Jane Addams has described in “The House of Dreams” the negative influences that play can exert over young people by exhibiting apparent realities and conducting them to over fantasize about certain aspects of life (Peters & Simonson 2004). This notion of plays and its influence on society, especially among young people and moreover women, could be compared to the influence of television soap operas in Latin America. I took this example because I had the opportunity to be part of the excitement generated by TV soap operas among girls and even entire families and I have been always impressed about the negative stereotypes that some of this shows are promoting among young girls.
Storytelling is seen as the core of traditional and modern media and as the reason for success of a mass medium, according to Debashis Aikat in his work about Traditional and Modern Media. Street theaters, television and staged melodramas are included in his category of traditional and modern media. Thus, we can see the role of plays and television soap operas as artifacts of storytelling and communication and how both serve in the construction of a conception of life (Aikat n.d). In addition, both help to build personal identity through identification with characters and they also become moral guide for audiences, as Addams has discussed.
The stories and characters personalities’ has such a strong impact on people’s lives. Addams does not “trust in media that promote antisocial behavior and encourages flights of fancy among socially vulnerable audience members” (Peters & Simonson 2004). She provided some examples of different plays that encourage criminal behavior, revenge and moreover present some negative stereotypes of how should woman behave in order to be “seen” and keep attending those plays. She is impressed about how all these absurdities can occupy an important part of leisure for Chicago society (Peters & Simonson 2004)
At the end of the reading she proposes the idea of the city of Chicago offering more adequate public recreation as whether plays in theaters could only have a negative impact in society (Peters & Simonson 2004). If we also relate this notion to the role and influence that television soap operas can have in Latin America, we would say that they affect negatively the perceptions of people about moral and life in general. However, there are some authors who present a different perspective and say that soap operas in Latin America might serve as a vehicle of both recreation and education.
In fact, Umberto Eco, an Italian semiotician and philosopher, has described that there are two contradictory perspectives regarding the role of television. One group of people is called “integrated” in they defend television as tool of communication and entertainment and the other group the “apocalypticals” rejected TV as they see it promoting violence and being superficial (Eco 1984)
Let’s take a look of the perspective that, Beatriz Gonzalez, one Professor of Communications and Master in Scriptwriting in a Mexican University has to say about the role of soap operas. According the division that Umberto Eco has done about perspectives on TV, she proclaims herself as an “integrated”. She discusses that soap operas, especially in third world countries, have been used as a vehicle capable of sending messages of social development and personal growth. Of course, she makes clear that this has not been the initial purpose that soap operas might have had initially (Gonzalez n.d).
The term “social” soap opera it has been defined by Gonzalez in which it can become a tool to propose solutions and ways to combat ignorance, abuses, misery, discrimination and sexual harrashment. Thus, we see an opposite idea of what has been presented by Addams when she states that plays in Chicago has served as a way to escape from reality and that they had become a “veritable house of dreams”.
An interesting phenomenon has taken place with TV soap operas in Brasil, especially in those last 15 years. A famous production company of soap operas, Red Globo (Red Globe) in Brazil have been including in their soap operas themes such as alcoholism, sexual health, organs donation, preserving the environment. This action has result in an award in 2001 of “Business in the community awards of excellence”. A proof of this is new approach to soap operas had been when a soap opera named “Lazos de Sangre” (Blood Ties) has Camila as the main character. In the story, she has Leukemia. Later, the producers of the show conducted a comparative study to detect changes in health services. The study titled “Efecto Camila” (“The Camille Effect”) revealed that the National Registry of Marrow Donor in Brasil registered an average of 20 new donors per month and then in January of 2001, when the soap opera emphasized the topic, there were 900 registrations (Gonzalez n.d).
