Los Links: Bing wants you Latino(a) people…

I couldn’t help myself after watching Bing’s latest commercial. It’s a play on telenovelas.

Or is it? in terms of audience appeal, I’ve spent the last three years looking at the appeal of Latinos(as) as a demographic. This argument is one of the cornerstones of my dissertation. However, Ugly Betty is now off the air, and it is a loss in terms of representations of Latinos(as). The one leading character we had is now gone (and I don’t count Sofia Vergara’s character in Modern Family because she’s part of an ensemble show). But I digress. This is more about Bing.

According to Sharon Chan, of the Seattle Sun Times, telenovela spoofs are not new. Ugly Betty, and 30 Rock have done it before. In Ugly Betty, though, the spoofs were always depicted to the public as part of the Latino(a) appeal of the show. The logic for it was that Latinos(as) watch telenovelas, they love them, and they’ll relate to them. Since Ugly Betty was based on a telenovela, the mini-episodes merely accentuated the marketing of the show.

As for 30 Rock, there was no overarching strategy that required the spoof. At least, not in the same way as Ugly Betty. However, 30 Rock is a show within a show, a commentary on the television industry that often uses its NBC-Universal, its parent company, for plot points. NBC-U is also the parent company of Telemundo. The Generalissimo explicitly refers to Telemundo in the episode, and there’s a glimpse of the Telemundo logo at the beginning of the scene. However, Generalissimo also talks about what appeals to Latino(a) women. He is sure that he can “become everything that every Hispanic woman desires.” Apparently it’s an over-the-top guy in a fake military uniform.

http://www.nbc.com/30-rock/video/generalissimo/994241/

Bing has crafted its new advertising campaign out of spoofing popular culture. It has already done the Shining, and now we move on to Latino(a) culture. It’s a funny parody, I’ll admit, but not very original, and not just because two other shows did it. Telenovelas, along with tacos, have become shorthand in attempts to reach out to Latinos(as). Here’s something that Voto Latino did to get the Latino(a) vote out:

So, now we have a Latino non-profit, two television shows, and a major corporation using the same themes? Don’t tell me this isn’t about the Latino(a) audience, at least up to a certain extent. Besides, spoofing telenovelas is fairly safe. Even Latinos(as) do it, so we’re not exactly talking Frito Bandito here.

Or are we? Bing’s parody brings forth three common stereotypes about Latinos(as). The Bandit is this really violent guy, that will erupt without provocation. Alongside this stereotype, theres  the Latin Lover, and the Dark Lady, both of which speak to the hypersexuality of Latino(a) culture (Berg, 2002). These images are recurrent, and have become so familiar as to go unnoticed. Should we expect a fall-out?

Honestly, I don’t think so. The focus of the commercial works in two levels. The first is the obvious references to the telenovela, which, as I said before, even Latinos(as) have mocked. The second is the stereotypes, and I think that will go under the radar, especially in the current climate. Subtly disguised under the telenovela, it can go unnoticed. We’re not talking South Park and Prophet Mohammed here, folks.

As for me… I’m not upset. I may point out the things I noticed in the commercial, but I still got a good laugh out of it. I think this new campaign is working a lot better for me than the “information overload” theme of last year. What I’m really interested in seeing, though, is whether or not they’ll do a part two of this telenovela. If they do so, then I think we would have a better argument for Bing targeting Latinos(as). Plus, since the spot is in Spanish with subtitles, you can use it over at Univision and Telemundo.

How very cost effective indeed. (Microsoft… you sneaky bastard!)

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Telenovelas, queens of the airwaves

He is a wealthy, but spoiled dilettante; she is a poor, hard-working and demure virgin. They meet when she becomes a maid in his mansion, and fall in love, but class differences will keep them apart. However, she is not poor; she is the illegitimate child of a wealthy tycoon, who regrets abandoning her, dies, and leaves her a fortune. Now the lovers can be together. But wait… scheming villains and lustful temptresses still conspire to keep them apart, until the final chapter when the schemers are punished, the good rewarded, and the title characters wed.

In a nutshell, that is the typical storyline of a telenovela. Growing up, I remember watching these over-the-top melodramas, these stories about upward mobility, good and evil, crime and ultimate punishments and rewards. There was always something comforting about them, but as I grew older, there was also something annoying and predictable about the genre. The male leads were always addressed by first and middle name; they were always a Luis Alfredo, Juan Carlos, or Jose Armando, which would certainly sound more aristocratic than just plain Luis, Juan, or Jose. As for the lead women, Maria is a popular name, for obvious reasons. Telenovelas have a Manichean bent; they’re about the struggle of good versus evil, and what spells good more clearly than being named after Jesus’ mother? However, some writers, like the famous Delia Fiallo,  go through phases in which they have a penchant for certain types of names. In Fiallo’s case, what I remember most is her precious stones phase, when her heroines were all named after a precious stone. Hence, Topacio, Rubi, and Esmeralda.

It would be easy to dismiss telenovelas as “high opera in low-cut clothing” (Barrientos, 2006). But that would also be wrong and an oversimplification of the genre, and of the Latin American market for these products. Telenovelas are a significant cultural and economic force within the Latin American television industry. Furthermore, not every production company churns out the same kind of melodramatic fare that has become the canon for telenovelas. As Carolina Acosta states, melodramas may be the obvious example, but that is not all there is. Here’s a link to the talk she gave at MIT on this subject (fast forward to 14:00, or so).

http://mitworld.mit.edu/video/670

In Colombia RCN and Caracol have produced some of the most successful telenovelas of recent memory, without shying away from controversial subjects, like drug trafficking and Colombia’s obsession with plastic surgery.  El Cartel de los Sapos,  and Sin Tetas no hay Paraiso dealt with these  subjects. Both have had success in international syndication. However, one of the biggest success stories has been RCN’s Yo Soy Betty, la Fea (I am Betty, the Ugly One). Penned by Fernando Gaitan for RCN, this is a telenovela that has been remade 19 times. The original version was sold into syndication and broadcast all over Latin America, in Switzerland, India, Eastern Europe, and China among other countries.

Here are some clips from the intro to different Betty versions

Original Betty – RCN, 1999

Germany, 2005

China, 2008

Vietnam, 2008

I have a theory about the German version. It is the only one that I’ve found where location is important. I asked my students if, knowing anything about recent German history, the city of Berlin would have special significance. Why not Verliebt in Hamburg? One of the responses was very interesting to me. Joe, which is what I’ll call him to preserve anonymity, told me that the title sequence of Verliebt in Berlin was like the one on Frazer. “It’s just an establishing shot, so you’ll know where you are.”

Well, duh! but when you’re looking at media critically, you should take into account the subtle codes that convey other meanings. Berlin is the symbol for a unified nation. An establishing shot that includes the Fernseturm at Alexander Platz (former East Berlin), and the Brandenburger Tor, which was on the border of East and West, deserve a second look. It tells us something about glocalization of content, about how we adapt popular formats and make them relatable to a local audience.

The ease of glocalization, in my opinion, the quality that has made Yo soy Betty la Fea into such an international success. The story is generic. A young woman, who is not very good looking, struggles to find professional success, and love, in a culture that values appearances more than it cares for substance. When the American version premiered in 2006, media commentators hailed it as an underdog story, and reminded everyone that underdogs are lovable (Adalian & Schneider, 2008).

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