Jun 2, 2007

Telenovelas and the Closing of RCTV

In the sad and worrisome saga of the closing of RCTV, telenovelas have taken center stage.

In political discourse:

On May 26, one day before closing RCTV, Chávez mentioned telenovelas as one of RCTV-induced worst ills in Venezuelan society, calling them "pure poison" that promote capitalism, "a danger for the country, for boys, for girls.” Ironic words coming from one of the most important beneficiaries from the ideological work performed in the mid 1990s by RCTV's telenovela Por Estas Calles.

Telenovelas are also an ingredient of the opposition's discourse that criticizes the closing of RCTV. For instance, Monsignor Roberto Lückert, vicepresident of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference, Conferencia Episcopal Venezolana , declared in daily El Universal that the end of Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) “injures the Venezuelan sentiment because it is one of the oldest communication enterprises in the country" , whose telenovelas and humorous shows were “part of Venezuela's sentiments and feelings”. Surprising words coming from the Catholic Church, which has traditionally criticized telenovelas, but consistent with the logic of polarization that pervades my country.

In academic discourse:

There is an acknowledgement of the privileged sociocultural role that telenovelas play in Venezuela. In Latin America in general, and in Venezuela in particular, melodrama is a key element of identity. (Personally, I keep searching for the English equivalent to the verb “despechar”… and haven't been able to find it, after many years...is it that only Latin Americans can be "despechados?" Maybe that's why boleros, rancheras and telenovelas are Latin American. ) Academic discourse in Venezuela also acknowledges the role that fiction plays in our imaginary. As sociologist Tulio Hernánez expressed en El Universal on June 1st:

“In fiction, only in fiction, life is as we would like it to be: Good people are rewared, bad people are punished, and suffering lovers trust their eternal love. Fiction is a commercial product that the masses perceived and celebrate with a high degree of identification. As part of Venezuelan culture, every night people watch with focused attention an episode of their favorite story and follow the comings and goings of its characters. RCTV, as the pioneering and oldest network with 53 years of history and the largest number of telenovelas under its belt, has created an affective and emotional link with the audience."

In the public's perception(s):

In blogs and Internet chatrooms dedicated to Venezuelan television, there are many posts indicating how the audience misses watching RCTV's telenovelas. “What about my telenovelas?”, is the question being asked by a generation that has chosen every night between RCTV, Venevisión, and more recently, Televén.

Surely, some of RCTV shows have found and alternative outlet. We can watch newscast El Observador in youtube. And it seems that humorous show La Rochela will be on the air this coming Monday on Globovisión. But...what about telenovelas? It's hard to imagine them on any outlet related to Internet, like youtube and Globovisión, because that would hamper international sales, which are the most important source of income for what is left of RCTV. Therefore, I don't think the audience will be able to watch its telenovelas in the near future.

Before ending this long post, I must mention how important it has become for the Venezuelan audience to see telenovela actors express publicly their rejection to the closing of RCTV. And even though throughout my research I've learned that both in RCTV and self-censored Venevisión there are actors from every political stance, the audience uses the simplistic and manichean logic of polarization and assumes that if an actor hasn't voiced publicly (VERY publicly, as in standing on the stage of one of the street protests, or appearing on a TV opinion show) their rejection of the government's measure against RCTV, then that actor must be "chavista", a supporter of Hugo Chávez. (See in Spanish: 1 and 2). The public (and some of the entertainment columns) now are the judges of actors' credibility, and their judgement is based on political position. In these perceptions we see, one more time, evidences of the domination of the logic of polarization, the use of labels (“chavista”, “antichavista”, etc.) to organize reality, and the wide fracture in Venezuelan society. And all these factors help the government, not those who opppose it.

Actors are also the target of the government's attacks. The Chávez government understands well the power of popular culture and its voices in Venezuela, and, therefore, wants to diminish and silence those powerful voices when they aren't on their own side. Hence, we see Chávez further demonizing the private media, arguing that these "manipulate people's feelings" by "placing a bunch of crying actors on the screen. It's a terrible thing, typical of fascism."

Yesterday, actors protested in the streets of Caracas and turned in an important document to the OAS. It's a first step to "rescue the public spaces that have been seized and taken away from us" (actor, writer and university professor Javier Vidal).

And this is the heart of the matter:
The government closes spaces and limits our options. Among these options are telenovelas. Those imperfect and controversial melodramas that are part and parcel of Venezuelans' daily diet and identity.

---Cartoon taken from The Economist-May 30, 2007

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