Better and more profitable media

By Blanca de Lizaur, PhD, MA, BA, Content specialist.


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Read Time:51 Minute, 51 Second


Paper presented at:

Representing Mexico:

Transnationalism and the politics of culture in Post-revolutionary Mexico

International conference sponsored by

Yale University and the Woodrow Wilson Center,

at the Smithsonian Institution Tower,

Washington, D.C., U.S.A.,

Friday 7th and Saturday 8th, November, 1997.





Blanca de Lizaur,




  • Introduction

  • Telenovelas, what they are

  • The birth of Mexican telenovelas

  • The myth of progress

  • Literature’s social function

  • Who decides what can be shown

  • Contents’ agenda

  • A short history of religious elements in Mexican telenovelas

  • Religious elements in two week-long samples, 1996-97

  • Televisión Azteca

  • Conclusions


  • Introduction.

In 1981-82, an Argentinian serial ─aired by “Canal 13” (the then-seldom-watched Government TV channel), achieved unprecedented popularity. Its name: Andrea Celeste.1 It was so popular, in fact, that soon afterwards Televisa produced a Mexican version under the name Chispita (1982-83),2 which became an astounding success.3 The story?; that of an orphan girl who lives and works with an average family, wins their love, and becomes a full-right member when her mother appears (suddenly recovered from amnesia and looking for her daughter) and marries the widowed head of the house.

During her many years of trial and suffering, though, Andrea Celeste was never alone, as her guardian angel remained on call and helped her always out of trouble. This was apparent in the Argentinian version, where the angel dressed up properly for the occasion (long ivory-white dress and all) and the orphan’s name referred to its Heavenly origin ─Celeste; but was not so clear in the Mexican version, where the pre-adolescent “angel” had to wear an aggressively-white tie and suit: No long dress, no wings, no Heavenly name, no anything. Televisa could not possibly abuse the “gullible” people of Mexico by “feeding their ignorance with dark superstitions and ancient myths”…! It was evident that the girl was protected not by an angel but by an extraterrestrial being, actually, during the telenovela s first-chapter,4 but the story’s producer was smart enough not to press the point in the following …291 chapters. People were given enough clues to understand its role according to their own beliefs, but the Mexican Government could not complain that the TV company was feeding the country with centuries-old lies. Televisa had to cooperate actively in the modernization of Mexico.

Thirteen years afterwards (1996-97), a third version of the story was produced, again by Televisa, under the name Luz Clarita.5 Angels are the fashion, now, and the new producer was certain that a Heavenly character could push the story’s rating up. Permission to include it was denied, though. The angel became a fairy queen in its third version.6 The character remained strikingly white, Heavenly good, and capable of appearing and disappearing out of nowhere, …but certainly without wings.

Clearly, content policies in Mexican media may have changed since the Revolution, but not as much as it would seem!

  • Telenovelas, what they are.

Telenovelas are serialized sentimental dramas bradcast by television. Unlike American soap-operas, their length is limited ─hardly ever do they last more than a year on-air, because the story usually reaches an end as soon as the protagonists have overcome the main obstacle on their way. This means that telenovelas are generally built around a central conflict, and that ─hence, a growing tension can be detected until the problem is resolved with a “happy-ending”. In fact, the so called “happy-ending”, is the one in which each character receives what it has merited with his/her behaviour, according to the audience’s culture (as required by this literary genre’s social function).

They are usually aired Monday through Friday in 30 or 60 minute-long episodes, which are never independent from one another; and they are mainly produced in Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil [paper presented in 1997].

Telenovelas have become an every-day dish of the TV-menu mainly in Latin America and continental Europe (including Russia and other Eastern countries); and have attained significant success also in some Arab and Asian countries (like China, long before its recent economic revolution).7 In Mexico they rank second amongst the most watched TV-programs –the first being soccer-foot ball matches, the third being movies, the fourth being special events like the Olympic Games’ openning ceremony (all of them: one-time events),8 but they actually come first when we consider that they captivate their audience for months, and not only for 90-120 minutes.

Their impact is so broad, that it has been reported that some war zones have been paralized during a certain telenovelas transmission,9 or that some of the Tupac-amaru hostage-takers followed them intently during the months in which they controlled the Japanese Embassy in Peru.10 In Mexico, newspapers have published that the E.Z.L.N.-representatives left peace-negotiations every day in time to watch their favourite telenovela.11 It is also well known that they proved an excellent vehicle for transmitting Government family-planning campaigns in Mexico and several other countries.12 Thus, it can be said that telenovelas are watched by almost everybody, although some particular works are liked better than others, by different social groups.

