Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Charles Boll - Post 1

The first commercial flight to Cuba in over 50 years happened today.. what a cool thing, right?
It's such a cultural hotspot, a time-warp and a living museum with some of my favorite props - antique cars. You know it's good stuff when you can't tell if your telenovela is "de epoca" or not. That's what we get with the show Celia. I admit it's very distant from our current reality - all of the gentlemen look really sharp and the women have such modest class. The Cuban aesthetic is a commodity. It's great through my eyes; a lot more sexy because the characters look like they have their lives together with such strong presence on screen. 

One of my favorite things about the class so far is the diversity we have had the chance to see. I think it goes to show the pertinence of the Spanish language in the way it crosses platforms. Higher production telenovelas cast a wonderful spotlight on proximity, especially newer shows. I like that the historical proximity is implied. There are scenes in a ton of different places.

My telenovela, Celia, is perfect. It definitely has raw emotion, but it is pieced together outside the typical traditions of telenovelas. For example, instead of the first episode showing two people falling in love, it shows a sponsor falling in love with the voice of a singer. Having a musical vigor to the production really helps break down what they call the fourth wall in acting. See, in a play there's only three walls, allowing interaction between the audience and actors. Usually in a play you see the extras are extremely animated with background conversation, to the point where it's not realistic because humans sometimes... just sit. But here, oh no, there's no just sitting. Everything is very live and struck with wonder, indeed a production. I like to see the musicians playing the music at the same time I watch them encounter each other's personalities - it's a dance. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Soap Operas Across Borders

       Before this class, I thought I already knew what telenovelas truly were seeing that I had been exposed to them since fourth grade, the year I had my first Spanish class. However, all of my preconceived notions could not have been more wrong. Since fourth grade, I thought every soap opera, telenovela, Asian drama, etc. served no purpose outside of entertaining mindless viewers. I thought the plots were dumb and surface level, the ratings must have been extremely low, and that anyone who watched them extensively was wasting his or her time. Honestly, I had no idea how a professor could have enough meat on the topic to create an entire semester long course around it. Perhaps that's why I was so intrigued and interested in taking this class. I quickly learned to eat my words.
       Let's back track a little. Growing up in a traditional Vietnamese family home (that just so happened to be stuck in the middle of suburban America), my childhood was filled with Chinese and Korean dramas playing in the background of my tiny living room. My parents and grandparents were obsessed. My mom told me a story once about her youngest sister, Nga, and how badly teenage Nga wanted to become a famous Vietnamese actress after college. My grandfather quickly crushed those dreams saying, "You can aspire to be a famous Vietnamese voice over, but Vietnamese actresses do not exist."
       Twenty years later, these words are still true. Much like the Venezuelan government, censorship is something plaguing Vietnam to this day, and much like the Venezuelan people, Vietnamese citizens love soap operas. They love anything that can take away from their daily struggles and mask living under a corrupt, communist tyranny.  In the famous music variety shows my parents watch, the songs they sing have been around since the '80's. Rarely are the entertainers under forty years old, and rarely do they play a song my parents don't know every word to. It's as if the entertainment industry is at a stand still. If nothing new is being created, nothing has to be censored. And so, Vietnam imports dramas from China, Taiwan, Korean, Japan, etc. and finds people to do voice overs.
       Every day in this class, I learn more and more about the importance of telenovelas not only in Latin America, Spain, and Turkey, but across all borders. Television has such a power over its viewers and captivates audiences of all ages and languages. Drama, romance, and comedy can help you forget about all your worries and issues, and how scripts are written speaks volumes to the culture and politics surrounding a country. I honestly believe in a day where my aunt, Nga, will begin to see more and more Vietnamese actresses just like I believe that eventually Venezuela will see a day where its telenovela industry prospers once again.

Telenovelas are NOT Soap Operas

I want to start this blog post by being very candid for a second: when I signed up for this course, I thought that telenovelas were the Spanish versions of American soap operas and that we would be studying television shows like Days of Our Lives, The Young and Restless, General Hospital, and maybe even Jane the Virgin. I was excited about this idea, since I recently got hooked on Jane the Virgin and spent many nights this summer watching recorded General Hospital episodes with my mom, who is a loyal fan of the long time show. Fast forward to now, two weeks into the course, and I realize how very naïve and ignorant it was of me to think this way. My eyes have been opened in a big way over the last two weeks and my entire perspective on telenovelas has been completely changed because of the material we are learning in this course – in the best way possible.

I had absolutely no idea what a big deal telenovelas are in Latin American culture. Learning about the cultural phenomenon surrounding these shows has been truly fascinating for me. Here in the US, it’s no secret that soap operas are not all that respected. They are shown in the afternoon, when most people are at work, and they are not typically the shows that people make a big deal out of watching religiously. Sure, they are still popular, but they are not the shows that are shown during primetime or trending on twitter and breaking the internet – they are no Grey’s Anatomy or Scandal. Thus, when we began to discuss the nature of telenovelas in Latin America, I was honestly surprised.

