November 14, 2010
Mujeres asesinas, a Mexican television show by Pedro Torres, is in its third season on Televisa. Each episode focuses on a female assassin and the story around a murder that takes place; the series claims to be inspired by true events. Aside from the team of investigators, the characters as well as the actors and actresses change in each episode. This makes for an interesting analysis of this series as it does not fit into the conventional study of television. Television as a medium poses a challenge to film scholars because of its specificity and there are various theorists that have explained the difficulties caused by television studies. John Corner, for example, explained that television has an open, unending narrative which can not be criticized in the same way as a movie plot, and that it is not the nature of television to move too quickly. He also described the constant flow of television and the way in which this makes it difficult to analyze. Mujeres asesinas,however, does not necessarily fit perfectly into the six critical ideas described by Corner. The narrative is not as open and unending as a traditional television series because the episodes do not continue from one week to the next; each has its own unique story despite the way it fits into the overall premise of the series. In a way, each episode of Mujeres asesinas can be analyzed using an approach similar to the study of a movie plot. It is not necessary to watch the series from the beginning in order to understand what is occurring in a given episode because each episode is its own individual entity. Although the episodes are not the length of a generally two hour feature film, they can be similarly analyzed. In terms of speed, Mujeres asesinas moves rather quickly although it is not the nature of television to do so. In order to introduce and develop the plot in approximately one hour, it is necessary for the action to move more quickly than a television show usually would. Despite the recurring themes and the overarching presence of a female assassin in each episode, Mujeres asesinas is not necessarily very difficult to analyze in terms of flow. Being that the episodes do not continue from one week to the next there is not a necessary flow between episodes.
Another theorist, John Caugie, outlined the six theoretical problems with television studies. He, like Corner, explains that television is a unique and specific medium and describes the issues that arise when studying television. He discusses the difficulty in reconstructing a history of a television series, because unlike a two hour film, television series contain a great deal of components that make outlining a history complicated. This, however, may not cause great difficulty when working with Mujeres asesinas. This series, for the reasons stated earlier, can be more easily analyzed in terms of episodes than many other television series. Caughie explains also that there is no consensus regarding which aspect of television should be studied, be it an episode, a season of a series or a season of a channel. Although this discrepancy in the study of television is relevant to Mujeres asesinas as it is with other television series, the actual analysis may prove to be less difficult as each episode can potentially be dissected as it own unit. Caughie describes the idea of the “national” and the way in which television is a huge part of national life. The themes that are dealt with in this series, however, seem to transcend national borders. In fact, Mujeres asesinas is an adaptation of a similar series which aired in Argentina; crime series of this type, despite the twists incorporated into each, seem to be quite popular across the world. Caughie explains television’s connection with the “everyday” both in terms of content and experience. In terms of the everyday, the topics that are treated in the series are not necessarily part of everyone’s “everyday life.” The murders that occur in the series and the plots that are developed seem more like films than episodes of a television series. Although there are certainly elements of the everyday in the episodes and each episode is not identical to a conventional feature film, the series itself does not fit perfectly into the preconceived notions of what a television series is or should be according to television studies in general.
Fiction, reality and education in Mexican TV
November 15, 2010
It is said that television is significantly different from film, particularly because it is localist and domestic; people tend to want to see their daily lives reflected in television. But there must be an element of fiction as well. The mirror in which people want to see themselves must be somehow enhanced or distorted in order to pique interest and provide an escape from daily life while at the same time reflecting it to the viewer. One example of this mix of elements can be found in American reality TV shows. Over the last several years it has become wildly popular for camera crews to enter the homes of real people and expose their daily lives to the public. However, it is important to remember that these shows are also, in some ways, fictional. The combination of characters, the situations they produce, the editing and distribution of these shows are all carefully constructed so that while there is no particular script and probably some room for elements of surprise, the thematic recipe has already been concocted in advance.
