Oct 12, 2007


As many of you can imagine, my research on telenovelas has a presence in my classroom. Sometimes more and sometimes less so, but it's always there. These past two weeks, my scholarship was very present in my Telenovelas, Culture and Society class.

These weeks we've been tackling issues related to telenovela reception or consumption. I divided the topic in several sessions in which we read and discussed the place that telenovelas have in Latin American homes and family routines, the role that Internet message boards, blogs and chatrooms play in telenovela consumption, the reception of telenovelas that include political content (e.g.: Cosita Rica), sociocultural content (e.g.: Ciudad Bendita), how consumption is measured (the omnipresent and powerful ratings and shares), and the representation and reception of health and sociocultural issues in a telenovela.

Regarding the latter, we examined the mise-en-scene and reception of plots that include:

- Domestic abuse

Catalina (Elba Escobar) in El País de las Mujeres

- The obsession with plastic surgery

Pamela (Viviana Gibelli) in El País de las Mujeres

Maru (Jessika Grau) in Ciudad Bendita

We also examined the treatment and reception of health-related storylines that can't have a happy end:

Peregrina (Caridad Canelón) has Alzheimer's Disease in Ciudad Bendita.

The latter merits a few lines. The ratings always showed that the Venezuelan audience had an interest and favored this plot. (The episode in which Peregrina gets lost and is found by her son, Juan Lobo, obtained a share of 47.8% and a rating of 14, establishing a difference of 8.4 points with the telenovela that came in second that night). Those members of the audience who participated in my study of Ciudad Bendita wrote and talked to me about how moved they were by Peregrina's story, and the difficult process that her family and caregivers went through dealing with this illness that Nancy Reagan once defined as "a long good-bye."

My students were also moved this week when they watched how Peregrina's Alzheimer Disease advanced relentlessly: Peregrina is confused when she cooks, she misplaces her wedding ring, is suspicious of strangers and friends, forgets how to pray the Our Father, forgets the name of her son, asks La Diabla to tatoo the name of her loved ones in her arm, gets lost, doesn't recognize her family members, etc...

Even though Peregrina's Alzheimer is highly dramatic, it isn't an easy story to tell in a telenovela because it defies the "crime and punishment" logic that so dominates the genre. Peregrina doesn't have a happy end, even though she isn't "evil" or "villanous." This is a storyline with no humor possibilities. Therefore, it must be balanced with lighter, funnier stories. In addition, it must be spiced with lots of love and, if possible, romanticism.

In sum, it is quite a challenge to include a storyline like Peregrina's. Hence, it should be done carefully and responsibly. When this is achieved, the audience responds positively.

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