Popular Performance I

Jennifer Lopez


Novela culture, highly spectated amongst Latinos residing in the United States and in Latin America becomes a prototypical representation of Latinization. Telenovelas work as a performative text in the construction of racial, national and ethnic identity.
Novelas create a second reality, fluctuating between the documentation as real and the real as mere stereotypical representation. The screen creates a Latino world residing within a larger nation of oppression and dominance. This genre places the Latina as viewed other, making these images representative of what she wishes to become in order to define the self as ethnic and racial. Through a historical analysis of telenovelas, I will discuss the evolution of the genre in terms of political and social paradigms, which define and stagnate notions of fluid identity amongst Latinos. Therefore making the telenovela function as a carnivalesque experience, asking the spectator to implicate herself in the parade of masked identities.
Personal fanaticism with novelas
There is something about telenovelas that reminds me of my childhood and totally captures my interest, it is probably because I was not allowed to watch novelas (like we call them in Puerto Rico) at home, they were totally prohibited to me, "novelas only are for stupid girls and they wake up malice in young virgins!" that was my parents argument towards the issue, "NO!" was the answer to all of my begins. I did everything possible to evade this obstacle, and like me, my girlfriends from the catholic school I went for life were totally into the novela's culture too. I wanted to go to school every morning just to listen to what happen the night before in "Quinceanera", that was my favorite novela and as long as I can remember It was the one that introduced me to the novela's magical and addictive world. The story was about two best friends who are planning their respective birthday party to celebrate the Fifteen years, What can be more important when you are fourteen than to think how do you want your party to be? It is so popular in Latin American countries .The fifteen's birthday marks your debut in the adult world, you are not seen as a girl anymore, you become a "senorita". Both of the characters from "Quincceanera" protagonized by Adela Noriega and Thalia, better known now like "The queen of Mexican novelas", went to the same school and they belong to different social classes. The rich one got pregnant and the poor one happened to be raped. Obviously, the plot was fulfilled with their first love illusions and juvenile struggles. The truth of the matter is that I watched it because I was totally in love with the life style the protagonists had. I wanted a cute boyfriend like they had, I wished many times to be Beatriz (protagonized by Thalia) and own a car by that age, be pretty and popular and being able to do whatever, "whenever, wherever".
It is very interesting how when you are a fourteen year old born Puerto Rican and because you watch "Quinceanera" among other novelas from the moment like "Tanairi" (Von Marie Mendez), Coralito (Zully Diaz) and "Munecos de papel"(various) suddenly you start to look for similarities between you and the protagonist, you make decisions for her, talk like her (even if she has a remarkable Mexican accent), you start dressing up like her, believe in the consciousness that someday you would meet her and become friends and even think in the possibility of having a child one day in the future and name it after her…
There was a fantastic feeling after watching a novela, and specially to me, it made me feel like a champion whenever I was able to watch them, I t was like to win a battle, one just can't get enough. It is a very feminine thing although men are not excluded to become part of the novela's culture; actually the novela ritual involves the whole family.
By 7:00pm everybody in Puerto Rico was at home and while having dinner, every television was hooked to Betty La Fea, that was what the MEDIAFAX investigation reveled in the programming for Summer 2001. Loosing one episode or not being able to record it turns into a terrible catharsis that can easily destroy your day, after all, novelas become part of your daily life.

Novelas are long narrations of stories that are presented every day on television for a season and for a massive audience. It is divided into chapters or episodes .In every episode novelas allows people to identify themselves with certain emotions and situations lived by the protagonists, provoking in the individual certain personal relations with in the novela text. "In telenovelas the receptor is not a passive decodifier of the message from the emiser, it is a subject producing feelings that responds to the pluralistic forms of social relation and the class conflictive in a fixed but ever changing space".
The birth of Novelas are directly linked to the "decimonomic melodrama", which first appeared in 1790 in England and France and was viewed as a new form of "melodrama" that selected only the most resonate features from the popular tradition of oral culture rather than the written. This new type of narration was very similar to the "Comedia Lacrimosa" (larmoyante) from the XVIII century, however; it precede from a collective memory narrative that talked about romances, English gothic novels and finally included also terror stories. In addition a cultural manifestation preceding from the scenic popular memory like for example the circus, theatre and street feasts was added to this "melodrama"; this is how the popular massive culture appeared into the discussion of this new manifestation as novela.
The story is going to be inevitable under the power of the recognition which is translated into the eternal battle of the good always prevailing against evil. For this to happen, there are four vital characters present throughout the whole novela; the character of the victim, the villain, the hero and the clown. This characters interact and perform the action exaggerating the performance of gestures and speech and creating the "melodrama".
Characters with different class and social backgrounds, accidents, affairs, secrets and a rupture of social values and morals are introduced to the scenario. Inevitable, these scenarios will add suspense and mystery to the story, people will identify their personal lives with the artistic manifestations .This historical moment beginning in the XX century introduced the novela among other styles like cinematography, radio and eventually the television. This is how the typical telenovela that we all know in Latin America was born.

