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

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Telenovelas & Race

Though it is not DIRECTLY related to the topics covered in the syllabus of this course, some of the issues that Dr. A has brought up has prompted me to research more into the racial makeup of Venezuela and race relations within the country.

As most of us know, both the trans-Atlantic slave trade was initiated by the Portuguese in the late 1400s to early 1500s. The use of African slave labor was a tradition that lasted well into the late 19th century, Brazil and Cuba being the last two countries to give up the inhumane practice. Blacks played an integral role in Venezuelan society. Venezuela (before the 1994 coup) had long adhered to the theory of exceptionalism--that race relations in the country were fine and that they, unlike other countries, did not suffer from issues like discrimination, racism, etc. The article I read, mentioned in particular Hugo Chaves' presidency and well since we've dedicated class time to discussing politics in Venezuela I thought it to be relevant. In the article, the author discussed the depictions of Chaves as a monkey and the references political adversaries made to him as an "Indian", "big-lipped", or "African mixed blood". I agree with the author when he argues that these references to his physical appearance and ethnic heritage show the deep-rooted sentiments of the different classes and races that make up Venezuela.

In all of the Telenovelas I've seen (and I admit, I haven't watched them all!), there has been little to no racial diversity in them. This is not a direct reflection of Latin American society, which is incredibly diverse. As a viewer (and researcher), I am continuing to look for racial/ethnic diversity (or the lack thereof). I can say however, that I find the history of race relations in the individual countries to be a reflection of the ending products (Telenovelas).

Article: Leal, Ildefonso. "LA UNIVERSIDAD DE CARACAS Y LA SOCIEDAD COLONIAL VENEZOLANA." Revista de Historia (Venezuela) 3.13 (1962): 27-39. Historical Abstracts with Full Text. EBSCO. Web. 24 Mar. 2011.

Dear Family, Respect the Telenovela:

My family, though they partake in most aspects of the Hispanic culture, have never been the type of people to watch telenovelas or even classify them as something other than trash. Ever since discovering the frentic ebb and flow that is telenovela production, I have become a lot more defensive of the genre and have expressed my disdain whenever they sneer at my telenovela.

How many people wake up before the dawn of morning to start working? every hour makes a huge difference in the production timeline of a telenovela. Personally, any diagra written by me at 6 in the morning would lack creativity and readability, especially if I had stayed up until 3AM the night before trying to finish filming an important scene. Dad, you wake up at 8 AM and spend the first hour of your day driving, not imagining.

Everything in the production of telenovelas has to be perfectly timed so the dialoguistas have time to put together a good discourse, and the general produces can then disassemble the scenes, decide what is needed for filming, put them back together... Mom, I know that you are a master at timekeeping, but don't lie: you would be STRESSING under such time constraints.

And the filming! I have developed a strong admiration for the talents of these actors, who go on the set and create drama after only one rehearsal! That bra strap better not be showing, lest you want to start from scratch. I cannot even imagine the awkwardness of acting an intimagte scene in a completely silent room full of people. To my little brother: No, it would not be easy, it would be surreal, get your

This would not be that impressive if the average telenovela episode wasn't AN HOUR long! Thats a lot of scenes! And seeing as they come on almost every day, when do these actors and producers get a break? Sitcoms in the USA are very premeditated and filmed way ahead of time, which leaves more room for mistake.  My littlest brother is a huge fan of iCarly. This youth sitcom is probably filmed mothns ahead of time and guess what Luca? The acting is worse than the acting on my telenovela, so stop hating!

Although my family thinks telenovelas are a useless genre, I have emphasized its importance as a component of Hispanic culture. People find an escape from their poverty-striken lives through the humor, those who are lonely take solace in the perfect (albeit predictable) love stories, and some telenovelas can even reflect the realities of a country's politics. By being filmed as the the storyline progresses, telenovelas maintain a flexibility that is abscent in most television genres, allowing the viewers to interact with the story and vice versa. This genre's attentiveness to their viewer's desires and opinions makes it genuine and one-of-a-kind.

Mad respect.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cinco y Acción!

It never occurred to me how awkward things can be behind the scenes in Telenovela production. Telenovelas are full of passionate kisses, love making and other forms of intimate relations that most people reserve for the bedroom. I have to commend the actors of telenovelas for being able to pull off the many sensual scenes that they do, while making them look as natural as possible.

