Figure 1: El derecho de nacer, radionovela del cubano Félix B. Caignet
2 Lights, camera, accion
2.1 -Someday soon, those melodramatic moments filmed in Miami may even reach the very country that has been shy to embrace the genre: the United States.
2.2 -In any language.
2.3 -Telenovelas aren't just a Latin American phenomenon.
3 The Telenovelas of Venevision International
3.1 -Venezuela’s Murdoch
3.2 -Venevision International
3.3 -SACRIFICIO DE MUJER
3.4 - LA MUJER PERFECTA (THE PERFECT WOMAN)
3.5 - PECADORA (SINNER)
3.6 -SALVADOR DE MUJERES (A KNOCKOUT LOVER)
4 Telenovelas and National Identity in Brazil
4.1 -Telenovelas, hegemony, and national identity
4.2 -Telenovelas, modernization, and the authoritarian state (1964-1973)
4.3 -Telenovelas and political opening: reconstructing the imagined nation (1973-1985)
4.4 -Telenovelas and the initial period of democratization (1985-1993)
4.5 -Telenovelas and the deepening of democracy in Brazil (1993-?)
4.6 -Some conclusions
5 Drugs, Thugs, and Divas: Telenovelas and Narco-Dramas in Latin America
The telenovela is a form of melodramatic serialized fiction produced and aired in most Latin American countries. These programs have traditionally been compared to English language soap operas and even though the two genres share some characteristics and similar roots, the telenovela in the last three decades has evolved into a genre with its own unique characteristics. For example, telenovelas in most Latin American countries are aired in prime-time six days a week, attract a broad audience across age and gender lines, and command the highest advertising rates. They last about six months and come to a climactic close.
Telenovelas generally vary from 180 to 200 hundred episodes, but sometimes specific telenovelas might be extended for a longer period due to successful ratings. The first telenovelas produced in Latin American in the 1950s were shorter, lasting between fifteen and twenty episodes and were shown a few times a week. As they became more popular and more technologically sophisticated, they were expanded, becoming the leading genre in the daily prime-time schedule.
Unlike U.S. soap operas that tend to rely on the family as a central unit of the narrative, Latin American telenovelas focus on the relation between a romantic couple as the main motivator for plot development. During the early phases of their evolution in Latin American, until the mid- 1960s, most telenovelas relied on conventional melodramatic narratives in which the romantic couple confronted opposition to their staying together. As the genre progressed in different nations at different rhythms they it became more attuned to local culture. The Peruvian telenovela Simplemente Maria, for example, a version of the Cinderella story, dealt with the problems of urban migration. The Brazilian telenovela, Beto Rockfeller presented the story of an anti-hero who worked as a shoe shop employee and pretended to be a millionaire getting simultaneously involved with two women, one rich and one poor. This telenovela appears to have led to the most dramatic changes in that nation's genre. It became an immediate hit in 1968. It introduced the use of colloquial dialogue. It presented social satire. And it offered new stylistic elements, such as the use of actual events in the plot, more natural acting, and improvisation.
The Globo network, Brazil's largest, which was only beginning to produce telenovelas in the late 1960s, soon took the lead and imposed these new trends upon the telenovela market. Indeed, Globo, owes it international recognition and economic powerhouse status to the telenovela. In the 1970s, Globo invested heavily in the quality of its telenovelas, using external locations traditionally avoided because of production costs. And Globo's export success forced other producers in the region to implement changes in production values and modernize their narratives to remain competitive. Mexico, for example, after dominating the international market for several years, had to adapt its telenovelas according to the influences of the main competitors, especially Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela.
There are important national distinctions within the genre in the areas of topic selection, structure and production values and there are also clear distinctions between the telenovelas produced in the 1960s and the 1990s, in terms of content as well as in production values. As Patricia Aufderheide has pointed out, recent telenovelas in Brazil "dealt with bureaucratic corruption, single motherhood and the environment; class differences are foregrounded in Mexican novelas and Cuba's novelas are bitingly topical as well as ideologically correct." In Colombia, recent telenovelas have dealt with the social violence of viewers' daily lives, but melodramatic plots that avoid topical issues are becoming more popular. In Brazil the treatment of racism is surfacing in telenovelas after being considered a taboo subject for several years.
The roots of the Latin American telenovelas go back to the radio soap operas produced in the United States, but they were also influenced by the serialized novels published in the local press. The origins of the melodramatic serialized romance date back to the sentimental novel in 18th century England, as well as 19th century French serialized novels, the "feuilletons." In late 19th and early 20th centuries, several Latin American countries also published local writers' novels in a serialized form. However the proliferation of radionovelas, that would latter provide personnel as well as expertise to telenovela producers started in Cuba in the late 1930s. According to Katz and Wedell, Colgate and Sydney Ross Company were responsible for the proliferation of radionovelas in pre-Castro Cuba. In the beginning stages of telenovelas in Latin America, in the 1950s, Cuba was an important exporter of the genre to the region, providing actors, producers and also screenplays. U.S. multinational corporations and advertising agencies were also instrumental in disseminating the new genre in the region. Groups such as U.S. Unilever were interested in expanding their market to housewives by promoting telenovelas which contained their own product tie-ins. Direct influence of the United States on the growth and development of telenovela in the region subsides after the mid-1960s, and the genre slowly evolved in different directions in different countries. In the 1950s and early 1960s, telenovelas were primarily adaptations of novels and other literary forms, and only a few Latin American scriptwriters constructed original narratives. By the late 1960s local markets started producing their own stories, bringing in local influences, and shaping the narratives to particular audiences.
Presently the leading telenovela producers in the region are Televisa, Venevision, and Globo, the leading networks in Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil respectively. These networks not only produce telenovelas for the local market but also export to other Latin American nations and to the rest of the world. Televisa, for instance, is the leading supplier of telenovelas to the Spanish-speaking market in the United States. By 1988, Brazil had exported telenovelas to more than 128 countries. The more recent trend among telenovela producers in the region is to engage in co-productions with other nations, to guarantee better access to the international market.
2.Lights, camera, accion
With the Spanish-language soap operas watched across the world, telenovela productions and writing and acting classes have begun showing up in Miami.
Pedro Jose Donoso lived a long life, filled with money and property and a beautiful young fiancee named Isabel. Then he died, unexpectedly.
Not ready to settle into the afterlife, Pedro is reincarnated - conveniently as a hunky, shirtless, raven-haired servant in his former household - and strives to reclaim his Isabel.
Here's what Pedro discovered: His business associates didn't respect him, his daughter from a previous marriage was miserable and his fiancee, well, let's just say she was a lying, cheating gold-digger.
Pedro's quest has unfolded on the Spanish language network Telemundo over the past four months, in 130 episodes, five nights a week. It carries the arresting title of El Cuerpo del Deseo (Body of Desire).
It's the latest offering in a sea of so-called telenovelas, the name for the salacious Spanish-language soap operas seen by upwards of 2-billion people worldwide. But Cuerpo is among the vanguard of novelas: Historically, novelas are filmed in Colombia, Mexico and Brazil then sold to the networks, but Cuerpo is filmed entirely in Miami.
Miami's interest in telenovelas doesn't stop with Cuerpo. A half-dozen other novelas have been filmed here recently, and in the past year, telenovela acting and writing classes have sprung up at different schools in Miami. Everyone, from network giant Telemundo (which is owned by NBC and General Electric) to an acting school in Venezuela, is hoping to cash in on a multibillion-dollar, cross-cultural industry.
"I think TV executives would love to see Miami as a whole other production center to rival Latin America," said Joseph Straubhaar, a communications professor at the University of Texas who has studied the cultural significance of telenovelas. "Miami may become the hub point to create programming for Hispanics."
But telenovelas aren't just for Spanish speakers; they are sold to networks from Indonesia to Bosnia, where viewers are just as passionate - maybe more so - about the novelas' campy humor, social commentary and steamy love scenes.
2.1 -Someday soon, those melodramatic moments filmed in Miami may even reach the very country that has been shy to embrace the genre: the United States.
It's no surprise that there is a rapt audience for telenovelas among the Latinos in Miami, a city that is largely populated by Cuban immigrants.
The novela's roots sprouted in Cuba, where the art of storytelling is almost as much of a pastime as salsa dancing. For decades, cigar rollers listened as lectores read literature in installments on the factory floor. Radio ushered in new, serialized dramas.
But in 1959, two things happened to allow the telenovela genre to flourish: the growing popularity of television and Fidel Castro. When Castro came to power, scores of Cuban writers, producers, directors and actors fled the country.
Their creativity - and their serialized TV dramas - spread throughout Latin America.
"Castro didn't realize he was kickstarting the capitalist media," joked Straubhaar.
Since then, novelas have become a staple in Latin America, with entire families gathering around the television five nights a week. (Some novelas boast a 90 percent share of the viewing market, an unheard-of figure in the United States).
And viewing habits don't change because of immigration. In August, a telenovela called La Madrastra (The Stepmother) was the No. 1-rated show in New York City.
2.2-In any language.
""No te pongas la mano en la boca," says Aquiles Ortega. He looks at a lined, yellow pad of paper that is crammed with writing. ""Cuidado con las pausas."
His student, a wide-eyed, 19-year-old Venezuelan named Silverio Lozada, nods slowly. He had put his hand to his mouth while acting the scene. And he didn't take many pauses while speaking. He needs to practice more.
A shapely young woman sashays into the room. She is wearing a tiny black skirt and a flesh-colored tube top. She swings her golden hair. Ortega and Lozada don't notice the woman, who is a student just like Lozada. Bombshells don't attract much attention: All the women are bombshells in telenovelas.
Ortega finishes a 10-minute critique on Lozada's monologue, then calls for another student to begin. The bombshell student takes the stage, then goes through her different roles: a sexy flight attendant, a woman with cancer and a seductress who happens to be doing door-to-door surveys.
Ortega is something of a guru in telenovela circles. Not only did he act in several telenovelas in his native Venezuela, but he taught at one of the country's foremost acting schools, the Centro Internacional Formacion Actoral Luz Columba (the Luz Columba International Center for Creating Actors).
Miami's new stature in the telenovela world has prompted the school to open a branch here earlier this year. Ortega was sent to run it. Classes are held three nights a week in a downtown high-rise, and they don't come cheap: a yearlong program costs about $5,000.
It's not the only school in Miami to cater to novelas; Miami Dade College has script-writing workshops in Spanish for those who want to break into the genre. More than 4,000 people applied for 30 slots.
It is the dream for almost every student at Luz Columba to act in a telenovela. Unlike U.S. soap operas, in which the stars are largely invisible, a telenovela star can achieve international fame.
Another way U.S. soaps differ from telenovelas: novelas have a beginning, middle and end. Soaps go on for decades (think Guiding Light, which has been on the air since 1952) - or at least until advertisers and viewers tire of the show.
"American soap operas are, like, really long," said Ivania Rodriguez, a 22-year-old from El Salvador who also attends the telenovela classes. "Latin soaps are so much more dramatic. Americans are not that used to drama."
Folks in the United States are also not used to many of the themes in novelas. In this country, we have become accustomed to ignoring class differences - our TV is largely populated by well-to-do urbanites - while telenovelas often feature social commentary, such as the plight of poor rural workers.
