Dec 30, 2008

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2009!


As 2008 ends, once again I'm deeply grateful for everything I've learned and lived this year.

A year ago I wrote in this blog my wishes for telenovelas in 2008. Those wishes are still current because, in general, they remain unfulfilled:
-More coherence and less circus
-More archetypes and less stereotypes
-More depth and less superficiality
-More acting talent and less beauty devoid of talent
-More genuine television criticism and less gossip and speculation from the entertainment press and its followers
-More commitment to a better television and less consideration of the telenovela as an easy business deal
-More respect and less underestimation of the audience
-More originality and less repetition/"adaptation"

To those wishes, I add my request for more responsibility and respect...
... from network executives towards writers and actors
... from those who participate in message board and chatrooms (especially those who hide behind a pseudonym or nickname) 
... towards the telenovela genre's innovations, from those who purchase, sell and distribute telenovelas in the international market
... from those of us who study telenovelas, trying to understand how they're produced and received, and the reasons for their continuous success, without accusing or indicting neither television, nor telenovelas

¡HAPPY NEW YEAR 2009!
¡Health, love, learning and achievements for all!


Dec 3, 2008

TELENOVELAS-VISITING A LOCATION WITH THE WRITERS


I've had many experiencies while studying telenovelas. And, even though I'm equally interested in all aspects: production, consumption, regulation and the different representations we see in those daily episodes, I've learned that most people are particularly interested in production. In short, how is a telenovela produced? is the overarching question in many of the conversations I participate in, and is the most commented chapter of my book "Venezuela es una Telenovela."

Today I share with you a recent experience while studying the production of Venezuelan telenovela La Vida Entera.

The plot: In La Vida Entera, the Duque family owns a media conglomerate that includes fashion magazine Exquisita, which provides one of the main contexts for the telenovela's storylines. The male protagonist, Salvador Duque (Jorge Reyes), is part of this family, also constituted by his father, Napoleón (Gustavo Rodríguez), his stepmother, Olimpia (Beatriz Valdés) and his younger sister Carlota, "Tata" (Marisa Román). The Duque family "lives" in a beautiful house with a breathtaking view of the city of Caracas.

Following is a brief excerpt from Episode 6, where you can get a glimpse of these characters and their house.

video

Research experience--Visiting the location: I had the privilege of visiting the house with Leonardo Padrón and his team of writers the first time they went to this location. It was extremely interesting for me to be able to observe first hand how each of the house's rooms sparked ideas in these writers: "Here, Olimpia should...", "Maybe we could place Tata there...", "What about sitting Napoléon here and...," etc. Padrón and his writers also noticed interesting angles that the location provides for shots that will contribute to the telenovela's storytelling and its visual vocabulary. Meanwhile, two members of the production team took copious notes.

The experience was fascinating to me. I'm still figuring out its full importance to my research. For instance, I immediately started noticing the influence of the visit in the telenovela scripts. I would have never noticed this, if I hadn't been in the house with the writers.

Writing a telenovela requires much creativity and strategy. And even though telenovelas always have that mix of dream (the love story we all wish we could have) and reality, for these stories to work they must ring true. And I learned that these visits help immensely in writing a script that sounds true.

Here's a short video I prepared of our visit. Don't expect Spielberg, please. But, I think it will give you a good idea of my experience that afternoon:

Nov 26, 2008

WHO DOES A CHARACTER BELONG TO?


Each of the case studies I've investigated is guided by a set of research questions specific to that telenovela and its context. There are also recurrent questions that pop up in every study. As I go through each telenovela, interview, analysis and observation, I get closer to the answer, but these recurrent questions are so complex and nuanced that I never find THE final answer.

One of these questions is: Who does a character belong to?
a. To the writer who conceived it
b. To the writer who writes it day in and day out
c. To the actor who personifies it
d. To the audience
e. To all of the above

I've learned that all these options are correct at one point or another in the lifetime of a character, from its conception in a writer's mind to the appearance of The End on the television screen. At first, the character belongs exclusively to the writer. Then a co-production stage begins between the writer and the actor. At the beginning of this stage, the actor interprets the script much in the same way as a musician interprets a score. But, soon the nature of this co-production changes and the character becomes a sweater knitted in tandem by the writer and the actor, each of them holding one of the knitting needles.

