Thursday, September 19, 2013

More than just entertainment...

I never realized that telenovelas could be such a powerful way of communicating with the Latino population, and it certainly never occurred to me that a telenovela could be an avenue to elicit change in perspective or behavior from members of the audience.

Recently we’ve been discussing social issues in the context of telenovelas. It’s so interesting to me that a writer can weave a particular element into a telenovela plot and automatically have an audience for their message.

Some of the more obvious and less controversial elements that appear in telenovelas are diseases or illnesses. In Ciudad Bendita, the male protagonist’s mother has Alzheimer’s disease. That character exhibits the signs and symptoms of the disease, and perhaps someone watching the audience had a loved one with the disease but didn’t realize it until they watched the character. We also discussed breast cancer in the context of telenovelas. If a character’s battle with breast cancer encouraged even one woman to be checked for breast cancer, that telenovela could literally save a life. How incredible would that be?

In more controversial telenovelas, domestic abuse and unhealthy obsession with appearance are brought into light. In El País de las Mujeres, when a character reported her husband’s abuse, women all throughout the audience had the courage to also report domestic violence in their own lives. In some telenovelas, plastic surgery is portrayed as extreme and dangerous, and maybe it caused someone somewhere to realize that a “perfect” appearance is not worth risking your life.

To be honest, before this class I thought of telenovelas as not much more than a shallow form of entertainment. I realize that some telenovelas are still primarily for entertainment, but I find it fascinating and brave on the writers’ parts to use telenovelas as ways to communicate something powerful with their audience.


  1. I agree with you that the writers of telenovelas that address serious, controversial issues are quite brave. There is such a fine line between starting a serious conversation about a topic and using a serious topic for entertainment purpose. There is always the risk that someone will be offended by the way a telenovela addresses a serious issue that is close to them, and, although I do not think it is ever the intention of the author to cause harm, people's feelings might get hurt in the process of shedding light on an issue through this medium. Telenovelas are intended primarily to be entertaining, and one of the goals of a telenovela is to capture a large audience to drive ratings up. When a third goal is added, the goal to promote social change or dialogue about a serious topic, I think the telenovela writer must be very careful about how these goals are balanced. It is amazing to me that some very talented writers have the ability to handle this beautifully and successfully change the way people think about a serious issue by highlighting it in their telenovela.

  2. I love that telenovelas do this. I've tried to find english television shows that do something similar and the most I can come up with is Modern Family's gay marriage subplot and Law and Order: SVU's episodes based on current events. Looking at the effect some of Leonardo Padron's telenovelas had on the Venezuelan public is amazing. Autism, alzheimer's, and plastic surgery. I can't even fathom what kind of effect there would be on the US public if we had a meaningful television show.