The viewer only sees is the perfect lighting, camera angle and background music. But the actors are in silence and taking all those factors into account when acting out the scene. Thats so cool. After the director of a telenovela gives the go ahead, the actors have workers watching them perform very intimate scenes that I personally could never pull because I'm sure I'd crack up laughing.
I thought that being able to view the behind the scenes of Telenovela production was really neat. We always wonder what goes on behind the scenes and now I have a whole new perspective on telenovelas.

You're Welcome

So it turns out love scenes in telenovelas are not really what you think they are once you strip them down. These heaviest of love scenes in telenovelas feature the hottest actors with the most appropriate music, camera angles, loss of garments and the list continues. However, as discovered in class this week, without production team these scenes are nothing merely than the awkward couple showing too much public display of affection in the middle of the park or restaurant. I feel like that is a real token to the production team and shows how the actors are not the only elements to making a good scene in a telenovela. Let’s be honest, nothing quite makes a love scene like a good soundtrack to go along with it. Take for instance any love scene in great films such as Titanic or Armageddon. May be a little biased towards Aerosmith and Steven Tyler there but could you honestly imagine some of the love scenes you have seen in movies lacking the perfect track? You would say, “this may be two beautiful people but nevertheless really awkward.” Camera angles and music make love making in cinema and productions the scenes that people learn to love and enjoy. Of course the actors do a little here and there, but it’s that perfect Celine Dion track or the beautiful song from La Vida Entera, you can thank the song for the beautiful love scene.

Adagio for Mayonnaise

On Tuesday, we watched a scene in a telenovela (the name of which escapes me) where a couple kisses, both the final product with music and then the raw footage live during taping. I took a moment afterward to consider how powerful it is that music alone can determine how we respond emotionally to just about anything, onscreen or off.

My father often likes to mention how "someone" once said that Sam Barber's "Adagio for Strings" ( could make even opening a jar of mayonnaise a dramatic experience. He never can recall who "someone" is, but I guess the paraphrase is just as effective with or without a name behind it. And it's absolutely true. Many know that same adagio was used in Oliver Stone's "Platoon," transforming a Vietnam war scene from just harsh and violent into something truly sobering, even hauntingly beautiful.

And the same is true for almost anything else you watch. Take, for example, the "Star Wars Alpacas" on YouTube ( I don't know how to feel about 15-ish alpacas flocking toward me, but when you put John Williams's "Imperial March" in the background, I'm laughing, and then getting a little disturbed.

It's music. It can toy with our emotions, whether or not we're conscious of it.

And I'll give a whole quarter to anyone who can find a piece of music that would make me feel sad while watching an alpaca open a jar of Miracle Whip.

I'm also willing to make offers to anyone who can obtain said footage.

I've changed, others haven't

I was in Costa Rica this spring break, no big deal, and in my travels met some new faces. I figured most of the 19 students going on this study abroad trip were interested in Latin American culture because, after all, they chose to come to Costa Rica. I nonchalantly mentioned that I'm a Telenovela class and immediately heard the laughs, smirks, and chuckles; they thought I had made it up! I went on to explain how in-depth telenovelas are and deep rooted they can be in Latin American culture. Popular responses to my heartfelt speech were, "Yeah right", "It's just hot bad actors", and my personal favorite, "No way that's a real class." Point is that telenovelas hold very little to no respect in American culture. Turns out these students came to Costa Rica because they were Earth-conscious hippies(which is cool) and not Latin American-culture-loving students.
To be honest though, this is the exact same type of responses I got from my friends when I mention I have telenovela homework. The only people I have encountered that were genuinely interested in the class were the actual Costa Ricans, no surprise there. In fact the Ticos (name Costa Ricans call themselves) almost saw the fact that we have a class like this with a sense of pride; almost as if the fact that an American institution taught such an important part of Latin culture would perhaps rub off on them and maybe popularize telenovelas in the U.S.
I still see telenovela acting as...different...but my appreciation for the behind the scenes, social commentary and public service they provide make me respect telenovelas as an artform.

P.S. I still need Marissa Roman to visit us

Some Thoughts

I have a couple of thoughts I want to express in this blog. First of all, I was pretty upset to learn that we were going to be the first class without a surprise visit from Marisa. If she comes to your class next year, can I come say hello Dr. A? I think most people in the class can admit they've developed some kind of little crush on her, and would have been super excited to meet her in person. Oh well.