There are other elements that contribute to the construction of the character: direction, wardrobe, makeup and music, among others. When the telenovela is finally broadcast, the audience's reading often modifies both the writing and acting involved in the character. In the end, if the character works correctly, it belongs to all. At the same time, we can also say that it belongs to no one because it has acquired a life of its own.

What do you think? Who does a character belong to?

Nov 20, 2008

TO OVERCOME AND LIVE


Studying telenovelas has allowed me not only to study how these melodramas are produced, but also to get to know well those who work "making" them. I've received a lot from everyone who works behind and in front of the cameras. They have opened their homes, dressing rooms, TV studios and offices to me, so that I could understand how a telenovela is made, a character is constructed, and the way these serials take over the lives of those who work in them. 

Behind the glitter that covers everything on the television screen are real human beings who work their magic so that we believe the stories and characters they're telling us. But, there are occasions in which their real lives teach us important lessons. 

Early in 2007, actor Daniela Bascopé was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma at the age of 24. After months of treatment, Daniela recovered and is back on television as Natalia in telenovela La Vida Entera. And this week, Daniela presented her book Vencer y Vivir (To Overcome and Live), in which she shares her experience with her illness. 

In La Vida Entera we can also see Lourdes Valera, who has taped her character Rosa Coronel as she underwent treatment for cancer.

Here's a video of the morning show Portadas in which telenovela La Vida Entera was promoted. In addition to being an example of how a telenovela is promoted in Venezuela, you will be able to watch Daniela and Lourdes as they explain the characters they play and give us their message of courage. (The video is sort of stretched, I don't know why. At the end of the Portadas' sequence, there is an example of a promotional of La Vida Entera).






Nov 11, 2008

A TELENOVELA PREMIERES TO THE PRESS


Last week I attended the premiere for the press of my new object of study: telenovela LA VIDA ENTERA. This isn't my first time in these events that, along with the promotional spots, constitute the publicity engine for the new telenovela. 

To be sure, this is a public relations event. The centerpiece is watching the first episode before it airs. In the event, information about the new telenovela is disseminated via a press kit. LA VIDA ENTERA's press kit consisted of a glossy brochure in magazine format and a CD-ROM with photos and interviews with cast members. Additionally, the premiere allows reporters to interview writers and actors. The main outcome of this event is media coverage of the telenovela which creates expectation in the audience.
 
For a scholar, this is a fascinating event to observe. I enjoy watching the telenovela's first episode before it actually airs. Most importantly, I'm able to observe first hand the reactions of the entertainment press and actors. Later, it's truly interesting to read news stories and gossip columns about the premiere. These media stories vary immensely in quality and accuracy. (For instance, the next day a television  gossip show commented how beautiful was the "fuchsia" evening gown that actor Marlene De Andrade was wearing...when she actually wore a black dress!). 

Here's a video I prepared with images from the event. The quality is low. It was hard for me to record from where I was sitting and the resolution isn't too good. But, it will give you a taste of the event and the characters of  LA VIDA ENTERA.

Oct 28, 2008

DISTANCE: AN IMPORTANT WORD IN TELENOVELAS


There are some words that continuously pop up in my research about telenovelas. One is PARADOX, and I've written about it before and should probably write a whole lot more about. The other is DISTANCE.

After all these years studying telenovelas, I'm still amazed about the enormous distance that I find between the audience's perceptions of what happens behind the cameras, and what actually happens there. This distance, of course, is influenced by another distance that exists too often: the one between press reports and what is happening. 

There is also an important distance between the audience's perception of the relative importance of a particular telenovela character and what the actor believes about her/his character. I've talked with many actors who adored particular characters and considered them key in their careers, only to read later in Internet message boards how some audience members believe that those characters were unimportant and that the actor's talent was "wasted."

Another distance I must mention is the one between what the public knows/believes about the telenovela writing process and what really happens in a writer's mind and soul as she/he develops characters and plots. 

There is always a distance between the script and the mise-en-scene we see on our TV screens. 

