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



My second presentation at IAMCR this year was in the Audience section. In it, I focused on the audience's readings of the love story and physical aspect of the protagonists of Venezuelan telenovela Ciudad Bendita, written by Leonardo Padrón. At the end of this entry is the presentation's video. It doesn't have good quality, nor does it show the screen with the PowerPoint supporting slides. Therefore, following are some o those slides with a brief explanation.

In general, telenovelas have some basic codes. Among them are that protagonists follow a beauty code: they are usually beautiful women and handsome men. A second basic code is that the main love story consists of love at first (or almost-first) sight, a long sequence of misunderstandings and obstaces, and the happy end:



Ciudad Bendita's main love story was a transgression of these two codes. Handsome Juan Carlos García was the antagonist. Solid actor, but generally not considered particularly handsome, Roque Valero was the male protagonist, while female protagonist Bendita (played by Marisa Román) had a noticeable limp, the product of a childhood accident.


Thes storyline was also a transgression: Bendita is in love with the antagonist during the first 70 episodes.



In a country like Venezuela, used to telenovelas that are "within the code" and obsessed with physical beauty, how did the audience read this double code transgression?

At the beginning, they didn't like it:



The audience was certainly surprised by the choice of protagonists, and disoriented by this unusual love story. But, as the plot advanced, and Bendita and Juan finally fell in love, audience members accepted and embraced them:


And even though, the public ended up accepting Roque Valero as the protagonist:



There were many who wanted Bendita to be healed (as in a traditional telenovela) of her physical impairment:



In conclusion:



This overview is extremely superficial. Conference presentations already are horribly superficial: a 10-15 minute summary of the work that has taken years and research papers of many pages. But, sharing is my goal, and keeping the conversation going.

Following is the video of the presentation:



And the program of the session in which I presented:

14.00‐ 15.30 Room B497
Session 9: AUDIENCES AND TV GENRES
Chair: Virginia Nightingale, University of Western Sydney, Australia
ANNETTE HILL, University of Westminster, United Kingdom
Spirit Media: Ghosts, Audiences and Digital Culture
GEORGETTE WANG, National Chengchi University, Taipei, Taiwan
Glocalization Backfired: Cross‐cultural Viewing of The Weakest Link and The Apprentice
CAROLINA ACOSTA‐ALZURU, University of Georgia, USA
No Cinderella and no Prince Charming?: Audience reception when the telenovela codes are broken
MONICA HERRERO, Universidad de Navarra. Pamplona (Navarra) Spain
The relationship with the audience in family fiction series: the long‐term success and the extension to
other windows
MIAO‐JU JIAN, National Chung‐Cheng University, Taiwan
Passion for “the More Real”: The co‐constitutive relationship between audience and media
technology in the case of global reality TV reception in Taiwan
SARA PEREIRA, University of Minho, Portugal
Television for Children: the Child’s View



The conference I'm participating in Stockholm has been very fruitful thanks to the diversity of participants, points of view, theoretical approaches and countries present. My first presentation focused on the writing and production of telenovela Cosita Rica during the historic eleven months that preceded the recall referendum of President Hugo Chávez. Following is a video of my presentation. Two warnings: the video's quality is not high, and it's 15 minutes long, which can prove unbearable to those not used to academic presentations. I share it in the spirit of keeping alive the conversation about telenovelas that I've always wanted my blog to be.



Here's the session's full program:

TUESDAY, JULY, 22nd , 17h45-19H , ROOM HÖRSAL B5
WG-MPA7 - PRODUCTION RESEARCH: DRAMA AND
ENTERTAINMENT
Convenor:
Chris Paterson, Working Group Chair
Chair:
Chris Paterson, University of Leeds, UK
Discussant:
David Hesmondhalgh, University of Leeds, UK
22. Online Game Companies as Media Institutions: A Case Study on The Legend of
Mir II
Qiaolei Jiang, Chinese University of Hong Kong
23. Imagination and censorship, fiction and reality: Producing a telenovela in a time
of political crisis
Carolina Acosta-Alzuru, University of Georgia, USA
24. Reaching New Audiences through Drama Production and New Platforms
Mats Bjorkin and Maria Edström, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
25. Production as reception? A Theoretical Approach to a Production Analysis of
Television Satire
Hanne Karina Bruun, University of Aarhus, Denmark

OFF TO STOCKHOLM

Jul 19, 2008

I'm almost on my way to beautiful Stockholm where I'll participate in IAMCR's 2008 Media and Global Divides Conference. Around 1,000 scholars from 85 different countries representing all continents will be present. That's what I like best about IAMCR, that it's truly global. I should also mention that it's going to be a busy conference for me: I have three papers to present, all of them about telenovelas


I'm hoping to be able to blog during the conference, but I don't really know what kind of Internet access I will have. So, there's a chance the blog will go silent for a week. 

