Though our conversations with Mónica Montañés and Roberto Stopello were brief, we covered a lot of information with each writer. What struck me about the two conversations was what they had in common.
In response to a question asking if she had a favorite type of character to write, Montañés said she favors strong female characters who empower the women who watch. With these characters, she said, she hopes that the women in the audience are spurred on to greater aspirations.
When asked if he had intended to convey a particular message related to social issues with Relaciones Peligrosas, Stopello said that yes, he always intended to convey a message or open the audience’s minds to something new.
And there it is: both writers write with a greater purpose in mind than simply enjoyment or entertainment.
In the entertainment industry, this isn’t unusual. Plenty of screenwriters worldwide write social commentary into their scripts for movies and television shows, making their points with raw emotions and comedic situations. Even children’s shows seem to have agendas sometimes, and few forms of entertainment seem to be focused solely on entertaining. Now, what’s unusual is the size of the audience receiving the message when it’s conveyed via a telenovela. It’s unusual for a different entertainment television program to appeal to such a wide range of people- From Cote de ’Ivoire to Cuba and Canada to Colombia, with men and women, rich and poor, old and young. Telenovelas simply appeal to a wider range of people than most mainstream entertainment media. So a message presented in a telenovela will, hypothetically, reach a wider range of people than a message presented in some other form of mainstream entertainment media.
When a single show can have the entire city of Caracas glued to their televisions (like Dr. A’s anecdote of watching Cosita Rica when Chavez tried to address the country right as Cacique realized he had been tricked) or an entire Muslim country so enthralled that the TV schedule has to work around the nightly call to prayer so no one misses an episode, it’s clear that these telenovelas are powerful things. It’s not often that you can find one single thing that grasps a group of people so completely- and because of this, it makes perfect sense for telenovelas to be the primary focus of the government when they turn to censorship to silence the voices of the critical.
Perhaps unfortunately, not all messages conveyed by telenovelas are intentional. Just as some European and American television shows have convinced preteen girls that they must be thin and have shiny hair to have value, telenovelas can convey messages without even trying, and simply by being. This is the great responsibility that comes with the great power given to telenovela writers such as Montañés and Stopello. And this could indicate why censorship laws on telenovelas are so specific and so harsh- if a government wants complete and uncontested control, it’s not enough to block out intended messages and perspectives, but also any that could be conveyed subliminally or unintentionally. This is a big job, but likely an important one if a leader really wants such power.
These messages are also why it’s so important that media- especially telenovelas- aren’t subject to government censorship. Telenovelas are far more than entertainment media, and so free speech must be practiced by these widespread forms of media if it’s truly to be practiced at all. Because of their viewership, which crosses political boundaries, telenovelas are the ideal form of media by which to contribute to the marketplace of ideas. They are the form of media that allows those of differing viewpoints to receive the message and do with it what they choose. If that liberty is taken away, it affects far more people than the absence of a single news outlet or individual’s right to speech.