Fraught with contradictions: The production, depiction, and consumption of women in a Venezuelan telenovela
This article focuses on a Venezuelan telenovela, El País de las Mujeres [The Country of Women], produced by Venezuelan network Venevisión and broadcast to high ratings in Venezuela, Argentina, Peru, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Using textual analysis and in-depth interviews with the production team and audience members, I analyze how Venezuelan women are depicted through El País de las Mujeres’ stories, characters, dialogue and visual images, and how viewers receive these representations and incorporate them in their everyday lives. The study underscores how media executives, writers, actors, audiences and media texts participate in a ritual process to establish shared meanings. This process is immersed in culture (Venezuela) and in the social formation’s power differentials (patriarchy). Latin American telenovelas stand out as a genre that has successfully challenged its U.S. counterpart—the soap opera—in a global media environment increasingly dominated by the United States. The fascination with the genre is worldwide. Every day huge audiences that transcend nation, class, culture and gender differences sit in front of the television to watch episodes of one, two or more telenovelas, “the most watched television genre globally” (McAnany & La Pastina, 1994, p. 828). Presently, Globo (Brazil), Televisa (Mexico) and Venevisión (Venezuela) are the leading telenovela producers (Sinclair, 1999). In short, the telenovela has become a significant cultural phenomenon that challenges the assumption that globalization equals “American.”Notwithstanding their international success, telenovelas are inextricably linked to the Latin American culture(s) that manufacture and consume them. This article focuses on a Venezuelan telenovela, El País de las Mujeres [The Country of Women], produced by Venevisión and broadcast to high ratings in Venezuela, Argentina, Peru, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. I analyze how Venezuelan women are depicted through El País de las Mujeres’ stories, characters, dialogue and visual images, and how viewers receive these representations and incorporate them in their everyday lives. El País tells the stories of a family of six women’s individual search for happiness. Mariana, Pamela, Miranda, Julia and Chiqui are cousins. Their aunt, Arcadia, has raised them because their own mothers are either dead or absent. El País also focuses on Arcadia’s friend, Catalina, who overcomes domestic abuse. These storylines are instrumental to the telenovela’s overall critique of machismo and its ensuing female submission. El País provides a particularly appropriate case study. It is a successful Venezuelan text conceived by its author, Leonardo Padrón, as a vehicle to pay homage to Venezuelan women (Gómez, 1998). Examining the production and consumption of this telenovela furthers the analysis of how women (and men) are socialized into their expected roles, and the media’s contribution to this process. Venezuela is dominated by ideologies of machismo and marianismo,[i] El País de las Mujeres provides an important opportunity to analyze the overt and covert ways in which the media help establish the parameters under which the term “woman” is defined, and the potential of these parameters to objectify, oppress or empower women. As importantly, this case study allows us to examine the necessary exchanges that occur between media texts and its producers and consumers.