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.