Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Power of Telenovelas

Telenovelas serve as a powerful communication tool. They communicate popular social issues, discuss current economic situations and bring people together through conversation. As a unique form of entertainment, telenovelas have a special influence around the world. As a person who has spent very little time watching and studying telenovelas prior to this class, I am struck by the current telenovela industry and its growth. I was completely unaware of the popularity and success of telenovelas and I’m excited to dive more into this genre of entertainment.

In one of our readings, the author states,

“The fact that telenovelas are able to provide emotional relief to a continent burdened by enormous socioeconomic and material hardships is not devoid of importance. Therefore, it is not surprising that millions of Latin Americans sit in front of their (and others’) television sets to escape the conundrums of daily existence for at least a couple of hours each day” (Melodrama as Ambiguous Signifier: Latin American Telenovelas).

This quote is compelling, for both its recognition of the entertainment industry as well as its concern for the Latin American population. In class we discussed how the telenovela originated in Cuba and how production grew out of the cigar factories and later, the Cuban Revolution. To me, I find it interesting that such creative and cultural stories sprung forth out of the suffering and pain of a country. Whether a telenovela was created to acknowledge current societal issues or to purely entertain or mock cultural ideas, a telenovela is a unique expression of speech.

After living in the US for over 21 years now, when thinking about the entertainment industry, I immediately think of reality television. Reality television in the US is marketed primarily to women and it is not typically based on a theme or current social issue, something that sets it apart from telenovelas. Telenovelas serve a unique purpose–they entertain while also allowing the viewers to connect with the characters. This relationship between the viewers and the characters gives a telenovela the power it needs to become a dominating and infiltrating work within society.

What fascinates me about the telenovela industry the most though is the growth that can be seen over the past few years. Telenovelas have developed and adapted with the changing times, meaning that their themes have changed with the rise of new cultural ideas. For example, telenovelas about drug cartels and homosexuality are common nowadays, whereas several years ago they were not.

As we discussed in class, countries around the world compete with each other to produce the most popular telenovela. In fact, it appears that a country’s telenovela production serves as a great source of pride. Mexico, a country that only watches their own telenovelas, is a perfect example. Generally, though, and despite the competition and differing preferences among producers, telenovelas have the ability to cross borders and address ideas and social issues that not only apply to one country, but to humankind in general.

Below I have pulled three photos to represent the telenovela titled, Betty la fea, a Colombian original. Using humor as a central theme, Betty la fea, has been very successful in many countries around the world. It’s a great example of a popular telenovela that gained its success by having a simple and relatable storyline with strong characters.

Below are three photos representing a few of the varying versions of Betty la fea, each with a unique twist to fit the particular country:

United States
Overall, I find it interesting to see how a simple idea for a telenovela evolved into an international favorite among viewers. In my opinion, I think it is because the show doesn’t just address issues of a particular culture, but rather it addresses and mocks issues affecting all of mankind. Altogether, this illustrates the power and influence of the telenovela.

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