Throughout my telenovela Avenida Brasil, I’ve been struck by the representation of Brazilian culture. The role of the media in Brazilian culture has historically bordered between fiction and reality and the representation of minorities and sub populations was minimal at best. Brazil is recognized in the telenovela world for its high production value, but what about the content and the narrative itself? Do Brazilian telenovelas try and push the boundaries or do they continue to settle for traditional rosa telenovelas? I believe that Avenida Brasil broke some of the boundaries of socio-economic class struggles, but it also reinforced the patriarchal and traditional means of life.
On one hand, Avenida Brasil was the first telenovela to represent the middle class in a more realistic manner (or at all). But I’m left thinking—is this enough? Throughout my studies of Brazilian history, culture, and society, it is clear that Brazilian national identity is a hybrid of language, dialect, sub cultures, and experiences that all form some aspect of “Brazilian Identity”. I would like to see more narratives focusing on minority and subcultures, not only in Rio de Janeiro, but also the various other large metropolitan cities in Brazil. I’ve been to Rio and experienced the many subcultures that exist. In fact, the subculture, in a way are the majority group, yet the media focuses mostly on white, upper class characters. Postcolonial countries, particularly Brazil, have a hard time letting go of such a Eurocentric framework that the dominant mentality doesn’t recognize marginalized populations. This very mentality is what keeps Brazil from transforming into a dominant global player because the country is very divided. For the telenovela industry, however, big players like TV Globo actually produce a series or final product that is a cultural export for other countries to consume. The representation of Brazil from telenovelas is not an accurate and comprehensive understanding of the Brazilian experience and the more that the ratings demand this type of production, the more stereotypes are reinforced about Brazilian people. It appears to be a cyclical cycle of consumption and representation that may be holding the country back from progressing and embracing all marginalized groups.
Taking from Stuart Hall’s cultural theory, human beings are meaning-making and interpretive beings. If we are to apply this cultural theory to telenovelas, then we form interpretations of culture based on what we see on television. Oftentimes, we form an opinion and interpretation of a place, a culture, or an entire country before we are ever actually exposed to it from first-hand experience. New media and technology have revolutionized our cultural understanding of the world, for better or ill. It is my hope that TV Globo and other networks in Brazil begin to think of the potential repercussions that such a narrow representation of their country may potentially do over the long run. I would like to see a more inclusive narrative and characters that do not just represent the “new middle class” in Brazil, but also the various marginalized subpopulations so prevalent in both rural and urban areas throughout the country. If Brazilians do not always distinguish clearly between fictional genres and informational genres, then it is even more important to reconsider these societal representations in order to break the cycle of the dominant groups.