Often I am very dismissive of the Spanish-language TV soap operas known as “telenovelas” since I usually find them as a waste of time. The plots are trite, the music is cheap, and the acting is a few notches above a substandard adult film.
There are occasions, however, when telenovelas serve a greater purpose aside from being a simple distraction. In Argentina, one telenovela raised awareness of illegal “Dirty War” adoptions while a Cuban version broke taboos in its frank discussion of homosexuality. For Brazil, a recently released study hypothesized that telenovelas have helped lower fertility rates:
Using census data from 1970 to 1991 and data on the entry of Rede Globo [ed. Brazilian television network] into different markets, the researchers found that women living in areas that received Globo's broadcast signal had significantly lower fertility. (And yes, the study did control for all sorts of factors and addressed the concern that the entry of Globo might have been driven by trends that also contribute to fertility decline)…Additionally, people in areas with Globo's signal were more likely to name their children after novela characters, suggesting that it was the novelas specifically, and not TV in general, that influenced childbearing.
So perhaps I should not be as dismissive of telenovelas as I am (especially putting into account that my mother named me after a soap opera character)!
Image- New York Times (“A scene from "Alborada," which was broadcast on Univision.”)
Sources- The Latin Americanist, Foreign Policy Passport