Secondly, I read in the news that Chavez gave a long talk about breast implants last week (was it during La Mujer Perfecta like you thought it would be?). I'm becoming more and more interested in Chavez's little "talks." I can't quite figure out what is going through his head when he decides to go on air with these shenanigans. Now, it seems his head was in the right place if he was speaking out against the plastic surgery obsession, but sometimes it just seems like he's downright in a different state of mind. I can't imagine the uproar in America if Obama were to do something like this. It might be kind of funny to interrupt American programming with one of Chavez's crazy talks just to see what would happen.

Barack Obama's Initiative via Telenovelas

The CNN clip that Dr. A showed us in class regarding Barack Obama's efforts to inform the Latino community about the importance of the 2010 U.S. Census really stood out to me. I don't care a great deal about politics and I am definitely one of those people known to dodge casual political debates and conversations, yet i support Obama's decision to reach out to Telemundo. Placing subliminal messages in the telenovela culture that the majority of Latinos share, regardless of their origin, is a witty way of successfully getting a point across to a group of people who may feel isolated from the U.S. government. There may be some Latino families that aren't interested in reading a newspaper or watching their local news at night, but do enjoy watching their favorite telenovela faithfully.

Hopefully, Obama's initiative to incorporate a universal American issue with a Latin-American pastime helped people realize the importance of being unified as a nation, regardless of one's ethnicity or nationality. I commend Obama for reaching out to the Latino community and reminding them that they have not been forgotten.

Using Television to Educate Audiences on Health Issues

I was particularly fascinated when Dr. A informed our class that the Colorado Health Foundation created a 12-episode telenovela highlighting the importance of healthcare and other health-related themes. I was so curious by this that I decided to do some online research about why the CHF chose to create telenovelas to educate the citizens of Colorado on the importance of health. Research has shown that Latinos are disproportionally represented among the uninsured in Colorado. This is so important because those with insurance have much better access to better health resources. By focusing on this population, the CHF showcased the unique issues that Latinos in Colorado face in these areas.

This phenomenal idea has made a great impact, which is why it is a growing trend. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Kaiser Family Foundation are trying to reach out to television audiences to spread health information and educate Americans. They are trying to imbed social messages in television programs.

There's no I in Team

I'm not going to lie, before this class started I didn't have a lot of respect for telenovelas. I didn't know much about them, thought they were trashy, and wasn't too interested in changing my view. Now, my perspective has changed completely.

After learning all about production this past week in class, it is amazing how much hard-work and determination from each individual department goes into each and every episode and season of a telenovela.

From the writers, to the actors, to the crew, working as a team has never been more important. It is now obvious to me why some tv shows just don't end up working. The failure of a tv show cannot simply be due to a lame plot. Once different members of this very large team start slacking off or taking themselves out completely, the total demise is near.

The process of the production of a telenovela is what really increased my level of respect for them. Besides the fact that you become addicted after watching only a few episodes, knowing what happens behind the scenes is crucial to one's overall knowledge of this tv genre. It was so helpful to see the two different videos of the same scene in class.

Seeing the actual taping of the scene showed us how many cameras and crew members are needed at all times in order to film just a short scene. It also helped to see how the scene eventually turned out in the episode to show how much editing there is in post production. It was so funny to see scenes taped without music because of the level of awkwardness that must be present. Now I understand the importance of truly having good chemistry among the actors.

Even though the audience only sees the final product, to really be able to appreciate the process of a telenovela it is so important to see more than just the actors. The team-work aspect is crucial to the success of all telenovelas.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Slackers in pre-production

The primary difference that I see between American and Latin American television series is the scheduling and tension of the pre-production stage, specifically the writing. I don't know how Leonardo Padrón and his team of writers, and all telenovela writers, have not dropped dead from the amount of stress they undergo on a daily basis! Compared to Mexican and Venezuelan telenovela writers, American television scriptwriters are slackers. So much is considered in a telenovela, and I can see that the telenovela format is more fluid that the format of American television series. Leonardo Padrón and his team modify their scripts based on acting, locations, audience response, etc. American network writers compose all of their content in a matter of days and then are done. The story isn't modified, and the drama goes exactly where they want it to and no further.

As a counterargument to prove that American writers are not all lazy, good network scriptwriters will supervise their work on set. However, being only the writer, they have little say in comparison to the executive producers and their general producers. On a set, most writers have little say over production, and they can only pray that the directing team interprets their work correctly. This seems to be a problem in the telenovela production world, too, but this problem is at least rational: while the production crew and actors work, the writers and producers work. Pre-production, production, and, from my observations of Dr. A's production videos, even post-production are intertwined. Hollywood and networks see things differently - when pre-production finishes, and then normal and post-production commence. One team works hard, and the other two teams relax. Then the working team passes on the work to the next team and has their turn to relax and blow all of their money. Evidence of a difference work ethic in cultures? I think so.

