Aug 5, 2008


 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.  


Anonymous said...

Hi Carolina, I am enjoying DB a lot, but I think I can understand your position. Im not from Venezuela and I have not read Gallego's book yet (I plan to do it though)so I didnt have anything to compare this with. But in such case it would've been impossible not to have certain expectations or 'pictures in my head'. I'd love to read your opinions on the novela later on. Saludos

Anonymous said...

Hola Carolina,
Your feeling about the novela placed in "no man's land" is understandable. I don't know why the producers think it can't be enjoyed if it unfolds in the place of the original story. Imagine taking Gone with the Wind out of Georgia during the United States Civil War! So much of the flavor, the essence would be lost.
Also, part of my enjoyment of telenovelas through the years, comes from hearing the accents, the customs, traditions,music, etc. specific to each country.

Dr. Carolina Acosta-Alzuru said...

Hi Anonymous1, thanks for understanding well the nature of my post. I do think DB is a magnificent production. I also like very much how Valentina Párraga kept the essence of most characters. I'm still working on the distance between "my" Doña Barbara and Edith González's. She does have the temperament. Saludos to you too.

Dr. Carolina Acosta-Alzuru said...

Hola Anonymous 2, this "no specific country" that we see in Doña Bárbara is one of those codes that are now being established for telenovelas that are meant to be "international." Someone decided that for a telenovela to be "universal" it can't take place in any specific place, and it must have at least one protagonist of Mexican origin. This is part of the political economy of the genre as it turns global. But, this globalization comes at a price: the loss of the variety of accents, customs, music and traditions that you and I enjoy in telenovelas. And the uniform nature of certain representations. Doña Bárbara's settings remind me of Pasión de Gavilanes and other telenovelas created by Telemundo. But, don't match Gallego's portrayal of the Venezuelan llanos that is present in his novel. Thanks for you comment.

Anonymous 2 said...

Dr, Carolina Acosta Azuru,

First, I thank you for your response and invite you to partake in the Doña Barbara forum discussion at Telenovela World. The novela seems to be inspiring quite a lively discussion. You may be surprised at some of the folks as appreciative of the genre as you...maybe not. Here is the URL:

Telemundo has campaigned their logic since they began producing their "original" novelas. I don't buy it and think it is a mistake or a misread of the non-Mexican viewer. IMO international success of novelas is based on quality not the blandness of "no man's land" and the neutralized accent. Cases in point are Colombia's Betty la fea, Café con aroma de mujer and Brazil's many mega-hits like O Clone.
I became a fan of the telenovela quite a few years ago. Novelas such as Muchacha Italiana viene a casarse, Esmeralda, La gata, betray my age. These, first addicted me during a college yr abroad. Later, I moved to Colorado and discovered Spanish language television existed in the U.S. Yippee! At various times I have lived in places where there was no Spanish language TV available. The advent of Satellite has saved me. Hallelujah!

Anonymous 2

Dr. Carolina Acosta-Alzuru said...

Thanks for the invitation, Anonymous 2. I'm sure I will enjoy reading the forum discussion. Currently, I'm getting ready for the beginning of the upcoming semester. I'll visit as soon as possible.

Your comments regarding the "neutral" codes that are now part and parcel of the "international" telenovela resonate with me in many ways. In this blog, I've written a few times about issues related to the globalization of telenovelas. Here are two examples:

Anonymous said...

I am watching DB too, and somehow agree with your comments, but the landscape is in fact Arauca but on the colombian side. The actors accents, they try in my oppinion, specialy Marisela, I do not know, but I think she is venezuelan. I enjoy a lot watching the Telenovela and in fact i went back to read the book again. What does not match at all is the caracters stereotype, those perfect body guys and girls, but I like it though. For sure it is not the picture in our heads, but again I like others point of view.
By the way, I am 48 years all professional Engineer from USB, living in USA, and I got hooked by the novel.

Dr. Carolina Acosta-Alzuru said...

Thanks for your comment, Anonymous 3, although I feel I should be writing this comment in Spanish, shouldn't I?