While the series (aired once a week) telenovela (aired daily) genres are still more popular in Mexican television than reality shows are, these types of shows often tend to shed light on real issues of their viewers. Even the telenovelas showing colonial times and rural, period costumes are made to somehow draw an element of current problems or cultural themes that are commonly understood (gender roles, religious practices, class differences and so on). Mujeres Asesinas embodies both the hunger for reality and the need for fiction. This series is interesting for a variety of reasons. First, it is based on true stories. This is announced at the very beginning of the program as a reminder to the audience that there is an element of reality present. It also presents women in a variety of situations that would lead them to be murderers; some are selfish and cruel (a woman who kills her three husbands out of boredom and hopes for economic gain) yet others invoke sympathy (a poor household servant who defends her son at the hands of a horrible boss). The depth of situational content here opens the show to a much larger group of viewers, particularly women, who can find some kind of relation or sympathy to at least some of the protagonists in the show. Another series, La Rosa de Guadalupe, is similar in that it often discusses family and youth in distress, and during the hour long program, some kind of resolution evolves after the suffering protagonist prays to la Virgen de Guadalupe. Here again, reality and fiction unite in the form of a show that uses current social issues to present a problem to which the viewer can relate, while mixing it with an element of fiction in the form of la Virgen. While to many people la Virgen and her powers are very much a reality, the fictional part is still found in the fact that many of the stories may be based on reality but their resolutions may or may not have included requests for assistance from a divine power.
Both Mujeres Asesinas and la Rosa de Guadalupe have educational elements in them. At the beginning of Mujeres Asesinas, the women are often shown being questioned in a jail cell by police who have obviously caught them after committing their crimes. This kind of introduction can serve as a way of showing viewers what might happen in reality if they follow the paths of the female protagonists. La Rosa de Guadalupe often portrays families in distress, and while it shows la Virgen as one way of dealing with the problem, the show also has a hostess who intermittently gives advice to people suffering from abuse, thoughts of suicide, confusion about sexuality, and drug use. She appears at the beginning, after commercial breaks, and at the end of the show, to help guide the viewer through what may be a complicated and emotionally intense situational drama.
In an article by Laura Beard, she discusses “the role of telenovelas in the production and maintenance of cultural meaning. As popular commercial television programs successfully marketed to a large audience, telenovelas take part in forming what can be seen as ‘the imaginary domain of gender’. Telenovelas can serve to maintain ideological hegemony, or, very occasionally, to question certain aspects of a system” (Beard, 2003: 73-74). Beard is very accurate in claiming that gender is a huge aspect of how telenovelas are scripted, acted and marketed. While these shows are often saturated with images of “traditional” gender roles, there have been significant strides to look at gender issues in Mexico with a realistic and educated eye. Considering the popularity and wide spread audience of telenovelas, it makes sense that directors may choose to use that very same mode of communication in order to question or break free from traditional gender roles. Mujeres Asesinas and la Rosa de Guadalupe do this skillfully; they maintain some of the more traditional reflections of gender so as to not completely alienate their audience, yet in doing so they also propose new ways of thinking to their audience by suggesting that there is more to the feminine (and masculine) social structure that deserves due credit in the domestic, religious and economic web of Mexican reality.
Sinclair, John. Latin American Television: a Global View. 1999. AND Beard, Laura. “Whose Life in the Mirror? Examining Three Mexican Telenovelas as Cultural and Commercial Products.” 2003.
The reason behind revising both John Sinclair’s Latin American Television: A Global View and Laura Beard’s “Whose Life in the Mirror? Examining Three Mexican Telenovelas as Cultural and Commercial Products” resides in the fact that the former answered a question the first one created. I will address these after a brief summary of both articles.
Sinclair’s Latin American Television: a Global View, specifically the section titled “Into the Global Era” highlights the decline of Televisa’s, the world’s most prolific generator of Spanish-language telenovelas, fortunes in the economic sphere from 1992 to 1997. The loss stems from debt, the subsequent sale of “down time assets,” unbalanced managerial entities, competition in the domestic market, and foreign partnerships (44). Sinclair explains that Televisa’s debt comes from a loss in consumer audience and advertising because of the ‘tequila effect,’ or the government hegemony over the product, which renders telenovelas normative and repetitive (45). After the company’s president, Emilio Azcarraga Milmo, passed away, leadership became unstable and internal power struggles ensued, although it was eventually inherited by his son (47-8). According to the article, Televisa reigned supreme from 1955 to 1972, and by 1996, TV Azteca, the competition, “was claiming 37 per cent of the prime-time audience, and 23 per cent of television advertising revenue” (49). TV Azteca also featured a variety of locally produced programs, imported products, such as The Simpsons and The Nanny, and co-productions with US-based Spanish language channel, Telemundo (50).
