Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Guest Columnist: Lorena Hughes Confesses. On-Line Floricanto

Guest Columnist: Lorena Hughes.
Confessions of a Former Telenovela-Addict

Say the word telenovela among a literary circle and you will get one of two reactions:

  1. A smirk
  2. Silence

Writers would rather have their wisdom teeth pulled out than admit that at any point in their lives they watched a novela.

Not me. I admit openly and freely that I once was atelenovela lover. A lifetime of watching soaps from many different countries, gives me the freedom to say without prejudice that many of them are bad and I probably shouldn’t have wasted my time on them. But there are others that I still remember fondly, which have inspired and influenced my writing. Stories that portray the idiosyncrasy, culture, history and charm of a country. Stories with complex and three-dimensional characters, or plot twists that kept me on the edge of my seat (cursing that it was Friday and I had to wait till Monday for the next episode.) Some have touched me deeply or impressed me with their settings and costumes (admittedly, historical soaps are my favorite.) As a writer, I’ve been a weary observer of contrivances, clichés and predictability of some novelas, but I’ve also absorbed and learned from those with the flawed heroines, entangled relationships and unexpected developments.

The common misconception is that all novelas are the same: poor girl falls in love with rich guy, guy must marry wicked/rich antagonist (pregnant with someone else’s child.) After a series of misunderstandings (and poor protagonist’s improved look and economical status) hero and heroine come together. This formula, with hundreds of variations, is used over and over again.

Sure, many telenovelas follow this simple recipe. But there are many that have broken away from the mold. Let’s take a look at the different categories:

Telenovela Clásica

The traditional Cinderella-story that has given the genre a bad name. This is the bread and butter of Televisa. (To be fair, it has been used in other countries, too.) This easy, predictable plot still sells and Televisa would rather mass produce ten Big Macs than one Lobster meal. After all, they’re faster and cheaper to make, and they already have an audience. This category is the comfort food of many who like easy-to-follow plots and clear-cut good and bad characters.

It should be noted that when done right, this subgenre can be quite enjoyable, like the Colombian hit Café, con aroma de mujer. It only took a few tweaks from the traditional mold (a charismatic protagonist who sings while collecting coffee grains and a hero whose weakness is aguardiente and an impotence problem only resolved in the arms of the heroine.) This telenovela sky-rocketed to novela royalty, together with the Venezuelan ristal (which is currently in its second Televisa incarnation.)

Telenovela Costumbrista o Rural

In Colombia, Chile and Brazil, this subgenre has proven very successful. The writers/directors figured (around the 80s?) that in order to compete with the big Televisa monster, they had to offer an alternative for viewers.

Except for Brazil, the other countries couldn’t compete with the expensive production of the Mexican telenovela empire, so they focused instead on telling
different stories, displaying charming traditions and idiosyncrasies through eccentric and humorous characters.

And so, the Colombian novela was born. Here you can find quirky antagonists you can’t hate (their plans always go wrong and they often have colorful sidekicks) like in Gallito Ramirez (with Carlos Vives), Caballo Viejo and Me llaman Lolita.

It should be noted that Televisa has been paying attention and has now branched out from their flat, one-dimensional antagonists in some of their novelas. This is also the forte of Brazilian and Chilean telenovelas (known as teleseries). Their “themed-novelas” focus on a particular immigrant group and how they relate to the locals (Gypsies, Muslims, Italians, etc.) Or a particular setting (ex: circus.) One of my favorite Chilean teleseries (Aquelarre) is about a small town with a strange problem: only females are born here. The secret behind this phenomenon drives the plot and is only revealed at the end.

Rural novelas in Mexico usually involve a hero and a heroine caught between feuding families a la Romeo and Juliet (Cañaveral de Pasiones, El Manantial) but they are a lot more dramatic.

Telenovela Histórica o de Época

I’m constantly in awe of Mexican, Brazilian or Chilean period novelas. The attention to detail, fashion and setting is impressive (in Brazil, they built a village for Xica da Silva.)

These stories feature extraordinary characters. You can find strong heroines who are not afraid to travel alone across the continent in search of the men who impregnated them (Alborada), upper class women who become queridas of married, older men (Alondra), protagonists who use their beauty and sexuality to become powerful (Xica, Dona Beija), vengeful women who cook those who betray them and feed them to their enemies (Xica), female doctors who dress up as men in order to be near their estranged fathers (Pampa Ilusion), women who flee their stable haciendas to follow their beloved to remote Indian tribes under attack (Ramona), or single mothers who become singers in spite of the rigid societal rules constricting them (Si Dios me quita la vida.)