The way novelas operate and work directly with the individual is by having an open structure that facilitates the process of being actualized. The capacity of duration makes the observers get inside the narrative that mix the reality and the imagination, by compromising the fanatic to watch each episode. Giving the observers enough information to get interested, creates suspense. At the same time the information provided is full of interrogants and mysteries that are going to obligate the spectator once again to stay toned to the drama. The story ascents gradually until it gets to the climax and then it finish with a resolution of all the situations that the characters confronted throughout the global narrative. The novelas belong to the 'repertoire' and the "archive" performative 'memoire'. To the 'repertoire' because even if novelas are not live, they give the sense they are by going on air daily, and they are part of the 'archive' too because their structure is divided in chapters, they are written, there is evidence recorded.
The Latin American novelas endeavors to give an example of Latino lifestyles back home. When we discuss novelas it is inevitable to avoid the thematics of ritual, spectacle, excess, tragedy, glamour and even carnival and catharsis, elements that are present in this productions and give them life. It is also pivotal also to emphasize the powerful vehicle of mass communication that the novela definitely is becoming. The structures of the episodes of the novelas use a very expressive language that at the same time breaks with the traditional theatrical doctrines. They select a variety of rich language that it is also familiar to the spectator. Screen writers and actors focus on description and 'personification' of words.
Excess in novelas is a theatrical element necessary to the fruition of the production.
As long as the observers is given the opportunity, novelas can turn into an intense interaction between the actors and spectator. Novelas remind you of how simple you have lived and how much there is to accomplish in the emotional scenario of life. Novelas discuss the waste of life and desire is yet to be quenched. Passions are illuminated and suffering dominates in theme, it reminds me of Opera. Is it not the Opera, the personified spectacle,that embraces you and brings one on stage? Is it not the Opera the genre that works with emotions until they hurt inside? I can think of novelas in an operatic way. "Opera is very suited to avant-garde interpretations: everything is possible, the stage is a blank canvas, the technical means are there…The operatic performance can divide into two spectacles in a curious but quite enjoyable fashion: the spectacle itself an its parody" .
The whole experience of the exaggeration in acting, movements, and (again) gestures and speech has the power to work deeply within the observer. Is the impossibility, precisely what brings in the catharsis in novelas. Everybody has a secret, that is complicating the mains structure of the global plot. Spectators can feel the catharsis through out the music, a look, word and also in the previews for the novela. Novelas and Operas cannot be evaded. Either you like them or hate them, they are either marvelous or trash, but there is no "in between", no liminal spaces .Why? Is it because what they represent is too confining and dramatic to create other spaces of representation?


It is evident that Novelas speak for different Latino ethnic groups. Novelas represent, in many ways, the "legitimate" Latino community that the world wants to know in conjunction to the image that is being sold. Novelas homogenize a hererogeneneous people. We are not equally one.The fact that Latinos speak Spanish does not mean that we all live life the same. We don't eat the same, some words mean different things, our physical features may vary from region to region, our accents are different, our political and sociocultural platform may be totally different and the way we have embraced the different stages of conquest, colonization and Independency may be at odds. Sometimes, there is just so little that unifies us, as a community. There are many boundaries and barriers within countries and communities.
Novelas are built on this premise. They endeavor to convince Latinos and mainstream society that novelas are Latinidad. According to Arlene Davila,ethnic marketing "regulate and mediate its ethnics- the immigrants, the alien, the raced and the underclass-into their respective places within U.S.racial and ethnic hierarchies, creating in the process myths of peoplehood for these populations".

