Recently, CNN broadcast a news story about "social merchandising" (the inclusion of social issues) in Brazilian telenovelas. And even though Brazil is not the only country where writers do what has been called "social merchandising" with their telenovelas (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), it is undoubtedly the place where it's done with more constancy.



Last night RCTV began broadcasting in Venezuela its new telenovela Libres como el viento, written by Pilar Romero (Mi Prima Ciela, Elizabeth, Maite, Toda Mujer), inspired in Rómulo Gallegos' novel "La Brizna de Paja en el Viento".


In the telenovela's synopsis, it is emphasized that this is a love story "marked by the current happenings in university life". This context is a clear reference to the reality of the student movement in Venezuela, which became a political protagonist after the government did not renew RCTV's broadcast concession in May 2007:



It's too early to assess this telenovela. For the moment, I'm interested in its context, which we can see represented in the following promotional:



I can't help but to notice that these days Venezuelan telenovelas are living a moment that is the opposite of the one I studied in the year 2003. At that time, RCTV and Venevisión competed for the first place. Both networks were on the same political side: opposing Hugo Chávez's government. Their novelas, however, offered two very different options. Venevisión represented and editorialized the harsh political reality in successful telenovela Cosita Rica, written by Leonardo Padrón. For his part, José Simón Escalona, RCTV's dramatic chief, believed that at the time Venezuelans didn't want to see more reality on their tv screens (Acosta-Alzuru, 2007, p. 34). Hence, RCTV broadcast La Invasora, written by Iris Dubbs, followed by Estrambótica Anastasia, authored by Martin Hahn.

Today we're in a completely different situation. RCTV can only broadcast via cable, is dedicated to producing remakes and versions, and places its wagers on a telenovela with a context linked to reality. Venevisión, without a strong competitor in Venezuelan TV, nevertheless is keenly aware of the delicate situation regarding freedom of expression in Venezuela. Therefore, this network prioritizes international sales and asks its writers to author telenovelas that are more "universal", devoid of local flavor, and avoiding any references to the country's controversial reality.

And, even though the telenovela industry always begs the question: "what do audience members want to watch in their telenovelas?", it's impossible for me to think of that, when I'm sure that we're doing much worse in my country. In every sense.

REFERENCE
Acosta-Alzuru, C. (2007). Venezuela es una Telenovela. Caracas: Alfa.


After an awesome summer teaching "International Mass Communication" in Oxford, I'm back at my university and routine. The Fall semester has already started and with it my class "Telenovelas, Culture and Society."


For professors, it's always a privilege and a pleasure to be able to teach a class focused on our research area. This is exactly the case for me and this class, which I especially enjoy because it allows me to share with the students what I've learned about telenovelas, and helps me deepen and reorient my research. This year I'm particularly happy because the class filled out pretty quickly and there's even a waiting list for it. I have 24 students who comply with the SPAN 2002 pre-requisite, and whose majors range from mass communication-related (advertising, public relations, journalism, broadcasting and telecommunication arts) to Latin American and Caribbean studies.

In the class, I use telenovelas in the same way I do in my research: as epicenters to study the links between media, culture and society. Therefore, this is the course's general description:

The course will examine Latin American telenovelas and their insertion in Latin America’s social formation. The connections between culture, media and society will be highlighted as we examine the historical roots of the genre, learn about its contexts of production, consumption and regulation, and analyze telenovelas as a public forum for the negotiation of social issues and meanings associated with Latin American reality. In addition, the course will underscore how telenovelas implicate and draw their audiences into the process of cultural production, as we look at how a mass-produced genre, conceived as for-profit entertainment, has tremendous significance in the everyday life of those who watch it.

The course's specific objectives are:
  • To become familiar with communication concepts and tools that are used in critical and cultural approaches to mass media studies.
  • To analyze the ideological, rhetorical and cultural underpinnings of telenovelas.
  • To understand the commercial and aesthetics dimensions of telenovelas, and their social uses.
  • To examine how processes of industrialization and globalization have made their mark on the telenovela genre.
Throughout the semester, I will use a mix of teaching methods and activities that will range from traditional lectures to video conferences with people involved in the telenovela world. I'll share some of it here in my blog.

I'm still in Oxford with little time to write in my blog. Meanwhile, here's another interview between a telenovela writer and an actor. This time writer Leonardo Padrón interviews famous actor Guy Ecker (Sebastian in Café con Aroma de Mujer). It's an interview that illuminates the life and craft of an actor, and the telenovela world: