Nov 6, 2007
The different versions of Betty
On Sunday, November 4, the Spanish newspaper El País published a story titled Hay 'feas' por todo el mundo (There are 'uglies' all over the world, describing the characteristics and success of the different remakes of Yo soy Betty, la Fea, underscoring the local differences of each of these "Bettys."
This news story generated in me two reflections:
Reflection 1.- The success of Fernando Gaitán's telenovela suggests that there are universal storylines that work everywhere. At the same time, each of these versions is adapted to the local culture that produces and consumes it. Therefore, even though all these "Bettys" use eyeglasses and sport braces, each one of them is a different version that is culturally acceptable in the social formation that consumes it. (Following are: Lisa-Germany, Katia-Russia, Jassi-India, Betty-USA, Lotte-Neatherlands, Letty-Mexico, Bea-Spain and Maria Asximi-Greece)
The success of Betty and its versions begs the question of whether her global success is due to the universal nature of the tale of the Ugly Duckling, or if it's because its versions are tailored to each culture. This question underlines one of the facets of the local-global debate that permeates the telenovela both as an industry and a form of art and ertaintainment.
Reflection 2.- These days the number 120 is frequently used as the standard number of episodes for a telenovela. There is such strength in this standard that many often lose sight of the fact that some stories cannot or should not be told in 120 episodes. As I read the article in El País, I couldn't help noticing that these versions of Betty are way longer than 120 episodes: Spain (300+ episodes), Germany (364), India (556), Russia (700). This presents an interesting paradox: The 120-episode standard is frequently use to gauge the "export-ability" of a telenovela. The argument is that only 120-episode telenovelas sell well in non-Latin American countries. However, when these cultures produce their own telenovelas, they are longer. What is the meaning of this apparent contradiction?
In sum, the success of Betty and its different remakes suggests a set of interesting questions re: the universal quality of storylines and their ideal length, measured in episodes, and highlights some of the paradoxes and tensions inherent to the genre.