Personally, the word distance defines my research since I have to "go" to it and come back periodically. I get closer and farther away from my case studies. It is in these coming and goings, in this stretching and reducing the geographic distance that I can get really close in an intellectual and academic sense. Soon I must travel and get closer to my new case study. Its first episode is about to be broadcast in Venezuela after I've been following and examining the creative process of its head writer. Meanwhile, the Internet and technology allow us to take a peek into this new telenovela I'm studying--La Vida Entera:

Oct 25, 2008

MODERATOR FROM FORO TVVI VISITS MY CLASS


In the past I've brought to my classroom (via phone or Skype) several people that work in the telenovela industry (Julie Restifo, Daniela Bascopé, Carlos Cruz, Edgar Ramírez, Marisa Román, Valentina Párraga and Leonardo Padrón).

This semester, on the last class of my honors seminar, I decided to invite someone from the consumption side of telenovelas. Therefore, Dragoons, who moderates the message board  Foro TVVI, came to our class via Skype.  

It was a fascinating conversation that allowed us to learn about the satisfactions, difficulties and dedication involved in the moderation of a message board that elicits a lot of  passion because it deals with television, in general, and telenovelas, in particular. 

Following is a brief video with an excerpt from our conversation:



We thank  Dragoons for his time and insights.

To end this post, here's a picture from our small end-of-the-seminar celebration. I cooked one of Venezuela's most typical desserts: a quesillo. Food is an important part of culture, and in this seminar we study how telenovelas are more than melodramatic love stories, they're a key place to examine the links between media, culture and society.


Oct 20, 2008

FIRST SET OF PROMOTIONALS OF MY NEW OBJECT OF STUDY: LA VIDA ENTERA



Venezuelan network Venevisión uses 14 of its best known faces and talent in a set of teasers about upcoming telenovela La Vida Entera, my new case study.

Belos the demo for La Vida Entera:

Oct 8, 2008

VALENTINA PARRAGA IN MY TELENOVELA CLASS


Last week writer Valentina Párraga visited my telenovelas seminar. She is an intelligent and charming guest who shared with us her experience writing telenovelas in Venezuela  (Viva la Pepa and Trapos Intimos, just to name the two most recent ones) and now in Telemundo (Anita no te rajes and Doña Bárbara). These two groups of telenovelas represent a contrast in style that is determined by the undeniable differences between the Venezuelan and the U.S. audience. 

It's always interesting for me to confirm once again that there is an immense distance between the public's perception (as expressed in message boards and gathered in my research) and the tough reality of writing a telenovela. This distance is encouraged by the entertainment press' trivialization of the telenovela writing job and its emphasis on gossip and rumors. 

From a teaching perspective, I believe that it's important for my students to understand the difficulties and stress involved in the everyday life of telenovela writing, a job that takes over the lives of its makers. They spend many hours at their computer keyboards at a time in their lives that is dominated by their telenovela characters and plots, while they try to win the ratings war. 

Following is a brief video where you can hear Valentina Párraga describing her daily routine as she writes Doña Bárbara:



We thank Valentina for her time, warmth and honesty.

Sep 26, 2008

TELENOVELA CONVERSATIONS IN MY SEMINAR

A key ingredient of my teaching philosophy is to provide students with opportunities to link what we learn inside the classroom with the "real world" that exists beyond the university's walls. This is the reason why in my telenovela class and seminars I've always included phone conferences with people who work in the telenovela industry. (In previous years, I've had as guests Julie Restifo, Daniela Bascopé, Carlos Cruz, Edgar Ramírez, Marisa Román and Leonardo Padrón).

This week we had two guests that visit my class every time I teach it because they're very generous with their time and insights. And because both of them have taught me a lot as I continue my intellectual journey through the beguiling landscape of telenovela research: Marisa Román and Leonardo Padrón. This time we benefitted from technology since we used video conference thanks to the facilities provided in the Faherty Lab here at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. We enjoyed the experience even more than in previous opportunities because we could see our guests and they could see us. 




Thanks to these conversations, my students were able to hear Leonardo Padrón explain the details of his creative process, describe the everyday life of a telenovela writer, list his major concerns and satisfactions as he tackles the difficult, absorbing and exhausting process of writing a telenovela, which is a product of industrial dimensions. 

