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Lead us not into telenovelas

24 May 2013
Photo:  Puente Libre (Chihuahua)

Photo: Puente Libre (Chihuahua)

On the heels of a polemical discussion about the role of telenovelas… set off by a column last month in Milenio by Álvaro Cueva, defending the trashy long-running “teen market” soap, La Rosa de Guadalupe comes the story of three girls, 13, 14 and 14, who find themselves facing very serious federal charges, based on a plot they hatched — they claim — inspired by the Televisa program.  The issue is not so much whether a drama featuring “unprotected anal sex, drug consumption, the loss of virginity, kidnapping, bullying, abortion, human trafficking and the worst news in the papers” is suitable for a young audience (although Mexico, like other countries, has it’s conservative “concerned parents” type groups who complain about television programming) as it is why television — and one network — is setting the social agenda, and whether Televisa can — or even should — claim to have a pedagogical purpose.  That is, is television — or rather, Televisa — educating, or simply entertaining and using social issues as a vehicle to sell programming?  And… perhaps more importantly… why has the State allowed one television network to become the de facto baby-sitter and educator of a generation of young people (and not just in Mexico:  Televisa dominates the entire Latin American market for programming aimed at young adults).

Televisa itself goes back and forth on this.  On the one hand, Cava claims that television is educational, and telenovelas always justified their existence by adding a sub-plot designed to highlight a “social issue”, but on the other, Emilio Azcárraga Jean, Televisa’s CEO, in a recent speech to the International Association of Women Executives said that “television is not a baby-sitter“.

The three girls conspired in an “autosecuestro” — a self-kidnapping — for the rather modest purpose of raising 25,000 pesos (about 2000 US Dollars) for a shopping spree in Chihuahua.  While this sounds like a juvenile stunt by spoiled rich kids (and it was), kidnapping is generally taken by the public as more serious than murder, and although the girls are minors, videotapes of their confessions were distributed to the press.  In the past, the show has been blamed for a couple of suicides (statistically rare in Mexico, and always newsworthy) and unwanted pregnancies (all too common here, despite constitutionally guaranteed access to birth control and sex education).

I expect we’ll be hearing more about this…. but not on Televisa.   Despite initial promises to open the television market to alternative programming, the “reforms” that have been passed merely open the door for more commercial networks (including foreign ones), it doesn’t appear that programming will improve.

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