Rodriguez points out that the "Cinderella story" - a poor woman rising above the odds to find money and love - is popular in novelas. When asked if she would like to star in such a role, she flutters her eyelashes without a trace of irony.
"Well, yeah," she says.
2.3-Telenovelas aren't just a Latin American phenomenon.
They have gone global, with entire shows sold at top dollar to networks in Poland and Russia. Consider the wide and frenzied appeal of the genre:
During one five-year stretch, a Brazilian telenovela called Escrava Isaura, about a white woman made a slave by mistake, was the top-rated show - in Poland.
The novela Los Ricos Tambien Lloran (The Rich Also Cry) was more popular than the U.S. soap Santa Barbara - in Russia.
The Colombian hit Betty la Fea, was rewritten and repackaged into Verliebt in Berlin - and was wildly popular in Germany.
Xavier Aristimuno is a Miami-based distributor of telenovelas and other Latin American TV programming. His company, Bamboo TV, specializes in distributing the shows to Asia.
Aristimuno recalls that he was lunching at a tiny beachside cafe in Bali, Indonesia, in 2001, when he mentioned to the waitress that his company was involved with the production of Cassandra, a popular novela filmed in Colombia and broadcast in Bali.
"Within 20 minutes, I had the whole village around me," said Aristimuno. "They knew more about the story than I did."
To be sure, the United States still has a grip on most television exports. But according to professor Straubhaar, the themes of the telenovela resonate across language barriers.
"It's the similarity of the social experience: emerging democracies, rapid industrialization and the stresses that go with it," he said.
Or, as Aristimuno puts it: "It's always a love story, and love stories work the same all around the world."
Dallas was probably the closest that the United States has ever come to a novela, said Straubhaar. When that show was exported to Latin America, it flopped.
"The reaction was, "we do that already, and we do it better,' " he said.
But melodrama fans in the United States should stay tuned: an English-language telenovela is in the works.
Earlier this month, FremantleMedia, the London-based production company of the popular American Idol and The Apprentice TV shows told Variety that it plans to slowly introduce the novela concept in America.
FremantleMedia chief executive officer Tony Cohen told the entertainment newspaper that the first U.S. novela will be on the air by summer 2007.
Said Cohen: "We hope this love story format will sweep around the world."
3.-The Telenovelas of Venevision International
With a fortune of more than $4 billion, Gustavo Cisneros likes to promote the notion of himself as the wealthiest man in Latin America and the most powerful media baron of the continent, a Latino equivalent to Murdoch or Berlusconi. Since 1961 the Organización Cisneros has owned Venevisión, the main commercial tv channel in Venezuela—best known abroad for its rabid opposition to Chávez during the 2002 coup, and ceaseless denunciation of his supporters as ‘mobs’ and ‘monkeys’. From the 1980s he has extended his empire across Latin America to include Chile’s Chilevisión and Colombia’s Caracol tv, with a major stake in DirecTV Latin America, whose satellite beams a diet of sport, game-shows, telenovelas and predigested news to twenty Latin American countries. He also has a lucrative share in Univisión, the main Spanish-language channel for the United States, and a joint Latin American internet connection venture with aol-TimeWarner.
Like many wealthy Latin Americans, Cisneros is a chameleon when it comes to nationality. Nominally a Venezuelan—he was born in Caracas in 1945, to an entrepreneurial Cuban father and Venezuelan mother—he was educated and served his media apprenticeship in the us. But he is also a citizen of Spain, at the personal request of King Juan Carlos; an American in New York, a Cuban in Miami, and a Dominican in the Dominican Republic, where his pricipal base—the Casa Bonita, close to the La Ramona beach resort—is within a golfer’s swing of the retreats of other billionaires of Cuban extraction, grown rich on the profits of sugar, rum and real estate. Cisneros’s cosmopolitan lifestyle allows him to escape the limited horizons of a Latin American country that traditionally plays in a minor league. A Venezuelan, according to a long-standing and disrespectful Latin American joke, is a Panamanian who thinks he is an Argentinian. Like so many rich Spanish Americans, Cisneros has always found his own country too small for his talents and too insecure for his accumulated fortune. As one of the shadowy figures providing American capitalism with local muscle outside the United States, he is a striking illustration of why there is no national bourgeoisie in Venezuela. Cisneros is bound hand and foot to the empire, and has been handsomely repaid.
No slouch at self-promotion, Cisnero can now boast a glowing biography by Pablo Bachelet, replete with an introductory panegyric from the liberal Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes. Bachelet’s motives in this project—he is a half-Chilean, Washington-based financial journalist, ex-Dow Jones, currently Reuters—can hardly be in doubt. Bachelet has had privileged access to the Cisneros family, and most of his account—an undemanding read—is drawn verbatim from the insights of Gustavo himself, who presumably also provided the smiling photographs of ‘the global empresario’ with the Pope, the Dalai Lama, Kissinger, Deng Xiaoping, Walesa, Mandela, Thatcher, Netanyahu, Agnelli and, of course, Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush. Why Fuentes, once a pillar of progressive writing in Latin America and an early supporter of the Cuban Revolution, should choose to hitch his wagon to such a figure as Cisneros, when similar literary turncoats in the Anglophone or European spheres would baulk at playing such a role for Murdoch or Berlusconi, can only be explained by the Latin American context.
Gustavo was the fourth son of Diego Cisneros, already an important entrepreneur in Caracas. On the death of his Cuban father, young Diego had gone with his Venezuelan mother to Trinidad, and was educated there as a British-Dominion schoolboy. He moved to Caracas as a young man and soon, with considerable charm and fluent English, became a salesman for us auto firms, selling Chryslers and Studebakers to a burgeoning Venezuelan market in the 1930s, while running a bus service to Catia, a working-class hilltop suburb of Caracas, out of a fleet of converted trucks. The Cisneros fortunes took off at the beginning of the Second World War when the family acquired the rights to bottle and distribute Pepsi Cola. According to local legend (though Bachelet does not mention the episode), Diego’s men pushed Coca Cola’s lorries over a cliff, thereby depriving his rival of their unmistakeable skirt-shaped bottles, unobtainable until after peace was declared. Pepsi swiftly moved to Number One and—uniquely in Latin America—remained in that position in Venezuela for years to come. As Bachelet approvingly relates, Cisneros pére soon brought under his control every product involved in Pepsi’s production: glass, bottles, bottle tops, sugar, carbolic acid, crates and packaging. Later the company began operating in other countries in Latin America, first Colombia and then Brazil. In the 1950s, Diego moved into radio and the embryonic television industry, and in 1961 founded a new channel, Venevisión, which was to become Gustavo’s special preoccupation.
The Cisneros company of the 1950s and 60s was centrally placed to act as an outrider for American capital. As such, it became part of a new elite in Venezuela that flourished through the state’s (more properly, the political parties’) liberal distribution of rising oil rents. The landed oligarchy had waned in wealth and power from the early years of the twentieth century, as agriculture began a steep decline. With expanding urbanization and public-sector employment, private profits in the postwar period were tied to the rising trade in imported—above all American—goods. The project of the Cisneros family, like those of other entrepreneurial white settler families in many Latin American countries, was to bring the particular comforts of us civilization—its foods, its culture, its forms of relaxation, its beauty products—to Latin America’s growing middle class.
Diego Cisneros was a good friend of Rómulo Betancourt, founder leader of Acción Democrática, who had helped him with the launch of Venevisión. The family would be in close touch with Acción Democrática’s subsequent leaders as they took their turn with those of copei, the other principal bourgeois party, in the Tweedledum–Tweedledee rotations that constituted Venezuelan democracy for four decades after 1958; and in particular with the notoriously corrupt Carlos Andrés Pérez, president both in the boom years of the mid-70s and at the crisis-ridden turn of the 90s, when he was hounded out of office for misappropriation of funds. Another vital ally was the powerful Acción Democrática banker Pedro Tinoco, who played the role of consigliere for the Cisneros family in its dealings with us companies. Tinoco would serve as Venezuelan Finance Minister from 1969–72, and as chairman of the Central Bank under Pérez from 1989–92. He died just before the fall of the Banco Latino, of which he had been president, triggered the Venezuelan financial crisis of 1994.
The 25-year-old Gustavo took over the family business in 1970 when his father was incapacitated by a stroke. He had graduated from Babson College in 1968, and then spent two years working at abc Television in Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. In 1970, in a ‘simple ceremony’ at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, he made a successful dynastic marriage to Patty Phelps, whose American father had, like Diego Cisneros, established himself in Caracas as a salesman for Ford Motors, Singer Sewing Machines and Underwood Typewriters. The Phelps were also the founding owners of Radio Caracas, whose tv branch, rctv, was the main competitor to Venevisión.
Through the 1970s, oil-rich Venezuela was flooded with petro-dollars. Political connections could not quite secure Cisneros’s ambitious 1975 bid for a string of petrochemical plants, to be part-financed by the state. Bachelet sadly reports that ‘it was not enough to have convinced the president’: despite Carlos Andrés Pérez’s support, Cisneros’s Pentacom project was blocked by strong opposition from deputies—unnamed in Bachelet’s rather opaque account—who felt it would hand a strategic Venezuelan industry over to transnational companies. But fortuitously in 1976 the Latin American supermarket empire of the Rockefeller family was broken up under the rules of the Andean Pact. Aided by Tinoco, the Cisneros family snapped up the Venezuelan branch, acquiring 48 supermarkets and a dozen soda fountains at a stroke. They were now able to integrate the various Cisneros interests, using one to promote the other. Products available in their cada supermarkets were soon displayed on Venevisión, by now the country’s dominant tv channel. Stars of the new soap operas pioneered by Venevisión were mobilized to drink Cisneros-franchise champagne and to use Cisneros shampoo. Before long the soda fountains acquired from Rockefeller had been re-branded as Burger King; the franchises for Taco Bell and Pizza Hut were also acquired and promoted on tv, followed by the local chain of Sears, Roebuck department stores, later renamed Maxys.
Always modern and American, the Cisneros family were early promoters of mild pornography, acquiring the ‘Miss Venezuela Organization’ that groomed aspiring models for national and international beauty competitions. The scantily clad women, all spookily white in a country of Indians and blacks, not only appeared regularly in Maxys and on Venevisión but were also the vehicle for promoting the Cisneros goods available in the Cisneros supermarkets. As Cisneros’s nephew Carlos would later boast, when purchasing the Latin American rights to Playboy tv: ‘We understood that [Playboy] was the single biggest treasure that had not been taken from the United States to Latin America, because everybody assumed it’s a very Catholic continent.’
The massive oil revenues of the 1970s had gone to shore up a vast patronage network for Venezuela’s rulers, as well as a scattering of showpiece infrastructural projects. As oil prices began to fall, the Pérez and then Herrera governments sought to sustain the ad–copei dyarchy through increased borrowing. The country’s external debt spiralled dramatically after the hike in us interest rates in 1979, reaching $31bn in 1982—almost double the figure for 1978. The economy contracted sharply, inflation rose and capital flight accelerated, creating pressures the overvalued bolívar could not withstand. The results were the exchange controls and devaluation of 1983, which Bachelet discusses only in terms of the impact—‘a harsh blow’—on the elites whose greed had helped bring it about. According to Julia Buxton in her essay, ‘Economic Policy and the Rise of Chávez’, the new controls revealed that favoured ‘clients’ of the governing parties had siphoned off some $11bn in foreign-currency reserves to fund their cheap dollars. During the six years in which the exchange controls were in place real salaries fell by 20 per cent, public spending collapsed, unemployment rose to double digits and inflation reached 40 per cent. In 1978 only 10 per cent of Venezuelans lived in poverty; by 1988 the figure was 39 per cent.
