Here’s Brazil’s New Audience Champion: Another Trashy Novela

Telma, a character in Globo's Paraíso TropicalBrazil has a new 9 pm novela (soap opera): Paraíso Tropical (Tropical Paradise). You can see through the promos that the new offering is nothing more than a hodgepodge of clichés already explored exhaustively in all soap operas exhibited in the last 25 years, at the same time, especially those authored by writer Gilberto Braga.

Once again, the subjournalism set up in the supplements of popular dailies like O Dia, Extra, and lesser read ones and in the weekly magazines focused in celebrities & triviality & vulgarity offer huge spaces to extol the author, who dumps his  blah blah blah over the reality we live in to justify the plot and the characters’ anachronic behavior. A Globo novela kickoff is a national event thanks to the press. Only in Brazil…

The elements that constitute Gilberto Braga’s narrow dramaturgical universe are always sex as weapon for blackmails and achieving power, obscene homosexuality (that is, without the subtlety and tact that the theme demands when presented on TV), sophisticate prostitution, and total absence of ethics or romanticism in love disputes.

In all soap operas he writes you always get the same characters living the same roles, going through the same situations, trying to achieve the same goals. Only names and places change.


Idiocy and Vulgarity

And once again you’ll have the same scowls and grimaces from the same hams (barring the exceptions of rare good actors and actresses in soap operas) murmuring or moaning or screaming hysterically the same idle talk of past novelas, to conclude every chapter with the stock perplexity: who will screw who, who will betray who, who will discover he/she is the father or the mother of who, who will find out he/she is not the son or daughter of who, who will reveal to whom that he/she loves someone from the same sex.

The list of tangled plots in all novelas yarn balls is not much longer than that. The hard-working novela writer will know how to stretch them more skillfully than me. But I can assure you not much more.

These are the suspenses that will serve as entertainment to dozens of millions of people in the four corners of the country through the next six months. Those are people who need soap operas the way they need the air they breathe –  although polluted,  you can’t avoid them, the air and the soap opera.

When you draw the classical profile of Brazilians, besides showing they are soccer, samba and Carnaval lovers, you also have to include that they are novela addicted. The reason why is a chapter to be open in two large fronts, one historical another psychological.

I hate soap operas due to the deformation they cause in the minds, especially of those viewers deprived of family and social principles (those old-fashioned notions about public behavior, respect to your fellow man, ethics etc…) as well as deprived of culture acquired at schools or in books –  especially in literature.

As if were not enough the novelas we produce we still have to deal with the imported ones – one of them is called Rebeldes (Rebels). There you’ll find a bunch of mentally retarded teenagers who are able to make their wishes prevail using for that a challenging behavior in school, streets and at home.

The number of fans and blind people adept at the RBD acronym is huge. A show by the musical band, that I believe also works on the soap opera, set in motion a turmoil with deaths among thousands of teenagers, who piled up to watch them play in São Paulo, some time ago.

Novelas bother me and I try to avoid them. But you have the promos during commercial breaks of my favorites shows at Globo: journalism and soccer. Sometimes you can’t escape them and when I’m forced to see promos for something as Malhação or other novelas, I invariably have to listen to idiotic and vulgar dialogues.

Plots and Originality, Zero

Could this be an odd coincidence that only happen to me? Or this has to do with the fact that the promo editor selects whatever is the worst in the next episode omitting what’s best, healthier, let’s put this way, if it exists.

The fact is that, for long now, I have reached the conclusion – presumptuous I agree –  that there is no intelligent life left in the soap operas and among those who write, direct or interpret the poor texts –  excluding the, by the way, extremely rare honorable exceptions.

There is an intellectual farce behind the soap operas that is only sustained thanks to the colossal might of the vehicle that supports them, Globo TV. But what’s worse is the daily incentive and exaltation promoted by the subjournalism.

You don’t find TV criticism in our newspapers. All we have is hoopla in the form of notes about the artists in the social columns or stories in which news about what a certain character is going to do next is presented as a big scoop.

But are all novelas that harmful? I can say, with a good deal of goodwill. that they are not. Those based in historical themes, for example, seem to restrain authors and directors brazenness. But even those can’t resist the sensuality appeal (Arrgh! How this word has lost its meaning after being used so much to hide naughtiness!) at any time.

Unfortunately, we have another hit show signed by Gilberto Braga being received with the pomp and circumstance that all Globo soap operas get. Check it, and then tell me if I exaggerated anticipating the dramaturgical garbage that is presented and the enduring sensation of déjà-vu, from the first to the last episode.

I bet that the difference between this and past novelas will be that this most recent one will be more open in approaching its theme. And there lurks the danger…

You can’t use the favorable argument that the soap is well done, that production is rich, that the opening scenes are gorgeous and things like that. This is the minimum we should expect from a Globo production: luxury. The TV network gets a 10 in this category. But I doubt it deserves more than zero in the categories plot and originality.


Challenge to Creativity

I hate television soap operas as subdramaturgy in relation to movies and theater, but not the feuilleton, from where they derive. Large part of my upbringing happened inside movie theaters.

There was a time when I used to follow serials, whose installments were only shown at Sunday matinees. Will Nyoka  succeed to arrive in time to save her companion who is about to fall down into a precipice?

Of course, we would find out one week later that she would do it and then would engage in new chases to outlaws till the end of the episode, when a wick will be lit to detonate a bomb just next to the tied-up and gagged heroine. It would take one week to find out that she would escape from this latest trap.

I mention Nyoka as an example, but there were other serial heroes, who were shown before the matinees’ feature film, generally a western with Hopalong Cassidy or Roy Rogers.

Another genre of feuilleton, also very engaging, was the one printed in newspapers or magazines. "The MMM’s Mystery", in O Cruzeiro, the weekly magazine with the largest circulation in Latin America,  was a national hit, written by several renowned authors, among them Raquel de Queiroz and Jorge Amado.

Each one had the task of writing an episode that ended in a cliffhanger. It was the responsibility of the next author to continue the story and thus for months in a row. With this challenge to their creativity the reader was the winner getting wonderful texts.

Newsroom Folklore

A feuilleton matchless master in his time was Nelson Rodrigues. His stories told under the pseudonym of Suzana Flag appeared daily and lasted a week, in the Última Hora newspaper in Rio and later in the Globo. They dealt with urban dramas, with so richly depicted characters that you would think you might stumble upon them in the next corner.

According to newsroom folklore at both newspapers, sometimes it happened that Nelson had to leave his desk and typewriter to answer a phone call or do some other task. Someone would then take over the keyboard and type something right after Nelson’s words.

For example:  "and, then, resigned, Cacilda dried up the crocodile tears…" and the prankster would write: "… and went into the kitchen, brandished a sharp knife…" Nelson would come back, check quickly the text and go back to write,  without a wink: "…and thought: the next time, he will have to pay for that. In her eyes filled with passion, glowed a flame of hatred…" and the story would go on.

That article was originally published in the Observatório da Imprensa –

Translated from the Portuguese by Arlindo Silva.


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