According to Nielsen Data, telenovelas (Latin soap operas) average 5.7 million viewers from ages 18-50 a week in the US alone. Unlike American soap operas, seasons only last one round but comprise up to over 100 episodes, making them marketable and a cornerstone of Latin American culture.
I grew up watching them with my parents and grandparents, even though I found them strange. “Why is she always talking to herself?” I asked once about the main character’s need to have several monologues in one episode.
My parents burst into laughter as the thought never crossed their minds. Now, as a 32-year-old woman, I would be lying if I said the only reason I watched telenovelas was to keep up my Spanish. The truth is, it brings comforting, nostalgic entertainment.
But seeing that I am going through a divorce and have discovered a thing or two since my adolescent introduction to these shows, I have noticed a reoccurring theme that poses problematic expectations about love and life that I didn’t know I had unconsciously swallowed. Therefore, I decided to highlight below five problematic themes with telenovelas… in case you wondered.
The truth is, you won’t always feel an ever-flowing surge of dramatic love for your partner – especially the longer you are with them.
And just because you love someone doesn’t mean you should be with them. People fall in love with the wrong person all the time, so the notion of “all you need is love” to make a lasting relationship is very much false.
Love Conquers All
As beautiful as that sentiment is, it is incomplete. Yes, true love is beautiful and can help fuel compassion and patience. However, it is unrealistic to say that you will always be in a constant state of heart-eyed emojis.
Long-term relationships require work and rework because people change through their lives. Sometimes, one person changes while the other partner remains the same. Naturally, this change can cause conflict, and you need more than mere love to bridge communication gaps. You need empathy, self-awareness, patience, and most importantly – the will to try.
As entrancing as it is to see two people constantly gaze at each other in these telenovelas with automatic, work-free, and yet profound love, that portrayal of love is a fantasy, at least in the long term.
Only Men Can Save the Day
As sexy as it is to know a man can care for you when shit hits the fan, the theme of women being helpless in these telenovelas irks me.
It seems the only time women rise to the occasion of power in the plotline is when she accumulates wealth through evil or scorned intentions.
This theme needs revamping to help change the machismo culture fueled by these ideas in these shows. Instead, we need to show women chasing ambition based on nothing but strength and show them uplifting other women in the process: no more revenge-body themes and stereotypical roles in fueling passionate decisions.
After all, it is 2021. Women do not need men to save the day or reason to succeed other than being a bomb babe.
White Lamb Syndrome
The white lamb refers to someone who is innocent, pure, and virgin. It is a reoccurring icon used in the arts, because of religion, to refer to the “perfect woman.” But, being 2021, it baffles me that the virgin image is still upheld to the highest standard. Never mind the sexual liberation women have gained in the last decade.
Alternatively, men are free to roam shame-free sexually, whereas women are seen as “that kind of woman.” There are all these rules about what women should and shouldn’t do on dates, how many partners she is supposed to have before she loses value, and what type of sexual venture in her past deems her unworthy of a long-term relationship.
For example, a woman that takes a man home on her first date for no other reason than feeling a genuine connection to that man is now seen as a slut and no longer worthy. No one mentions the man in the scenario that agreed to go home with her. Only the shame is carried on the female’s shoulders, and it seems to me that this culture is very much prevalent in today’s society.
In telenovelas, this sexual pedestal is prevalent and is very disappointing.
Stereotypes in Beauty
Colorism is a present issue in Latin culture. Though we all speak Spanish, the truth is, we are even more divided than you think. Each country and region has its nuance in communication, food, politics, and perceptions around life. One of the few common traits shared beyond language is that we were all colonialized.
In telenovelas, especially ones with Mexican characters, dark-skinned native-looking people tend to serve roles of the poor who cater to the white, European-looking folks who always hold a position of power and money.
Unfortunately, much like Hollywood’s lack of representation of minorities – especially in leading roles, Latin culture is also behind. This blue-eyed leading lady role needs to change, especially since Hispanics come in many different colors, shapes, and sizes. It’s time for change and continuing colorism in telenovelas needs to end.
Lack of Romantic Diversity
The allure of drama is what draws viewers every week. You do not need to be straight to have problems. However, the views on LGBT culture are still very far behind in minority communities.
I have yet to see a gay person in a telenovela and not serve a stereotypical role or fuel irrational fears. Just because you are lesbian does not mean you can’t have straight female friends, and just because a man is gay does not mean he is always flamboyant. The solution is simple – representation. Much like colorism, representation for all forms of love is needed to destigmatize LGBT people of all colors and races.
This post is a little random but dovetails into the whole representation discussion. Also, the constant themes portrayed always trigger me to think and feel a certain way as I look at my own life. If that happens for me, I’m sure that happens for you as well.The thing is, telenovelas are not real. But because they heavily influence Hispanic culture, it is still important to make sure that old fashion tones of machismo are removed, women are empowered, and representation starts making its way into scenes.