Novelas create another world, they build a carnival within.They build a second reality, outside the official realm, it is a complex system of meaning existing alongside and in opposition , this is impossible to ignore as well.
The non Latinos may believe that what happens in novelas is normal and common in realities or so the reality of the countries in which they are produced. Novelas construct a bridge between the spectator and the characters. They bring one into the screen. I have seen people speaking (literally) to the characters through the screen. "No, don't do that! or Get out of there, please look turn around!", those phrases sound so familiar to me when I am part of the ritual of a novela in a house.
The carnival is not a spectacle seen by the people,people live within it; they become key elements in the resolution of the story. They are pivotal in the development of the whole melodrama. Sometimes, some fanatics are not even able to disconnect themselves from the novela and they give examples to solve their friend's situations similar to the way the protagonist of the novela acted or solved her life. When Maria Ines in 'Mirada de Mujer' told her ex-husband that she did not want to have anything to do with him anymore, and she got over him, this is the advice a spectator give a friend in need ("If it worked for Maria Ines, why it would not work for you too!").
People embody the issues that novelas represent. They embrace their characters and they bring their lives into their own lives; it is very common to hear the students at the University of Puerto Rico chatting about novelas, "Oh, I have to watch la novela today, because Rosalinda is getting married" or "I don't want to miss today's episode because he will know that she's been cheating on him"
Why the emotions, the catharsis, the collective hysteria, the drama the stress, and tension, surrounding a television program? I have to bring back the issue of the exportation of novelas and the image people are buying as an ideological framed identity that does not necessarily capture the truth.
The novelas as a cultural force are constantly creating a projection of new models and different ways and forms of historical comprehension. Sometimes these specific ways and forms contribute to the loss of history in the contemporary postmodern time. Novelas play a central role in bringing to life many figures of the common, normative and routine in social development. But they do it in a special way, again through exaggeration, spectacle and catharsis. Now more than ever the novelas are bringing issues related to the class struggles, las novelas belong to the mass culture.
Many of the ideas about history are played out in a very powerful way in the context of a serious melodrama. Some conventions of the narrative are part of the various forms for which gender is most of the time derided. The routine revival of characters that were presumed dead, money struggles, race issues, the ongoing breakups of relationships, the revelations that some characters were switched at birth and also the product of mysterious love affairs, etc., encourage a persistent reexamination of conventional assumptions and knowledge about family and society. In the process these elements offer a sense that the past is truly important, but this past is not always simple and clean.
Novelas offer multiple manifestations of history that are simultaneously much more public and popular than purely historical, it really gets to the point where it is more individual and idiosyncratic than anything else. Novelas have transformed somehow the forms in which people recognize and position themselves in relation to the definitions of identity and nationalism.
Novelas play a central role in the comprehension of cultural and social development, the history of a determined nation (Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, or Colombia) becomes a never ending process where in transcendental events and community are implicated in a political, social and cultural heritage, and it is working simultaneously with the global and local perspectives.
These mechanisms interact within the individuals and the entire Latino community. People get into the drama of a Novela like if they where part of it, they embody it and they embrace it. I am still specially fascinated by the intent to homogenize the Latino group. And the ambivalence that surround the connotations and repercussions of the Legitimate Latino and the discourse of authenticity.