The students were also able to ask Marisa Román about the construction of a character, and which have been the most difficult and most satisfying characters she has interpreted. Román explained the differences in the actors craft when she/he faces television, theater and film. 



It was a truly special class in which all involved learned a great deal thanks to a couple of conversations that were enjoyable, sincere and gratifying.


Sep 21, 2008

ENDS AND BEGINNINGS: TORRENTE AND ¿VIEJA YO?


The last two weeks have been so hectic for me that I haven't been able to write in my blog(s). Meanwhile, in Venezuela  Venevisión broadcast the final episode of Torrente, which was substituted in the 9 p.m. slot by ¿Vieja Yo? These telenovelas are polar opposites in the continuum: melodrama<---->humor.

On the melodrama side is Torrente, a pretty predictable telenovela that suffered from a lack of humor (in this sense, the characters played by Gioia Arismendi and Eduardo Orozco were the exception that saved the telenovela from being unbearably dramatic). In my opinion, Torrente's best qualities were: 1) The production quality of all sequences taped (or seemingly taped) in the  beautiful and wild area of la Gran Sabana. 2) The quality of the directorial work which never tapered. 3) The presence of some cast members who were able to take their characters beyond the unidimensional and simplistic way in which they were written.

Regarding the last point, I should underscore again (I already mentioned it in a previous post) Iván Tamayo's excellent performance as  Roque/Bayardo Santa Cruz, the antagonist. His work was so good that it forced one of the few interesting and atypical elements in a story pretty typical and average: that we didn't know until the last episode whether the protagonist Ana Julia would end up with him or with Reinaldo, the official protagonist. This unresolved situation afforded the final episode very high ratings (the episode averaged a rating of 17.5 and a 62.1% share, pretty high numbers even in an environment without  RCTV). And in that final episode writers had to write/include a video clip of memory bits of the antagonist's love story with the protagonist and a short monologue by him just before the protagonists' final scenes (See the following video from 6:33 on). 




Torrente's final episode reinforced the old lesson: it's important to have a question/dramatic knot to be resolved in the last episode. On the other hand, Ana Julia's choice wasn't believable to me. Even though the script tried its best to push her back to Reinaldo, her story and chemistry with Roque/Bayardo were more intense, longer and believable. 

¿Vieja Yo? comes from the distinguished pen of Mónica Montañés. I want to preface my brief analysis with a caveat that limits my point of view: I've only been able to watch the first four episodes

I place this telenovela in the humor side of the continuum. It has a clear thesis: there is no due date to fulfill our dreams and most of the times we are our worst enemies. (See in the following video the first sequences in the telenovela. In particular where the protagonist is on top of the mattress. Pay attention to her words.)



I like telenovelas with a thesis. I believe a thesis gives a telenovela depth, structure and a reason (beyond television's commercial requirements). I admire the design of all the sets that make the department store where most of the action happens in ¿Vieja Yo?. Once again, Carmelina De Jacovo shows that she is a master at set design. The cast has plenty of talent and presence. There are themes that are in many telenovelas, like infidelity. But, there are also topics that need continuous examination. For instance: domestic violence. But, above all, this telenovela is centered on Margot, the over-50 protagonist conceptualized and written for actor Mimí Lazo. The antagonist, Estefanía, is well delineated in the script: ambitious, without scruples and clueless as to how to be the rival of a woman Margot's age and with her characteristics.  I don't like, however, Marjorie De Sousa's interpretation. Her Estefanía is cartoonish. This has the unfortunate consequence of making the main triangle akin to a cartoon too. Something not desirable in a telenovela. 

And even though I know well that humor is a key ingredient in Venezuelan telenovelas and functions as the enzyme that allows the important digestion of critical sociocultural issues like the ones present in this telenovela, I felt that in the first four episodes romance was sacrificed for humor's sake. And romance is a defining element of telenovelas. While I was watching the fourth episode, I asked myself: Is there anyone here IN LOVE? I'm sure there is, but it isn't evident in the first four episodes, which are characterized by layered misunderstandings, that give us a feeling similar to that of a sitcom.