You're right, it's the Arauca in Colombia. When I write about the code of being set in no particular country, I'm referring to the "capital de la república" caption that appeared in the first episode when we first meet grown Santos Luzardo in the city. That "repúbica" remains undefined.

Génesis Rodríguez, who plays Marisela, is the daughter of Venezuelan singer/actor José Luis Rodríguez. However, I believe she has lived most of her life in Miami. Her accent in the telenovela is certainly not Venezuelan. It's very mixed, sometimes she sounds a bit Cuban and a bit Puerto Rican. She's Miami to me: a new hybrid space made of many Latin American different cultures. Her Marisela is written as to provide the necessary sunshine that counters Doña Bárbara's darkness.

Like you, I also feel that those campesinos are too gorgeous. But that's telenovela code. Maybe that's why lately telenovelas set on the country side remind me of Pasión de Gavilanes.

I'm still watching and enjoying it very much, even if Doña Bárbara is too stylish to be the "devoradora de hombres" that lives in my head. She certainly has the necessary fury.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I have not watched a tv novela in years. However this one got hooked. I love the actors and the story in great. I cannot wait for the next episode.

Anonymous said...

i love the novela and i would like to know the name and the author of the song that comes out in the begining of the novela.

Anonymous said...

I am with you. The images in my head don't work. I grew up in Mexico City and read Romulo Gallegos at a young age. Such llano and river were not in my country and they made me dream about a wild, and remote place. My DB cannot possibly be blond. Something is missing.

Anonymous said...

Dear Carolina,
I agree with you entirely. I read Doña Bárbara in 1954, and the image I have in my head could not be represented by Edith González. Melquíades, yes. I do think that if you haven´t read the novel the telenovela would be a mystery to you. I missed the early episodes, but as I explain the story to my wife, who has no Spanish, I draw heavily from the book.

Anonymous said...

Hello Carolina, I am not from Latin America but I watch Dona Barbara with great interest! I have read the novel so I can understand this notion of the "picture in my head" but truth be told I got over that rather fast. After the first couple of weeks I started to see Edith's Dona Barbara as a version as valid and good as the one in my head. Though it is a telenovela of telemundo I think Dona Barbara managed to keep what is really important about its indentity, the way to tell the story and draw the characters. I think telemundo is doing a wonderful job with the writing and producing this telenovela, it has given it beautiful images and has respected the force of the story and characters, that is what I think people like the most about this telenovela, it is both traditional but also very different, presents stronger and more ambivalent situations and characters than most telenovelas. I love your blog and hope you write more over Dona Barbara and how you think telemundo is doing...

Dr. Carolina Acosta-Alzuru said...

Thanks to all for sharing your thoughts on Doña Bárbara. Like the character Doña Barbara, the telenovela elicits strong feelings. We certainly can't ignore it.

I've definitely stopped trying to match the Doña that is in my Venezuelan mind and Edith's. I've decided to assume her like a telenovela character. I'm more focused lately on analyzing how writer Valentina Párraga is managing the miracle of turning Gallegos book (with its limited number of dramatic conflicts) into the long-term writing exercise that every telenovela is. So far it's working out nicely.

Again, thanks for keeping the conversation going.

Anonymous said...

