Saturday, February 21, 2009

Globalisation: what soap operas have to say

I'm not the soap opera kind of a chic. But I do make exception for the odd Brazilian "novela". They are the best specimen of TV that Brazil has to offer, and whenever I'm back in Brazil I like to watch the "Novela das Oito" (the prime time event of Brazilian TV) as a way of "matando saudades" (a Portuguese saying which refers to the way we like to do things that give us a sense of longing, of homesickness. For example, when in England, I like to go for long walks in the rain to "matar saudades" of how I used to have to walk long distances on rainy days to get to my classes at uni).

Novelas are a cross between miniseries, serlialised films, and soap operas. The average novela runs for about six months, six days a week, one hour a day. They are very often based on quality Brazilian literature, but in order to drag the story on for six months, the screenwriters add loads of detail and sappy romance. The acting is good the first time around, but the same actors play roughly the same characters in novel after novela. Some novelas are pretty much pure soap opera: heavy on the sappy romance and light on everything else.

Other novelas are rather impressive cultural critique. When I was in Brazil last year, I watched a week of a novela in which one sister was on trial for killing her husband, and the other sister was actually the guilty one, but everyone was on the guilty sister's side because as a child she had been the more docile one. Or something like that. I can't remember the story now, but anyway, it was creative grounds for an interesting social critique.

"O Clone" came out about five years ago. It's unusual for novelas: it takes place half in Brazil, and half in Morocco, and half the characters are conservative Muslims while the others are extremely secular Brazilians. Since I was living in the Middle East at the time, I was intrigued by a Brazilian attempt at portraiting Arab-Muslim culture. I was on holiday when "O Clone" was running, so I got to watch a week of it, and was amused by the Brazilian romanicization of Arab culture. Unfortunately, after a week, I went back to the Middle East - you know, the real one, not the Brazilian TV version.

Now I'm in Kosovo. I'd heard rumours that Brazilian soap operas were popular in the countries of the former Soviet-communist bloc. My Armenian roommates used to recount to me the stories of my TV viewing childhood, but in Russian. I'd heard rumours, but I'd never seen it.

Well, now I'm seeing it. About four Brazilian novelas air daily here, all in Portuguese with Albanian subtitles. A new running of "O Clone" just started on Monday! So this week's lesson in globalisation: go to Kosovo, a country buried deep in the Balkans in Eastern Europe, to watch a novela created in my childhood home, in my second heart language of Portuguese. And, as icing on the cake, the story is all about Arab culture, in which I've spent most of my adult life.

Oh, no, the real icing on the cake is this: I'm now planning to watch "O Clone" every evening and take notes on the subtitles as I watch, so watching the Brazilian novela about Arabs will be my daily Albanian language lesson!


Gila said...

I LOVED "O Clone," I watched it in the US on a Spanish network. Talk about globalization, but that is ofcourse more normal in the US since we have such a large latin population. I'm not much into soap operas either but I loved how this one mixed two great cultures together. I was hooked!

Anonymous said...

i'm an anthropologist who became so amused by novelas while in the field, that i've decided to dedicate a whole chapter to the role of romanticization and culture through these wonderful globo minimasterpieces.... i grew up watching dubbed versions in miami, and it is quite nice to see this kind of entertainment redeeming....

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