Conference on Latin American History 38
Politics and melodramatic tales might seem like unlikely bedfellows to those unfamiliar with the popularity of telenovelas in Latin America. Telenovelas are the single most popular television genre in Latin America, and they draw audiences that cut across lines of gender, age and class. They are not only a staple of television in Latin America; they have also become a significant export to the United States and several countries in Eastern Europe and Asia. Because of this tremendous popularity, telenovelas hold considerable political power. Though political and cultural histories of film and music are burgeoning fields, the historical study of Latin American television, and telenovelas in particular, is still scant. This panel draws together two historians, an anthropologist and a literary scholar to examine four case studies of the complex relationships between politics and telenovelas in Mexico, Colombia and the U.S. Telenovelas have been at the intersection of debates over foreign cultural imperialism and cultural nationalism. Like other forms of popular media, they have been used as tools of statecraft and a means of consolidating political power by the ruling party in Mexico. Since the 1980s, telenovelas have also reflected and reified debates over neoliberalism and globalization. Beyond the borders of Latin America, telenovelas serve as meaningful culture references for Latino communities and have been subject to re-signification and citation in popular U.S. sitcoms. This panel will be of interest to historians of Latin America, media and communications, and the politics of culture.