In the last years novelas have been taking a transcendental and dramatic change. The typical love stories are now very dense and politically full narrations. In a brief overview of novelas from Latin America that are currently appearing in TV around the world, I found that novelas are turning into a powerful source of criticism toward many political and social issues, especially novelas that are made in Brazil and Colombia. An example of this Is "Xica the Silva" who clearly exposes the gender and race issues by having the first black protagonist in a novela and addressing the historical events related to slavery, colonization and conquest of Brazil by the Portuguese. The plot of the novela goes is like follows.
The Commendatory of Tijuco (diamond mining town) Brazil is the most important authority. Xica grew up in his house because she was his daughter even if he refused to accept her because she was product of an affair. She is black She lived there until the moment that he decides to sell her to a whore house in town. Xica tried to escape from this disgrace and she decided desperately to rob the diamonds that The commentator was saving for the king. The king's army arrives the very next day, and when the loot turns up missing, the Commentator is led in chains and all his family is dispossessed and thrown out into the streets without anything. The commentator's son swears revenge. While this is happening Xica and the rest of the slaves are sold to another master. This time he was the Sergeant Major a man that only wanted her to satisfy his lust. Later, another Commentator arrives in the town. He falls in love with Xica and bought her from the Sergeant. This is the beginning of a love story between a crafty slave woman and a nobleman.
Another novela, also from Brazil which is addressing political and social issues is "Terra Nostra". Terra nostra is about two young lovers who meet in the transatlantic voyage from Italy to Brazil, searching for a better future working in coffee plantations in Brazil. During the voyage both of her parents died because of the plague that breaks out on board ship, as she recovers from the terrible loss she gets consoled by her new love, until he is infected with the plague too and dies. This novela is one of the most expensive ever produced. The stenography used to recreate the ship on the first chapter cost over one million dollars. Money plays a role, because people prefer quality productions.
In the case of Colombia we can find that it is also advanced in the discussion of these matters. We have the comedy/novela "Pedro el Escamoso" that frames the gender issues of the gay world. Pedro is attracted only to man; they believe he is gay, but the truth is that he likes women. This is the first time that a Latin-American novela alludes to homosexuality. I mean, there is always a typical "florecita" in every novela. They are the hairdressers, or the best friends of the protagonists. The gay issue always performs a secondary role in a novela, and generally the drama does not revolves around that issue. Another example is "Betty la fea", which addresses the situation of an honest but ugly young girl, again this is the first time a novela has a protagonist that is not attractive to the public. There are unattractive woman in novelas, usually they get second roles, but the protagonist, as a RULE has to be pretty. Eventually, Betty undergoes a metamorphosis and becomes pretty.
The most important thing here is that finally novelas are breaking the mold. They are escaping from the traditional and typical realms and are getting to evolve into more realistic situations. Unfortunately, Mexico, with Televisa still recycle the same stories again and again, "Sonadoras"," Amigas y Rivales", "Agujetas de Color de Rosa", "Primer Amor", they are almost the same, they even have the same actors and actresses playing the protagonists, gallants and villains.
The exception is"Mirada de mujer", a story of a woman in her fifties that after her husband leaves her for a younger woman, takes her life in her hands, and fights against the conventionalism and patriarchal ancestry that exists in Mexico. The Machismo was present through the whole novela; she even was machista until she begins an affair with a younger man.Topics like Aids decease, breast cancer,abortion, racism and rape were introduced to the melodrama.
Even though Mirada de Mujer with Mexican super actress Angelica Aragon broke the traditionalism in novelas, was not embraced by the Mexican community as a novela like Maria la del Barrio, Mari mar and Maria Mercedes with Thalia. People are used to the typical drama.
A very interesting thing is happening to Venezuela and the productions of novelas. They used to be precursors and leaders of the novela market too, and now it seems they are suffering a crisis. I remember the decade of the drama divas from Venezuela, such as Katherine Fullop, Alba Roversi, Gigi Zancheta, Jeanette Rodriguez and the masterpieces, La Traidora, Rubi, Mi amada Beatriz, La dama de Rosa and many more…apparently Venezuela is focused more now into beauty pageants than novelas. For the last decade Venezuela has won the Miss Universe Pageant three times. The "beauty culture" is a dramatic issue in Venezuela.
I wanted to talk about novelas because I felt that Arlene Davila in her book Latinos Inc. does not give them the importance they certainly have when we are addressing Latin-American culture manifestations that increasingly support an image of fixed identity and nationalism. Novelas are part of the definitions of latinidad in media and entertainment. It really comes to life in the homes of thousands of Latin-American homes in the United States.
To me, it was not hard to find information about telenovelas, there are hundreds of texts, even magazines about them and sites on the Internet about this phenomenon, but
I have to say that the information that appeared were technically out of context and not critical at all. I don't think that the majority of the ordinary people who watch novelas see them as a strong vehicle that try to (somehow) represent identity.
