Monday, October 5, 2015

Why Micaela?

Last class, we discussed in great depth the character of Micaela in the telenovela La mujer perfecta. As a character with Asperger’s Syndrome, Micaela plays a unique role in the telenovela as well as in Venezuelan society in which the telenovela was created for. In Dr. A’s article titled “Dear Micaela: Studying a Telenovela Protagonist with Asperger’s Syndrome,” she writes the following:

“Through your literal way of
looking at the world and your unbridled honesty,
the audience heard about “the symptoms of love,”19
 experienced alongside you the process of your diagnosis,
your first kiss, the first time you made love, your wedding,
the difficulties of married life, your perplexity at being
pregnant, and your decision to become an activist for the
inclusion of people with autism and Asperger’s. In hundreds
of scenes you made the audience fall in love with you
thanks to your absence of malice, prodigious memory,
struggle to learn how to decipher the world, and your love
for Santiago. The Asperger community, in particular, was
pleased and grateful.”

After reading this paragraph, one can attempt to understand the life in which Micaela lives. As an autistic woman, she struggles with social interactions, she does not understand humor and she approaches life honestly and logically. However, what makes Micaela so lovable is the perspective of life that she brings to the table. Prior to this telenovela, Venezuela and other Latin American countries did not understand people with Asperger’s Syndrome. People did not understand the medical condition and as a result, did not treat autistic individuals nicely or respectfully. Those with Asperger’s Syndrome were considered “the other” and were oftentimes excluded and ignored in society. Following the airing of La mujer perfecta though, families and children with connections to Asperger’s Syndrome were very appreciative. They responded positively and thought that Micaela’s character was presented fairly and appropriately by the producer, Leonardo Padrón.

What really fascinates me with Micaela’s character is one, the amount of research and effort that went into her creation. Being able to accurately present the disease in a telenovela so that viewers understand and gain an appreciation for people with differences, is difficult and challenging. Especially in a country where the government plays a major role in the development and production of telenovelas, there are limitations to what can and cannot be done or said. People also had so many preconceptions about the disease that the telenovela had to find a way to completely tear down the walls of Venezuelan citizens. Dr. A explains in her article:

“You needed to come into the world with as many reinforcements
as possible in the form of research and acting talent
because we knew that you would be born into a critical context.
The Venezuelan telenovela industry had been sliding
down a slope made slippery by the political context in a
country whose government increasingly controls everything,
especially media content (Ram.rez Alvarado, 2007)
through the legal instrument known as the Law of Social
Responsibility in Radio and Television (Ley Resorte;
Venezuela, 2010), a restrictive media content law.”

The second reason I enjoy Micaela’s character is because Micaela transgressed public perception and opinion and caused viewers to reflect on their own lives. As a character, Micaela was powerful and changed public perception in dramatic ways. However, I want to pose an idea–what if Micaela’s character had been a male? Would the telenovela had had the same success? Would people have criticized his behavior more than hers? Would he have appeared weak and not masculine enough for society, causing the citizens of a “machisimo” dominated society to be displeased?

In my opinion, Micaela worked as a female actress because she was carefully created. Despite, the nature of her condition and the new perspective she brought into public attention, I wonder if viewers had an easier time commiserating with her because she was female. Because of her disease, she could have been seen as vulnerable and weak, something many people automatically attribute to women to an extent. So, were viewers alright with Micaela (the protagonist) having the disease because it complements the female role in society as well? Or were they truly fascinated and pleased with the representation of Asperger’s Syndrome? I think giving a male actor the disease would have had a very different response. What do you think?


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  2. It would have been different if a male protagonist had been created. Then, again, the point of the show was to raise awareness of Asperger's/Autism in Venezuela, so I think that gender would not have made much difference. As someone with Cerebral Palsy, I am glad that Leonardo Padron was able to create a telenovela in which the disabled are not stereotyped like they were in the past. If only If only other shows and films would combine the same attention to detail and tact as Padron did.

  3. Kelly, I liked your thought-provoking ideas presented here. You pose a really valid question: was the success of Micaela as a character and advocate for the Asperger's community due in part to her identity as a female? Honestly, this is something I hadn't considered yet in our discussion of "La Mujer Perfecta", but I'm glad you brought it to my attention. As you said, especially in the midst of the machismo-centered culture, this could be an influencing factor. Another aspect of Micaela that seems endearing is her innocence to the world around her, which may be the "struggle to learn how to deciper the world" that Dr. A mentioned in her article, and I think that's also what the audience was drawn to. As far as answering your question, honestly the audience reaction likely would've been different with a male protagonist. However, at the same time, there are such a wide number of factors that go into how the audience responds: the actual talent/acting abilities, beauty code, chemistry with other actors, the personality of the character, etc. So, maybe if it had been scripted in a different way, the audience would've possibly been accepting and understanding of a male protagonist with the same disease? I feel like sometimes it's really difficult to predict ratings and what will work or not. But, everything you suggested is great evidence that it wouldn't have affected viewers to the same degree of depth, empathy, and understanding as Micaela.

    Anthony, I agree! I'm glad that regardless of the female/male protagonist question, Padrón still achieved his primary goal: raising awareness and stirring compassion and change in an environment that held deep-seated stereotypes and potentially unfair/false assessments of people different from themselves. I am amazed at the huge amount of weight telenovelas can carry; after taking this class, I honestly believe they have the power to make bold social and political statements that can genuinely alter society for the better. They can make us question what we claim as our reality and further develop a more inclusive and accepting culture.

    I'm interested in watching "La Mujer Perfecta" all the way through next because just based off of the clips we watched in class and our discussions, I am impressed by it and its impact.