The response of Cisneros and his ilk was, of course, capital flight. Briskly citing Cisneros’s motto: ‘The greatest and best opportunities arise from crises’, Bachelet turns to detail Cisneros’s investments overseas. In 1984 he bought Spalding, the giant us sporting chain, and then Galerías Preciados in Madrid, another flagship store. The outcome was disastrous: the British real-estate developer whom Cisneros had hoped to rope into the deal went down in the Wall Street crash of 1987, and in lieu of cash Cisneros was lumbered with a prestigious plot next to St Paul’s Cathedral in London, on which the specious architectural attentions of the Prince of Wales were already fixed. Cisneros, obsequiously anxious to please the Prince but keener still for the cash the development would produce, presented Charles with the plans for the site drawn up by Arup, in the ultra-modernist residence of the British Ambassador in Caracas. The Prince excoriated the Arup scheme, demanding lower buildings and fewer shops, and Cisneros was forced to abandon the project.
By 1988 real wages had fallen by 40 per cent, and the cost of servicing the debt had risen to $5bn a year. That December, Carlos Andrés Pérez was re-elected as President after a campaign designed to conjure the free-spending boom years of his 1970s term. Once installed, however, Pérez switched tack, pledged himself to an imf-dictated Structural Adjustment Programme and implemented a raft of neoliberal measures, cutting public-service subsidies and rescinding price controls. Within a year, the economy contracted by 8 per cent. General poverty rose from 44 per cent in 1988 to 67 per cent in 1989, and extreme poverty from 14 to 30 per cent in the same period. When bus fares shot up to reflect the rising cost of petrol in February 1989, Caracas exploded in a fiesta of looting and rioting. Four of the Cisneros supermarkets were sacked. The uprising, known as the Caracazo, was eventually crushed by the army, with more than a thousand people killed.
Defending Pérez’s ‘sober package of measures’, Bachelet admits that ‘Venezuela had not been prepared during the election campaign to confront the truth’. But his principal concern is his hero’s fortune. The Caracazo was a turning point for Cisneros. It made him realize that his wealth was no longer safe in Caracas. His simple and lucrative role as the handmaiden of us capitalism there was under serious threat. The Venezuelan state itself was collapsing, its timbers rotted from within. He decided he would have to move the bulk of his family’s fortune out of the country. As shock therapy continued, the economy shrank further and poverty rates continued to worsen. In February 1992 the then Colonel Chávez launched an unsuccessful coup d’etat aimed at halting the neoliberal juggernaut Pérez had set in motion. Cisneros placed Venevisión at Pérez’s disposal, and the President’s broadcast on the day of the coup saved his political life. But such was Pérez’s unpopularity that it rubbed off on the tv station. Audience figures dropped dramatically, with a consequent loss of advertising revenue, and the station only regained prime position when it broadcast the football World Cup from the United States in 1994.
In the spring 1993 Pérez’s government collapsed amid accusations that he had misappropriated 250m bolívares ($2.8m) of government funds—an episode Bachelet discreetly veils, wringing his hands instead over the onset of instability in Venezuela’s democracy. Fresh elections were held in December, in which Acción Democrática was defeated; Cisneros had lost his ally in the Miraflores Palace. Then, in January 1994, the country’s principal bank, the Banco Latino, was taken into receivership, threatening the savings of the middle class. The Cisneros family was heavily implicated in the debacle: their friend Tinoco had been the bank’s President, and had invited Gustavo’s brother Ricardo onto its Board. The flurry of accusations against his brother prompted Cisneros to make a public appearance on Venevisión, denouncing the campaign against his kin and the pain it had caused him. Though Bachelet glides rapidly over the scandal, content to let Cisneros’s fraternal feelings take the place of facts, the blow to the Cisneros reputation was considerable. The effect on the country’s economy was far worse. The Rafael Caldera government poured 12 per cent of the 1994 gdp into stabilizing the country’s financial system. Capital flight and currency devaluation led to inflation rates of over 70 per cent and even deeper public-spending cuts.
Cisneros’s moves to get his stock out of Venezuela now went into top gear. He sold off his Pepsi operation to its rival, Coke—dismaying free-market sentimentalists, and proving once again that there is no honour among thieves—and Maxys and the cada supermarkets to a Colombian chain; he even got rid of Spalding. He reinvested the proceeds in the us-based Pueblo Xtra supermarkets, with outlets in less disturbed regions like Florida and Puerto Rico, and began to move his funds out of the earlier vehicles of mass consumption—supermarkets, burger joints, ice cream, shampoo—and into the income-generators of a new era: television, telecommunications, the internet, popular music and, of course, their accompaniments, soft drinks and beer.
From this fire sale, Venevisión was exempted. It had proved its worth through the international success of its telenovelas, which moved out of the limited Latin American market in the 1990s to find a niche all over the globe. Their tacky formula proved irresistible: an aspirational story-line, tear-jerking emotional drama and dollops of soft porn. Based on this triumph, Cisneros had high hopes of buying into the us tv market, with its millions of Latino viewers. His friend Emilio Azcárraga, owner of Mexico’s Televisa, had already made a stab at this in the 1980s, setting up a company known as Univisión, but had been forced to sell in 1986 after a run-in with the us Federal Communications Commission over its foreign ownership. Fifteen years Cisneros’s senior, Azcárraga was otherwise a similar figure: the son of a local magnate, who consolidated and expanded the family business into a pan-Latin American operation; Bachelet mentions Azcárraga’s frequent yachting trips to see Cisneros in the Dominican Republic. Cisneros now helpfully proposed a joint venture between himself, Azcárraga and an American partner, to placate the fcc. The deal was clinched in 1992, and Univisión began broadcasting to us Latinos the fare—telenovelas, vacuous talk-shows, ‘news’—that had originated in Venezuela and Mexico. This might be considered cultural imperialism in reverse, but in practice the programming was already highly Americanized, and was now merely regurgitated to a us Latino audience already familiar with the recipe. Ironically, Venevisión was now obliged to introduce a multi-ethnic dimension into its programmes—wholly unfamiliar in the white racist atmosphere of Caracas, but a sine qua non in the contemporary culture of the United States.
By 1996 the limping Caldera government was forced to turn to the imf. The brutal ‘Venezuela Accord’ lifted price controls, inter alia, and inflation rose to over 100 per cent. By the end of the year generalized poverty was 86 per cent and extreme poverty 65 per cent. These were salad days for Cisneros. He soon took over Azcárraga’s share-holding of Univisión and, with the United States under his belt, began buying up tv stations in Latin America, notably Chilevisión in Chile and Caracol tv in Colombia. In 1995 he set up DirecTV as a joint venture with Hughes Communications, an offshoot of General Motors. Despite entering the market at the same time as Rupert Murdoch’s Sky, which had already made a deal with Televisa and Roberto Marinho’s Globo in Brazil, within five years DirecTV had over a million subscribers. It was at this stage that Cisneros turned his attention to the internet, launching his joint venture to extend aol’s coverage to Latin America.
By the time of the 1998 Venezuelan election the political establishment had been utterly discredited. Imprisoned for two years after the failed coup, Chávez had gained considerable popular support for his rejection of neoliberal orthodoxy and outspoken defence of the poor—by now the mass of the population. He was swept to power in December 1998 with 56 per cent of the vote. Cisneros was among those of the country’s financial oligarchs who hoped the untested officer could be bent to their will. On election night they met in friendly fashion at Venevisión’s studios, and Bachelet reports subsequent conversations with the new President in which Cisneros professed his attachment to social solidarity. At a meeting Bachelet does not mention, Cisneros suggested that one of his men should take charge of the National Telecommunications Commission, a state regulator that could do much to assist the schemes of the Organización Cisneros. Chávez refused the offer. He planned to push through his programme to regenerate the country without the assistance of its traditional rulers, political or financial. In November 2001 he introduced a raft of legislation on land reform, hydrocarbons and social security. Cisneros soon joined the increasingly shrill elite opposition, complaining that the country had been taken over by a populist authoritarian, and pointing to the continuing economic woes—wrought, long before Chávez’s election, by a string of governments they had supported to the hilt.
Cisneros was a central member of the group that planned the Chávez overthrow of April 2002. On the night of April 11th, after Chávez had been removed from the Miraflores Palace at gunpoint, the principal conspirators gathered in Cisneros’s suite at Venevisión (for Bachelet, who seeks to distance Cisneros from the us-approved coup, this was simply a place where ‘political leaders, business men, union leaders and intellectuals came in time of crisis’). Early the next morning Pedro Carmona, head of the employers’ confederation, announced on tv from Fuerte Tiuna, the principal military base in the capital, that he was the new President—much to the surprise of Cisneros, according to Bachelet, who also finds it unnecessary to mention that on the following day, April 13th, Cisneros went to the Miraflores, already surrounded by an angry crowd demanding Chávez’s return. Carmona had recently announced the closure of the Congress and Supreme Court, as well as the suppression of the Constitution. Cisneros, arriving with local media representatives, suggested that the new government’s communications strategy should be left in their hands. Carmona gratefully accepted. Within minutes of Cisneros’s delegation leaving the Palace, however, the soldiers of the Presidential Guard re-took it, detaining some of the coup leaders while Carmona escaped.
Again, unreported by Bachelet, Cisneros gave orders that his channels should carry no news of the counter-coup, or show pictures of the tens of thousands of people descending from the shanty-towns to ensure the return of ‘their’ President—described by Bachelet as ‘a few counterdemonstrations in favour of the deposed head of state’. For the rest of the day, Cisneros’s screens were filled with old movies and cartoons. News of the events in the capital was carried only by cnn. Chávez’s return to power on April 14th did not deter Cisneros and other opposition supporters from attempting a further coup, this time by organizing a stoppage of the country’s oil industry in December 2002. Chávez survived both the oil stoppage—which cost the country an estimated $6bn—and a subsequent recall referendum in August 2004.
‘The day will come,’ Chávez declared in May 2004, at the start of the referendum campaign, ‘when we shall have a fearless team of judges who will act in line with the Constitution and imprison these mafia dons like Gustavo Cisneros.’ It is, of course, the existence of a radical Chávez government, presenting an alternative to the free-market project to which Fuentes and much of Latin America’s old left have now subscribed, that explains the liberal novelist’s rococo ode to the right-wing billionaire. Seen through Fuentes’s sycophantic binoculars, Cisneros is a model citizen, a visionary and ‘global’ entrepreneur. The peddler of soap operas, blondes and shampoo is lauded for creating a business culture in Latin America ‘comparable in depth and resilience’ to the continent’s aesthetic and literary traditions. His shabby real-estate deals in Madrid have ‘abolished the ocean’. He has been ‘a shield-bearer for the Spanish language in the heart of Anglo-America’. In his relations with us business, Cisneros has been ‘an adelantado’—the bold Spanish adventurer of the colonial era—‘of relations of mutual benefit’. Above all, when ‘obliged to play a political role in his native Venezuela’, Cisneros has provided a ‘democratic centre’ against the elected President, here (predictably) compared to Hitler, Mussolini and Perón. No mention is made of the form which this high-minded intervention took—the 2002 coup d’état that sought to close down Venezuela’s democracy, with Venevisión a major player in those events, on and off the screen, and Cisneros himself one of the principal shufflers of the pack.
