Why Yes, There is a Point to Telenovelas

This week, my kids and I are home on vacation (hooray for the Presidents!). The children are busy playing video games, as the weather is too cold and foggy to go out. As for me? I have been curled up in bed, drinking tea, and doing what any normal American would do on such a day. Watching telenovelas.

(Okay fine, so maybe it is not such a normal American way to spend one’s time. But when have I ever been normal?)

Now for those of you who are all, “What the heck is a telenovela?” imagine a cross between a soap opera, a cheesy romance novel, and a radio melodrama. Really, most telenovelas are so awful, I can hardly make it through an entire episode without cringing. But every now and then, I come across one that captures my attention. Currently, I am twelve episodes into a program called Eva Luna, which has the typical telenovela romance storyline: a handsome, wealthy man and a kind, beautiful poor girl fall passionately in love and carry on a secret romance, even though discovery would result in disaster for both. Yes, the acting is often lousy, and the plot sometimes makes me groan, but still, I am glued to my seat.

Now before you mistake me for one of those stereotypical, shallow    soap-opera fans who only tunes in to drool over the hot male actors, I  should explain what drew me to telenovelas in the first place. Remember when I mentioned how one of my lifelong goals has been to speak Spanish fluently? Well, it is impossible to become fluent in a language that you never hear. A friend of mine once suggested that watching television programs in Spanish is a good way to pick up the language. And so I have tried watching everything from Plaza Sesamo to absurd game shows to partidos de fútbol en español. But somehow, it is the zany, drama-filled, hopelessly romantic world of telenovelas that draws me in. Maybe because telenovelas are filled with such vibrant, colorful characters and intense passion. Or maybe it is because telenovelas give us a chance to root for the underdog, or to believe in the impossible, or to hope that above all, love will prevail.

Or, I don’t know, maybe sometimes it is the hot male actors.

Side Note (and Rant): On the not-so-humorous side, I am intensely bothered by the emphasis on a European standard of beauty in many telenovelas. With so many beautiful people with brown skin, black hair, and brown eyes, why must the stars of these dramas constantly have pale skin and light-colored eyes and hair? Why are darker people cast only as villains or servants? It is so archaic and demeaning, and really, worthy of a blog post of its own. Coming soon…

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