Thursday, November 10, 2016

Hot Button Topics: How Telenovelas Address Society's Controversy

In my telenovela, El Principe, the central plot line of the show revolves around a dangerous border town in southern Spain that is struggling with an uprising of radical Islamic jihadists. This topic is wildly relevant in today's society, not just for Spain, but for any Western country experiencing a rift between the rights of Muslim citizens and the fear of terroristic attack. Many countries, the United States included, are walking a fine line between prejudice and national security. There is no easy answer. And while the drama of the show is extremely entertaining - full of action, romance, drama - it's important to remember that it is just that, a show.

Following the rising popularity of El Principe in Spain in 2014, many Muslim Spaniards felt that it depicted the role of their culture in Spanish society in a threatening and false manner. Many experts and bloggers alike took to their forums to discuss just how dangerous it can be to associate a culture with their extremists for the sake of entertainment. Yasmina Aidi, a then doctoral candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Languages at Princeton University, wrote a piece for online news source Aljazeera on the perpetuation of stereotypes in Spain through this popular show.

"The series is entertaining, until one realises that this show is actually shaping public perceptions of Islam and Spain's Muslims, and that the six million Spanish viewers who tune in every Tuesday night take the show quite seriously," Aidi wrote. "Viewers don't see it as a comical, distorted depiction of North Africa, but as a reliable source of information on Islamic culture and Muslim family life. In reality, El Principe is evidence of just how backwards Spain's discourse on diversity and immigration is."

In her article, Aidi goes on to discuss the problems within Spanish society that threaten the Muslim community that aren't accurately addressed in El Principe. For example, how it fails to address the issues in Spanish policy faced by Muslim-Spaniards, but instead paints the problems as strictly cultural and societal. In the same vein, the show utilizes outdated and offensive jargon, "moro" or Moor, for the Muslim community in the show, instead of the politically correct "Musulmano/a". The protagonists of the story are green eyed and fair skinned, while the villains are dark eyed and darker complexions. Her examples continue, but the sentiment is the same: inaccuracy is detrimental.

I believe that it's not unfair to address such hot button topic as terrorism in popular culture, in fact it can be a powerful tool for breaking down stereotypes and allow the general public to consume accurate information from a source that they are seeking out on their own. However, these are controversial topics for a reason, and need to be handled with the utmost care. While the storyline of El Principe is fiction, the lives of Muslims in Spanish (and many other societies) are not. It's important to stress the reality of the situation in entertainment, to avoid the perpetuation of false stereotypes in society. 

Read Aidi's full article here:


  1. Hi Elizabeth. I enjoyed your blog post as it is similar to what I've been researching for my final paper. The representation of cultural groups on television, and especially telenovelas, does not always consider the repercussions that they actually have on the general public. I recently read an article (I would share it with you, but its in Portuguese) about the construction of culture and geographic space. The author posits that through media, particularly film, viewers create their own cultural understanding and "geographic space" based on a synthesis of real experiences, images, and perceptions of what they view. The way that the public viewed your telenovela can be viewed through this same lens. The public started forming perceptions about a culture that, perhaps, they knew little about. These kind of representations reinforce stereotypes under the illusion that they are "entertainment". Inaccuracy is, in fact, detrimental, but few people are actually talking about this problem because in the industry the ratings are the most important. Interesting post and thanks for sharing that article!

  2. Hola Elizabeth. Me gusta mucho esta entrada de blog porque he estado muy interesado en cómo se representan los problemas sociales y poloticos en las telenovelas. Esta telenovela parece muy interesante, y discute un tema que probablemente no se discute a menudo. Como dijiste, es muy difícil hablar de problemas de una manera divertida, y a veces puede crear problemas. También como dijiste, hablar de un tema como el terrorismo no es malo, sólo tiene que ser hecho correctamente y no ofensivamente. La televisión puede ser una fuente de ruptura de estereotipos. Aunque la telenovela está incorporando un problema de la vida real, debe hacerse de una manera más precisa para educar a los espectadores.

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  4. Hola Elizabeth. Como Ashley y Samantha me gusto mucho este entrada de blog. Pienso que hoy la representación de grupos culturales, problemas sociales y el gobierno en television es muy preocupante. En el mundo de hoy, muchas personas no confíes la media y fuentes tradicionales de las noticias. Hay demasiado noticias y pienso que personas están abrumados y no saben que creer. Por resultado, la gente recurren a sus programs de television para información. Mientras que esto puede parecer ridiculo, los escritores de telenovelas y otras programs de television necesitan realizar que esto esta pasando. Esto da una responsabilidad a los escritores. Sus programs tienen el poder influir las perspectivas de la gente sobre problemas en la vida real. Espero que los escritores ven el impacto de sus obras y hacen cambias en el futuro.