This is a class blog run by Dr. Carolina Acosta-Alzuru and her students in the course "Telenovelas, Culture and Society" at the University of Georgia during Spring 2011

Friday, January 28, 2011

Being an Orphan Never Seemed so Appealing.

Like Dr. A, my parents were never prone to watching telenovelas. However, my first exposure to this genre was still at a very young age. At my grandparent’s house, where i spent a lot of my childhood, the telenovela “Camioneros” would air during supper every night. Though i didn’t understand much, watching television always seemed like a good alternative to eating veggies. Not surprisingly, i tended to associate telenovelas with older folks. This all changed when i moved to Brazil and caught a serious obsession from my new school friends: Chiquititas.
            The plot of this Argentine children’s telenovela revolves around an orphanage and the troop of street-smart orphans that live in it. Little Orphan Annie status, complete with musical interludes and dance sequences. Also included in the plot are a witchy orphanage director, a poor but caring heroine, and the usual secret blood ties and love triangles. And let’s not forget the super catchy music, which catapulted the telenovela to new heights of popularity, all across Latin America.
            Forgotten for more than a decade, watching clips of my childhood telenovela brought on a tsunami of nostalgia: playing “Chiquititas” at school with my friends... these games would go for days! Crying if i was forced to miss an episode (those cliffhangers really get to people!)... I wish I could show you all my Chiquititas CD, scratched from use and being carried from sleepover to sleepover. I had truly connected with the endearing characters of Chiquititas, and grown to love the personality quirks associated with each of them.
            I feel like a look into the past was the right move in order to understand this class from a Latin American perspective. Initially, I thought that because my parents never watched telenovelas, I did not have personal experience that would influence my opinions in this class. However, after some hindsight analysis, I have found that i do have a history with the genre, and am very much vulnerable to its addictive qualities. Uh-Oh.

Here is one of the forementioned jams: very cheesy but undeniably adorable...

Carla C.

Love Is A Battle Field

From the beginning we have learned that one of the most powerful aspects of the telenovela is the dramatic structure of the "love triangle". This is what gets people hooked, the constant battle between three or more people for love. We enjoy getting to watch as others (for a change from our lonely love lives) struggle and compete with one another all for what they believe is true love. This is why we tune in every day or week; to see who will be the chosen one and who ends up heart broken or to see new love begin and old flames die. These aspects I have noticed not only appear in the telenovela, but are a constant theme in any dramatic T.V show these days. One I am currently obsessed with in which I have found the best combinations of triangles is "The Vampire Diaries".
The Vampire Diaries doesn't just have one love triangle happening, it rounds out with a grand total of four! There is a whole lot of Vampire loving going on in this show (the main reason why I have become hooked)! First is the most well known family triangle, like the telenovela mother, daughter, and man. Vampire Diaries takes a spin from this keeping it all in the family creating a love triangle between two vampire brothers and the lovely human girl. The next triangle is between one vampire brother, the human girl, and (bare with me this could get confusing) an ancient vampire women who is the ex lover of the brother who was the one who converted the brother to a vampire and who happens to look exactly like the present day human about a serious mess. Another main love triangle is between a once human girl(best friend of the main human girl) who is now a vampire too, her ex boy friend (human), and the ex boyfriends best friend/werewolf. The final love triangle that is present is between the main human girl's human brother, another vampire girl, and another best friend of his sister's who happens to be a witch. So all in all these are just like the infamous telenovela love triangles yet they just add vampires, werewolfs, and witches into the mix...Basically this recurring dramatic structure is why we are all so addicted to our T.V's and laptops, its why we cant give up watching. To sum it all up the "love triangle" is perfectly explained by the wise words of Pat Benatar, "love is a battle field", or better put from a telenovela stand point, love is one complicated,twisted mess of a battle field.

Transcending Generations

This past fall semester I studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. As part of the program I lived with a family in the city. This gave me the chance to totally immerse myself into the culture and lifestyle of the Argentine people. Silvia, my "madre," was a single mother of three whose children had grown and left the house. Every night she would watch her favorite telenovela after we ate dinner - definitely a telenovela addict.

