This blog is about telenovelas, but I must write today about how freedom of expression is being severely eroded in my country.
Sunday, at midnight, Venezuelans saw a sad sucession of images on their television screens: the faces of RCTV's workers and friends singing the Venezuelan National Anthem were substituded with a black screen that signaled the end of 53 years of uninterrupted television. Seconds later the logo of TVES, the new government TV station, appeared on the screen.
A commercial, private media outlet has been substituted by a government-controlled one.
A friend told me that it feels as if Venezuela has been suddenly mutilated. It has lost an eye, an ear, and some of its voice.
Since Sunday night, the streets of Caracas and other major cities are smoldering with citizens, many of them students, who feel that the closing of RCTV is unacceptable and that the government has gone too far this time. Tear gas and plastic pellets are being used to "control" them. (Tonight there are more than 100 underage youngsters in jail in Caracas because they were protesting in the streets. At the time of this writing, their parents haven't been allowed to see them).
Meanwhile, the President, his ministers, and members of the unicameral and uni-ideological National Assembly, fill the airwaves threatening local and international media that define what happened to RCTV as a "closing." These public officers also trivialize and mock the reaction in the streets and universities as "weepy" and unrepresentative of the larger population , or condemn it as concocted by the "oligarchy" fueled by "imperialism."
And as the fire of polarization is being stoked, the division between government supporters and opponents is again evidenced. And this fracture that has broken my country into two is as sad as the overt attack on Venezuelans' freedoms.
Tonight at midnight the Venezuelan government will close RCTV, Venezuela's oldest TV network.
The Chávez government is the most recent episode in Venezuela's political and social history. My country goes from illusion to illusion, and from disillusion to disillusion. The decision to close RCTV underscores and evidences that this government doesn't accept dissenting or opposing views.
The government alleges that RCTV abused the airwaves with its radical opposition discourse. I believe that it is always bad news when a mass medium takes an extreme political position, be it in favor or against the government. In Venezuela, with very vew exceptions, bad news are the norm: the insulting officialist content of La Hojilla in VTV, the paralizing self-censorship of network Venevisión, Televén's silence, the government's intention of making Telesur the new Latin American Al Jazeera, and the blind oppositional stance of several media outlets. They are all bad news because in extremely polarized Venezuela, the first casualty of its ideological war was the search for "truth." By presenting distorted and incomplete versions of reality, ALL Venezuelan media outlets have gradually disabled Venezuelans from being truly informed citizens.
But the answer isn't to close an oppositional outlet and substitute it with a government one (Officialist TVES will air on RCTV's frequency, using its equipment which the Supreme Court has ordered be turned in to the government, which will run TVES). This makes matters worse and moves Venezuelan television closer to a monolith, in which there are only two options: to support the government or be silent.
The decision to close RCTV also disrespects popular will. Polls show that polarized Venezuelans agree on something: they oppose the closing of this network. RCTV is an important part of their everyday life, and it has been for more than 50 years. It's difficult to imagine Venezuelan life without RCTV. But this is this government's modus operandi: for the sake of correcting what it considers "historical errors," they create new errors of historic magnitude.
Here, a link to Le Monde's editorial against the closing of this television network:
LE MONDE | 26.05.07
And what about telenovelas (the main topic of this blog)?
