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From love to hate: This is the guilty pleasure of telenovelas

The soap operas are trendy again - if they ever ceased to be - but why are they still a guilty pleasure?

From love to hate: This is the guilty pleasure of telenovelas

Telenovelas are born in Latin America. Some countries have made their own versions of the stories we saw years ago. Those which occupy prime time on our television were once a source of pride and for a few years now seem to be a guilty pleasure. Now that Netflix has produced two -Luis Miguel: the series and La casa de las flores-, they are back in fashion.

Leer en español: Del amor al odio: Así es el placer culposo de las telenovelas

What makes a television production a soap opera?

For many, the difference between a telenovela and a series was that the first was broadcast on television daily and the other was presented in weekly installments and was divided IGNORE INTO seasons.

Thus, the telenovela gave the impression of being written all from the beginning of its transmission and the series; however, it could change tone and argument as it changed from one season to another. This, nevertheless, is questioned with American soup operas, which have the plot and tone of a telenovela but are delivered seasonally. This same case is that of La casa de las flores and Luis Miguel: the series, both Mexican, which premiered its first season this year and left us waiting for the next.

Another belief is that the telenovela is Latin American while the series is American. However, this is also not true since neither of the two genres is exclusive to one or another geographical area.

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This also has to do with the fact that telenovelas have been treated as a minor genre. Thus, the Colombian soap operas on drug trafficking (see El Capo, Escobar, the pattern of evil, Sin tetas no hay paraiso, etc.), for example, began to call themselves 'series' to tell the public that they are quality content. The truth is that gender division cannot be made based on quality, because there are bad series and good telenovelas.

Telenovelas and Latin America

Although the division cannot be made by the geographical area (in the telenovela dichotomy: Latin America, series: North America), I do believe that the essence of the telenovela has to do, without a doubt, with Latin America.

Something that telenovelas have in common is melodrama. There is usually a pathos, a lament, and an exaggerated joy in the telenovelas. When two lovers kiss for the first time in a soap opera, which is usually after many episodes in which they have been about to do it and in which the public has cursed every failed kiss, they make us believe that they are the first two people to kiss in the world.

There are, then, some themes and ways of treating them very typical of the telenovela: the death of those who keep a secret, the confession for guilt on the deathbed, the family secret, the crossed lovers, the deceit, the inheritance of the father, etc.

All these scenes that probably every Latin American has seen in soap operas are also typical of our nineteenth century national foundation novels. Melodrama is the foundation on which our nations were established and tangentially marked our identity.

María, by Jorge Isaacs, whom we had for a long time on the 50,000 Colombian pesos bill, dies tragically, waiting for her beloved Efraín. In this novel, which is a classic of Colombian literature, scenes are read in which a character dies in the arms of another after giving a speech about that death that those around her are witnessing. The telenovela, then, is always referring to the sentimental novel that we celebrate so much.

Why is it a guilty pleasure?

Why, then, if the melodrama, in part, defines us, are we ashamed of the telenovelas? Why do we feel guilt and pleasure? As I said, I believe that melodrama is part of our identity, how Latin Americans express and how we relate to Latin Americans, since it was a key piece in the literature of the time in which we founded our nations.

I think that is precisely why we feel pleasure watching the soap operas, as well as guilt. It is like looking at ourselves from another angle. It bothers us to see ourselves in the mirror from an angle we never use. We look weird, but we cannot stop seeing each other either. It gives us curiosity at the same time as shame when we see ourselves feeling identified with one of the lovers, whose sufferings and passions are exaggerated, or with some of the villains, whose evil is absurd.

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Another of the typical topics of the telenovela is the social ascent: two lovers whose love is impossible because they are from different social classes. This was the case of Ugly Betty, in love with her boss Armando; or Pasión de Gavilanes, in which three bricklayers brothers fall in love with three daughters of a powerful landowner; or Café con aroma de mujer, in which Gaviota, a coffee picker, falls in love with Sebastian, an heir.

At the end, all these lovers overcome the obstacles against those who have fought chapter by chapter and there is a class meeting that the public celebrates. However, it also makes us uncomfortable because the telenovela has highlighted the classism so typical of our society. The telenovela, then, is melodrama and is self-critical and that is why we love and hate it.

We love some and hate others

Lately, we have accepted only some soap operas and make fun of others. It seems that we celebrate only those that have foreign approval, such as Ugly Betty, which has been translated IGNORE INTO 25 languages, or like those that Netflix now releases. The truth is that all of them, from Mi Gorda Bella (Venezuela) to La esclava Isaura (Brazil) through Los ricos también lloran (Mexico), show something of ourselves and then it bothers us to see ourselves ridiculed on the screen.

La casa de las flores was read as a joke to the soap opera and maybe that's why it was so praised. I laughed at Julian, the son of the De La Mora, millennial Latin American freelance enterpreneur, and I laughed at myself. There is no parody without homage.

Cervantes wanted to parody the cavalry novels and for that he wrote El Quijote, which turned out to be the greatest cavalry novel. To make a good parody of the soap opera you have to observe it and know how to imitate it. It must be celebrated.

 

LatinAmerican Post | Juliana Rodríguez
Translated from “Del amor al odio: Así es el placer culposo de las telenovelas”

 

* The opinion of the writer does not represent this newspaper

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