Meanwhile, all the best to those who read, and a picture of the city that's waiting for me.


In my recent trip to Venezuela, I conducted many interviews with people who work in telenovelas in both networks, RCTV and Venevisión. I also had the opportunity to visit the set of telenovela Torrente. I'm still digesting and analyzing my field notes and interview transcripts. In this blog entry, I comment on a contrast I found that is particularly enlightening. The contrast is between two telenovelas made in Venevisión: Torrente, currently on the air, and Vieja Yo?, which is already in its production phase and scheduled for broadcast very soon.

In the set of Torrente I found a group of, (mostly young), actors and director Claudio Callao. They're working as best as they possibly can with a script that is generally predictable, occasionally  contradictory and characterized by an exaggerated melodramatic tone. Network Venevisión, determined to produce telenovelas that sell well in the international market, offers us in Torrente a catalog of storylines we have seen so many times, we've memorized them. The production values, however, are much better than the script. I admired director Callao as I watched his struggle to produce a mise-en-scene with the realism and impact the script sorely lacks. I was also impressed with some of the actors who have been working their characters with dedication, taking them beyond the unclear outline barely depicted in the 40 pages that constitute each episode. I can't avoid asking myself: What is Torrente's thesis? Does it have a thesis? What do the writers want to say? 


The contrasting experience was my conversation with writer Mónica Montañés about her new telenovela La Vieja Esa (title that Venevisión discarded, favoring Vieja Yo?). This writer has a clear thesis behind the story she's going to tell. Many people think that writers just say "now I'm going to write the love story between a woman and a younger man." Well, not really. When a writer has a thesis, he or she has something to say. And that gives the story support, sustenance and consistency. It also draws clearly the characters. (Something that good actors appreciate and enjoy). When there's a thesis, the audience finds a truth immersed in the dream that every telenovela is. And that truth faces us and hooks us too. That's the difference between telenovelas like  Torrente and those that are conceptualized like Vieja Yo?

Some will undoubtedly say that Torrente will fare better than Vieja Yo? in the international market. We'll have to wait and see. But if that proves to be the case, there will be people who will interpret it as proof that the international audience is only interested in the same old story. Personally, I don't think so. I do think, however, that there are vested interests in selling only the same story over and over again. And that's different. 


I've written before about how the entertainment press and Internet message boards feed from each other. Many times they repeat information that hasn't been confirmed. I've also written about the entertainment press' problematic tendency to speculate without confirming the news via the source. 


There's a particularly illustrative case in today's Venezuelan press. In the message board, TVVI
, there's a participant who frequently posts "confirmed cast" lists for this or that telenovela. I don't doubt this participant's dedication. She has sources inside  RCTV. However, her cast lists are mostly based on her reading of the entertainment press. Hence, these cast rolls frequently have mistakes and omissions that are the product of the press' speculations, which often doesn't distinguish a confirmed fact from a baseless supposition.  

This doesn't bother me a lot since it comes from a message board participant, and in these virtual communities participants handle a certain level of speculation. The problem is when the transmission of information follows the inverse route: from message board to the press. Today, the prestigious Venezuelan daily  El Universalrepeats verbatim the message board participant's post. The story carries some important mistakes: the telenovela's title and three of the actors listed, who aren't in the cast.  This is unacceptable. In order to be respected and respectable, the entertainment press has to do and be better.

Surely, there will be readers who will ask me: What's wrong with this?
Personally, I believe that journalism is a key profession/activity for the social formation, since it defines the version of reality that frames our day to day. In the entertainment world in general, and the telenovela world in particular, the levels of speculation and disinformation are extremely high. This deforms the public's perceptions in important and unfair ways. It also explains the immense differences I've observed through the years between what people think happens behind the cameras and what actually happens.