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.
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
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:
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
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
Chris Paterson, Working Group Chair
Chris Paterson, University of Leeds, UK
David Hesmondhalgh, University of Leeds, UK
22. Online Game Companies as Media Institutions: A Case Study on The Legend of
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
Hanne Karina Bruun, University of Aarhus, Denmark
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.
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?
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.
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.