Closing RCTV is an immense loss to the genre. There are rumors that RCTV will still produce telenovelas for the international market and that Venezuelans will still be able to watch them via cable (although many poor Venezuelans don't have access to cable). Today, Sunday, we really don't know what will happen. We will have to wait until tomorrow, which will be even sadder than today. Meanwhile, here are some of those who worked on RCTV to give us some of the greatest telenovela moments in history:
Amalia Pérez Díaz
Raúl Amundaray and Agustina Martín in El Derecho de Nacer
Gustavo Rodríguez, Pierina España, José Luis Rodríguez and Tomás Henríquez in Estefanía
Mayra Alejandra in La Hija de Juana Crespo
Eva Blanco, Doris Wells and Eva Moreno in Historia de Tres Hermanas
Gledys Ibarra as Luna Camacho in Amores de Fin de Siglo
Doris Wells and José Bardina in La Fiera
Doris Wells, Marina Baura and Aroldo Betancourt in La Hora Menguada
Marialejandra Martín, Aroldo Betancourt and Franklin Virguez in Por Estas Calles
Miguel Angel Landa and Doris Wells in La Señora de Cárdenas
We, artists, writers, poets, cultural promoters, actors and actresses; men and women united by the values of the freedom of creation, manifest to national and international public opinion our great alarm regarding the imminent annexation of a new TV station to the asphyxiating official media monopoly that is gradually being consolidated in the country.
We want to denounce this disgrace. It is not our intention to add reasons to the arguments that until now have been fruitlessly brought to the attention of the Executive Power from various sectors of national life requesting the cessation of the measure to close RCTV and respect towards constitutional principles and the present laws that consecrate plurality of thought and freedom of expression as an undeniable base of our democracy.
We want to lift our firm and decided voice of solidarity with a feeling that is, without a doubt and without distinguishing between political preferences, shared by the great majority of Venezuelans.
In Caracas, on the twenty-sixth day of the month of May of two thousand seven.
Miguel Albujas Dorta
José Tomás Angola Heredia
Moira Angulo Inciarte
Belkys Arredondo Olivo
Alberto Barrera Tyszka
Luz Marina Barreto
María Auxiliadora Barrios
Jaime Bello León
Nicolás Blanco Colmenares
Berta E. Briceño de Tamayo
Sary Calonge Cole
Rafael Castillo Zapata
Ana Caufman de Palenzuela
Laura Dasilva de Yépez
Milagro De Blavia
Andreina Lazo de Delfino
Maitena de Elguezabal
Cecilia de Gunz
Ana María Del Re
Carmen Alicia Di Pasquale
Roldán Esteva Grillet
Ana Teresa Fábregas
José Antonio Fernández
María Clara Fernández
Carlos Fernández Cuesta
Ana Luisa Figueredo
Carlos Flores León
Milagro Gómez de Blavia
Mercedes Elena González
José Guerra C.
José Antonio Guevara
Cristina Guevara Cruz
Arturo Gutiérrez Plaza
Katyna Henríquez Consalvi
Alba R. Hernández Bossio
Gonzalo Himiob Santomé
María Elena Huizi
Luis F. Indriago
Luis Miguel La Corte
Luz Laride Duarte
Juan Carlos Lazo
María Teresa López
Antonio López Ortega
María Elena Maggi
Anna Karina Manco
Joaquín Marta Sosa
Luis Alejandro Maryniok
Mónica Maryniok Zanoletty
Ana María Mazzei
Gustavo A. Mora Ciangherotti
Jairo A. Morales
Ana María Olalde
Julio Pacheco Rivas
Juan Páez Ávila
Carlos E. Palacios
Luis Pérez Oramas
Juan José Pérez Rancel
Sagrario Pérez Soto
Rhandy Piñango Pinto
María Esther Pino León
Josefina Punceles de Benedetti
María Ramírez Ribes
María Elena Ramos
Ana Isabel Reyna
Raquel Ríos Castro
Luz Marina Rivas
José Rosas Vera
Luisa Elena Sánchez
Ana Luisa Sánchez
Antonio Sánchez García
Héctor Silva Michelena
María Cristina Silva-Díaz
José Toro Hardy
Ana Teresa Torres
Patricia van Dalen
Anabeli Vera Marín
María Marcela Vethencourt Koifman
Carmen Cristina Wolf
José Luis Yépez Torres
Pedro León Zapata
El Nacional, May 26, 2007
This is a terrible week for Venezuela. This coming Sunday, RCTV, the country's oldest tv network will close because the government refuses to renew its concession.