Throughout the semester I also worked as an intern at a PR agency called Furgang Comunicaciones. From time to time I would hear the girls talk about episodes, and was surprised to hear that many of the girls followed the same telenovela as Silvia. There was at least a thirty year age difference between them, and yet they were hooked on the same show. As part of my internship I looked for media clippings in Argentine tabloids (Furgang is an entertainment agency) and could not believe that the magazines were filled with telenovela actors. This truly shows the difference between soap opera actors in the US and telenovela stars in South America.

On one of my last nights in Argentina, Silvia's five-year-old granddaughter came over for the evening. Sure enough, she sat with Silvia on the couch and watched her telenovela. While I'm sure she didn't understand everything that was going on, I began to understand the lifestyle of telenovelas and their importance in culture and family. These shows provide entertainment to all different generations of people! I cannot think of many shows in the U.S. that transcend age in that way, especially not our soap operas.

The O.C.

After learning about the characteristics of telenovelas in class, many primetime dramas that I watch on television strongly share these traits. One of my all-time favorite teen dramas is “The O.C.” “The O.C.” was on air from 2003 to 2007, and it took place in Orange County, California. As we have learned in class, in the first episode of the telenovela, the two main characters meet for the first time. The first episode of “The O.C.” begins with Ryan, the protagonist, going to jail for robbery. His attorney is Sandy Cohen. Sandy realizes all the potential that Ryan has to offer, and he insists that Ryan stays with him and his family for some time so that Ryan can stop getting into dangerous situations. Ryan then stays with the Cohen family and becomes best friends with Sandy’s son, Seth.

Towards the end of the first episode, Ryan steps outside of the Cohen house to smoke a cigarette. There on the sidewalk next to him is Marissa. Immediately, the two make a strong connection. Marissa and Ryan’s plot line is especially interesting because Marissa comes from one of the wealthiest families in Orange County, whereas Ryan is abandoned from his alcoholic mother. The plot thickens when Marissa’s boyfriend Luke picks up Marissa in his truck. The love triangle is immediately born, which is a very important element of the telenovela. “The O.C.” series is completely addicting, just like a telenovela, because of family issues, multiple love triangles, many issues with the law, bankruptcy, and everyday issues that teens must deal with.

My connection to telenovelas.

Though I personally, to my knowledge, have absolutely NO hispanic blood in me whatsoever I've essentially been raised around hispanics. I'm from gainesville who's countable population is 60% hispanic and uncountable population is probably closer to 80%. Most of my high school friends were hispanic, usually from Mexico, and almost every time I visited their homes SOMEONE in their family was watching their novelas. I've always been so immersed in hispanic culture that it's virtually become my adopted heritage. Even before I was able to understand most of what was being said in the telenovelas I loved to sit down and watch them with my friends and their families. I would get so into them and somehow never have to ask what was going on.

Now that I understand them a bit better though I will admit getting hooked is much easier. Now I tend to spend my days off at my boyfriend's house and we will sit down for lunch and then watch the midday novelas with his mom. I became particularly interested in Aurora and La Fea Más Bella. I still love to learn more and more about hispanic cultures and languages, espially all the variations that exist within a single language. I'm really looking forward to delving into these cultural aspects during these class through the novelas.

My own telenovela addiction

Ever since I was a little girl, my family would always sit down at 7 o’clock and turn on Univision, because it was time for the telenovelas to start, and to this day whenever I go home to visit my parents, it’s the same story. The telenovela tradition has been instilled in me, and I will admit it, I am most definitely a telenovelera. When I was in high school, I would get home, watch the telenovela “Rebelde” and then wait until 7 for the next telenovela to come on. It was a part of my daily routine. Weekends were torture because you just wanted to see what was going to happen from Friday’s episode, and of course the cliffhangers on Fridays are the worst. It’s so funny because when we discussed the addiction to telenovelas throughout Latin America, I could totally relate. Sadly, here at school I work late and hardly get a chance to watch them but I look forward to going home and seeing the novelas, because it doesn’t even matter if you’ve seen the whole thing or not, you get so pulled into the telenovela with just one show. I am looking forward to learning more about the art of creating the telenovela and how exactly telenovelas came around into Hispanic culture. It just amazes me how one genre of entertainment can be such a large part of the Hispanic culture. They even have telenovelas for every age group almost. In the mornings on the weekends, they have telenovelas targeted to little kids, and then they make the adolescent targeted telenovelas, such as Rebelde or Clase 406, and finally the normal telenovelas who are more targeted towards an adult audience. It just amazes me, and I cannot wait to learn more about telenovelas.