You may also find heroes with serious flaws: pirates who traffic slaves for money (El Antillano in Pasión), leading men who are willingly unfaithful to the heroine (El Comendador en Xica), hardened men feared by all in town who succumb to the heroine’s noble heart. (Juan del Diablo in Corazón Salvaje.) You will also find antagonists who’ll do anything to keep their weakling sons in power (Daniela Romo in Alborada), women who use religion to punish and manipulate (Violante in Xica), and daughters who cut ties with their mothers based on “el que dirán” (Tete in Si Dios me quita la vida.) Sprinkle these unusual characters with fascinating subplots and you’ll have the complete package of a good story, amazing performances and visually-stimulating scenes.

There are also telenovelas based on real historical events with fictionalized characters. The late Ernesto Alonso produced beautiful work about the history of Mexico in three series: El Vuelo del Aguila, La Antorcha Encendida and Sendas de Gloria. Currently, Colombia has ventured with a historical piece based on the life of a mestiza who fought against the Spaniards during post-colonial times but fell in love with one. (La Pola) (Currently transmitted in the US.)

Telenovela Contemporánea

These are the kinds of stories you find in American soap-operas. The protagonists are professional women who are no longer virgins and may have more than one boyfriend. They may have marital or infertility problems. Or they may be older women having extra-marital affairs. These novelas usually take place in urban/cosmopolitan settings, and more often than not, are stories with “issues” (the soap opera equivalent of Jodi Picoult.) In Brazil, Globo found a gold mine telling controversial stories about surrogate mothers, cloning, drug abuse, twins separated at birth, mothers and daughters in love with the same man, etc. Many of them revolve around the world of fashion. My favorite of this category is the Brazilian Tititi (80s version), a modern-day Romeo and Juliet where the feuding fathers are competing fashion designers. These novelas often show two sets of characters: the affluent in their mansions and the poor in marginal neighborhoods (usually the humorous characters are found here.) Colombians have also found success in this subgenre (the iconic Yo soy Betty, la fea and more recently Vecinos, where these two conflicting worlds meet when a taxi driver wins the lottery and buys an expensive apartment in an exclusive Bogota neighborhood.) As an alternative to Televisa’s classic novelas, their Mexican counterpart, TV Azteca, produces this type of scenarios. Televisa has also tried this subgenre. An example is Alguna Vez Tendremos Alas, the story of a tormented orchestra director who loses the will to live after his wife dies, but finds true love in a much younger woman with a trauma of her own.

ACD Systems Digital Imaging

Telenovelas Góticas

Gothic novelas were quite popular in the 80’s. Usually the protagonist enters the lives of a powerful family in an obscure mansion (as a maid or an impostor or a naïve young wife) where she’ll make allies and enemies, uncover warped family secrets and find true love. (Some are inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s novels.) Examples: La Intrusa in Venezuela, Cuna de Lobos in Mexico, Luz María in Peru (also historical) and Antonella in Argentina, among others. The most recent loosely-gothic novela I watched (and loved) is Televisa’s La Otra.

Telenovela de Crimen o Narcotráfico

These novelas are fast-paced, bloody and often feature male protagonists. They show us the underworld of drugs and crime and it’s not unusual for the protagonist to spend time in prison (guilty or not.) My favorite is the Colombian La Mujer del Presidente, the story of a man who hides the body of his boss’s wife after she drops dead while seducing him. This is only the beginning of the protagonist’s nightmare who becomes the target of a powerful enemy and goes from prisoner to fugitive while trying to prove his innocence. Every episode ends with a cliffhanger, but even in this dark world, there are enormous sacrifices, loveable characters
and touching scenes.

More recently this subgenre feature powerful drug lords in Mexico and Colombia and the women beside them. A few of them are based on literary successes, such Arturo Pere Reverte’s La Reina del Sur and Sin Tetas No Hay Paraiso by Gustavo Bolivar Moreno.

Telenovela Juvenil

Popular in Argentina and Mexico, this subgenre often features a group of teenage friends at a boarding school or in a music band. Many of these stories originated in Argentina and were later remade in Mexico, where the careers of many singers bloomed (RBD). Members of Timbiriche and Menudo (including Ricky Martin) participated in these telenovelas.

Telenovela Infantil

One of the biggest stars in Mexico started as a child actress in soap operas: Lucerito. At the same time, in the other extreme of the continent, her Argentinean counterpart, Andrea del Boca, was also featuring orphan girls in search of their mothers and adopted by lovable widowers. Other novelas feature a group of kids in a school without one protagonist.

Telenovela in the US

The youngest industry of telenovelas is based in the US. During the last decade, Telemundo has been working hard at co-producing with Colombian and Mexican companies telenovelas of quality. One of their most successful endeavors has been Doña Barbara (based on the novel by Rómulo Gallegos ). Their casts usually feature an eclectic group of popular actors of different
nationalities. Univision has also been featuring US-produced novelas for years.