RCTV has produced telenovelas that have made history in Venezuela and around the world.
"Not renewing the concession" is the purposefully misleading term used by the government to cloak its real intention of silencing opposition voices. This move has already have a considerable chilling effect on the other networks: Venevision and Televen.
As I said at the beginning of this post: Venezuela is living a terrible moment. I believe that when RCTV broadcasts its last program this Sunday, my country will definitely enter one of its darkest moments regarding freedom of expression and of the press. Who will be the next victim?
Yesterday we visited Kovačica, located north of Belgrade. This beautiful and small town is populated with Slovaks of Serbian citizenship who are intent in preserving their culture and identity.
A crucial element in their culture is their art, which has a clearly defined naif style. As part of our excursion to Kovačica, we visited one of its elderly artists, Katarína Ďurišová in her own home, which is filled with her work: paintings, hand-painted pottery, traditional costumes and embroidered cloths. Katarína welcomed us dressed in traditional garb while she painted her latest ouvre.
Katarína’s image and home took me not only to another place, but also to another time.
However, there, in the middle of a room dominated by her art, there was a TV set.
Using our tour guide as interpreter, I couldn’t resist and I asked Katarína about her TV consumption habits. Smiling widely, she told me that she only watches teleision at night to entertain herself before going to bed, and that she loves telenovelas!
Katarína spoke fondly of Kassandra and Thalía’s telenovelas, particularly Marimar. Katarína was visibly excited when our tour guide told her that I’m from Venezuela..."like Kassandra".
The gypsies (Roma)
have been the victims of racism and segregation throughout Europe. Serbia is no exception. Nataša Simeunović, a graduate student here at Belgrade University, analyzed the media representation of Roma and found that they are depicted as uneducated, beggars, dirty and animals. These representations perpetuate racist attitudes towards the Roma people. Nataša, who is also a secondary school teacher, told me that her students, whose ages range between 15 and 18 years old, hold negative attitudes towards the Roma, who they consider almost subhuman.
At the same time, Nataša told me that during the time in which extremely successful telenovela Kassandra aired here, attitudes toward gypsies improved markedly since Kassandra was a Roma herself.
Once again, and despite the many years I've been observing how telenovela content influences the social formation, I'm fascinated with my conversation with Nataša. I know that telenovelas are a business. But, I would really like that all who write, produce and direct them would understand that telenovelas are much more than just a business.
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.
I'm in Belgrade since yesterday. A city that only a decade ago was bombarded by NATO to pressure dictator Milosevic into leaving its stronghold over this area.
I don't know Belgrade well yet. However, I can already say that it has the European cities' brand of beauty and the scars of its pecular history of transitions: From Yugoslavia to Serbia and Montenegro...to Serbia.
It's a different world from the one I know. However, there's something here that reminds me of my Caracas. I don't know if it's that there's a certain amount of chaos in its traffic, a bit of improvisation in our University hosts, that the coffee is delicious, or simply that it's hot right now. The fact is I don't feel this place is completely strange or new to me.
Least of all when I turned on the TV in my room. I have cable and, therefore, CNN and BBC the perennial and desirable companions of those who travel and need news in English. But, there are also two stations that broadcast Mexican telenovelas almost 24 hours. Yesterday I watched a bit of Mundo de Fieras, and I felt, once again, what most Latin Americans who live abroad feel when we watch a telenovela away from home: a familiarity and an understanding. We "know" our telenovelas uniquely well. And when we're far away we don't mind watching a telenovela, even if we don't really like it (I don't particularly like this new version of Mundo de Fieras). What is important to us is what we feel when we watch these melodramas in a faraway TV screen, like mine here in Belgrade.
In addition, it's always great to see people from our country on television. And there she was: Gaby Espino showing that she's able to work in any country, even in difficult and ultranationalist Mexico. She was also a reminder of the many incidents and happenings that occur in the production of telenovela, how distorted their press accounts can be, and how mistaken the public's perception can also be.