Telenovelas for Tweens Remind Me of...

Degrassi!, the Canadian produced soap opera targeted towards teenagers facing common adolescent issues such as dating, drugs and bullying. Unlike telenovelas and many American soap operas, Degrassi has been in production since the early 80's with major production breaks due to cast alterations over the years. However, its 2005 debut in America may have been many American children's first encounter with a soap opera catered towards their demographic, it was definitely mine.

I learned so many valuable life lessons from the show and could relate to many of the conflicts portrayed by the cast of Degrassi, which is why I am an advocate for Nickelodeon's initiative to produce telenovelas for tweens. Not only will telenovelas, such as Grachi, encourage young adults to learn Spanish, but will also help enstill a sense of appreciation for the Latin American culture.

While this Miami produced telenovela for teenagers may not be broadcasted on American soil, it is still a great tactic to bring a community of struggling "teeny boppers" together to discuss issues regarding being a kid looking for acceptance, regardless of one's origin and ethnic-background.

Why the Telenovela Works

The Telenovela has the power to temporarily suspend warfare between countries, influence political races, create fashion trends and launch pop music acts to the top of the charts. But why are telenovelas so successful, while American Soap Opera’s are considered “second class”?

ABC’s “General Hospital” was first aired in 1963. 1963!? In my opinion as a professional TV viewer, 48 years is WAY to long for a show to be on the air. The show loses substance after a while and viewers become disinterested. No one (well I hope no one) has the time to be dedicated to a show for that long. Which is why I believe telenovelas running span of 6-15 months works.

In America it’s rare for any type of show to last more than a few seasons, and that’s due to several reasons. The main one that I’ve discovered in my research is, “We don’t care,” Well at least I don’t. How many times can Bill cheat on his wife? How many times can Mary have an affair with the sexy teenage gardener? After a while, things start to get repetitive, the show loses substance, and then the viewer moves on.

Now don’t get me wrong. American soap operas used to draw large audiences in the daytime slot. But when mothers started working outside of the house, they weren’t able to fill their children in on the complicated storylines that began generations ago. I mean, it’s a little difficult to start watching a show after you’ve missed 2576 seasons of it.

Telenovelas work. They quickly grab your attention, play your emotions and then provide you with the closure you’ve longed for. 6 months to a year is a something I don’t mind. Plus, this is America, who likes commitment anymore?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ready for a little reality in between the the baby swaps.

While all of the different shows have caught my attention in some way either through the melodrama or the crazy plot line, I'm more excited about the telenovelas written by Leonardo Padron that focus on real issues that the country is facing. As a journalism major I gravitate to that because I think one of the main purposes of the media is to help make the public aware of issues. The method you go about that can definitely be creative or in this case include a few love triangles, some swapped babies and a lot of plastic surgery but I believe that some of the best works of literature and film point to some issue in society.

I think it is fascinating that Kassandra caused people to stop fighting during the war in Kosovo. That a soap-opera can capture the hearts of a people enough to pause a war. If they are powerful enough to move people in this way I believe it is important for them to convey something deeper or more critical in their plot/purpose. I also think that more journalism students should learn what it is about these shows that can hold someones attention. As news hits rocky terrain on how to deal with changing technology and changing consumers, news organizations need to understand what can capture the attention of many countries throughout the world.