My Conclusions

As in literature, there are well-executed products and a lot of mediocre ones, but it’s hard to assign them a label since appreciations of this nature are subjective. As writers, we should study all forms of storytelling, be it novels, films, theatre and yes, telenovelas.

Telenovelas are part of our tradition. Wherever Latin families are found, there will be a telenovela in the background (or a futbol game). Novelas have the power to paralyze a city (when the final episode is aired) or have everyone at work or school taking about them (yes, even men.)

What about you? Is there any novela you remember fondly?
Have you ever been happily surprised by a performance, character, plot or
setting in a novela?

For more articles by Lorena Hughes, please visit her at the Divine Secrets of the Writing Sisterhood blog: http://divinesecretsofthewritingsisterhood.blogspot.com

Lorena Hughes was born and raised in Ecuador. At age eighteen, she moved to the US to go to
college and got adegree in Fine Arts and Mass Communication & Journalism. She worked as a graphic designer and illustrator before she discovered that her true passion was writing (though she still designs and illustrates occasionally—see banner in Writing Sisterhood blog page.)

She writes novels set in South America and seasons them with mystery and family secrets. She has now stepped into the muddy waters of Historical Fiction and hopes to come out clean after the adventure.

She is one of the four "sisters" in the Divine Secrets of the Writing Sisterhood blog: http://divinesecretsofthewritingsisterhood.blogspot.com

La Bloga On-Line Floricanto June seven comma twenty eleven

1. “The Same Thing" by Genny Lim

2. "Hummingbirds and Butterflies" by Manuel Lozano

3. "We Are The Ones We Have Been Waiting For" by Stephanie Yan

4. "We Call It Work" by José Hernández Díaz

5. "The Wall" by Edward Vidaurre

The Same Thing

by Genny Lim

“The trees on the mountain topple themselves
and the spring steals its own water.”
-Chuang ‘zi

In comparing how prison camp workers
rubbed grains from ears of wheat stalks
and popped them in their mouths
it was every man for himself
recalls Er Tai Gao
who wore the dead man’s coat
The young man had lied to his mother
that he was well, then died of starvation
wearing the blue coat she had made

In comparing our city’s homeless
wearing rags that no one had made
and stuffing themselves with food scraps
rummaged from dumpsters and
the cold fire of whiskey
I wonder if captivity or freedom
amounts to the same thing?

Two deaths amount to one
When a mother awakens
in the dead of night
to discover the son she once nursed
has succumbed to the suckle of whiskey
Two deaths amount to one
when a mother awakens
in the chill of dawn to
discover her boy’s letters from camp
have stopped for eternity

Two deaths amount to one
when the trees on the hillsides
can’t lift the heavy rains that come
Two deaths amount to one
when the fish can’t spawn upstream
because it’s everyone for himself
and captivity and freedom
have become the same thing

Copyright by Genny Lim

Hummingbirds and Butterflies

by Manuel Lozano

You’ll get the truth fast,
Once they make it right up,
The past was a blast
That grew more corrupt.
No one knew what was next,
There were lies in the text
Written down as history,
And the cloaked took their turn
To watch the codices burn
While distributing more misery.

Who would have thought
That time would move faster?
With the same war still being fought
Over half a millennium after.
One continuous crooked line
Of hatred and crime
Against all those made of corn.
Because your skin is brown
They’ll try keeping you down
Since the day you are born.

This is a bad place to wander
From your perch on the cactus,
Your wild call of thunder
Makes you target practice,
And yet we take flight
As we sing and we write,
And take part in the old battle.
In these ancient routes that we take
We still hold on to the snake
With diamonds and warning rattle.

Sweet rebellious warrior spirit
You chant with your drum beats,
Tomorrow can hear it
Through today’s dirt road streets.
It moves swiftly along
With its pulse in its song
Traveling the distance.
It’s a whirlwind of power,
With your eloquent flower
Spreading seeds of resistance.

We offer our contribution
With pendants of jade and gold,
In an old revolution
To make sure our story is told,
And the story we tell
Is that of all those that rebel
So the wild flowers can thrive.
Brown buffalo eyes,
Hummingbirds and butterflies
Keeping our own story alive.