In retrospect, Fuentes’s enthusiasm for Cisneros is not altogether surprising. As the son of a Mexican diplomat, Fuentes belongs to the same trans-cultural world as the Venezuelan entrepreneur. He too can be American in New York when occasion demands, or European in Paris and Madrid. His jaundiced view of Latin America’s revolutionary traditions has grown ever more pronounced over the years and clearly colours his attitude towards Chávez, condemned even before the Bolivarian revolution had begun. Such venom, often with an openly racist or elitist cast, is common enough not only among Latin America’s pampered, Americophile elite but also among its intellectual left.
Ironically, since the failure to oust the President in the 2004 recall referendum, Fuentes’s adelantado seems to have taken a more cynical-realist view. Chávez’s threat has always lain largely in his ability to pose an ideological alternative to that of the Washington consensus, backed up with a real, if patchy, extension of social provision; his redistributory measures have barely touched the fortunes that Cisneros and his ilk have reaped from ordinary Venezuelans, via decades of state corruption and crony banks. Later on in 2004, Cisneros engineered a meeting with Chávez through the mediation of Jimmy Carter. If Chávez would organize an entrée for Cisneros with the Lula government in Brazil, Venevisión’s anti-government propaganda would be calmed down. Cisneros has since stepped up his semi-charitable works in Venezuela, many of them overseen by his wife—a ‘magnificent ally’, in Fuentes’s words—whose collections of 20th-century European art and Latin American Abstract Expressionism have served to protect the Organización Cisneros with a substantial cultural veneer. Ever alert to changing fashions, Patty Phelps de Cisneros has become interested in the tribal peoples of the Orinoco, inviting celebrities to her holiday camp on the river and accumulating an immense collection of indigenous art and artefacts. Her concern for the area is paralleled by that of her husband, who owns a gold mine in the neighbouring state of Guayana, developed with Gold Fields Ltd., a South African company.
But if Cisneros has moved on from his panegyrist, he has provided Fuentes with a favour in return, one that surely outstrips the prologue writer’s nominal fee: that of a real-life character whose biography has imitated his own fiction. No novelist could ask for greater flattery. For the central figure in Fuentes’s early and most famous novel, The Death of Artemio Cruz, published in 1962, is a portrait of Cisneros avant la lettre: a man who takes his chances where he can, emerging as a corrupt and wealthy businessman, wielding power through his factories, his newspapers, his contacts and his fortune, acquired through:
zloans at short terms and high interest to peasants in Puebla, whose growth you foresaw; acres for sub-division in Mexico City, thanks to the friendly intervention of each succeeding president; the daily newspaper; the purchase of mining stock; the formation of Mexican–us enterprises in which you participated as front-man . . .
One whole wall of your office is covered by the map that shows the sweep and inter-relationships of your business network: the newspaper in Mexico City, and the real estate there and in Puebla, Guadalajara, Monterrey, Culiacán, Hermosillo, Guaymas, and Acapulco. The sulphur domes in Jáltipan, the mines in Hidalgo, the timber concessions in Tarahumara. The chain of hotels, the pipe foundry, the fish business. The financing operations, the stock holdings, the administration of the company formed to lend money to the railroad, the legal representation of North American firms, the directorship of banking houses, the foreign stocks—dyes, steel, and detergents; and one little item that does not appear on the wall: fifteen million dollars deposited in banks in Zürich, London, and New York.
When Cisneros too eventually lies on his death bed, perhaps he will conjure up the final moments of his alter ego:
Yes, you will sigh . . . twenty good years, years of progress, of peace and progress among the classes . . . twenty years of submissive Labour leaders, of broken strikes, of protection for industry. And now you will raise your hands to your stomach and to your head of greyed chestnut hair, to your oily face, and you will see yourself reflected in the glass top of your desk . . . as all sounds will suddenly flee, laughing, from your hearing, and the sweat of men will swirl around you and their bodies will suffocate you, and you will lose consciousness . . . and you will not know which events of your life will pass into your biography, or which will be suppressed and hidden; you won’t know . . . though you will be remembering other things, other days . . . days when destiny will sniff after you like a bloodhound and will find and frighten you.
Source: New Left Review
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3.3-SACRIFICIO DE MUJER
Cast: Marjorie De Sousa, Juan Alfonso Baptista, Geraldine Basan, Pablo Azar y Mariana Torres como Milagros. Con el primer actor Luis Jose Santander
Authors: Carlos Perez
Episodes: 120 aprox.
Directors: Adriana Barraza, Tito Rojas, Yaky Ortega y María Eugenia Perera
Excecutive Production: Peter Tinoco y Ana Teresa Arismendi
General Production:: Dulce Teran
For the past 20 years, Clemencia Astudillo has carried a sorrow so deep that nothing has been able to mitigate it. Although she is now a successful businesswoman with a stable marriage and three adopted children, she cannot forget that dreadful day when she woke up in a hospital –alone, helpless, and confused– to discover that her newborn baby girl had been stolen from her the night before.
Abandoned by the man she loved and robbed of the one thing that could make her happy, Clemencia’s life was completely shattered. Her only comfort came from an unexpected source: the doctor who treated her at the hospital. Captivated by Clemencia from the instant they met, Dr. Augusto Talamonti courted her relentlessly until she agreed to marry him.
Two decades later, Clemencia is a stern and bitter woman, at the helm of the company her husband inherited from his father. Nothing remains of that vulnerable, broken young girl… nothing except a constant yearning to find her lost daughter.
Little does Clemencia know that she’s only a few steps away—because the new employee she recently hired is none other than her daughter, Milagros, who grew up in an orphanage.
When Milagros and Clemencia’s adopted son, Enzo, fall in love, Clemencia welcomes her into the family. However, there are evil characters conspiring to tear the couple apart, and Clemencia falls for the lie that Milagros has deceived Enzo in the worst possible way. So she launches a brutal war against the young woman, unaware that she’s destroying her own daughter.
Meanwhile, the man who left Clemencia pregnant and alone so long ago reappears in her life. Luis Francisco Vilarte happens to be the half brother of Clemencia’s husband, and upon his return from living abroad he is shocked to find her married to Augusto. In spite of themselves, Luis Francisco and Clemencia find that the passion they once felt is still very much alive. It is also revealed that Luis Francisco never intended to leave her—they were victims of a cruel intrigue, just as Milagros and Enzo are today.
Confronted with her true feelings and reunited with her daughter at last, Clemencia has the chance to repair all the damage she has done so that Milagros and Enzo can be together again… while healing her own wounds and finding the happiness that has eluded her until now.
3.4-THE PERFECT WOMAN (LA MUJER PERFECTA)
Cast: Monica Apear, Ricardo Álamo, Ana Karina Manco, Eduardo Orozco; Marlene De Andrade; Manuel Sosa, Marisa Román, Flavio Gleske, Jean Carlo Simancas, Mari
Authors: Leonardo Padrón
Episodes: 120 aprox.
Directors: Cesar Bolívar
Excecutive Production: Carolina de Jacovo
General Production:: Francisco De Pasquale
This is the story of six women who live in a country where many want to become what men dream of: the perfect woman. To that end, they’ll try anything: plastic surgery, exercise, diets, Botox. But it is also, and most of all, a story about different types of love, the reign of vanity, social exclusion, ambition, fame and its delusions, ego worship, and the role of family as a person’s strength and support.
Micaela Gómez holds the unusual record of never having fallen in love. When she meets Santiago Reverón, a celebrated plastic surgeon known as Dr. Botox, she feels the stirrings of love for the first time. Micaela suffers from a type of autism called asperger’s syndrome, though not even she knows it. Her other big obstacle will be Gala Moncada, Dr. Botox’s wife and a legendary actress who is generally considered the most desired woman in the country.
Eva Gómez lived the dream of competing in the Miss Venezuela pageant. But after all the glamour faded, she was forgotten. Now she makes a living in a modeling agency and her only source of happiness is her marriage to Nené López, a national soccer star. Polanco, a finance magnate, is determined to have her for himself. His best argument? Every woman has a price.
The popular Shirley dreams of being venerated by the masses. But her precarious talent has left her in total anonymity. Shirley’s scheming aunt will try to match her up with a millionaire who will sweep her away from the poor neighborhood where they live. But she’ll soon discover that love wears the modest shoes of Lucho Montilla, the hostile oratory teacher for whom Shirley felt hate at first sight.
Lucía Reverón says she wants to be a top model, but nobody really knows her true ambitions. One day she will meet a man three times her age: Guillermo Toro, a brilliant psychologist. And surprisingly for both, they will desperately fall in love. The problem will be not only their abysmal age difference, but the fact that this man was her mother’s greatest love 25 years ago. So Lucía will have no choice but to face her mother and the rest of the world.
Carolina Toro wants to be perfect. She tries any Asian pill, Russian laxative or Swedish diet that goes on the market. While married to Beto Pimentel, she will feel an uncontrollable passion for Daniel Sanabria, her plastic surgeon and the husband of Renata Volcán, who happens to be her teacher at the modeling agency. Carolina runs the risk of becoming what she detests most in life: a mistress.
This is the story of all of these women, and of the men in their lives, who love them or leave them. And it is also the story of a country where being the perfect woman has become a national obsession.
Cast: Litzy Dominguez, Eduardo Capetillo, Marjorie De Sousa, Maritza Bustamante,Daniel Elbittar, Paulo Quevedo, Susana Perez, Lina Santos, Roberto Vander
Authors: Verónica Suárez
Directors: Tito Rojas
In the eyes of the world, Luz María is a successful psychologist who earns enough money to support her family and pay her younger sister’s tuition in an expensive boarding school. In reality, Luz Marina works as a dancer at a second-rate night club. Although she did study psychology in college, she was forced to drop out when her father died, leaving her to care for her siblings.
Ashamed to admit her real occupation, Luz María has managed to deceive everyone around her, keeping a low profile and few friends.
But when she meets Bruno, her secret life becomes a burden that will ultimately destroy her happiness.
An upright businessman from a prominent family, Bruno thinks he has fallen in love with someone who not only seems like the perfect woman, but who also has the professional background to help him overcome the emotional trauma he suffered due to the mysterious disappearance of his twin brother many years ago. The last thing he imagines is the surprise that awaits him concerning this ideal woman he thinks he has found.
Bruno’s girlfriend Samanta, jealous and bitter because he ended their relationship after meeting Luz María, connives with her evil father Genaro and Bruno’s own mother, Angela –who has squandered the fortune she inherited from her husband and wants Bruno to marry the wealthy Samanta–, doing everything possible to separate Bruno and Luz María. After subjecting Luz María to countless humiliations, they discover her true profession and cruelly expose her to Bruno as a liar… and a sinner.
From that moment on, Luz María must fight the toughest battle of her life to convince Bruno that she is not the cold-hearted gold digger he thinks, and that her love is true.
To complicate matters even more, Bruno’s twin brother –whom everyone thought was dead– coincidentally appears in Luz María’s life as one of the night club’s steady clients, and also falls in love with her. Bernardo knows and loves her as “Lucecita” the dancer, and has no memory of who his real family is.