Doesn't Fly North: A Distinct Difference Amongst Cultures

I was introduced to the telenovela and its importance in Latin American countries early in my Spanish studies. Even though it was a brief introduction, I was taught the importance of el despecho and el amor in Spanish speaking countries. However, even after my introduction I still thought of telenovelas as the Spanish version of a soap opera with curvy women which have no problem showing a little more skin than their American TV counterparts. I do realize that there are many more differences between telenovelas and soap operas other than the degree of sexuality and level of how risqué, however I feel strongly that this higher level of sexuality in telenovelas is a testament for how different the American culture and Latin American cultures really are. For example, it came no surprise to me that the intro to Trapos Íntimos was altered for airtime in the U.S. and our class’ initial reaction to the clip is a perfect example why. Sexual relations in TV have come a long way in American television from early TV shows like “The Brady Bunch” (although not a Soap Opera) where it was mere assumption made by viewers that Mr. and Mrs. Brady sleep in the same bed to Soap Operas like “The Guiding Light” that show more passionate relations. While the amount of risqué scenes in modern American television has certainly increased, it still isn’t comparable to some of the clips of the Brazilian, Argentinean, and Venezuelan telenovelas. I feel this will always be a distinct difference between American and Latin American television and culture. This difference is also present in aspects other than television. I’ve studied a little bit of advertising in Latin American countries and the use of sex in advertisements for Latin American brands. Latin American beer ads would never fly in the U.S. It is funny how open Colombian beer ads are with sexuality when at the same time alcohol advertising in the U.S. is a risky subject. A mere google search would be enough to convey the differences between U.S. and Colombian beer advertisements. One point I found interesting in lecture was the fact that Mexican culture is more conservative than that of Central and South American countries. I haven’t learned much about Latin cultures for reasons other than improvements in my grammatical and language skills, which has unfortunately resulted in me grouping a lot of America’s neighbors to the South as having similar, almost identical cultures. I am looking forward to learning more about the differences and similarities between the Central and South American countries through their telenovelas and other forms of entertainment.

Lost, Humans' Greatest Entertainment Achievement...and a Telenovela?

I will start by stating that I am what I like to call a "Lostie", which I describe as abc's show Lost's version of "trekies" for Star Trek. Pretty much I loved the show and watched all the seasons, read blogs about the episodes, looked up any book or music references they made and consider it as the title of this post suggests, "Humans' Greatest Entertainment Achievement". But as Dr. Acosta-Alzuru was going over common telenovela characteristics I couldn't help but notice they had a LOT of common with Lost...or rather Lost had many telenovela characteristics.
Sure Lost had 6 seasons while telenovelas have one, but check this out: most telenovelas have one season with 120 episodes, while Lost had 6 seasons totaling 121 episodes!!! Coincidence? Yea probably but there is so much more, so stick with me...some spoilers.
The love stories in Lost were pure telenovela. Kate, Sawyer, and Jack had a great love triangle. While Sawyer later came to love Juliet when he thought he would never see Kate again (since they were living in different planes of time, one in the mid 1970's and the other in the 2000's), but then Kate comes back, which is awkward but totally cool.
There is also Sun and Jin's dynamic. they are married but Jin was poor and Sun rich, not only that but Sun is pregnant and did not know who the father was (it was Jin so its cool).
Another character, Hugo "Hurley" Reyes, has another form of unusual love. He is not the best looking guy but falls for a very pretty woman, Libby. Only thing is that she dies as soon as they start to really hit it off, good thing he keeps seeing her "ghost" afterwards.
Then comes the aspect of siblings separated at birth. Jack and Claire share the same father but never knew of each other's existence since one lived in Los Angeles and the other in Australia.
Revenge? Lost has it. Kate killed her mother's boyfriend since he physically abused her mom. Her mother however was not happy since she "loved" him and Kate was forced to become a criminal on the run (by the way she killed him by burning down the house he was in).
Between the drama, suspense, "oh my god, no he/she didn't" moments, and overall addictive nature of Lost I have come to the conclusion that much like Venezuela....Lost too is a TELENOVELA!!!

A curious observation

I know nothing about telenovelas. Nada. The only times I ever come close to watching Spanish television are when baseball on ESPN has bored me so much that I switch to soccer on Telemundo. My Mexican stepfather watches telenovelas when he has the day off. To my knowledge, he's never been "hooked" by one to the point where he absolutely must watch it. Or maybe he has. I'll be sure to ask him when I actually remember!

