May 16, 2007

Telenovela: Lingua Franca

I'm still in Belgrade, the city that has been destroyed totally or partially about 40 times. In this part of the world tradition and modernity coexist in a space in which on one side of a street we can see the most beautiful monument and on the other side there is a partially destroyed building, gutted in the last bombing that this city received.

I'm still participating in the Cox Center workshop at Belgrade University. Here, in contrast to my experience in the U.S., I haven't had to explain once what the word telenovela means. Here, both students and faculty find it fascinating that I study these melodramas, and they're constantly bringing up the topic in our conversations. Here in Serbia the telenovela is an international media product, but not a foreign one. Serbians are very familiar with telenovelas and it's almost impossible not to find one on TV whenever I turn it on.

Professors and students tell me that until a couple of years ago most telenovelas broadcast here were from Venezuela. Now Mexico clearly dominates the airwaves. The first (and most common) possible explanation for this might be that Serbian audiences prefer Mexican telenovelas, which are more traditional, rosa and melodramatic than their Venezuelan counterparts. However, this should be studied. Because how do we know whether these TV stations are receiving good offers that include Venezuelan quality telenovelas? What if those who make purchasing decisions are under the (probably wrong) perception that Serbians prefer traditional telenovelas, simply because they--the decision makers--are so used to these traditional stories that they reject any that break the mold?

So, as it has become the norm in my academic journey, I have more questions than answers:

- What telenovelas are offered to these Serbian TV stations? What are their prices? Is there a difference among the prices of Mexican, Colombian and Venezuelan telenovelas?

- What are the factors involved in the purchasing decision? Do these Serbian networks have reliable data about the telenovela reception and consumption patterns of the Serbian audiences?

- How do Serbians "read" and interpret telenovelas? What is their perception of Latin American women and men?

All interesting and important questions that I wish I can answer one day...Meanwhile I enjoy the great feeling of being in a place far from Latin America in which telenovela isn't a foreign word.

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