A unique love triangle emerges, with Luz María caught between two brothers: the one she loves, who despises her, and the one who loves her unconditionally.
Shot in spectacular locations throughout Miami, Florida, this Venevision International production features an all-star cast in a universally enthralling story.
3.6-SALVADOR DE MUJERES (A KNOCKOUT LOVER)
Cast: Ruddy Rodriguez, Carlos Guillermo Haydon, Alejandra Sandoval, Yul-Burkle, Maleja Restrepo, Diana Ángel, Karina Cruz, Gabriel Ochoa, Roberto Vander
Authors: Marcela Citterio
Episodes: 120 Aprox.
General Production:: Alejandra Gallego
He’s a champion, both in the ring and in the bedroom.
But can he win the heart of the only woman he truly loves?
Salvador “The Tiger” Valdez’s boxing career is at its most promising moment when fate decides to deal him a devastating blow. Unwilling to sign with a mafia kingpin who rigs fights, he becomes the victim of a ruthless plot and not only loses the national title but is also suspended from boxing for ten years.
Now he must find another source of income in order to keep his family from financial ruin. The solution appears unexpectedly. Josefina Alvarez, the beautiful, sophisticated, and powerful owner of the gym where he now works, makes Salvador an indecent proposal. Faced with serious money problems, he has no other choice but to accept.
And so, reluctantly, the champion goes from fighting in the ring to winning in the bedroom. As a paid escort for rich but unsatisfied women, Salvador discovers he has the uncanny ability to sense what his clients want and need. With a simple touch, a tender look, a gentle word, he makes them feel desired, beautiful, and most of all, unique. No one can beat Salvador Valdéz at the sport of conquering women.
Ironically though, the only woman he really wants to conquer is Josefina’s daughter, Socorro, a conceited beauty queen who is too involved in her own problems —she is trapped in a failed marriage— to pay attention to Salvador, who she considers coarse and very much beneath her. But this attitude will change over time… and while Salvador concentrates on winning Socorro’s heart, Josefina begins to fall in love with her creation. Inevitably, mother and daughter will become contenders for the love of this extraordinary man… accidental savior of lonely women… and wronged champion, determined to defeat injustice and regain his rightful place in the boxing world.
4.Telenovelas and National Identity in Brazil
In 1981, the Brazilian military government was facing one of its most important political crises. Divided by a struggle between “hard-liners,” who wanted to oppose the growing opposition by force, and those supporting the political opening started by General-President Ernesto Geisel in the mid 1970s, the leaders of the dictatorship were discussing the most appropriate strategy for overcoming internal dissent and for consolidating their power. General Golbery do Couto e Silva was one of the most important members of the political establishment of the authoritarian regime and he was also a key strategist of the process of political opening. Nevertheless, because of disagreements with General-President João Batista de Figueiredo (1979-1985), Golbery resigned from his position in the Presidential Cabinet. Asked by journalists about the reasons of his withdrawal from the government, the General responded: “Don’t ask me anything. I have just left Sucupira” (cited by Fadul, 1993, p. 146)
The General’s statement is revealing of the links between television melodramatic serials and national identity in Brazil. Sucupira was the imagined city in which the story of the telenovela O Bem Amado (The Well Loved, 1973) took place. The successful telenovela of Dias Gomes portrayed a traditional political leader in a small north-eastern town The character Odorico Paraguaçú personified the traditional political class which dominates through archaic methods and rhetoric, and which is contrasted to new social processes and groups shaping the country in the 1970s (urbanization, modernization, the press, the new middle class, etc.). With his provocative reply to journalists, General Golbery was ironically recognizing the appropriateness of the parallel between Sucupira and the “nation” and between Odorico and the military regime. His comment shows how very early on telenovelas were presenting a specific representation of the nation and how Brazilians recognized themselves in such a representation.
The centrality of television series for the formation of national identities has been highlighted by several authors (Abu-Lughod, 1993; Estill, 2001; Fadul, 1993; Hamburger, 2005; Lopez, 1995; Mattelart & Mattelart, 1990; Radcliffe & Westwood, 1996; Tufte, 2000). Nevertheless, the dynamic nature of these processes is not always recognized. What happens when media representations of the nation shift, challenging traditional ways of thinking and imagining? How to explain those shifts and how are they related to broader political, economic, and social changes? This paper seeks to contribute in these debates by investigating the relationship between telenovelas and national identity in the last four decades of Brazilian political history. In particular, it examines main trends in telenovela representations of social and political realities, arguing that telenovelas have become a central “mass ceremony” in which images of nationhood have been negotiated in Brazil. Moreover, the analysis shows that this image of the nation presented by telenovelas has shifted across time by incorporating emergent meanings that originated from civil society and from the general process of democratization that has characterized Brazil since the mid 1980s.
4.1-Telenovelas, hegemony, and national identity
One of the central aims of this paper is to analyze telenovelas’ role as a central space in which shared collective identities are negotiated in contemporary Brazil. But before advancing in this direction, this section presents the theoretical framework on the basis of which the analysis will be carried out. In particular, it is important to clarify the concept of national identity. As Schlesinger (1987) notes, national identity has become an all-purpose catchword that rarely is presented within a coherent and clear theorization of cultural processes.
To advance in the examination of the role of telenovelas in shaping collective identities, Benedict Anderson’s (1991) influential study of the origins of nationalism offers a good starting point. Anderson defines the “nation” as particular type of cultural artefact, as an “imagined political community.” According to the author, “mass ceremonies” play a significant role in the construction of nationhood. These ceremonies refer to the consumption of a cultural product by a mass audience in which “each communicant is well aware that the ceremony he (sic) performs is being replicated simultaneously by thousands (or millions) of others of whose existence he is confident, yet of whose identity he has not the slightest notion” (Anderson, 1991, p. 35). Among the cultural products that were central in the creation of this sense of symbolic membership, Anderson focuses on newspaper- and novel-reading as key rituals in the formation of the modern national identities.
By emphasizing the symbolic construction of nationhood and the role of communication technologies, Anderson offers important analytical tools for the analysis of telenovelas. Nevertheless, his framework has some important limitations that need to be addressed. For the purposes of this paper, two central questions are particularly important. First, there is a neglect of popular culture and audiovisual technologies in Anderson’s analysis of nation-building. His approach has been criticized for insisting upon literacy as the basis for national sentiments and for neglecting the role of popular culture (Radcliffe & Westwood, 1996, p. 12; Rowe & Schelling, 1991, pp. 24-25). He has also been criticized for ignoring the role of other communicative practices that go beyond print media. As Schelesinger (1987, p. 249) notes, it is odd that Anderson does not take into account post-Gutenberg media technologies.
These lapses are particularly significant in Latin America, where the penetration of the print media has been historically very limited and where sophisticated film and broadcasting industries have incorporated oral and visual traditions from popular sectors to build compelling images of the “nation.” We need therefore to investigate the role of audiovisual spheres in general, and of television fiction in particular, in processes of nation-building.
In the case of contemporary Brazil, television has established mass ceremonies much broader and significant in scope than the public forums created by the print media. Since the late 1960s, television in general, and telenovelas in particular, have provided a common platform that allows citizens from different social backgrounds to engage with a variety of social and political problems. Several studies have shown that telenovelas generate a unified national public space that provides diverse audiences with a common vocabulary that cuts across regional, class, and other social boundaries (Hamburger, 2005; Kottak, 1990; La Pastina, 1999; Mattelart & Mattelart, 1990; Pait, 2005). This can be clearly seen in the realm of everyday life conversations, where telenovelas spark intense flows of gossip, rumours, and public debate (Mattelart & Mattelart, 1990, p. 79; Page, 1995, p. 447).
It is therefore important to recognize the role of telenovelas as a central mass ceremony that allows disparate audiences to share a communicative experience and a common vocabulary. Nevertheless, the notion of a unified “public forum” tends to downplay the contradictory and complex struggles that characterize the formation of collective identities. In this context, it is important to point out a second shortcoming of Anderson’s framework. Although he recognizes the power struggles and conflicts that shape the formation of sentiments of national identity, the concept of “imagined political community” tends to imply a relatively homogenous cultural configuration. In particular, Anderson’s approach does not consider “how a national culture is continuously redeveloped and the contours of national identity chronically redrawn” (Schlesinger, 1987, p. 250).
In order to understand nationhood as a cultural artefact that is both shared and contested, as well as to investigate how and why it changes across time, I rely on Antonio Gramsci’s (1997) concept of hegemony. Gramsci’s approach directs our attention to the processes by which dominant groups justify and keep their domination and still obtain the active consensus of those governed. According to Gramsci, the political and cultural leadership that is exercised in the realm of civil society is an essential component in struggles for political power in more complex societies. By defining hegemony as an active process that is permanently created and re-created, Gramsci allows us to understand national identity as a cultural construct that is both dominant and contested, shared and opposed, effective and unstable.
The British Cultural Studies tradition has relied heavily on Gramsci and his concept of hegemony to identify the contradictory and complex nature of cultural and communication practices. Raymond Williams (1990), in particular, offers important analytical tools to overcome traditional functionalist approaches that define culture or media representations as mechanic reflections of society. Williams proposes to replace the concept of “reflection” by the concept of “mediation,” which designates a more active process in which distinctive realms of social life (culture, society, media, etc) are connected, but not over-determined. Mediation also designates a dynamic relationship that frequently affects the original meanings exchanged in cultural and communication practices.
Williams can also help us overcome one of the limitations of Anderson’s approach, namely the tendency to conceive of nationhood as a relatively homogenous cultural configuration. Williams insists on the need to recognize the complexity of any culture and the dynamic nature of the interrelations between its parts. This is accomplished by the identification of “dominant,” “residual,” and “emergent” cultural elements (Williams, 1990, pp. 121-127). According to the author, the residual refers to elements of a culture’s past that are still active in the present, while the emergent designates new meanings and values that are continually being created.
Based on Gramsci, the British school, and may other sources, a rich cultural studies tradition has emerged in Latin America, providing sophisticated frameworks for analyzing the connections between cultural identities and communication technologies (see Escosteguy, 2001; Schlesinger & Morris, 1997, for more comprehensive reviews). The works of Jesús Martín-Barbero, in particular, offer valuable analytical tools that will be applied in the analysis that follows. In a path-breaking book about communication and cultural practices in Latin America, including popular culture and telenovelas, Martín-Barbero (1993) further develops the concepts of hegemony and mediation. By moving the analytical focus from the media to the cultural mediations of everyday life, Martín-Barbero sheds new light on the place of television in Latin American societies.
In the analysis that follows, I apply these conceptual tools (hegemony, mediation, dominant/residual/emergent, etc) to discuss the role of television in the construction of an imagined and compelling sentiment of national identity in Brazil. Based on these assumptions, it is possible to consider television as the most dynamic “private apparatus of hegemony” in the building of representations about the nation in Brazil. This perspective allows us to consider the television institution no longer as “an apparatus that manages one-dimensionally the social and ideological reproduction of the existing social order” but as “a contradictory space where meaning is negotiated and cultural hegemony created and re-created in the play of mediations” (Mattelart & Mattelart, 1990, p. 149).