We're seen many trailers and openings for telenovelas in class. To promote these shows, men will typically lower their voices to sell. I find this really humorous, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that this is commonplace in sales. It's not just a Hispanic thing. In the U.S., you can observe this advertising technique in some American car commercials. I watch a good deal of Asian television and movies (thank Mom), and I swear the men will drop three octaves to sell a product or to promote a show. Why is this? Is there some element of masculinity that I wasn't aware of that can be used as a tool to sell? Does a man (vs. a woman) advertising attract men or women more, or is the sale of product truly based on the nature of the product (ex.: car vs. television show)?

It's because of this silly little observation that I want to observe differences in gender in telenovelas. Perhaps stepping outside of my comfort zone/culture will permit me to see how the world wants to perceive men and women, and how the media uses this to sell (God, I'm such a Tele major!). Maybe the best way to observe these international gender divisions will be through Hispanic super-melodrama in telenovelas!

Crossing Cultures

I have a hard time looking at aspects of other cultures without trying to compare them to our own culture. Looking into telenovelas, it has been very difficult for me to learn about them without trying to compare them to the popular TV shows here in the U.S. I look at the production, the acting, the costumes, and can't help but see our shows as superior in all aspects. But with what common denominator am I comparing? There are so many factors that make comparing such things difficult. What is normal and popular is completely different here than in the Hispanic world and the Asian world, etc. I don't know how to successfully put my thoughts on this into words, but I do know that I need to start looking at telenovelas as a separate entity. I'm sure when telenovela fans watch our popular TV shows, they think they are shallow and uninteresting. Everything is relative, and I need to keep that in mind.

Yes, I'm judging.

Today in class, I noticed something about my own behavior every time we watch clips of telenovelas.

I chuckle to myself as if I'm above it all.

The thing is, I've never actually sat down and watched a full episode of a telenovela. Who am I to judge them? I think I'm still seeing the telenovelas through the lens of what I know about American soap operas. Like we discussed in lecture, American soap opera actors are often considered second-rate. And no offense to anyone who worships daytime television, but the whole idea of a soap opera comes off as trashy to me.

I guess it's up to me to decide to separate my experiences with American soaps from my experiences with telenovelas -- to look at the telenovela with a fresh eye. Maybe all it will take is one episode to have me forever in love with the medium.

Crossing my fingers and opening my mind.

In search of the perfect telenovela.

The process of picking a telenovela to watch this semester has been quite a journey, if I may say so. As a major in both Spanish and Latin American and Caribbean Studies, I feel genuinely guilty in having never watched a telenovela. I have been to more than my fair share of Latin American countries, but have never watched even a minute of an episode. To be frank, I was dismissive of the genre as a whole without any sort of reasoning (pretension, I suppose). However, after having been finally introduced to the genre, I have become obsessed. The genesis of telenovelas as an advertising ploy by soap companies is fascinating to me, as is the way that they have changed over the last 50 or so years. Where once I saw only cheesy melodrama, I now see an important art that is an enormous form of mass media.
My attention was first drawn towards the Argentinian Montecristo, or other such versions of the Alexandre Dumas' classic. It wasn't the plot that intrigued me. The story is an old one. More than anything, I liked the idea of a telenovela paying tribute to its literary precursor, the feuilleton. This form of serialized fiction heavily influenced the development of first radionovelas, and later telenovelas. Such an adaption seemed very pleasantly introspective, and I hoped that the plot would dive into the metaphysical realm. However, I wasn't holding out much hope that the novela would deal with such philosophical inquiries, and ultimately decided to continue my search for the perfect telenovela.
Next in my quest was the lengthy list of telenovelas that deal with sociopolitical issues. Several Colombian friends of mine recommended that I give the so-called narconovelas a try. Their treatment of the narcos that wield so much power in Colombia was very intriguing to me, as I have written and read extensively about the issue in previous classes. Sin tetas no hay paraíso and Rosario Tijeras were the two most often mentioned, both dealing with the world of drug cartels and the related phenomenon of prepagos (essentially "prepaid" prostitutes for drug traffickers). I also heard of Brazilian telenovelas that dealt with the landless peasant movement, the MST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra). I will be trying to watch at least parts of a narconovela, and scenes in which the MST is represented, provided I find the telenovela and it is dubbed/subtitled. However, I again chose to abandon my overly-academic preferences. This time, I threw caution to the wind and picked a random telenovela.
I think what I finally learned in my search for a telenovela is that I was being overly-analytical in attempting to pick the "perfect" one. After all, I decided that I want to pick a telenovela like any other. I really want to experience the sappy melodrama, the predictable love triangles, the teenage angst. So, along with Carla, I picked the Argentinian Alma Pirata. Why, you ask? It looks crazy, surreal, and moderately funny. I'm really excited to get started. I purchased a bottle of wine and a pack of cigarettes, and intend to shamelessly abuse both while watching 5+ episodes on Saturday morning. More updates to come!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bucking the trend: James Franco's appearance on General Hospital