I will continue watching, of course. Mónica Montañés is a writer I believe in. She's talented, smart, knowledgeable of the paradoxes, challenges and opportunities that characterize Venezuelan women, and she has something important to say. 

The audience, who always has the last word, has also something to say: where do they locate their preferences regarding telenovelas in these two axes:
melodrama<---->humor  
romance<---->humor .

Sep 5, 2008

DOÑA BARBARA'S EFFECT ON THIS BLOG

A few months ago I wrote a post about the effect of the final episodes of telenovela Arroz Con Leche on the Spanish version of this blog. 

Today I write on the effect that telenovela Doña Bárbara (Telemundo) is having on this blog in English. The blog in Spanish is not being affected in the same way. This indicates the existence of a significant public whose primary language is English who is particularly interested in Doña Bárbara. We might see in the future a similar effect in the blog in Spanish, once the telenovela airs in Spanish-speaking countries. For the moment, Doña Bárbara seems to be responsible for a "first" in my blogs: Currently, the blog in English is more read than the blog in Spanish.

Below are numbers and charts for both blogs organized in two time periods (click on the graphics to enlarge them):

  • July 4-August 3, 2008: The month before Doña Bárbara's premiere
  • August 4-September 4, 2008: Doña Bárbara's first month on the air in Telemundo
For every comparison, I place first the graphs for the blog in Spanish, followed by the equivalent graphics for the blog in English. 

BLOG IN SPANISH-NUMBER OF VISITS-BEFORE AND DURING DOÑA BARBARA'S FIRST MONTH ON THE AIR:





BLOG IN  ENGLISH-NUMBER OF VISITS-BEFORE AND DURING DOÑA BARBARA'S FIRST MONTH ON THE AIR




A continuación información de los posts más visitados del blog en ambos períodos.

BLOG IN SPANISH-MOST VISITED ENTRIES-BEFORE AND DURING DOÑA BARBARA'S FIRST MONTH ON THE AIR




BLOG IN ENGLISH-MOST VISITED ENTRIES-BEFORE AND DURING DOÑA BARBARA'S FIRST MONTH ON THE AIR




BLOG IN SPANISH-MOST USED KEYWORDS-BEFORE AND DURING DOÑA BARBARA'S FIRST MONTH ON THE AIR




BLOG IN ENGLISH-MOST USED KEYWORDS-BEFORE AND DURING DOÑA BARBARA'S FIRST MONTH ON THE AIR




Aug 31, 2008

HUGO CHAVEZ AND TELENOVELAS


Todotnv is one of my favorite telenovela blogs. Today there's a  post about how easy it is to blame telenovelas for all sorts of things. This post, of course, brings about the eternal controversy of whether media reflect reality, or reality is influenced by media content.

In Latin America, where telenovelas were born, we also blame telenovelas in a variety of ways...even if we watch them religiously. But, last week President Hugo Chávez attacked telenovelas in his weekly speech to the nation (he also attacked the Internet):
"Be careful with those capitalist telenovelas: they poison (...) They have an ideological intention: to destroy a child's potential, to induce the youth to a life that is plastic, and to induce them to violence, prostitution and a loss of values."

Here's the video:


President Chávez seems to have forgotten that the origin of telenovelas can be found in the feulleton literature (Dumas, Balzac, etc.), and that the cradle of telenovelas is Cuba. He seems to have forgotten also that his own network  TVES purchases and produces telenovelas.

These and other arguments were aptly expressed by Venezuelan telenovela writers in an article in daily El Universal on August 26:

Leonardo Padrón: Telenovelas Cosita Rica and Ciudad Bendita "were entirely Venezuelan. They constitute  400 hours of television that speak of the people who habit Caricuao or La Bombilla in Petare and how fragile are their living conditions, those hours aren't about the natives of Texas or Arizona.  "In my telenovelas, I've spoken about domestic violence, teen pregnancy and irresponsible fatherhood. Tell me how is it that I'm inculcating there capitalist values!"

Pilar Romero: "A telenovela is a love story. The only one that had a different slant, but wasn't 'capitalist' at all, was POR ESTAS CALLES. The rest are love stories with a moralizing intention. Evil is punished and good is rewarded."