As I show next, telenovelas construct a compelling idea of nation through “microcosms,” the imagined locations in which the telenovelas’ stories take place. Through metaphors and analogies that refer to the elements of the general system, the telenovelas focus on the changes and conflicts in the social relations (Carvalho et al., 1980, p. 56). In the next pages, I investigate how such localized representations of the nation have shaped and been shaped by processes of political and social changes in different phases of Brazil’s political history.
4.2-Telenovelas, modernization, and the authoritarian state (1964-1973)
In this section, I analyze the role of telenovelas in the construction of nationhood during the first decade of daily television melodramas in Brazil. This first phase was deeply shaped by military dictatorship. According to Straubhaar (1988, p. 64), several constraints were imposed on telenovela content in this period, including:
the need to restrain political or economic criticism; the need to maintain conventional social behavior and morals; the need to create or reinforce a Brazilian identity conducive to capitalist development; and the need to present a positive image of the regime, particularly the “economic miracle.”
Censorship was especially severe during the dark period that followed the 1968 Institutional Act number 5 (AI-5). This Act eliminated the few remaining civil and political liberties, opening a dark phase of torture and political assassination of members of the opposition, especially those from leftist groups who had decided to fight the dictatorship by organizing urban and rural guerrilla movements.
Besides censorship, telenovela representations of this period were also shaped by the close alliance of interests between media owners and the military dictatorship established by a coup in 1964. The authoritarian regime’s project of “national integration” is one of the most important points of convergence between the policies of General-President Emílio Garrastazu Médici (1969-1974) and the expansion and unification of TV Globo’s programming (Carvalho, Kehl, & Ribeiro, 1980, p. 24). The “integration” of the nation demanded the standardization of aspirations and preferences and the creation of a specific consumer culture that supported the unequal model of development of the so called “Brazilian Miracle” (1968-1973), a period in which the country experienced very high rates of economic growth and a simultaneous concentration of the wealth in the hands of the upper classes. Thus, the national identity formed in the period was linked to the market, a national integration which is achieved through the integration of the market (Ortiz, 1989, p. 165).
During the initial period of the military dictatorship in Brazil, the main problematic of telenovela plots was the conflict between the “old” and the “new,” between rural traditions and the modern processes of industrialization and urbanization (Carvalho et al., 1980; Kehl, 1986). Television in general, and telenovelas in particular, played an important role in “re-educating” the population in a rapid process of urbanization (Kehl, 1986, pp. 286-287). This is a common aspect of the construction of the idea of nation in marginal societies. As several authors demonstrate, the desire to achieve modernity has defined the construction of national identity in Latin America (Garcia Canclini, 1995; Ortiz, 1989; Radcliffe & Westwood, 1996; Rowe & Schelling, 1991). In the specific case of Brazil, Orttiz (1989) argues that the tendency has been to highlight modernization and development as central elements of national identity. Ortiz argues that even though in some instances this pattern has had a progressive role, it also led the country to adopt a non-critical view of the “modern” world.
The authoritarian regime’s optimistic and nationalistic discourse (“This is a country moving ahead” and “Brazil: love it or leave it” were some of the official slogans of the period) was also a reaction to the national identity being shaped by progressive and radical movements in the period preceding the 1964 coup. Thus, the national identity established by the military between 1964 and 1973 can be seen as a form of “official nationalism,” a kind of nationalism based on a fear of the political mobilization of the popular classes, a conscious, self-protective policy (see Anderson, 1991). Politically conservative and with an emphasis on economic modernization, this national identity was fundamentally marked by the repression of popular movements and all alternative ideas of the “nation.” Not surprisingly, there was a tendency to eliminate trade-unions and other forms of collective mobilization from telenovela representations of the nation in this initial period (Vink, 1988, p. 206).
No other social group expressed such aspirations of consumerism and modernization better then the “new” middle class which was born out of the economic expansion that took place during the “Brazilian Miracle.” It is the values and expectations of this middle class that will dominate the plots of the telenovelas. In the representation of the nation based on the views of middle-income, urban sectors, the working class usually appears as a caricature. As author and director Walter Avancini puts it: “The novela continues to follow the language codes, the tastes, and the ambitions of the middle class, even if class conflict is more manifest in some hourly slots than it was in the past. But the working class continues to be represented as a caricature” (quoted by Mattelart & Matterlart, 1990, p. 80). In TV Globo’s telenovelas, the working class settings are never really poor, as they exhibit a certain comfort and a lot of furniture. For example, author Manoel Carlos complained that, in spite of his instructions in relation to the homes of working class characters, the settings were frequently embellished (Vink, 1988, p. 177).
Two telenovelas aired by TV Tupi represent key moments in this initial period: O Direito de Nascer (The Right to be Born, 1964/1965) and Beto Rockfeller (1968-1969). The first was an adaptation of Cuban writer Félix Caignet’s well-known melodrama, which had already been successful in radio. Set in the Cuba of the 1920s, the plot tells the story of a single mother, whose son Albertino Limonta is threatened by her tyrannical and morally conservative father Don Rafael. The family’s black maid Maria Dolores runs away with the child and raises him to become a successful doctor. The telenovela was the first daily melodrama to galvanize the country, becoming a huge success in terms of popularity and audience ratings. The episode in which “mammy” Dolores revealed to Don Rafael the true identity of his grandson was seen by 1,5 million viewers (Araújo, 2000, p. 86). According to press accounts of the time, even religious ceremonies and sessions of the Senate changed their schedule as not to coincide with telenovela (Ortiz, Borelli, & Ramos, 1991, p. 62). The Cuban melodrama’s popularity pushed TV Globo and other television channels to increase the airtime devoted to telenovelas, leading to the genre’s dominance of prime time scheduling, which continues to this day.
In the case of Beto Rockfeller, it inaugurated a faster narrative rhythm and the use of colloquial language, with characters that became closely associated with the national ethos (Mattelart & Mattelart, 1990, p. 15). Beto, the protagonist of the telenovela, is a charming, cunning, and deceptive middle class man that is able to enter the world of the upper classes by faking his identity as a wealthy member of the elite. The adventures of this anti-hero illustrate some of the main themes of the period, including urbanization and the rise of the middle class to positions of affluence. Beto Rockfeller also marks a transition from more traditional melodramatic texts to a focus on realistic depictions of national themes.
4.3-Telenovelas and political opening: reconstructing the imagined nation (1973-1985)
The previous section has shown that telenovelas’ representations were initially constrained by censorship and by the regime’s “official nationalism.” Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to assume that the image of the country constructed by telenovelas during the military dictatorship was fixed and free of contradictions. In this section, I examine the ways in which telenovelas contributed to build a hegemonic view of the nation in a period of economic and political crises by incorporating emergent demands from civil society.
The “official nationalism” of the authoritarian regime started to face severe legitimacy problems after 1973. The end of the economic expansion and the international oil crisis helped erode the “Brazilian Miracle” and threatened the new middle class. Political opposition grew and in 1974 the only opposition party allowed by the military (MDB) achieved its first electoral victories. In response to this shifting political scenario, General-President Ernesto Geisel (1974-1980) established the project of abertura, a process of political opening that was supposed to be “slow, gradual and safe.” In her excellent history of TV Globo, Maria Rita Kehl (1986, p. 259) argues the following about this period:
The moment demanded TV to fulfil this role: the 1973 “oil crisis” contributed to accelerate the end of the economic expansion, here, and the middle classes, until then unconditional allies of the trans- and national bourgeoisie’s projects for the country, started to show the first signs of dissatisfaction. Globo tried to face emergent issues, in an attempt to contribute in the building of a new social consensus (from which most of the working class has been excluded) or to the renewal in reformist terms of the consensus created between 1964 and 1968 (my translation).
Thus, in the new context of political and economic crisis, TV Globo’s executives recognized the need to reform the regime’s official nationalism (the “consensus created between 1964 and 1968,” in Kehl’s words). TV Globo contributed to establish a new social consensus that incorporated new demands and issues, as to maintain the hegemony of the same “historical bloc” or class alliance of which the network was part. TV Globo realized that instead of hiding the problems and demands of the social reality it would be better to incorporate them under its protection (Carvalho et al., 1980, p. 17).
The idea of the “nation” built by the authoritarian regime faced a crisis after 1973 not only because of the economic difficulties, but also because of an important social change: the growth and consolidation of civil society in the late 1970s. This period witnessed a remarkable expansion of collective movements and the rise of new and influential actors. One of the most important emergent social movements of the period was the “New Trade Unionism,” formed by a new brand of independent trade-unions that mobilized the most advanced sectors of the working class, challenging the dictatorship through massive strikes in 1979/1980. Society was now more organized and politically active and telelenovelas had to deal with its new demands.
The liberalization promoted by the military in the final stages of the dictatorship affected the representation of the nation constructed by the telenovelas. Joseph Straubhaar (1988) argues that the prime time melodramas reflected the process of political opening, but were seldom among the leading actors in the promotion of political liberalization. Due to official and internal censorship, pressures from advertisers, corporate interests, as well as to collusion between media owners and the government, Straubhaar argues that TV Globo’s telenovelas contributed to delay support for the process of political opening. Although Straubhaar is right at pointing to key factors that constrained television fiction in the period, it is still important to stress the key role played by some telenovelas in eroding the regime’s legitimacy and publicizing new, emergent meanings. In particular, I argue that some telenovelas helped to give meaning to and to shape the political process by incorporating new demands coming from a stronger opposition and from a more organized civil society.
The telenovela O Bem Amado (The Well Loved), first aired by TV Globo in 1973, and thus before the beginning of General-President Geisel’s political opening, illustrates this active role of prime time melodramas. As we have seen, the main character of this telenovela, Odorico Paraguaçú, personified a traditional political boss who is contrasted to modern processes and groups that were shaping the country in the early 1970s. In the telenovela, Odorico decides to run for mayor of Sucupira with a single-issue platform: the promise to build the city’s first cemetery. Odorico is elected, builds the cemetery, but soon runs into problem when he cannot inaugurate it because nobody dies in Sucupira. He then gets involved in several attempts to cause the death of one of the city dwellers. He even invites a bandit, Zeca Diabo, to come back to the city, with the hope that he will kill someone. The author of O Bem Amado, Dias Gomes, explains in his autobiography how he used the telenovela to build a specific representation of the nation:
In these stories, I always looked for inspiration in political facts, satirizing and criticizing the “system,” in a period when censorship did not allow that. O Bem-amado was a small window opened in the big wall of obscurantism built by the military regime. It does not mean that censors did not notice or did not mutilate the texts, but they had some difficulty doing that, since they were never known for their intelligence. And when they acted, they made their stupidity evident. The novela was already half way through when they prohibited calling Odorico as “colonel.” Later, they forbade calling Zeca Diabo as “captain” (Gomes, 1998, p. 276, my translation).
The author reveals his clear intention of offering audiences a subtle critique of the military dictatorship, despite the limits imposed by direct government censorship. The result was a clear association between Sucupira and the nation, as well as between Odorico to the military, which contributed to further erode the legitimacy of the regime. O Bem Amado offered a humours satire of the military dictatorship and its megalomaniac projects. At the end, Odorico is the one who inaugurates the cemetery. He is killed by Zeca Diabo, the bandit that the mayor had loured back to the city.
Brazilians strongly identified themselves with the representation of the nation built by O Bem Amado, as demonstrated by the episode of General Golbery’s resignation from the government. Thus, by incorporating emergent demands and oppositional perspectives, O Bem Amado not only reflected political opening, but also contributed to accelerate it.