Of the many distinguishing characteristics between telenovelas and soap operas which we have discussed in class, one of the one's which stuck me the most was the discrepancy between how the actors are treated in the respective genres. First and foremost, let me start with a disclaimer: most of what I know about both genres I have learned in the last week. I have a vague familiarity with General Hospital, based on the fact that every time I got home from track practice my senior year I'd plop down next to my mom (an avid watcher) on the couch and try to pick up what I could while guzzling gatorade and mumbling nondescript answers about how my day went during commercial break. That being said, I was not surprised to find out that the people from soaps have traditionally had a hard time entering the more glorified side of showbusiness. I remember little tidbits from my mom such as "oh you see he was on the show when we lived in Seattle, he disappeared for a while but now they've brought him back and now he's a bad guy." Hmm, we last lived in Seattle in 1992. I could not figure out what would make someone want to return to a daytime television show after so many years.
This is why James Franco's guest appearence on General Hospital was so surprising to me. When my mom told me it was happening (yes: she actually tries to keep me updated via phone) I couldn't really believe it. Pineapple Express had just been a tremendous success, and I thought he surely must have had more fruitful endeavors to explore. I looked it up online and found a pretty useful interview from the Wall Street Journal on the topic. Despite speculation that this was some sort of mean prank or silly pet project, “General Hospital” executive producer Jill Farren Phelps revealed that Franco was the one who had brought the idea up, and that his negotiations with them had been sincere from the very start. Although nobody knows for sure what the inspiration was for Franco to pursue this role, it marked a never before seen action from an A-lister to a humble daytime role. Don't get me wrong here, Franco never harbored plans of becoming a permanent cast member on the show, but it is still refreshing to see someone of his esteem making an appearance. Says Phelps of his move "It makes “General Hospital” — and hopefully all of daytime television — a cool place to be. At this point in our lives, we could use the reminder to the audience that this is not an old tired industry."
In light of the flop of mynetworktv's attempt at an American telenovela, I cant help but wonder if a touch of starpower could garner the interest necessary to make one of the world's most successful television formulas catch on in the US. Could a move like Franco's (were a big name actor to take on a telenovela) catalyze the paradigm shift needed by actors and audiences alike to embrace the telenovela format? I guess only the actualization of such a hypothetical situation could tell us, but it is fun to speculate. Here is the promo for Franco's role in GH:

Rebelde Way

After seeing the intro clip of "Rebelde Way" in class on Tuesday, I decided I wanted to try and find at least the first full episode to see if it really sparked my interest. Luckily I came across it on and was able to watch it today.

The episode started off with the introduction of the main characters and the main setting of this telenovela. The story surrounds the lives of teenagers and their families at the Elite Way Boarding School in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Each small introduction gives a brief background (even with some flashbacks) about the prominent problems each student faces whether it be at school or at home, with classmates or their parents. For example, Manuel is a teenage boy from a South American country (not specifically mentioned, but the accent sounded Chilean to me) who must act as the man of the house now that his father has passed about a year ago. His mother and kid sister are still very distressed about the situation, and the family does not have enough money to keep their house. Manuel finds out through some of his father's old paperwork that he had done business and was involved with a man in Buenos Aires. Manuel decides to leave his mother and sister and enroll in the Elite Way School in order to try and find out what exactly happened to his father.

