Mexican soccer fan Jorge Alberto López Amores was celebrating on a cruise ship off the coast of Brazil during the 2014 World Cup. After reportedly drinking mezcal for days, he told his fellow fans: “I’m going to make history! I’m going to stop the ship!” And he did. López told his friends to film him with their phones, then, using a deck chair as a springboard, he launched himself from the ship’s 15th floor into the Atlantic Ocean. He was never seen again.
López, the son of the then-Chiapas state attorney general, is an extreme example of what Mexicans callmirreyes, the indiscreet offspring of an entitled elite and an urban tribe of spoiled brats. Mirreyes are making themselves ever more visible in Mexico. Their conspicuous consumption stands out in a country where nearly half the population is poor, opportunities for social advancement are limited and social connections often carry more currency than talent in the job market.
The mirreyes—from “mi rey,” or, “my king,” which started as a greeting among men in the Lebanese community—wear designer clothes with large logos (the bigger the better), drive BMWs and travel frequently to foreign destinations. Their tans show they’ve spent time at the beach or on yachts—mirreyhabitat. They pose for selfies with one arm around a girl and a bottle of champagne in the other. Their exploits are documented and sent to social media sites or society publications.
“Mexico has its own ‘Generation Me,’ [which] likes Instagram and selfies and seeing each other doing weird things,” says author and intellectual Ricardo Raphael, who wrote a book on the rise of mirreyes titledMirreynato, the Other Inequality. “In Mexico”—unlike in other countries—“if you are from the Generation Me . . . you won’t face the law.”
Raphael sees the mirreyes as more than just an extension of what used to be known as “juniors,” the children of elites put into business and political positions based on little more than family or friend connections. Instead, he identifies a troubling sign of the times: princes of privilege, increasingly enabled by impunity, inequality and corruption. “They’re careless now,” says Raphael, who has ties to the elite as the nephew of former president Miguel de la Madrid. “They don’t face the consequences of their exhibitionism” as the elites born out of the Mexican Revolution of 1910once did. The regime of the past century often spoke of increasing prosperity and social justice—and delivered on the former until the 1970s. The latter was empty rhetoric, as corruption was common and politicians and union bosses accumulated fabulous fortunes.
The changes in the elite coincide with Mexico’s disenchanting experience with democracy and the end of one-party rule in 2000 —a period Raphael calls “El Mirreynato” or “the mirrey rule.” This era has been characterized by worsening inequality, declining social mobility, discrimination and an underperforming education system. “I realized that I was discovering more than an urban tribe. I discovered the guys who benefited, who most enjoyed the Mexican transition to—I wouldn’t say democracy—to this regime,” Raphael says. “It’s not a political regime, I would say more a values regime that can explain why politics and economics are like they are.”
Money provides self-satisfaction, but also bestows legal and political protection, according to Raphael. As an example, no one with bodyguards or riding in a convoy of bulletproof SUVs is stopped by the police. Money attracts powerful friends who will look the other way in cases of corruption. It also brings connections important for business and politics.