The fact that people in Latin America literally plan their whole nights around these shows and are so fiercely loyal to the characters is so interesting to me.  I can relate in some ways, because I feel very strongly about my favorite shows, but from what I am gathering, telenovela watchers take fandom to a whole new level. Not only this, but while I can’t name a single American soap opera actor, the men and women that star in telenovelas are some of the most famous people in Latin America! This was, yet again, a fact that surprised me.

I also find it remarkable that while yes, many telenovelas are filled with far-fetched drama, they also often comment on very real societal problems in Latin America. I may be wrong, but I don’t think that is happening in American soap operas. I personally never would have thought that some telenovelas go way deeper than just your average melodramatic plots. This is genius to me because what better way to bring serious problems to the attention of the public than through the shows they are watching every single night, without fail.

The moral of this blog post is this: while telenovelas are not anything like what I originally thought, I am so pleasantly surprised at the things we are learning about them in class. I am truly intrigued by the telenovelas craze and I am very excited to continuing to learn more about them this semester.

Arnelle Vilfort- Blog Post 1

When I entered this Telenovela class, I thought that we would just be spending class time watching videos of different telenovelas in class and analyzing cultural components of Latin American culture in them. As a Journalism major and Spanish minor, I thought this class would be a great fusion and a great opportunity to gain insight about the lifestyle aspect of what really goes on in the homes of families in Latin America. One of my post-graduate goals is to live abroad in a Spanish speaking country, teaching English while simultaneously perfecting my Spanish. By following a telenovela throughout this semester, I will be able to learn more colloquialisms and more cultural aspects. Additionally, I’ll be able to learn about the country’s daily life through romance, rivalry and revenge. I also love getting attached to news series, shows and movies and getting to discuss and analyze them with my friends so by association, my roommates will be taking this class with me as well ;)

However I’m beginning to see that I came into this class with misconceptions of what telenovelas were. This whole entire telenovela industry has a lot more complexity and depth than one would imagine. Growing up, my mother would always watch ‘The Bold and the Beautiful” and “The Young and the Restless” and I just always thought a telenovela was just a Hispanic version of a soap opera. Within these first couple of lectures, Dr. A’s has shown us the clear distinctions between telenovelas and soap operas. I was very surprised to know that there are actually a finite amount of episodes and that they don’t go on and on like soap operas. I always found it very annoying that my mom would record these episodes everyday and it would seem like the story lines would never progress. I love watching old tv shows that are already off the air because I know I’m going to get a complete story so I’m looking forward to that aspect when I finally narrow down on my choice. On the same token, because there is a finite end, celebrities actually get the chance to make a name for themselves by playing different roles.

I think it will be interesting to see how this cultural aspect will shed light on each country’s story because it seems like its revered and admired deeply by all of Latin America and other parts of the world. Finding out that people would rather have a TV in their household than a fridge just shows that the addicting nature and entertaining quality of telenovelas are bringing people together. The fact that they are also universally relatable because of the melodrama makes me even more excited to get wrapped up into mine!

The Parking Meter Telenovela, Sorta

I signed up for this class because I got hooked on Jane the Virgin. The storyline was unique and the drama of each episode made it impossible to stop watching, which, as a broadcast major, is the phenomenon we actively chase every day. We are constantly trying to figure out how to engage with an increasingly distracted audience and capture their attention, which is something telenovelas have figured out. So while my love for Jane the Virgin was a major factor in enrolling in this course, my curiosity about how telenovelas maintain their relationship with an audience was also a propelling force.
            It is clear, even after only two weeks of class and exposure to telenovelas, that the story is the most important characteristic in a telenovela. The same is true of the broadcast stories we see on television or online. If they don’t have anything interesting to say, or aren’t articulating information in an interesting fashion, we aren’t going to listen. I spent last semester reporting local news here in Athens Clarke County and frequently the most impactful stories were often the most boring ones. For example, my task one week was to report on parking meters in downtown Athens. Thrilling, right? But it was important because the city was implementing metered parking in areas that were previously free parking spaces. Still, not too entertaining, definitely not much-watch stuff. However, I found a business owner who was in favor of the meters because they forced residents to move their cars and not hog the spaces in front of his business, giving his customers a place to park. Conversely, I met a resident who lived across the street from the business and was pretty pissed that he was going to have to start paying to park. And boom, there was my story. Sure, no one was pushed down a stair case, the business owner and the resident were not twins swapped at birth, and there was no love triangle, but there was legitimate tension and the meters impact the whole city; but did anyone care to listen to me ramble about parking meters?

The trouble was finding a way to make this information worth caring about. It is a real struggle getting people to listen to you when the topic of conversation is a snooze fest, which is the case in regards to most stories about politics. Telenovelas have a reputation for being silly and over the top, but if they can help me learn how to effectively tell a story, then the silliness and drama is completely worth it. I hope to be as good as a Telenovela writer one day; the ability to enthrall an audience of millions every single day is an incredible accomplishment. 