The man that did business with Manuel's dad is the father of Mia, a student at the Elite Way School. Mia does not have a mother and her father is always out of town on business. She is the leader of the "popular" kids and enjoys trying to transform the "losers" into someone like her. She is spoiled and gets what she wants simply because her father feels bad for never being around.

These are only two examples of the main characters but of course, the overlapping of how characters know each other and are related goes on and on for about four more students and their families (who are all politicians, models, and business men).

Although I have only seen one episode, I already want to know what happens to each character! The introductions and story-lines are intriguing from the second the telenovela starts. And, naturally, there has already been a car crash and the possibility of a mystery love triangle as cliffhangers for the end of episode one.

I am really drawn to the Argentine accent because of my family background and hearing some of the phrases the teenagers use towards their parents reminds me of being back in Argentina with my extended family! I think I will really enjoy this telenovela :)

Cultural Relevance in regards to Telenovelas

It wasn't until recently that I found a telenovela that really hooked me. From our discussions in class, I extracted that the probability of me becoming hooked was VERY HIGH and low and behold I AM! So far from my experience with Telenovelas, not every one of them is for everybody. Each person has their own preferences--some they'll love and some they won't. Now I am not an avid TV watcher-- and you'll most likely find me watching one of two channels: Cartoon Network or Comedy Central. My life doesn't really allow much time for television. My experience with Telenovelas is minimal. I've stumbled across them, laughed and kept it moving for the most part. This was NOT the case with La Mujer en el Espejo. Prompted by my desire to get a head start on class assignments, I began searching for Telenovelas via the Internet. I stumbled upon the original synopsis of the 1994 version of La Mujer en el Espejo. The plot of the story drew me in, word by word. I kid you not I was up until 2AM Wednesday morning watching this show! While watching the show, certain things starting to pop out at me. The transformation of the female protagonist, Juliana, occurs in the second episode. I found the actress who plays this part to be attractive already, just in a homely way. The transformation into "Maritza", the beautiful version was partially disturbing to me. The key aspects of her transformation were very sexist and machist in nature. The initial opinions regarding these transformations led me to analyze my own thinking pattern when it comes to these shows. I believe it is necessary to apply cultural relativism to Telenovelas, in order to truly understand the perspectives of the writers and Hispanic audience, alike. I am eager to continue watching the show, and developing a stronger analysis regarding the cultural differences of the pseudo-society (which takes place in the Telenovela) and its American and Latin American counterparts.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

One Tree Hill vs. Telenovelas

During class we have talked about the the ups and downs of a telenovela and how there is always ups and downs and chaos until the very end. In high school, I was a sucker for the show One Tree Hill, which was a teen drama about the lives of two half brothers in a small southern town.

Like a telenovela, the protagonists (Lucas and Peyton) meet when her car breaks down on the side of the road. Unlike a telenovela rosa, Peyton is not interested initially in the smitten Lucas. They are separated by class differences (Lucas is a loser, Peyton is a popular cheerleader). However, once Peyton's best friend Brooke moves in on Lucas, Peyton's relationship heats up with Lucas, causing the first love triangle of the season.

Along another love line, Lucas's half brother Nathan falls madly in love with Lucas's nerdy best friend Haley. As the popular jock, and Peyton's ex-boyfriend, everyone is skeptical about his intentions with her. This fits along the telenovela lines of the class differences and the fact that Nathan is the bad boy manipulating the good, sweet girl.

Lucas's and Nathan's family is also drawn into the mix when the audience discovers that Lucas's mother, Karen, and his father, Dan were high school sweethearts who got pregnant their senior year. Instead of staying with Karen, Scott leaves her and hooks up with Deb in college. Less than 3 later, Deb is pregnant with Nathan. The love triangle that caps them all is obviously this one.

All of these scenarios play out within the first few episodes. The seasons continue to develop the characters. Haley and Nathan get married at 16 and deal with married life and high school. Peyton, Brooke, and Lucas work out their relationships with each other and their love lives.

