioned by Mexican comic books, including the conservative political campaigns against them, government and industrial responses to such campaigns, and the publishers’ championing of Mexican nationalism and their efforts to preserve their publishing empires through informal influence over government policies. Rubenstein’s analysis suggests a new Mexican history after the revolution, one in which negotiation over cultural questions replaced open conflict and mass-media narrative helped ensure political stability.
This book will engage readers with an interest in Mexican history, Latin American studies, cultural studies, and popular culture.


“[A] well-written, fascinating analysis that makes an important contribution to our understanding of the intersection between culture and politics as well as contemporary Mexico.” — , Allegheny Magazine

“[A] wonderful romp through Mexican modernity. . . . Anne Rubenstein brilliantly depicts how comics became a voice of modernity, but also how conservative groups and politicians recognized that comics were ‘political,’ thus threatening to traditional Mexican life. Her well-written and argued text reveals how the comic book remains a refreshing medium to contemplate Mexican modernity.” — Elaine Carey , New Mexico Historical Review

“[A]n extremely well researched book, very well grounded in the context of Mexican national culture, and makes important observations regarding the loci of power in Mexico. It will be welcomed by those interested in cultural history, gender relations, and the Mexican political system, and is a valuable contribution to a subject which has been unjustly neglected.” — Deborah Shaw , Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

“[A]n insightful and interesting book, which is likely to attract a lot of attention in the study and teaching of contemporary Mexico.” — Mauricio Tenorio , American Historical Review

“[E]ngaging and thoughtful. . . . [A] well-written exploration of Mexican popular culture.” — Roderic Ai Camp, Latin American Studies

“[Rubenstein’s] examination of the archives makes a compelling case for the importance of the debates over historietas—and by extension of the forms of popular culture—in the formation of modern Mexico. Academics studying popular culture debates in general, and attempts at regulating comic books in particular, will find Bad Language, Naked Ladies, and other Threats to the Nation a useful work.” — Ian Gordon , American Quarterly

“[T]houghtful yet entertaining. . . . [A]n enlightening and original exploration of Mexican popular culture, nicely illustrated with examples of this singular medium.” — British Bulletin of Publications

“[W]ritten with greater clarity and grace than many other contributions to the genre, and it offers some provocative arguments which merit further consideration. Scholars concerned with modernization issues, particularly in Mexico, will find it useful. In addition, it is accessible enough for classroom use.” — Stephen Webre , South Eastern Latin Americanist

“Rubenstein gives a full, fascinating, fact-filled profile of this phenomenon, using a mind-boggling array of primary documents to peep in on motivation of publishers, cartoonists, complainants, and government censors. . . . One of the most analytical accounts of a nation’s comics history, Rubenstein’s book is a model of comics research. May her pen continue to honor the field of comic art.” — , Choice

“Rubenstein must be complemented for engaging and advancing a discussion of ‘modernity,’ a concept of increasing interest to historians of Mexico.” — William E. French , The Americas

“Rubenstein’s book is a superb contribution. . . . Making use essentially of a historical and cultural studies approach, she surveys the emergence of the comic book in Mexico, the controversies surrounding its social function and its morality, and the sorts of audiences it had or were imagined to have. — David William Foster , Hispanic American Historical Review

“Rubenstein’s consideration of [comic books] will make this book of interest to scholars working on topics such as popular culture, visuality, reading, media and cultural politics in Latin America.” — Xavier Andrade , Interventions

“Since their inception in the 1930s, historietas have reflected, rather than subverted or questioned, the working-poor’s world, including their politics and faith. Anne Rubenstein’s Bad Language, Naked Ladies, and Other Threats to the Nation shows that early historietas are full of their era’s popular nationalistic socialism.” — , Voice Literary Supplement

“This is a very interesting study which from an unusual angle reveals a lot about Mexican, as well as Latin American, culture and politics.” — Erick D. Langer, Georgetown University

“With this study Anne Rubenstein breaks new ground in Mexican cultural history, giving comic books the political and social importance they deserve in the making of Mexican national society and PRI hegemony after 1940. Her gendered analysis is refreshing and exemplary.” — Mary Kay Vaughan, University of Illinois at Chicago


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Price: $25.95

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Anne Rubenstein is Assistant Professor of History at York University, Toronto.

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2141-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2108-8
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