To write about the role played by mothers in telenovelas would take time, and today I don't have a lot of time because I'm flying to Belgrade, Serbia with a team of professors and journalists, organized by The Cox Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research to participate in a workshop at Belgrade University .
However, on Mother's Day, I must mention that mothers play a fundamental role in telenovelas. Sometimes because they (intentionally or unintentionally) abandon their son or daugther, triggering the main conflicts in the melodrama. Sometimes because mother and daughter compete for the same man, as in new telenovela Aunque Mal Paguen. And sometimes because mothers represent the purest and most sacrificed love of all.
Here's Tania Sarabia as Mamasanta in Cosita Rica. A blind mother with a wonderful sense of humor, who could see better than those whose eyes actually work well. Mamasanta was the universal mother: intuitive, dedicated, protective and loving.
Happy Mother's Day to all mothers!
Sometimes I feel that in Latin America we spend a lot of time arguing which is the best type of telenovela. The ones called "rosa" or those that in Venezuela we've decided to call "de ruptura", but that scholars define as "neobaroque" (Calabrese, 1997) and "stylistic postmodern" (Steimberg, 1997).
Taxonomies are never perfect. But, we can say that Esmeralda, written by Delia Fiallo, is the archetype of the telenovela rosa. It includes a traditional dramatic structure, a love story between two protagonists of different socioeconomic levels, a baby switch, a blind protagonist that recovers her sight before the end, manichean characters, a generic context, a scarcity of subplots, and the many twists and turns that have kept several generations glued to the TV watching its many versions and remakes.
Por Estas Calles, originally written by Ibsen Martínez (he didn't write it until the end), exemplifies the telenovela de ruptura. Por Estas Calles chronicled and editorialized the Venezuelan political situation while its main love story eventually disappeared.
In general, telenovelas are located in a continuum between these two extremes. Some are more rosa with their redundant and repeated plots and simplistic characters. Other telenovelas are more de ruptura as they include social conflicts and changes taken from reality, present complex characters that are both ambiguous and unpredictable, and tell stories that combine personal and social problems. Personally, I prefer the latter. I like telenovelas whose characters are so well constructed that their actions are coherent, while the telenovela doesn't lose any of its entertainment or emotional power. I like telenovelas in which identification occurs thanks to a process in which we recognize ourselves and those we know in the melodrama's characters and plots.
The argument Rosa vs. Ruptura has consumed network executive, writers, actors, entertainment reporters and the audience. Nevertheless, it's increasingly difficult to classify a telenovela using this taxonomy. And it's virtually impossible to predict a telenovela's success based on this tipology. The genre's history is populated with both telenovelas rosa and de ruptura which have been successes and failures. The truth is that we can spend our whole lives arguing this topic, but telenovelas can only be classified as GOOD or BAD ones.
For years now I've been observing an online bulletin board whose intended focus is Venezuelan TV, but most of its posts are about telenovelas. It's important to note that studying these online communities posits the same challenges as most research on computer mediated communication (CMC) do:
-Issues of identity.- How do we define identity when there is no body associated with a name? Most of the people who post in bulletin boards do so behind a nickname or pseudonym: therefore we don't know their "real" identity.
- Is that online community representative of the entire population?
Observing this particular community, I've noticed that, following a similar pattern to that of the larger societal formation, public opinion is constructed based on reiteration and perceived authority. I've also observed that there is a general sense that the community is representative of the entire population. Therefore, every day the bulletin board is the site of a struggle to define the meaning of what happens in the world of Venezuelan telenovelas. In addition, this bulletin board is used by the two main networks--RCTV and VV (Venevision)--to influence opinion, at least among the members of this particular online community. Hence, it's a common occurrence that when a new telenovela airs, suddenly the number of posts increases, and their content is predictable: some extoll the virtues of the new telenovela, and some deride its competition.