As the relationships grow and deteriorate in this drama, I can't help but be able to compare OTH to what we have talked about in class with telenovelas. Between the love triangles, social class differences, and the marriage shockers, this tends to fit a more contemporary style of a telenovela.

A Universal Language

It's so interesting how the telenovela encompasses so many cultures. Today in class, when we were talking about 'India, una historia de amor', I had to take a moment to separate the many cultures that were influential to the clip we viewed. Obviously the Brazilian culture had its influence as this telenovela was originally from Brazil and first broadcast in Portuguese. In addition, the influence of the Spanish culture was evident as the episode we watched was dubbed in Spanish. However, both of these influences are the types that one would expect to see in a telenovela. Then, the writers had the brilliant idea to set the story in India. It seems like such a random place for the backdrop of a Latin American telenovela, however, it seems like this is a creative way to draw people outside of the Portuguese/Spanish speaking population in.

While it's obvious that the telenovela is able to reach people from different backgrounds and cultures, I wonder what is it about the telenovela that makes it relevant to so many different types of people. I think the answer to this question lays in the title of this telenovela....'una historia of love'. No matter where you're from or what language you speak, everyone has an interest in love. Whether it’s the joy experienced from returned love, the heartbreak from unrequited love, or the curiosity from never having experienced either-everyone has feelings towards it (even if they choose not to admit it). For this reason, the telenovela really speaks to people in a universal language--the language of love (not to sound overtly cheesy). As a result, the telenovela has been put in a position where it has the ability to reach and influence people the world over...because, when it comes down it it, what do people care about? Yes, people care about material possessions, but what they really care about is one another. We are wired to search for companionship in others, whether it be the love of a family, a friend, or a lover. The telenovela plays on this fact, and for that reason one does not have to be a Spanish speaker to relate to the storyline. We are all familiar with the concept of love, and as a result the telenovela continues to remain relevant to people from all different cultures.

Comparing "Brothers and Sisters" with Characteristics of Spanish Telenovelas

During the first week of class, we have started to learn the characteristics of Spanish telenovelas and what differentiates them from popular television shows in America. For this post, I want to analyze certain characteristics of Spanish telenovelas with one of my favorite shows, Brothers and Sisters. Brothers and Sisters centers around single mother Norah Walker and her five children. The Walker family is a close-knit family, and the show becomes quite addicting as we experience the family's trials concerning love, career choices and family ties. I became hooked the first episode.
It was interesting to learn about the idea of "despechado" in Latin America. While Americans have the "move on, get over it" attitude that we discussed in class, Latin Americans tend to drown in their sorrows. Whenever any of the Walker children act "despechado" (moping around, not getting out of bed), another member of the family quickly brings this character to reality by instilling the American mindset of moving on with one's life. For example, Kevin Walker, the middle child, found out one episode that his husband had cheated on him with an employee at the couple's restaurant. Kevin spent the next weeks acting bitter towards everyone around him and even started a huge fight in front of family and friends. According to the other Walkers, Kevin was hurting his marriage even more by continuing to dwell on the situation. The other Walker children and Norah stepped in to rescue Kevin from this "despechado" attitude. Kevin and his husband were able to start working through the problem by going to therapy, communicating openly and acting proactively to fix their marriage.
After studying the list of different plot ideas that are present (to some degree) in all telenovelas, I picked out the two that are existent in Brothers and Sisters, betrayal/vengeance ( ie The Count of Montecristo) and obstacles/family feuds ( ie Romeo and Juliet). Betrayal and vengeance was the focus of Brothers and Sisters when Norah found out her deceased husband had cheated on her many years ago and had given a good deal of money to the "other woman". Obstacles and family feuds are the focus of pretty much every episode. The Walker family turns against the youngest child, Justin, when he surprises them by announcing he wants deploy again to fight in the war.
A similarity between Spanish telenovelas and Brothers and Sisters is the presence and necessity of cliffhangers. Before every commercial break, there will be a statement or a happening that will leave viewers on the edge of their seats. This is how I got hooked on Brothers and Sisters.
Examining the differences, and similarities, between Spanish telenovelas and my favorite show, Brothers and Sisters, has allowed me to begin to comprehend the uniqueness of both in their respective culture.