On That Day, Borders Did Not Exist: The Americanization of Spanish Consumer Culture and National Identity under Franco, 1953–80

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 12:10 PM
Chicago Ballroom A (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Alejandro Gomez-del-Moral, Rutgers University-New Brunswick
During the last two decades of Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s dictatorship (1953-75), Spanish culture, society, and politics transformed dramatically. Spain’s consumer culture was no exception. In these years, Spanish commerce rapidly globalized, as businesses rushed to join international associations, participate in international events, and build reputations abroad. Galerías Preciados, Spain’s foremost department store, joined the prestigious International Association of Department Stores in 1959, while in the 1960s, Spanish ad agencies sought membership in groups like the European Community of Advertising Agencies, and fashion magazines like Señor covered international shows featuring Spanish participants in ever-larger roles. Nor was the regime immune: Spain first applied to join the European Economic Community in 1957. Meanwhile, foreign – especially American – investment in Spain also flourished. In 1963, the Spanish advertising firm Ruescas merged with America’s McCann Erickson, becoming Ruescas-McCann Erickson. One year later, the American retailer Sears, Roebuck and Co., already extended throughout Latin America, founded its Spanish division, Sears, Roebuck de España.

As this process unfolded, Spanish consumer discourse also shifted. Early Francoism had taught that Spain was exceptional, the sole possessor of a historic mission to protect Western Civilization. Merchants and consumers now abandoned this doctrine of difference for new notions of Spanish identity that cast Spain as one vibrant member of a network of Western capitalist nations, a network whose growing interconnection promised greater prosperity for all. In this spirit, a jubilant Señor even proclaimed, in 1961, “the imminent  realization of…[a]…great Federal Europe”.

This structural and discursive redefinition of Spanish identity proved central to the undermining of the Francoist sociopolitical project. As Spain drew closer to its democratic trading partners, Francoism’s traditional justifications, based in notions of national difference, eroded. The regime responded by tying its legitimacy to prosperity, but, as the regime discovered by 1975, this solution too was unstable.