O Bem Amado represents an audacious and brave experiment on the part of TV Globo and author Dias Gomes, but the incorporation of emergent and critical representations by telenovelas remained limited during the 1970s and early 1980s due to several reasons. First, government censorship frequently prevented authors from incorporating political and social commentary. Second, even when state control was loosened during the period of political opening, TV Globo established self-censorship mechanisms which eventually blocked issues deemed controversial (Carvalho et al., 1980, pp. 60-63; Kehl, 1986, pp. 271-274; Mattelart & Mattelart, 1990, pp. 46-47; Porto, 2003b, pp. 39-39; Vink, 1988, p. 139). Author Lauro César Muniz, for example, described how TV Globo’s “text editor,” José Leite Otati, functioned as an internal censor. According to Muniz, Otati prevented his telenovela Os Gigantes (The Giants, 1979-1980) from discussing the monopolization of the economy by multinational corporations (Kehl, 1986, p. 272).
Despite the constraints imposed by government and internal censorship, critical views about the development model adopted by the military started to emerge in TV Globo’s telenovelas during the process of political opening. In this period, the previous emphasis on national integration through the market and consumerism was not abandoned, but a more critical and pessimistic view of the process of modernization emerged. The telenovelas O Espigão (The Skycraper, 1974) and O Grito (The Scream, 1975-1976), for example, discussed the negative consequences of Brazil’s fast and chaotic process of urbanization, portraying big cities as a world in which alienated individuals are oppressed by powerful forces, including real state companies.
4.4-Telenovelas and the initial period of democratization (1985-1993)
The inauguration of the first civilian president after more than two decades of military rule in 1985 opened a new phase in the role of telenovelas. The end of censorship and the rise of a democratic political context allowed telenovela writers to comment more freely on contemporary political and social problems. Because of these and other reasons, the role of prime time melodramas in shaping nationhood was strengthened after redemocratization.
The transition to democracy in Brazil was a slow and difficult process. As we have seen, the military attempted to control the process of liberalization with a “gradual” and “safe” form of political opening. To maintain a democratic façade, while assuring control the executive, the military created an “Electoral College” to choose presidents for a six-year tem. Nevertheless, several factors -- including the rise of a more organized civil society, the electoral growth of the opposition, and the problems in the economy -- contributed to further erode the regime’s legitimacy. The final blow came in 1984, when Diretas Já, a national campaign calling for presidential elections, mobilized millions of Brazilians in huge demonstrations around the country. Even though the movement failed to approve a constitutional amendment that would have restored presidential elections, it had a devastating impact on the support basis of the dictatorship. Several politicians left the official party (PDS by its Portuguese acronym) and launched the Partido da Frente Liberal (PFL; Party of the Liberal Front). These dissidents decided to join forces with the main opposition party (PMDB by its Portuguese acronym) and to launch a ticked with the names of Tancredo Neves for President and José Sarney for Vice-President in the Electoral College. The resulting “Democratic Alliance” was successful, electing Neves, a moderate member of PMDB, and Sarney, a dissident of the regime’s official party, PDS.
The nation was caught by surprise when Neves fell ill the night before he was supposed to take office. In a dramatic turn of events, José Sarney, the former president of PDS, the official party of the military dictatorship, is sworn in as the president who would be in charge of leading the new democracy. Although Sarney was successful in promoting the transition to an electoral democracy, his Presidency (1985-1989) was plagued by accusations of corruption, economic crisis, and several failed packages aimed at controlling high inflation rates.
During all these traumatic events, telenovelas played and active role in helping Brazilians make sense of fast processes of political change. In particular, the telenovela Roque Santeiro (Roque, the Saint Maker, 1985-1986) presented an allegory of Brazil’s new “democratic” government and criticized in subtle ways the type of political transition that was unfolding in the country. The fictional city of Asa Branca became another “microcosm” of the nation, allowing viewers to build compelling associations between media representations and contemporary political events (Fernandes, 1997, p. 310; Johnson, 1988; Mattelart & Mattelart, 1990, p. 91; Pait, 2005; Vink, 1988, p. 179).
Roque Santerio had been completely censored by the military dictatorship in 1975, after TV Globo had taped more than 30 episodes. But the return of democracy ten years later allowed the network to finally produce and air Dias Gomes’ text. The telenovela tells the story of the popular myth surrounding the figure of Luís Roque Duarte, or simply Roque, a former artisan known for making sculptures of Catholic saints (thus the designation of “saint maker”). According to the myth, Roque dies just after marrying the unknown shop steward Porcina while defending the city from the band led by thug Navalhada. The hero becomes a saint in the eyes of the local population and several miracles are attributed to him. The prosperity of the city and its elite, including widow Porcina and local boss “sinhozinho” Malta, is based on the commercial exploitation of the myth. Problems emerge when Roque, who had in fact not died, returns to the city 17 years later, thus threatening the existence of the entire social order of Asa Branca. Nevertheless, nothing changes, since the truth about Roque remains hidden. Due to the suspense built around Porcina’s final choice of partner, the last episodes of Roque Santeiro were seen by almost 100% of the households with television sets (Vink, 1988, p. 179). TV Globo intentionally sparked curiosity about who Porcina would choose as her partner, the violent and corrupt sinhozinho Malta or the honest hero Roque. Several scenes were taped with the different possible endings. At the end, Porcina chooses Malta and his empire of lies. Roque Santeiro reflected and gave new meaning to a scenario of disillusionment with the country’s transition to democracy, reinforcing cynicism and a negative representation of the nation. While Malta was clearly associated to the military dictatorship, Porcina and the entire social system of Asa Branca was implicitly linked to the troubled democracy that was established during José Sarney’s Presidency (Johnson, 1988).
In the first years of the “new democracy,” telenovela representations of the nation became more complex and diversified. One of the most fundamental aspects of this change was the introduction of discussions about social problems that used to be absent from television, including corruption and social inequality. The shortcomings of the process of modernization became so serious in the 1980s that telenovelas begun developing a general attitude of cynicism and pessimism about the country. Besides Roque Santeiro, another example of this trend was Vale Tudo (Anything Goes) aired between 1988 and 1989 (Lima, 1993; Rubim, 1989; Weber, 1990). Vale Tudo tells the story of Maria de Fátima, a young woman who looks for social ascension and enrichment by all possible means, in a clear contrast to her honest and kind mother. Vale Tudo also tells the story of unscrupulous corporate executives, such as villains Odete Roithman and Marco Aurélio. The question “Who has killed Odete Roithman?” galvanized the country, building a suspense that further boosted the telenovela’s ratings. In the end, businessman Marco Aurélio, who was involved in the assassination of Roithman, flees with millions of stolen dollars. Before boarding the private jet that will take him out of the country, he turns to the camera and gives the “banana sign” to the entire national audience, highlighting the general impunity for those involved in corruption, as well as a sense of powerlessness for ordinary Brazilians.
Some authors have argued that the telenovelas Vale Tudo, Que Rei Sou Eu? (What King Am I), and O Salvador da Pátria (The Savior of the Country) played a central role in building a specific political scenario for the first presidential election of the new democracy in 1989 (Lima, 1993; Rubim, 1989; Weber, 1990). According to these studies, by emphasizing the corruption and the inefficiency of both the state and the political establishment, television fiction contributed to a scenario that allowed the rise of outsiders. Candidate Fernando Collor de Mello, who was then a relatively unknown governor of a small and impoverished state, adapted his campaign strategy to this scenario. Collor won the presidency with a moralist campaign that focused on the need to modernize the state and to clean the country of corruption.
Collor soon run into trouble in May 1992 when his brother Pedro gave an explosive interview to the newsmaganize Veja exposing a corrupt scheme in the federal government led by Collor’s former campaign treasurer, Paulo Cesar Farias. After months of intensive investigations and exposés, Congress concluded that the President was directly involved in the corrupt scheme and opened a process of impeachment, forcing Collor out of the Presidency in August and voting his impeachment in December. In this turbulent period, television fiction played again an active role in giving meaning to current events and political realities. The telenovela Deus nos Acuda (God Help Us, 1992/1993), in particular, was a humorous parody of the events unfolding in the period. Deus nos Acuda was a comic melodrama that told the story of Celestina, the Guard Angel that was put in charge of protecting Brazil. Played by veteran and irreverent comedian Dercy Golçalves, Celestina initially tries to refuse the new job, arguing that the country had no salvation due to widespread corruption, violence, and other social illnesses.
The political critique of current affairs was evident in the telenovela’s opening, which Brazilians watched for almost seven months. Deus nos Acuda’s opening started with disembodied hands filling checks with huge sums of money. It then showed a party with well-dressed and affluent people. A liquid substance, appearing to be mud, then starts to rise in the room of the party, almost drowning everyone. Several symbols of wealth that are frequently obtained through corruption, including U.S. dollar bills, expensive cars, and luxury boats, are also shown sinking the dirty liquid. Finally, a map shows the whole country going down the tube in a sea of mud.
Deus nos Acuda was another example of the active role of telenovelas in reinforcing a critical and pessimistic representation of Brazil’s identity in a period of political turbulence. In all this period, which that starts with the inauguration of Sarney and ends with the impeachment of the first elected president of the new democracy, telenovelas played an active role in building specific sense of Brazil-ness. In this representation of the nation, politics and politicians were always associated to corruption or inefficiency.
4.5-Telenovelas and the deepening of democracy in Brazil (1993-?)
After Collor’s downfall in 1992, Vice-President Itamar Franco became the new head of government and he formed a new cabinet based on a broad political coalition. In a context of continuing economic instability and high inflation rates, Itamar invited Fernando Henrique Cardoso in 1993 to become his Finances Minister. Cardoso then launched a new economic plan, Plano Real, which succeeded in controlling inflation and in bringing the long-desired economic stability. Based on the success of the plan, Itamar launched Cardoso as the official candidate in the 1994 presidential election.
Telenovelas contributed to establish a specific scenario for the second presidential election of the democratic period in 1994 (see Porto, 1998). The telenovela Pátria Minha (My Homeland, 1994-1995), in particular, presented a renewed sense of national identity that went beyond the traditional tendency of representing the nation in cynical and negative ways. A key feature of the telenovela was the instilling of a spirit of optimism and confidence in the country's future. Such representation was built mainly by the story of the couple Pedro and Ester. Living in the United States, they face a dilemma: Pedro wants to go back to Brazil and believes that the prospects in the country are good, while Ester is against returning, arguing that the country is in chaos and that the living conditions are rather poor. After the couple returns to Brazil, Ester gradually overcomes her pessimism and finally joins the atmosphere of patriotism built by the story. This new patriotic representation of the nation, in turn, played an important role in the 1994 presidential election, since it resonated with Plano Real and with policies associated to incumbent candidate Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Porto, 1998).
One of the important changes in telenovela images of the nation in this last phase is the rise of new modes of representation of subordinate groups. The focus on the world of the middle class continued and the representation of the working class remained a caricature. Nevertheless, the notion of “Brazilian people” became more complex and diversified. On the one hand, subordinate groups are not recognized as social classes, but are defined instead in terms of the general category of the “poor people.” On the other hand, the country’s unequal social and economic structure has become an important theme in Brazilian telenovelas. The only dream of a miserable character like peasant Tião Galinha in the telenovela Renascer (Revival, 1993) is a piece of land, but he fails and, in desperation, kills himself in one of the most dramatic moments of Brazilian television fiction (Porto, 1998).