Martín Hahn: "I've never thought about writing a telenovela that is capitalist or socialist. I only think of writing an entertaining telenovela with a positive message. The struggle to keep families together, forgiveness, reconciliation and personal betterment are the themes I like to touch on my telenovelas."

Benilde Avila: "I don't understand why Chávez said that. He must not watch telenovelas. It's a contradiction to say that telenovelas are poison when TVEs, his social television network, produces and broadcast them."

Personally, I'm quite surprised about this attack on telenovelas by President Chávez. Up until now he has been a shrewd communicator who knows how to respect and use the Venezuelan people's popular culture tastes and consumption. At times, he has even use that knowledge to manipulate Venezuelans. To attack telenovelas with empty arguments in a country in which people consume on a daily basis the same number of telenovelas as meals is a foolish mistake. 

We can criticize many things about telenovelas. But, we can also say positive things about them regarding the health messages they can transmit, etc. And, we'll never know for sure if Hugo Chávez would be president if there hadn't been a telenovela called Por Estas Calles

Aug 24, 2008

TELENOVELAS, BOLEROS, TANGOS AND RANCHERAS


According to media scholar Jesús Martín-Barbero, melodramatic genres such as the Argentinean tango, the Mexican ranchera and, most of all, telenovelas, perform a crucial role in Latin America’s everyday life (1993). “The melodrama is much of what we are—fatalists, inclined to machismo, superstitious—and what we dream of becoming—stealing the identities of others, nostalgia, righteous anger” (p. 225).

I add the bolero to this list of melodramatic genres. All of them--telenovelas, tangos, boleros and rancheras--represent not only different geographic sides of this cultural region we call Latin America, but they are also cultural expressions of one of the most interesting (and without easy translation to other languages) verbs: despechar.

The United States is the culture of "moving on" and "shaking off" a heartbreak and/or unrequited love. In contrast, in Latin America we have the tendency of not moving on until we have wallowed in our sadness for a good while. That is "despecho." And there's no better company for a good "despecho" than a bolero, tango or ranchera (alcohol is also frequently involved). Telenovelas are underpinned also by the principle/process of despecho. They are, as Cabrujas said, "the spectacle of emotions." But, they are also emotions turned into spectacle. Through telenovelas, audiences can live over and over again the cycle of falling in love, rupture and despecho in a way that may seem somewhat operatic or over the top, but that nevertheless generates identification. Even if we are surprised by that identification. 

Following are three videos I frequently use in class to explain/illustrate the relationship between boleros, tangos, rancheras and telenovelas. All of them are about a loss: lost love, lost time, lost moments. All of them are within melodrama, the most universal of codes.

José Feliciano sings bolero "Amor Gitano" in which he tells the woman he saw walking with another man:
"Take this knife and open my veins. I want to bleed until death. I don't want life if it means that you belong to someone else. Because without you, life is worthless."



Penélope Cruz dubbs Estrella Morente in the  Pedro Almodóvar film "Volver". It's a Spanish-style version of  tango "Volver":
"I'm scared of encountering the past that comes to confront my life. I'm scared of the nights populated with memories that are like chains in my dreams" 
...

'

And, finally, the most stereotypical despecho of all: Vicente Fernández sings ranchera "Volver, Volver" in a bar, drinking tequila. 

"We left each other a while ago, but now is my moment to lose. You were right, I'm listening to my heart, and I'm dying to come back."
...



Aug 11, 2008

AEJMC-CHICAGO-TELENOVELAS, CULTURE AND SOCIETY

-
I've been pretty occupied in conferences this past month. First, I attended IAMCR in Stockholm where I presented three papers: 1, 2, 3. And last week I presented one paper at AEJMC (Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication) in Chicago.

My paper at the Cultural and Critical Studies Division focused on the inclusion of socio-cultural issues in telenovelas. I used one of my case studies: telenovela Cosita Rica and centered on four of the diverse socio-cultural themes that were present in this telenovela: obsession with beauty, machismo, teen pregnancy and children who live in the streets. (Other topics present in Cosita Rica's storylines were: religion and faith, addictions, unemployment, crime, Venezuela's socio-economic contrasts and Venezuelans' survival strategies).