Hola,I was reading all the conversation about Doña Barbara and I found it very interesting.I am studying Creative Writing at GSU and we had a project about the different versions that both a reader and a writer have.As a writer,I personally tell you that whatever we write is meant to go beyond countries,languages,and any specific physical or mental trait already existing into the human world.Every time we write a story we start from a name and go all the way through play God as you might know that for certain.Now as a reader,I've read many books with different topics including of course Gallegos' literature,I do not try to compare two totally different arts that the only thing they have in common is the same title.I absolutely agree with you. I know that Gallegos' novel is everything compared to Telemundo's novela but at the same time is not even worth comparing.It will be like comparing two opposite writers with different points of view and different ideals.Let's put it this way:Gallegos' was describing you what Doña Barbara was doing and how she was using his God-point-of-view who knows everything she wants,desires and feels and on the other side on top of a tree we have Párraga writing on a little notebook whatever Doña Barbara is doing.I hope you get my point.We have two perspectives and obviously two different versions.This is what we are doing in Writing 3 class.I just finished reading again Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel then I was watching the movie directed by Alfonso Arau and the project is about having the ability to separate the literature from the movies.It's hard, believe me but it all makes sense depending on if you are the writer or the reader.Maybe Edith Gonzales is too fancy for Gallegos' character of Doña Barbara but I have to say she does an excellent job.I fell in love with Doña Barbara's story when I was about six or seven years old as my mom used to tell me about it and when I turned fifteen I finally had the chance to read Gallegos' novel,and I was thrilled by my mom exaggerating every part of the story that when I finished the book I was still looking for that passionate character of Doña Barbara my mom had created for me.So my mom asked me to erase my memory (we call it killing the ghost in literature)in order for me to star watching the telenovela.It's the same bones just with different flesh.I love your blog and I would love to hear more comments on these kind of topics.Gracias.Saludos.

Dr. Carolina Acosta-Alzuru said...

Hola, what an interesting comment! Especially since it comes from the perspective of someone studying creative writing. Thanks for sharing your experience with Doña Bárbara.

An important aspect we must comment is that this telenovela has now been on the air almost two months. Characters are always a co-production between writer and actor. And as the telenovela progresses and the writer sees the actor's personification, he/she is also inspired and modifies her/his writing accordingly...and viceversa. Hence, a character is like a knitted sweater, and writer and actor hold the knitting needles. By now, Edith González and Valentina Párraga's Doña Bárbara is a character inspired in Gallegos', but she's "her own woman."

Thanks also for your comments about my blog. I really wish I had more time to write in it.


Anonymous said...

I'm Vietnamese and am watching Dona Barbara by reading the close caption. Unfortunately, the subtitles are not available for the last several weeks and am disappointed I don't know what the actors are saying. It's difficult for me to like Dona Barbara since she is so cold and mean. According to the book, does she ends up getting her man, Santos?

Jenn said...

I love your blog. At first I couldn't really understand it since I never read the book. Edith was my first encounter with DB so for me she was the only possible interpretation. Recently, however, I saw the original trailer for the novela with Gaby Spanic. Now I understand what you ment. It felt like I was watching an entirly different novela.Edith became the character in my head and so I couldn't accept Gaby as DB.

Dr. Carolina Acosta-Alzuru said...

To Anonymous from Vietnam, I've received several emails from people who are now missing those subtitles. It's a pity. I have no idea why Telemundo stopped the subtitles. My guess is that given the financial crisis here in the U.S., they're implementing budget cuts. Also, Doña Bárbara has not received the high ratings they were hoping for.

To Jenn, thanks for your insightful comment. Your experience illustrates perfectly the process of "matching" between the image in our head and the one we watch on the screen.

Great conversation! To me, this is why blogs can be so enriching for academic researchers like me.

big said...

Dr Carolina,

I too have been addicted to Dona Barbara. I am African American woman married to a Uruguayan man. We have the language barrier that we have overcome but he watches alot of spanish speaking programs daily. I got into alot of the telenovelas on Telemundo and he purposly went out and brought me a CC3 capable tv so i could really understand without asking him to translate for me. I wrote to the marketing director at Telemundo explaining the difficulties i was having missing the CC3 subtitles and this is what she said verbatim "From: "Alban, Michelle (NBC Universal, TLMD)"
To: "Alexandra Epps-Bueno"
Sent: Monday, October 13, 2008 5:12 PM
Subject: RE: CC3 access

Hello Alexandra-

You are certainly not a pest. I have bad news for you. While we were
investigating the Direct TV glitch, I found out Telemundo is stopping
the English Language Closed Captioning on CC3. We realize that Telemundo
has a loyal fan base in our English Dominant viewers, however, at this
time, we need to focus on our Spanish-Language Captioning to improve and
enhance the service for our core audience. We do invite you to watch our
bilingual network, mun2 to continue getting original culturally relevant
programming in English.

They will be starting to show some of our novelas with English
sub-titles like Sin Senos No Hay Paraoiso.