  • The birth of Mexican telenovelas.

When television was born in Mexico in the 1950’s, both the cinema and the historieta industries were flourishing. It was a decade of political and economical stability, and the progress and modernity promised by the Revolution seemed to finally become true for a vast majority. The radio industry was strong and far-reaching, and radionovelas were amongst its most appreciated shows. It naturally followed that television had to experiment with the genre and create telenovelas. The first TV-drama produced with a daily serial format, was called Senda prohibida, and was written by Fernanda Villeli (adapted from her previous radio story). It was transmitted in 1957,13 roughly fourty years ago.

Many television programs ─at the time, were produced either by brokers,14 advertising agencies or by their clients (like Colgate-Palmolive). This accounts for the market-driven orientation of Mexican television, which somehow managed to coexist with the medium’s convenient subjection to the Revolutionary Government’s party.

This phenomenum lead into the conformation of Televisa, the gigantic communications conglomerate, nearly twenty years later (January 3rd, 1973). Televisa, a near monopoly, is the main Mexican telenovela producer, and the most prolific television producer in the world (from a “number of hours annually produced” point of view). In other words: Mexican television’s, like Mexican historietas contents and formats, have been modelled by three coexisting forces: 1st) A mainly conservative nation (whose free-will consumption was required), 2nd) a liberal (or rather: anti-conservative) Revolutionary Government –with a very distinctive political discourse, and 3rd) a nearly Capitalist economy.

The study of Mexican telenovelas contents, therefore, offers a particularly valuable insight into the cultural policies of post-revolutionary Mexico, and how the ruling party’s official myths merged with its peoples’ own myths, and rooted succesfully in our land.

  • The myth of progress.

The Mexican Revolution ─it is generally admitted, cost the country about one million lives, and unaccountable material losses. Ideologically, though, the people needed an explanation, some kind of justification for what they had been forced to undergo. Left wing revolutionary slogans like “la tierra es de quien la trabaja (“the land belongs to those who work it”), called for a Marxist interpretation of the then-recent past, and accounted for the foundation of a Liberal Revolutionary-Government. The very people whom the Revolution had been said to protect, raised against it, however, when the Marxist interpretation of reality was pushed past culturally-unacceptable boundaries (traditional, economical, and religious). Thousands died, and many more migrated, mainly to the United States.15

This forced the Revolutionary Government to undertake an enormous task: That of changing our society’s values, in order to provide itself with a broader support base, thus securing operational stability for its institutions and members on the long run.16

A worthwhile goal had to be offered in the place of such values, as otherwise people would not accept to sacrifice what had proven to be important enough for them to raise in arms against a professional army with international support. The goal?: Progress and modernity.17 No price would seem too costly in exchange for the general well-being of society. “Conformism” –conformity with one’s “lot in life”, was unacceptable, as it entailed a certain rejection of necessary changes.

As synonims to progress, literacy, education, health (only through modern allopathic medicine), industrialization, urban-life, peace and freedom, and economic welfare were offered. Whatever opposed to them could be interpreted as negative for the whole nation. Together, they became the new myths of the new society.

The bridge between the old and the new times would be tended on common grounds. The new public discourse could only consider “good” ─positive, prosocial, desirable─ what both sides agreed to consider so; that is: what both understood as humanly convenient. Conversely, what either party rejected, became unmentionable in the public discourse, whenever an agreement need to be reached between social agents. Moral talk, obviously, was deemed unacceptable by the authorities, as it related to religion, and memories of the counter-revolutionary war were still fresh.

Such a reinterpretation of history, of reality, of cultural institutions, asked for mass vehicles; the new ideology was to be transmitted and supported by the school, the press, and the rest of the media. The three hadto be controlled by the Government. It had to be done in such a way, though, that the image of democracy remained untainted.

And they have managed superbly, until crisis became a permanent feature of Mexican reality, and the image of ever-lasting progress (tied to the Government’s party, at least) collapsed. It is not by chance that civilian boycotts against media grew larger and stronger during De la Madrid’s and Salinas’ sexenios (6-year long presidential terms: 1982-88 and 1988-94), right after López Portillo’s 1981 presidential report about the –then newly arrived– crisis.