After 1997, Televisa underwent a restructuring because of the four reasons described above. As of 1999, when the article was written, the Televisa 2000 plan sought to invest more in the DTH (direct-to-home) industry (read cable TV) in order to compensate for the previous years’ losses (57)
In “Whose Life in the Mirror? Examining Three Mexican Telenovelas as Cultural and Commercial Products,” Laura Beard examines three telenovelas, “Laberintos de Pasion,” “El Candidato,” and “La Vida en el Espejo,” as cultural expressions of gender performativity in Mexican culture (73), and, in the case of the last production, a repository of commercial advertisement (86). Using Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Beard argues that the proper behaviors for men and women are created, assigned, demonstrated, and occasionally (but rarely) challenged by telenovelas as cultural products (73). We are all familiar with the male/female, passion/love, and power/submission dichotomies, which hardly bear repeating. What is most fascinating is that the competition between Televisa and TV Azteca, which is explained in theory by Sinclair’s piece, is exemplified in Beard’s text. “Laberintos de Pasion,” produced by the more government controlled Televisa, presents a rigidly elaborated patriarchal structure where lonely women are subject to sexual violence should they find themselves without the protection of a man (77). The last two telenovelas, “El Candidato,” and “La Vida en el Espejo,” backed by TV Azteca, are less conventional in the sense that the former has a seemingly independent female protagonist (79), and the latter exhibits a homosexual character who is handsome, intelligent, and strong (83). In spite of these unconventional selling points, however, the woman is still an object of pleasure and the homosexual man’s sexual orientation is anthologized (85). Lastly, Beard addresses the commercial aspects of “La Vida en el Espejo,” where products like Ponds cream and Corona beer constitute part of the props as a selling point to the audiences (86-7).
One of the questions engendered by Sinclair’s 1999 article was “what is next for Televisa?” After all, I am reading the text in 2010, and Televisa is still a powerhouse of telenovela production in spite of the author’s mid-1990’s crisis. How did Televisa survive into the new millennium? As Beard puts it, Televisa’s “indisputable hegemony that is built on strong relations with the political powers in Mexico,” (75) and the rigid gender/class roles it perpetrates must still have an undeniable appeal to telenovela audiences in Mexico and abroad.
Gender Representation in Rebelde
João Nemi Neto
Rebelde was a soap opera produced by the Mexican TV channel Televisa, “the largest producer of telenovelas in the world” (Beard, 74). It is a remake of the Argentinean telenovela, “Rebeldeway” produced before. Both telenovelas were extremely successful seen in many countries around the world. Also, both generated pop groups, RBD and ERREWAY who also experienced success while the telenovela was broadcasted.
Rebelde tells the story of a group of students in a boarding school and their daily lives dilemmas as well some other problems. In order to illustrate that we can see two different scenarios:
Scenario 1: Summer. A group of teenagers sailing, teenagers sitting by the pool being served by waiters, girls in miniskirts and high heel boots, boys playing pool, duplex rooms fashionably decorated, teenagers getting drunk at clubs…
Scenario 2: A man seeking revenge over his father’s death. A father – Godfather like – telling his son that he must beat another boy up to prove he is a man, a young man drinking alcohol trying to forget what his father had done to him, a girl trying to help an abandoned child…
A school that does not look like a school and teenagers that don’t look like teenagers form this Mexican soap opera. Also, all the elements of traditional soap opera, revenge, love between the rich girl and the poor boy (or vice-versa) that would not necessarily fit into a teen soap opera. Along with all those elements, a lot of music and dance.