I am very sorry to tell you this. What was your favorite show? Can you
give me your address and I can send you a small token of our
appreciation for your viewership?

All the best,
Michelle Alban
Director of Corporate Communications
Telemundo Network

I couldnt for the life of me understand why getting more american people hooked would be a bad thing.

Well now I struggle to try to watch the rest missing half the conversation because i can not translate fast enough.

Dr. Carolina Acosta-Alzuru said...

HI Big,

Thanks so much for sharing with us your exchange with Telemundo. It's very telling, even if it defies our logic that they wouldn't cultivate an audience that is already there and willing to watch. I'm so sorry about that. It's really shortsighted.

Anonymous said...

Hola, Dra. Carolina, I read Dona Barbara in a Hispanicamerican Literature class many years ago--required reading. I found the vocabulary difficult but fascinating. I re-read the book a year ago and was able to understand it a little better. I was delighted to discover the novela. In comparing the literary and television version I see many differences. The televised version has made the story a romance with political overtones, but the original story was about the conflict of civilization and "barbarism". Even the characters' names reminded the reader of what they represented. I am enjoying the complexity of the characters and their conflicts as well as the fact that the episodes are not repetitive as the usual Mexican novelas. The political references add an important dimension. In all, I am enthralled by Dona Barbara.

Dr. Carolina Acosta-Alzuru said...

Hi Anonymous, it's always fascinating to see the transformations a text suffers when it transitions from one genre (literary novel, in this case) to another (telenovela). Gallegos novel doesn't have enough dramatic knots for a telenovela, so they must be created. In the process, things are lost and gained, and characters are transformed too. Thanks for your insight.

Anonymous said...

Hola, I'm from Puerto Rico and I must say that Doña Bárbara its one of my favorite novels. I do like the Novela in telmundo but i must say i dislike a lot of the characters....Edith Gonzalez its a great actress and I suppose her image its could be better but its ok...i would have prefer that they choose a women that looked more like an indian...I mean the character of El Brujeador its just like i thought it looked and even Marisela, even though she look older that 15 she its ok with the looks...I suppose that we never going to match the image already of our head and the one that they present us. Bye

Anonymous said...


Haven't seen a telenovela since Crystal... I am so hooked on Doña Barbara its ridiculous. Kuddos to all who put together. I'm not a big fan of Spanish television so thank God for DVR where I can skip the commercials. I will definitely read the book though and after reading the comments between the corralation of the two, I'm almost glad for me it turned out this way.

Anonymous said...

Hi Carolina,
I'm a Filipino-American.I'am enjoying DB a lot even though I speak and understand little spanish.I was a bit disappointed when the english language captioning was stopped.I have my spanish-english dictionary with me when I watch it.What's so funny is that I'am not fond of watching novelas before since I'm not into it.But when I was changing the channels I saw DB trailer in Telemundo.I found DB interesting so when it was shown I started watching it with great interest.I make sure I don't miss a single episode.DB is a great novela.It is the first and only spanish novela I've watch.I also bought a DB book but it's in spanish too.I'm struggling reading it.Thanks to Telemundo for showing DB.I would love to hear and read your opinions on the DB novela.Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Oi, sou o Clausewitz e gostaria de convidar você para visitar meu blog e conhecer alguma coisa sobre o Brasil. Abração

Michelle Alban said...

Hello Everyone!

What a wonderful blog! I am so happy that I have found it. I am the one that reported that the Closed Captioning in English had stopped briefly but they are back by popular demand! In fact, Dona Barbara is now being broadcast in HD for those that have HD capable sets.

Thank you again for watching Dona Barbara and don't miss the finale!!!

Michelle Alban
Director of Corporate Communications
Telemundo Network

Anonymous said...

I'm sad to see Dona Barbara come to a end. My husband is the one who got me hooked, and I don't understand spanish.

Dr. Carolina Acosta-Alzuru said...

Hi everyone, please don't miss La Doña's author, Valentina Párraga's letter to me where she reflects on the process of writing Doña Bárbara. Here's the address to the post:

Mona said...