Telenovelas: A Tool for Social Change

A point discussed in class that I found interesting was that some telenovela writers use the plot lines of their shows to address greater social and cultural issues. Until taking this class, I pretty much just considered telenovelas to be the Spanish equivalent of soap operas: full of drama and lacking in depth. However, after learning how large an audience that these shows impact, it makes perfect sense to utilize telenovelas to draw attention to problems in society.

When trying to enlighten the public, the best way to do it is to reach people where they already are. And with such high percentages of the population in Spanish speaking countries already glued to their TVs for telenovelas at any given point in the day, it's not surprising that a variety of issues are being worked into plot lines. An example brought up in class was a character that suffers from Aspergers syndrome, a disorder that many people still struggle to understand today. By accurately portraying the disorder, it allows the general public to be exposed to what it's actually like for someone to live with Aspergers and understand/empathize better. It reminded me of an American show, Parenthood, which attempts to shed light on the everyday struggles of the average US families. In it, they also have a young boy who suffers from autism and it definitely helped me to gain insight in a way that didn't require any research because I was already watching the show.

I'm interested to learn about other ways that telenovelas can be used to impact society, whether it be addressing political problems, the mistreatment of women or other minority groups or drug trafficking. There's so many things that telenovelas can be used as a stage for, and it definitely gave me a new respect for the genre of television. While telenovelas can be dramatic and over-the-top, I'm happy to see that many of them have much deeper plot lines than simply romance like I originally thought. I'm hoping that through learning about these different story lines, I can also gain insight into some of the problems facing other countries today.

Blog Post 1: Clarity on Telenovelas

Growing up in a Spanish speaking, Colombian household, I have been exposed to telenovelas throughout my entire life. For as long as I can remember, every night, a given telenovela has echoed throughout the walls of my living room as my parents have always been daily viewers and enjoy to watch telenovelas to wind down the day. For some of these, including Pasion de Gavinales, Anita no te Rajes, Eva Luna, and Corazon Valiente,  I can clearly remember watching beautiful women and men portraying drama-filled episodes, and to a degree, I can recall the storyline. Even though I probably only half understood the entirety of what was happening due to my young age, I do completely understand that telenovelas have always been an integral part of my parents’ days contributing to my exposure to telenovelas.

Despite my close familiarity with telenovelas, I do not really have much knowledge regarding the Telenovela Industry. After these past two weeks of being in Dr. Acosta-Alzura’s Telenovelas and Society course, my personal idea of what a telenovela entails has transformed from the ordinary, family pass time I have observed telenovelas to be throughout my life, to a more educated view on what a telenovela is, their “despecho” hook, and their uniqueness within the television industry.

 This course has my answered my unresolved questions, as well as expanded and corrected my view on some elements of telenovelas. For starters, I used to wonder why telenovelas were so unique to the Latin American community since I saw American soap operas also existed. I thought those were equivalent. However, this course has answered that question for me. The telenovela and the soap opera have some similarities but mainly a variety of differences. The “despecho” factor of telenovelas is particularly unique to Latin American cultures. “Despecho” answers why televenolas are so captivating, since it serves as a hook that makes the audience tune in every single night. “Despecho” is a such a Latin American concept, that it doesn’t even have a direct translation in English!

This course has also clarified the different origins of telenovelas. Before this course, when I thought of telenovelas, I thought of either Latin American based productions, whether that be Mexican, Brazilian, or Colombian, or Miami-based productions featuring Latin Americans. My parents’ preference of the traditional, or more Rosa, telenovelas that are based on the Latin American culture have fostered that belief. This course, however, has showed me that other cultures are featured on telenovelas as well. Turkish productions are a great part of the telenovela industry, and Brazil’s co-productions in Indian have also introduced the Indian culture into the telenovela industry.

A third important take away that I have obtained from this class is the idea of the telenovela as a coping mechanism for Latin Americans who escape the troubles of their lifes by watching telenovelas. As Benavides mentions in our assigned reading, “telenovelas provide emotional relief to a continent burdened by enormous socioeconomic and material hardships.” Although I never actually thought about this, the idea is so true and accurate. Telenovelas are a part of the life of an average Latin American, not just because they are a form of entertainment, but because they are a part of the continents’ culture. Latin American communities face poverty and steep socioeconomic hierarchies. However, the telenovela provides an outlet or escape route for Latin Americans. It’s not exclusive to the privileged and wealthy. Though the socioeconomic hierarchy can be noticeable when it comes to cars, houses, and clothes, members of a variety of social classes can all tune in to the same telenovela and observe a fictional world to distract their troubled realities.  

Although I’ve mentioned a few here, there have been several interesting facts and concepts introduced to me in course. I have really enjoyed this course, and I look forward to expanding the list of surprising realizations regarding telenovelas.