© Manuel Lozano 2011

We Are The Ones We Have Been Waiting For

by Stephanie Yan

We are the ones we have been waiting for
though no one waits for us
silently striving on an empty shore
holding on and fighting for a tomorrow
under the long shadow cast by June
strategically surrendering to the status quo
The flash and flare of fall came and went too soon
we are scattered soldier seeds
December comes and finds us alone
some have sprouted some are bruised
some have kept on keeping on the tasks and deeds
despite the inner dangers and monsters loose
In the dark singularly each by each
we work to find the music track
so the mute in us can regain our song and speech
clamoring quietly for the words to come back
We are the ones we have been waiting for

~~ Stephanie Yan

We Call it Work

By José Hernández Díaz

Some of us
Take the bus
To work
In the
Misty morning
And never complain
Of the minimum wage

We lift and pull and shift
Our hands
Like rapid rivers
To and fro
Tedious thankless

But yes
We call it work

We endure overtime
For half of what
You earn
We twist and bend and break
Our backs
Six days a week
For a third of what
You earn

But yes
We call it work

And still they insist
On conservative radio
They shout
It on FOX news
That we will take over
Their country
We will pollute
Their culture
We will constrict
Their language

It’s absurd absurd

The only
True conqueror
If you haven’t heard

Is peace and love
It’s love and peace.


by Edward Vidaurre

i climbed the wall
-took me 37 years

when i got to the top
i looked down
the sky was looking up
and the cotton candy clouds
-pinks and blues
where moving south

they carried my heart
my family, mi cultura,
baile y canción también

i tried climbing back down
this wall
but got caught in its
barbed wire

the little green men
with heavy boots
and badges of rage
pointing guns
told me to freeze

my life kept going south
with the clouds

we will tear it down

this wall will

y regresaré
a ser
libre con mis
y lucha!

Genny Lim, Manuel Lozano, Stephanie Yan, José Hernández Díaz, Edward Vidaurre

1. “The Same Thing" by Genny Lim

2. "Hummingbirds and Butterflies" by Manuel Lozano

3. "We Are The Ones We Have Been Waiting For" by Stephanie Yan

4. "We Call It Work" by José Hernández Díaz

5. "The Wall" by Edward Vidaurre

Genny LimGenny Lim has performed and recorded in poetry and music collaborations with jazz greats, Max Roach, Herbie Lewis, John Santos, Francis Wong and Jon Jang. Her play "Paper Angels," was performed in San Francisco Chinatown’s Portsmouth Square to packed audiences on Sept. 15-17, 2010 and won the San Francisco Fringe Festival Top Ten Award for Best Site Specific Work. Her performance piece, "Where is Tibet?" premiered at CounterPULSE, S.F., Dec. 2009 and was performed at AfroSolo Arts Festival in August, 2010 and Women on the Way Festival in January 2011.

Manuel Lozano
Manuel Lozano, self-taught writer and artist, lives in El Paso, “El Chuco,” Texas, cradle of the pachuco. Manuel writes traditional verse “to the rhythm of the Matachines.” His work has appeared in Xican@ Poetry Daily and La Bloga. To purchase Seeds of Rebellion, visit his blog, Manuel Lozano: Xicano Writing.

Stephanie YanI just graduated from med school and June Jordan made me believe that I am a poet AND that I can be a doctor. She offered to pay for MCAT classes back then and when she died I felt lost without her guidance... for a long time. I haven't been able to write for years now and medical training is not very nurturing to the soul, so I haven't been feeling like myself for a while now...this is my first attempt at poetry in remembrance of her and to win myself back.-Stephanie Yan

José Hernández DíazThis spring José Hernández Díaz will graduate from UC Berkeley with a BA in English Literature. He plans on applying to the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics’ MFA in Poetics Program at Naropa, along with other creative writing schools. Jose’s favorite poets are those of the Chicano Renaissance and the poets of the Beat Generation. This summer José will take his annual trip to Guanajuato, Mexico,--his parents’ hometown. José has been published in La Bloga, ABCTales, and has forthcoming publications in Bombay Gin and in the Indigenous Sovereignty Issue of The Peak.

Edward VidaurreEdward Vidaurre a.k.a. Barrio Poet, Born in East L.A., CA in 1973, Edward Vidaurre writes poetry about his upbringing and experiences of living in the barrio. His poetry takes you on a ride through his barrio memories. Known to his friends as Barrio Poet, Vidaurre says: ”Sometimes the barrio claims us, holds us by our feet like roots in its field of chalk outlines closed off by the screaming yellow tape being pulled from its soul.”

Recently published in the VIPF Anthology Boundless 2011 and is working on a book of poems tentatively titled “Chalk Outlines: A Poetic Drive-By”

1 comment:

tatiana de la tierra said...

I participated in the cult of Café con aroma de mujer. It was on the air while I was doing my MFA at UT-El Paso. I remember rushing home after teaching a basic writing course and settling in front of the TV with great anticipation. Telenovelas were all around me in Colombia and I didn't care about them until that time in college. I got pulled in with the main character's hotness and the coffee plantation setting. It was an awesome and fulfilling addiction!