If the tendency in the previous years was to eliminate civil society from the screen, non-governmental organizations started gaining more space in telenovelas. For example, the national campaign against hunger developed by a network of civic organizations led by the charismatic sociologist Betinho was highlighted by the telenovelas Renascer and Pátria Minha (Porto, 1998). In a newspaper interview, Betinho praised Renascer’s character Tião Galinha for putting social problems in the national agenda, especially the fight against hunger (ibid.).
One the most striking examples of the inclusion of social movements and subaltern groups by a telenovelas was O Rei do Gado (The Cattle King, 1996-1997). This telenovela focused on one of the most important social movements in Brazil, the Landless Movement or MST (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem-Terra). The MST has been struggling for an agrarian reform since its foundation in 1984 in close alliance with the Workers Party (PT). The basic strategy of the movement has been to move a cluster of families onto government-owned or unproductive private land and stay there until they are granted title to the land (Hochstetler, 2000). O Rei do Gado tells the story of two families of Italian immigrants who came to Brazil in the 1940s, the Berdinazzis and the Mezengas. Because of disputes over land, the families develop a strong rivalry and become enemies. After an accident, one of the Berdinazzi, the beautiful Luana, looses her memory and becomes a manual labourer in sugar cane plantations. She joins the landless movement led by Regino, who decides to invade one of the farms of the powerful Bruno Mezenga, the “cattle king.” Not knowing that they belong to opposing families, Luana and Bruno fall in love.
O Rei do Gado built a new type of representation about the MST, especially considering the fact that news coverage of the movement has been traditionally critical or even hostile (Hammond, 2004; Porto, 2003). In contrast, the telenovela presented MST members as human beings who just aspire to have a piece of land to grow their crops. Despite the fact that the leaders of MST criticized some aspects of the telenovela, they praised it as a positive contribution to the struggle for agrarian reform in Brazil (Hamburger, 2000; La Pastina, 2004).
O Rei do Gado also played and active role in discussing Brazilian politics. One its main characters was Senator Caxias, an honest politician who devoted his life to the struggle for agrarian reform in Brazil. After “real” senator Darcy Ribeiro praised the fictional character in the press, an intense blurring of fiction and reality took place in the telenovela. In the climax of this fusion of media representations and national identity, two senators of the Workers Party (PT), Benedita da Silva and Eduardo Suplicy, appeared in the telenovela episode portraying Senator Caxias’ funeral, which was taped in the building of Congress, in the national capital (Hamburger, 2000, 2005; Hammond, 2004; La Pastina, 1999, 2004).
Telenovelas have become a central mass ceremony in which compelling images of the nation have been negotiated in Brazil. These images, in turn, have been deeply shaped by a middle class perspective and by hegemonic forces of Brazilian society. As a result, television fiction has contributed to build a new social consensus that, in spite of being always challenged, was able to sustain social, economic, political, and cultural hierarchies in a deeply unequal society. However, the complex nature of telenovela representations has to be recognized. It would be a mistake to assume that they have presented a monolithic view of Brazilian reality that only reinforced dominant cultural elements. Because they had to face a more complex environment, characterized by the deepening of democracy and by a more organized and politically active civil society, telenovelas incorporated new themes and demands, giving visibility to emergent actors and demands.
Brazilian telenovelas have contributed to renew and reinforce hegemonic values by re-signifying emerging representations in terms of the perspectives of dominant groups. As Martin-Barbero (1987) notes in a study about Colombian telenovelas, television melodramas frequently incorporate demands from the audience, but they also re-signify them in terms of a hegemonic social discourse. In the Brazilian case, television fiction has played a key mediating role, allowing accommodations in the class alliance of which TV Globo has been an essential part.
I would be a simplification, nevertheless, to interpret the role of telenovelas solely in terms of the maintenance of a hegemonic image of the national that reflected the basic interests of the dominant power bloc. In response to the deepening of social and political democratization, telenovela authors and producers incorporated emergent meanings in the fictional plots. As a result, telenovelas have frequently allowed viewers to encounter contradictory and compelling representations that offered new opportunities for the expression and mobilization of oppositional ways of imagining the nation. In interesting ways, television fiction reflected, but also gave new meaning to, Brazil’s recent process of democratization.
5.- Drugs, Thugs, and Divas: Telenovelas and Narco-Dramas in Latin America
Drug markets, geography, gender, and the history of popular media comprise the concerns at the heart of a surprisingly challenging and polemical text, Drugs, Thugs, and Divas by O. Hugo Benavides. This work is one of an ever growing number of texts investigating how Latin American cultural expression negotiates the difficulties of neoliberalism, colonialism, and hegemonic state apparatuses to produce more authentic and liberatory ways of speaking about Latin American reality. Moreover, Drugs, Thugs, and Divas is part of a new wave of Latin American textual and cultural studies that attends to how popular artistic genres reflect the hopes and experiences of Latin America’s people.
Benavides’s text mines the intersections of elite and popular culture expressed through the representational politics of the telenovela and later in the narco-drama. Telenovelas are television melodramas that are wildly popular in Latin America. Contemporary diffusion of the telenovela through local versions worldwide has made the genre one of the most recognizable and enduring cultural exports from the region (the popular Ugly Betty is the most notable North American adaptation). As Benavides reminds the reader: “Latin American telenovelas have been exported, with extraordinary cultural implications, to Egypt, Russia, and China, as well as throughout Europe.” Scholars within Latin American studies will find Benavides’s text a solid contribution to studies of melodrama that opens the way for interesting expansions of textual and genre studies in Latin America. Benavides articulates how the conventions of melodrama have become such an exported phenomenon in the global marketplace of ideas. Working closely with texts by various renowned scholars of melodrama (for instance, Jesús Martín Barbero’s seminal work on Colombian melodrama), Benavides interprets the semiotic content of telenovelas and narco-dramas as performative resources for rereading Latin American experience in a postcolonial, and politically subversive fashion.
Benavides’s greatest contribution may be his attention to the connections that contemporary scholars such as Aníbal Quijano, Mabel Moraña, and Jesús Martín Barbero have made with the contemporary postcolonial/colonial situation of their readerships and how it influences cultural production. He marks the Latin American social milieu as postcolonial—where many scholars refuse to apply the trope to the region—based on the persistence of tools of colonial hegemony: racial and class stratification, religious marginalization, and the brutal maintenance of Eurocentric patriarchal modes of governance. The cultural sphere’s power, under the pressure of such a tragic reality, is its ability to assert paths and spaces for the negotiation and confrontation with the regimes of hegemonic power. Cultural products bind the audience into imagining alternatives, marking the daily truths, and momentarily escaping the immense emotional weight of racial and political struggle. Benavides names this struggle “hegemonic articulation” and traces how melodrama nuances the active engagement with socio-cultural realities, a key outcome of his text.
The first chapter reads the seminal Brazilian telenovela Xica as an extraordinary synthesis of power, sexuality, and the legacy of coloniality. Xica’s story, about a wonderfully beautiful slave who eventually rises to a position of dominance in postcolonial Brazil, serves a historiographic purpose, shifting the vision from Eurocentric hegemony to the production of local forms of knowledge. Xica’s position as property, sexual object, and future hegemonic figure in Brazil—achieved through a marriage with a colonial master—reveals how the racial and social dimensions of sexual desire and colonial politics have been omitted from standard accounts. As a popular Brazilian melodrama, Xica disseminated this reinscription of history to a multiracial audience hungry for such address. Benavides positions Xica as a unique prototype telenovela that shows how the medium “speaks directly to a continent still searching for its own historicity and sensing its having been left out of the global order.” Benavides calls this an audience’s search for “hegemonic articulation,” and his reading of Xica makes a convincing argument for the role of popular media in redirecting historical vision in Latin America.
Reshaping a national optic into a regional one, chapter two provides a fascinating reading that uses Frantz Fanon, James Baldwin, and Xica to identify how discourses of racism and colonization have been used to produce a global western subject that provides a disinfranchised audience with a hegemonic identity for the transnational west. Through careful analysis of the operations of racialized discourses in postcolonial representation, Benavides argues that the western subject originates in the nexus of the region’s plural and unstable discursive regimes of sexual desire, ethnicity, and class. In his reading, none of these discourses are stable, revealing the underside of the global western citizen: the borderlands subject that inhabits the liminal spaces of modernity. These liminal spaces are marked by the use of sexuality, class, and maternity to reveal how border identities in Latin America are rewritten by melodramas. Pasión de gavilanes and Adrián está de visita, both from Colombia, are examples Benavides reads in chapters three and four. Here again, what is crucial is how Benavides analyzes the deft manipulation of the borderland identities of all Latin Americans as part of a constant reimagining of hegemonic and counter-hegemonic collective identity. This is the crux of Benavides’s argument, and he recreates how telenovelas provide fertile ground for hegemonic rearticulation.
The second half of the book, starting with chapter five, discusses how the melodrama has found new expression in Spanish America through the space of the narco-drama. The narco-drama’s representational politics and resources take up the potential of the melodrama to produce new readings of vectors of transnational commerce and power, Latin American masculinities and femininties, and the possibilities for political challenge against the neoliberal consensus. He shows how the perennially lucrative drug trade is a continental phenomenon that unites South, Central, and North Americas. In Colombia and Mexico, as well as other nations, the figure of the narco has become both saint and sinner, idol and outcast; its margins are being redrawn constantly throughout the Western Hemisphere in what Benavides terms “a continental sensibility.” The narco-drama, in Benavides’s text, is written as a literal borderlands project that recasts norteño culture from the United States/Mexico frontier under the optic of a more traditional melodramatic representation that challenges the failed historical representational politics and possibilities of both countries.
Benavides reads generously and sympathetically the role of drug trafficking in culture, seeing its possibilities for infusing the genre of melodrama with the power to answer contemporary questions and present challenges to the hegemonic cultural sphere. The author confirms melodrama’s capacity to evoke emotion and represent the region’s everyday life faithfully, while reconfiguring readings of history and updating identities for subsequent generations. As he summarizes:
Melodrama as a drug of choice causes paradigmatic breaks with the postcolonial past and the neocolonial present which cannot but provoke a terrifying trip into the violent destruction of the identity one has always believed in, an identity receoved in a new historic constitution of the Latin American Subject.
Overall, Drugs, Thugs, and Divas provide a good entry text explaining how popular genres perform important historical and political work. The book navigates complex theoretical paradigms by exemplifying them in solid analyses of popular works of television fiction, novels, and movies. Much of the work’s strength is how it weaves detailed text readings with important contemporary theoretical insights. Benavides rarely, if ever, sacrifices clarity for theoretical complexity. The defects of the text have much to do with the extreme faith Benavides places in the counter-hegemonic power of drug trafficking, and an almost complete blindness to the immense violence and oppression being wrought on women and indigenous communities by certain sectors of the drug trade. His text paints an almost exceedingly positive picture of the possibilities of narco-commerce as a liberatory political practice. Nonetheless, his arguments have solid rationales and so must be confronted directly. Perhaps this is the final and most important piece of praise I can give the text: it presents a series of questions that stimulates and nurtures further scholarship.