But the identification with novelas go further than the margins of the countries; people identify with novelas because their characters are allowed to behave as they want against the diverse situations they confront. Viewers identify themselves with the melodrama because being a Latino is not necessary to fall in love, get crazy, have an affair, kill or being a villain. With this I mean that people all fall in love, go through problems, suffering, get married, etc…the interesting thing about novelas is that the protagonists can play the role they want. Novelas represent what people cannot act in real life. In novelas, characters act their desires. People do not think of novelas either as a marketing tool. Or they don't see themselves as a market. Latinos do understand that they are a heterogenic group. Latinos know their differences and similarities. They can define and separate one person from one country with the other from the other country. The people that apparently cannot do it is the Anglo Market and society, for whom we have to be "legitimate", for whom we have to act like a homogenized and united community.
The Anglos (the others) are the ones interested in marketing our features and characteristics among our fellow Latin American brothers and sisters. We know exactly who we are and were we come from. "The others" does not even know who are defining with the "word" Latino or Hispanic. "This homogenous treatment of Hispanics also contributes to the appeal of the family trope as a way to address gender and generational differences simultaneously within the "totality' of the family". Anglo clients as well as agencies for Latino marketing focus on family values, religiosity and the tradition as a generic overview of latinidad, when the reality is that it does not always works like that.
If it is true that novelas speak for Latino community, it is also true that it does not carry a global message for every Latino. For us, novelas are one of our favorite form of entertainment. People can watch their favorite characters performing a different "drama" everyday in a scenario, with all of the theatrical elements involved and the complexity of the social, economical politic and cultural elements surrounding this. In a novela you have everything, it is like a game that you know by heart how to play and it is up to you to play it right or wrong.
The progression of the novela is going to be your timing to play, until it ends and then after, another novela with probably the same characters will fulfill a screen again with everyday life situations, mysteries, emotions, exaggerations, catharsis, drama, collective hysteria, interrogates, dreams and love, lots of love. Novelas are much more than one hour daily for several months.
There is a lot going on behind novelas. Until what moment imagination stops being just imagination and it start building the second reality Bahktin talks about this on his scripts? , How is this subculture manifested into a determined society. I understand it as that, as a second life, as a second reality, but most of the people think of novelas as "here and now"; an argument that to me is very weak and illogical.
The margins of latinidad and identity begin in the conceptualization of novelas. There is a tremendous duality camouflaged between fiction and reality that is impossible to avoid. In order to improve the empowerment of Latin American novelas as a strong marketing and innovative educational tool, Latin Americans must seriously start thinking about sexuality, gender, identity, race and nationalism in a more critical way. Latinos are obligated to learn and educate themselves about the market that they are exposed and introduced to. Novelas are relevant in the discourse of latinidad because of their conspicuous display of race and class hierarchies and because their dominance in the Latin American Networks. It is truly interesting the way novelas work with an image, with a nation and identity. They reflect the double standard that society has for men and women in all these afore mentioned Novelas. The women pines away for the man , while he is in love with someone else the classic love triangle. While the villain of the novel tugs away at the heartstring of the protagonist. She is always never really the strong character and not socially independent as most Latin women are today. The protagonist in Latin Novelas live in a family like a community, which they depend on for support and advice, unlike her male counterpart, which is self-sufficient. Though it is obvious that the role of the genders do not truly reflect modern relationships many women sit at home and use the acquired "facts" as a guide to real life.
Though interesting novelas are not a new invention of drama just merely a modern interpretation of the classics (i.e. Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Midsummer Night's Dream, forbidden love, social conflict, racial basis and physiologic turmoil all ingredients of a modern day novela.) In closing art is merely a reflection of life open to interpretation.


1. Davila,Arlene.Latinos Inc.:The Marketing and Making of a people. Berkeley: University of CaliforniaPress,(2001);22

2. Bakhtin,Mikhail. "The Carnival Ambivalence" (1940).

3. Turner,Victor."History in Social Drama"; from:"Dramas, Fields and Methaphors, Ithaca:Cornell University Press,(1974)

4. Losada,Juan. "Telenovelas: Estructuras Narrativas y Dramaturgia"/www.ceniai.inf.cu/dpub/video/no3-5.html/

5. Barthes, Roland. The "Phamtoms of the Opera" (1962-1980)

6. Koestembaum, Wayne."The Queens Throath".(1993)

7. Taylor Diana, "Acts of Transfer"(work in progress;2001)

8. Mebarak, Shakira."Whenever Wherever" track#3, (Album Laundry Services, 2001.)

9. Mediafax

Inspired by discussions with my Critical Race Theory colleagues Sandra Ruiz and Carla Corona

Jeniffer Rosa Lopez

Critical Race Theory

Professor Jose Munoz

Final Paper