In this paper, I placed the production, representation, reception and regulation of these four topics vis a vis the Venezuelan context. As an example, here are the slides for the issue of teen pregnancy:




Knowing the author's intention and his use of specific strategies, such as the inclusion of humor, to incite reflection, I analyzed how the audience enjoyed the storylines, but often did not read the message the author intended. In the case of the obsession with beauty and machismo, these are now naturalized as "normal" commonsensical ideas. In the presentation I also highlighted how this case study illustrates the articulations between production, representation, consumption, regulation and identity, suggesting the workings and nature of the links between media, culture and society.



With this conference presentation, the conference "season" comes to an end, and the beginning of the new academic year is just around the corner.

Aug 5, 2008

DOÑA BARBARA AND "THE PICTURE IN MY HEAD"



 Doña Bárbara premiered last night in  Telemundo. I write these lines after watching only the first episode. My purpose isn't to analyze the telenovela. Instead, I want to reflect on the distance between what Walter Lippmann called “the pictures in our heads” and what's outside our heads. 

Like many Venezuelans, I grew up reading Rómulo Gallegos. His novels are an essential ingredient of any school curriculum. This is why there's a picture in my head of  “myDoña Bárbara. She's not María Félix or Marina Baura.


She's “my” "devoradora de hombres", the one I built in my mind throughout the many readings of Doña Bárbara I've done in different stages of my life. 

There's always distance between "the pictures in our head," when these come from reading a book, and the image we see on a movie or tv screen. There's always negotiation between these images, until we either accept or reject the on-screen one. 

Last night I had trouble reconciling “myDoña Bárbara and Doña Bárbara/Edith González. I should mention that she only appeared in the last 10 minutes, but I acknowledge thatI had difficulty accepting her. This isn't a reflection on González's talent or the way the character is written. It's a product of the strength of that picture I have in my head which doesn't match González physique and Mexican accent. It's also the consequence of the unavoidable conflation between my Venezuelan identity an my reading of this audiovisual text that is written and produced using the so-called "international" telenovela codes, where we're never told the particular country where action takes place, even though the Arauca River is an important element.  I'm sure that I'm not an isolated case. Probably, many Venezuelans will experience the same difficulties, while viewers from other nations won't have this problem. 

Interestingly enough, I walked seamlessly the distance between  “mySantos Luzardo and Santos Luzardo/Christian Meier. Maybe because the emblematic character is her, not him. The relationship between "the pictures in our head" and the outside world is complex. It's also a fascinating facet of media consumption: the relationship between identity and media reception.   

I will continue watching Doña Bárbara while I observe myself as I negotiate the distance between "the pictures in my head" and the ones I see on the television screen.  

Jul 29, 2008

IAMCR-Stockholm-POPULAR CULTURE



My third and final presentation at IAMCR in Stockholm was in the Popular Culture Working Group. In this presentation I focused on one of the subplots of telenovela Ciudad Bendita: Maru's story, a character that was addicted to plastic surgery. In this paper, a section of my work on Ciudad Bendita, I analyzed the writing, production and reception of this storyline in a country in which plastic surgery is naturalized as "normal."

Following are some of the slides I used in the presentation, including a short clip from Maru's story. At the end there's the video of my presentation. For those readers who have never been to an academic conference, it will be interesting to experience the perils of presenting first in a session: the comings and goings of latecomers and even the placement of extra chairs in a room that ended up being too small for the session. As presenters, we have to be immune to those distractions.













video



The session also included a fascinating study of the different versions of Betty, la fea around the world:

Session 3 Appearances and Perceptions
Thursday 24th July 14.00-15.30
Chair: Milly Williamson
In the country of beautiful women: A telenovela’s critique of plastic surgery obsession
Carolina Acosta-Alzuru
Travelling style: Aesthetic difference in national adaptations of "Ugly Betty"
Lothar Mikos & Marta Perotta
Queer gazing and the popular: a study on the representational strategies of queer
representations in popular television fiction.
Sofie Van Bauwel, Frederik Dhaenens & Daniel Biltereyst
Circuits of the Real: Authenticity Work in Reality TV
Minna Aslama & Mervi Pantti