Along with all those elements, I would like to focus on the gender representation in this soap opera. As we read before when discussing gender representations, the female characters in this soap opera are fetichisized in order to pleasure the male audience.
First, their uniform, while the boys are constantly seen in pants and tie, the girls’ uniform is a tight miniskirt and high heel boots. The teenage girls are sexualized and portrayed as sexual objects for the others. Also, their dance groups are only formed with girls, boys are not part of that school activity and their dances are also very sexy and when they perform, they do that for the audience and for the male pleasure.
The parents in the telenovela also portray this conservative perspective. The mothers are weak and sub judged by the fathers who are strong men. The fathers hit their kids in the face and the mothers protect their spoiled kids – hijos de nana.
Although it is a teen soap opera, all the elements of a traditional gender portrayal as we read in Beard are present. The author analyzed three different Mexican telenovelas from the same TV channel. Being produced by Televisa, it is possible to understand why Rebelde is so conservative. After all, as Beard points out, “Televisa has a Department of Literary Supervision, with employees who know the ethical and moral rules stipulated by the secretariat to the Mexican government which supervises and controls censorship.” Rebelde, therefore, although masked with a modern façade is still a conservative telenovela with young characters representing the traditional gender binary roles seen in other Mexican telenovelas.
Comments on Amarte así
Amarte así is a telenovela broadcasted for the first time in the United States in 2005. It was a product of coproduction of Telemundo (Spanish language broadcast television network, founded by Ángel Ramos in Puerto Rico, in 1954, but expanded in the US in the late 1980s, and presently owned by NBC. Its first telenovelas were filmed in 1993) and Promofilm (Argentinean production company founded in 1990). Although the story of the telenovela is set in a Mexican town called Ciudad Esperanza, it was filmed in Argentina. It has 119 episodes.
The plot of Amarte así is constructed around two people coming from different social backgrounds – Margarita and Ignacio – who reencounter six years after they had met for the first time. After one night spent with Margarita, Ignacio goes to the US, where he studies medicine. Margarita stays in Mexico, and gives birth to a child, Frijolito. Ignacio is not aware of his son’s existence. After the two find each other again, their love starts facing obstacles. These are created by Ignacio’s brother Francisco (who is also in love with Margarita), Chantal (Francisco’s sister-in-law, and Ignacio’s fiancée), the villains Lucho and Gregorio, as well as Chantal’s mother. The telenovela, however, – just like most of the others - is crowned by the marriage of the couple.
In her article “Whose Life in the Mirror? Examining Three Mexican Telenovelas as Cultural and Commercial Products”, Laura Beard speaks about Laberintos de Pasión, as a representative of telenovelas produced by Televisa, and points out the importance of the climatic moments in this show, which provoke a growing interest among the audience. These have to do with carefully elaborated tag lines, which take place before the commercials and before the end of the show (76). Amarte así, although not produced by the same production company, follows the same model.
Family, as one of the crucial elements of this telenovela, seems to represent the ongoing ideal the characters are trying to reach. Besides the family Margarita and Ignacio form in the end of the telenovela – they have two children of their own -, there is no other two-parent-familiy in Amarte así, since in each family one of the parents is absent: Ignacio, Francisco, and their sister grew up next to their mother and a stepfather; Francisco is a widower himself, who has two daughters; Margarita doesn’t have a father, but her mother falls in love with Ignacio’s father, who will eventually, when the time comes, discover himself as such, etc. The “play of recognition” of parents and children is an important element of telenovelas as well, and Amarte así is not an exception.
The story takes place in a town of Mexico, and is characterized by a lot of national elements, such as mariachi costumes, Mexican music, Mexican food, the interiors of houses which almost always include the figure of Virgin of Guadalupe, etc. However, an international coproduction implies the presence of transnational elements as well. One of those is the protagonist who returns to Mexico upon graduating from a US medical school.
As in every other telenovela, the good characters of Amarte así are compensated with a happy ending, whereas the villains face their "well-deserved" destiny: death and physical punishment. That’s where the sterotypical cycle of telenovela closes.