On the other hand, another perspective on soap operas that I believe is aligned in a way with what was presented by Adams is the work presented by a Mexican researcher who is a Master in Philosophy Studies at University of Guadalajara. Tania Arias in her work named: “Telenovela: Construccion del desarollo humano?” (Soap operas: Construction of human development?). In this work, she focuses mainly in the effect of the soap operas as a mass medium of communication which affects women as individuals externally. According to Arias, feminine identity as presented in the different characters is a representation of the construction of patriarchal systems. Sexist stereotypes are presented to the audience. She explores the example of a trilogy of novels shown during 1992 to 1996 in Mexico which were called: Maria la del Barrio, Maria Mercedes y Marimar. All of them where characterized by the same actress in the main character. They reached a massive audience in Latin America and in Europe as well (Arias n.d)
Here it is a trailer of this soap opera that was very famous around the 90’s in my country and in Latin America. I am sorry that is in Spanish. I couldn’t find it with English subtitles but at least you see the scenes and will have a sense about what I am talking about:
Here is the same link in case you can't open:
Some elements analyzed of these three soap operas are firstly the name of the main character: Maria. In Mexico, this is one of the most common names and if is true that the name Mary can evoke the name of the mother of God and a sense of virginity it is true that the name Mary can also refer to a low level of social and economic condition. This name has a connotation of poverty and marginality. To sum up, the three novels presents the poverty and struggles of a humble woman whose life it is going to be transformed by a man who lives in more privileged conditions. Those stories are fake, distortion the reality and are full of patriarchal content. What they present is the role of the women as a passive individual who has to wait for a man to transform her condition. The stories present a woman subordinated to comply with some moral rules where she is dominated by men, conditioned only to marriage, procreation and protecting children, as Arias described in her work.
The author even remarks that there are some soap operas which even depict a woman of high social and economic status and professionally developed who is still emotional dependent and subordinated by men. Those kinds of soap operas as seen by Arias do not promote equality of sexes or equal rights to both genders. In addition, they do not promote awareness in woman that is conducive to their self-development. Thus, those types of Mexican soap operas reproduce patriarchal systems where woman does not find growth and development by herself instead she is subordinated to others (Arias n.d)
By trying to reconcile those two contrasting points of views about the role of soap operas in Latin America and how this relate to the notion of some media and recreation can lead to negative behaviors and thoughts, as Addams described, I have two thoughts about this:
1) As we have seen that some Brazilian soap operas are creating awareness and promoting social actions such as donating organs or preserving the environment…why they haven’t start to change and present more positive role models for woman in which they are happy and achieve success by living their lives in a different way and not only being subordinated to men? Does American soap operas depict the same reality? I am not trying to be seen as a super feminist. It is just that I believe maybe soap operas are really misleading women by not helping them to build a more positive, realistic and independent vision of themselves and their potential. They aren’t even portraying a healthy view of relationships and love and I think that is dangerous. In some way, I agree with Adams in the way she sees some plays as promoting undesirable behaviors.
2) All the stories are displayed in those plays and soap operas are just imposed by the creation of producers, scriptwriters or are a reflection of the current state of society and main aspirations of man and woman? Is this what people wants to see or it is something imposed by others?
Aikat, D. (n.d.). Traditional and Modern Media. In Journalism & Mass Communications Vol I. Retrieved January 18, 2013, from http://www.eolss.net/Sample-Chapters/C04/E6-33-02-04.pdf
Arias, T. Y. (n.d.). Telenovela: Construccion del desarrollo humano?. In VIII Congreso Iberoamericano de Ciencia, Tecnologia y Genero. Retrieved January 18, 2013, from http://arcaz.ppgte.ct.utfpr.edu.br/eventos/cictg/conteudo_cd/E11_Telenovela.pdf
Eco, U. (1984). Apocalipticos e Integrados. Spain: Ed. Valentino Bompiani. Retrieved January 18, 2013, from http://www.bsolot.info/wp-content/pdf/Eco_Umberto-Apocalipticos_e_integrados.pdf
Peters, J. D., & Simonson, P. (2004). Mass Communication and American Social Thought. Key Texts:1919-1968. Maryland, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Rubin, B. G. (n.d.). La telenovela como fenomeno social. Retrieved January 18, 2013, from http://www.alaic.net/alaic30/ponencias/cartas/Telenovela/ponencias/GT22_4rubin.pdf