I haven't written in a while in my blogs. The reason? Last week I attended IAMCR (International Association for Media and Communication Research)'s 50th Conference at UNESCO in Paris.
More than 800 scholars from 150 countries participated in the Conference. I presented two papers. The first one focused on Olegario Pérez, a character conceptualized as an allegory of president Hugo Chávez in the telenovela Cosita Rica. The second paper is a reflection on the methodology I use to study the rarely explored world of telenovela production:
Both presentations were enriching experiences, thanks to the questions and comments I received. These elevated the level of my academic work and were incredibly helpful and stimulating. I return with newly charged batteries to continue my analysis of Ciudad Bendita. I also brought my suitcase filled with ideas and projects that will help me continue my academic journey as I continue understanding the telenovela genre.
"This country deserves a television that is different, contemporary, maffia-free, novel and willing to be adventurous."
"I never saw an executive that was certain, only a moment that was certain because of those who do, not those who decide."
"The nine million tv spectators are still worthy. They are waiting for something sensible, varied, new and able to confront them."
--My translation. Cabrujas, J.I. (1995). El Nacional.
This week José Ignacio Cabrujas would have celebrated his 70th birthday.
His contribution to telenovelas is immense. He broke the paradigm that telenovelas could only tell the same basic story with redundant language. In a genre populated by cinderellas, Cabrujas gave us heroines with agency over their destiny and characters that escaped the traditional telenovela rosa manicheism. He taught us that the story's context also matters, be it contemporary or historic.
Today, twelve years after a heart attack prematurely took him away, his impact on the telenovela landscape is still evident. In Venezuela, César Miguel Rondón, Leonardo Padrón and Mónica Montañés are some of the authors that display more clearly his influence. But it's also obvious in the most successful telenovela author of the last decade, Colombian Fernando Gaitán (Café con Aroma de Mujer, Yo soy Betty, la Fea, Hasta que la plata nos separe):
"I had a marvelous encounter with José Ignacio Cabrujas that marked me for the rest of my life and was determinant in my appreciation and knowledge of television. [...] Colombian television was very closed, until the telenovela Café con Aroma de Mujer. I say it with modesty, but this telenovela opened the door for Colombia. In my country we didn't know the television world. It was maestro Cabrujas who probably was the first person that showed us this enormous universe and how he had studied it in Venezuela.".
--My translation, Fernando Gaitán, interviewed by Leonardo Padrón in radio show Los Imposibles, 2005.
In this era of globalization in which the remake seemingly reigns, we witness how Yo soy Betty, la fea transforms into Ugly Betty, and read definitions of the telenovela as a mere variant of the soap opera, it's necessary to remember Cabrujas's words when he affirmed that "Latin America invented the telenovela".
We shouldn't forget either that studying telenovelas in-depth can provide clues to understanding our culture(s) and society(ies):
"Because it is so quotidian, because we watch it on television, we don’t ask ourselves where does it come from, what supports it, what kinds of concepts does it deal with, what is in it that is universal and human"
--My translation. Cabrujas, José Ignacio (2002), Y Latinoamérica inventó la telenovela, Caracas: Alfadil, pp. 21-22.
Cabrujas was a visionary that understood Venezuela with enviable and necessary clarity. Two weeks ago I had the immense pleasure of attending in Caracas the latest staging of his amazing play "El día que me quieras". I felt as if Cabrujas had written it the night before, not almost 20 years ago. That is how actual this magic text is, how assertive Cabrujas was...and how permanent Venezuela's problems seem to be.
Throughout the many years I have been researching telenovelas, there have been many actors who have said to me "¿What would José Ignacio say today about Venezuela, television and telenovelas?"
Personally, I think we know what he would say...
"the message that Cabrujas left us is that every day that we are inside television, making television, has to be like signing a declaration of independence. In synthesis, it must be an act in which there are capital letters and risk. [...] I believe that his message is that the trench is still there. That we still have to fight stupidity, even if stupidity is who pays our monthly check."
--My translation. Padrón, Leonardo (2002). A propósito de Cabrujas.
The news is all over the world: the word TELENOVELA will be included in the eleventh edition of the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary:
Main entry: tel·e·no·vela
Etymology: Spanish, from tele- tele- + novela novel, serial drama
: a soap opera produced in and televised in or from many Latin-American countries
This inclusion in one of the English language's most popular dictionaries legitimizes telenovelas. The term has been accepted into the mainstream. However, the definition still hinges on the soap opera...why not the other way around? Also the 1976 date seems a bit arbitrary to me since it isn't the date of the first telenovela, or the most famous.
I do like, though, the strong connection between the term and Latin America.
It will be interesting now to see if the word begins to be included more in conversations, news stories and everyday life interactions in the U.S. and other English-speaking countries.
Difficult historical moments can bring about positive consequences. Such is the case of the closing of Venezuelan television network RCTV. The immense dent suffered by our freedom of expression has brought about the creation of LA ASOCIACIÓN DE ACTORES Y PROFESIONALES DEL ESPECTÁCULO Y EL ENTRENIMIENTO (The Association of Actors and Entertainment Professionals), an overdue event that I welcome happily.
I wish that the association centers its efforts on the defense of the principles that sustain a free society and the rights of all its associates. I also hope that the association will elevate the perception of actors that the average Venezuelan holds, underscore the most noble aspects of these professions and crafts , and encourage and facilitate the professional training of all its members.
Following is the original text of the Letter of Principles of the new Association. It's in Spanish, but I know many of my readers will be able to understand the gist of it.
CARTA DE PRINCIPIOS DE LA ASOCIACIÓN DE ACTORES Y PROFESIONALES DEL ESPECTÁCULO Y EL ENTRENIMIENTO
Amparados en los derechos constitucionales nacionales y derechos humanos universales que nos asisten, referidos a la libertad de pensamiento, expresión, información, creación y asociación, y en pleno ejercicio de estas facultades, hemos decidido constituirnos en la Asociación de Actores y Profesionales del Espectáculo y el Entretenimiento, que se regirá bajo los siguientes principios:
· La Asociación, será democrática, participativa y asamblearia
· De carácter plural y unitario,
· Comprometida en defender las libertades, la democracia y los derechos humanos
· Animada en el ejercicio de la tolerancia, la inclusión y la necesaria reconciliación nacional, indispensable para la paz y crecimiento de los venezolanos
· Comprometida en velar en pro de la igualdad de oportunidades y condiciones, sin discriminación alguna de ideología política, religión, sexo, raza y cualquier condición o circunstancia personal o social
· Fundamentada en la solidaridad
· Fundamentada en el respeto a la diversidad de actividades de los actores y profesionales del Espectáculo y Entretenimiento
· Comprometida en la defensa de las reivindicaciones de los asociados y profesiones representadas, con el fin de incidir sustantivamente en la mejora de calidad de vida y condiciones trabajo
· Comprometida en organizar y representar a los Profesionales del espectáculo y entretenimiento: Actores, animadores, escritores, directores, productores; de Teatro, Cine, Televisión, Radio, doblaje, video, internet y cualquier otro medio inventado o por inventar; en defensa de sus derechos y e intereses.
· Comprometida en propiciar espacios y programas dirigidos al bienestar y seguridad social de los asociados
· Es de interés de la Asociación, la creación, y desarrollo de la Industria del espectáculo y del entretenimiento en todas sus expresiones y medios; en pro del fomento de empleos y estabilidad laboral
En consecuencia los abajo firmantes declaramos que realizaremos acciones y actividades en la defensa de la libertad, de la democracia y los derechos humanos en pro del derecho al trabajo y la reconciliación del país
Caracas veintiseis de junio del dos mil siete