All in a days work.

Dr. A explained to us the other day what all goes into the production of some of the telenovelas and I was amazed by all that happens from from sun up to sundown. Starts with the head writer laying out the events of the episode and ending with the actors working on filming by the end of the day and it goes through dozens of people during the day. All along the way the script being read and interpreted by different perspectives. All of that would make me neurotic if I worked in some part of production. Take for instance the script- their job is to make sure there aren't inconsistencies with the clothing or objects in the scenes because they are often filmed out of order. I'm pretty sure that job would stress me to the max because I would constantly be worried I missed something. And the poor writer, by the time you send it in the morning so many people have written the dialogue, chosen the props, clothing, moods of the characters that I would wonder if they understood how I wanted it done.

I guess trust is a big part of working in this industry and understanding that if you do a good job of connecting the audience to the characters and their relationships then the audience will probably overlook a lot of these small differences.

I though I would never say this but...

I am so happy that the protagonists broke up! As of this point in my telenovela Gabriela, Giros del Destino, the male protagonist Pablo is still trying to hide who he is and the fact that he ran over Gabriela with his car months ago. Because of this, the typical lies, deception, and shenanigans ensue and causes huge rifts in his and Gabriela's relationship. Quite frankly, the constant miscontrueing and lack of communication is frustrating me greatly! In the last episode that I watched, Gabriela finally confronts Pablo about his fishy behavior, none to which he can own up to. Being too much for Gabriela, she breaks up with him.
Don't get me wrong, I love the drama that is surrounding the other characters. But the constant lying between the two protagonists was so frustrating that I wanted to smack them both. I hope that the next time that they get back together, the constant sneakiness between them will be kept more to a minimum and so other dramatic situations can occur with them. Of course I know that in the end they will be together and no more lies or misleading events will spar with their relationships. Until then, I hope that the annoying lack of serendipity is kept to a minumum.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Telenovela" El Monterey

As I was just watching T.V a commercial came on that immediately caught my attention. Usually during the commercials I am preoccupied, doing anything thing else but actually watching the T.V, but the moment I heard this commercial I quickly looked up and loved what I saw. I heard the sound of latin music, and a deep dramatic announcer voice introducing the return of "El Monterey" followed with a very suspenseful dramatic scene. I at first was confused because I didn't remember changing the channel to Telemundo...but then I realized that it wasn't an actual telenovela but it was a commercial. The commercial was playing off the characteristics of a telenovela to then promote their restaurant and brand. I about died laughing when I realized what was going on. We had learned before spring break that telenovelas are being used to send health and other messages to the country, this I found very interesting and down right brilliant idea. I suppose that this type of telenovela use is expanding to every day brand advertising as well. For in this specific commercial they were just promoting the restaurant. I was searching for the commercial on google and ended up finding the whole "series" of them! Ill attach the link bellow so you all can get a laugh from these commercials, and actually this blog also shows the process of producing the commercial as well so it all ties in to what we are now discussing in class! Check it out!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Cutting Down the Celebrity Gossip

I found this article on Dr. A's blog, and I think you all would find it interesting and thought-provoking. I am a huge fan of following celebrities. I debated throughout the entire Bachelor season whether Brad would pick Chantal or Emily, and my roommates and I would weigh the pros and cons of each bachelorette. We would constantly critique each of them ("Chantal is down to earth, but not as cute as Emily") ("Emily is beautiful but so boring. Does she even like Brad?"). Besides the Bachelor, I am always picking up the latest US weekly, judging for myself who looked the best at the Oscars and catching up on who is in rehab this week and whether Charlie Sheen is #winning this week or not.
This article really got me thinking about the moral issue of celebrity gossip. I do believe that celebrities should accept their fame with great responsibility. They need to realize that they are in the public eye and are constantly influencing people around the world. However, it is easy to lose sight sometime that they are human beings, just like the rest of us, and they face the same problems that we do. I agree with the article when it says we should separate their music from the man or woman that they are. We need to simply realize that they are here to entertain us with their songs, lyrics, movies and television shows- not their latest plastic surgery, divorce or drug overdose. Most of them became celebrities because of their talents- they never promised us they would be flawless under the camera. It is too easy to judge them in the public eye, and this article really made me aware at how often I do critique and judge famous celebrities.