This week, RCTV premiered Mi Prima Ciela, a remake of two previous telenovelas written by Pilar Romero: Elizabeth and Maite. Even before the telenovela aired, the bulletin board was filled with posts celebrating the promotions of the new telenovela. These promos truly impacted the community. There were also many posts qualifying the (very successful) competing telenovela as "boring". The night that the first episode of Mi Prima Ciela aired, many posted messages expressing that it was the best thing they had seen in years and that they were sure that this telenevola would win the ratings war, giving RCTV its first win in more than a year. The next morning, again, there were many celebratory posts, several of them assuring that they had heard "through their sources" and even on the radio, that MPC had definitely won the night before.
Finally, at the end of the day, the ratings were posted and even though MPC had raised the ratings of its unfortunate predecessor by 4 points, it did not win the crucially important 9 p.m. spot.
The online community exploded. Those who favor RCTV wrote angry posts questioning the validity of the ratings, assuring everyone that it was impossible that the new telenovela had not won the ratings because "everyone" they knew had watched it, and they had heard people in the streets singing its musical theme. Participants who favored the competition, VV, were relieved to see that Voltea pa' que te enamores which had been winning since it premiered months ago, was still unbeaten. This online storm raged for about 24 hours.
This is one example, among many, of how these online communities are a mix of useful information, manipulation and opinion formation. It's a reminder that opinion formation is never pure and always prone to manipulation. It's also a reminder to me, the researcher, that I need to be constatnly aware of the limitations of the information that these communities provide for my studies.
Even in telenovelas that showcase a variety of songs, the most important theme is the telenovela's. It used to be the case that a telenovela's main theme would be chosen because of the artist who performed it. Either because the person was already famous or because the network wanted to promote her/him. In contrast, these days, it's an increasingly common occurrence that the main musical theme be specifically composed for the particular telenovela.
For example, the theme for telenovela Cosita Rica was composed and performed by Voz Veis, after meeting with writer Leonardo Padrón.
The main musical theme is key to build a telenovela's identity. It projects its personality and suggests its general mood. Therefore the main theme is a fundamental ingredient of all promotional materials. It is now common to create a videoclip using images from the telenovela.
Below, the videoclip of Mi Prima Ciela, a telenovela that premiered last night on RCTV. Both the lyrics and the images give us important clues about this telenovela's synopsis: Three cousins, thre parallel love stories, and one of them is doomed because she has a terminal illness:
(Note: Since blogging is new for me, please forgive the clumsiness of my links to music. They will open in a new window and may take a bit to load. With some browsers, the link might not work the first time you click on it. Try again, please)
Just like the most important characters may have their own musical theme, the main storylines also do. Some of these aren't written specifically for a particular plot or telenovela, but work well, nevertheless.
For example, Roque Valero's Ando de Puntillas became the theme of Patria Mía and Vicente in Cosita Rica.
There are themes, though, that are composed with a specific plot in mind. Below, two examples:
In Cosita Rica, Frank Quintero wrote Ella Dos Veces, for the story of Cacique, Verónica and María Suspiro.
In Ciudad Bendita, Roque Valero composed Cuando te Miro, for the love story of Juan and Bendita, the protagonists.
It's become increasingly common to associate a musical theme to each of the most important characters in a telenovela. In this case, music contributes to the construction of the character by emphasizing its defining traits, and adding one more identifier to that character.
In this video, we see actor Carlos Montilla recording El Darwin. This song was composed by brothers Victor and Pablo Escalona specifically for womanizer Darwin, Montilla's character in the telenovela Ciudad Bendita.
I should note that in Ciudad Bendita there were two actors who both composed and sang themselves their characters' musical themes:
- Yanis Chimaras' El Chaca Chaca for character Puro Mercado
(Note: Since blogging is new for me, please forgive the clumsiness of my links to music. They will open in a new window and may take a bit to load. With some browsers, the link might not work the first time you click on it. Try again, please)
- Henry Soto's Otra Mentira Más for character Kike Palacios