Aug 24, 2008


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."

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