  • Literature’s social function.

The importance of Literature as a remodelling tool for reality, whether transmitted in print or through any other technology, can be accounted for only from a sociological point of view. As Mims & Lerner defined many years ago: Literature, as a social institution…

“Consists of a scheme of controls, through which it performs its social function by organizing the verbal expression of experience, and thus integrating on an emotional level the activities of the group with its underlying view of life”.18

Literature is, then, “both culture forming and culture ridden…”19

…and works for society by serving as a vehicle for its ideas, culture and values, from one generation to another; and also inside any one of them, by reaching those members of society who cannot be instructed into the ways of the group, by other social institutions (i.e.:the family, the school…).

How can it perform such an enormous task? Simply by giving an image of reality which transmits those ideas, culture and values by “rewarding” behaviours society considers to be acceptable, and by “punishing” the unacceptable ones. Old wisdom recently confirmed by Social Psychologists like Albert Bandura, from Stanford University.

Can this be considered good or bad? Probably both, depending on our personal point of view. It is only natural, though; every particular group needs to transmit its view of the world to its new members, and justify it both from a rational and an emotional point of view, or perish.

Such ideological processes are innate to human societies to the extent that even minorities make use of them inside their own groups, even while they complain because majorities frequently ignore o mistreat them in the latter’s own broader-reaching literatures.

Hence the importance of controlling all narrative’s channels of distribution (i.e.the media), not only those supposed to transmit historical, real events ( and the press), if the Mexican Revolutionary Government wanted to rule for long over a people who did not share its world view, but who hungered for peace and stability.

Telenovelas transmit narrations that organize “the verbal expression of experience, and thus [integrate] on an emotional level the activities of the group with its underlying view of life”.20 This enables me to consider them as literary works for the purposes of my analysis. Of course, neither are they built, nor they function, like “high-brow” works, but they all belong to Literature from a sociological point of view.

  • Who decides what can be shown

Mexico is the only country I have news of, where the ethical control of advertising is in the hands of the Ministry of Health (Secretaría de Salud, Dirección de Control Sanitario de la Publicidad). It had to be so, because ethical limits were not in the realm of the revolutionary discourse, while health was. The ethical control of magazines and comic books, as well, was supposedly supervised by the Ministry of Education (Secretaría de Educación Pública, Comisión Calificadora de Revistas Ilustradas), with the ocassional help of other Government ministries.21 True banning (political, or related to the Revolutionary discourse), though, was in the hands of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Secretaría de Gobernación), where it was executed indirectly, through controlling paper supplies, TV and radio concessions, and other mechanisms, as it is generally mentioned. Where it regards TV, a particular ministerial department was created: the Dirección General de Radio, Televisión y Cinematografía (R.T.C.).

A clear manual or by-laws was never publicly issued, as it would have entailed an outward recognition of ideological control, when the revolutionary discourse that officially legitimated the authorities’ actions, exalted freedom of expression.22 This allowed for discretionary actions and occasional “pressure-valves”, resulting in a not very consistent application of censorship, that paradoxically rendered the system flexible enought to last.

Where it regards telenovelas, TV-companies have had to rely on a case-by-case personal negotiation: R.T.C. appointed a representative for a certain work or channel, and the producer had to reach an agreement with the censor as to what could be shown during its transmission. Still today (1997), Televisión Azteca accepts having an “in-house” R.T.C. representative, who issues final decisions about what will be aired.23

Born and raised in this environment, Televisa has structured itself to give results (achieve high ratings) anticipating what R.T.C. will accept or refuse to air. After fourty years of ideological conditioning in telenovelas, they first think about R.T.C., and then about the audience, without realizing that inside such narrow margins, there are few more things they can still show without repeating themselves more than it can be normally enjoyed, or irating either the audience or the Government representatives.24

  • Contents’ agenda

Media and the school were, then, entrusted with the precious gold of ideology ─with the promotion of the new myths in the new society. But media were privately owned, although ─in the case of TV and radio broadcasts, for example, concessions to operate them were arbitrarily granted. Permits could be cancelled at any time and for any reason. It is easy for us now to disqualify near-monopolies like Televisa, but the truth is that they could have lost everything at any time if they had not yielded to Governmental requirements. Their subjection, of course, was handsomely rewarded with monopolical revenues, tax advantages and political favours.

What I have called “the synonims of progress” (and ‘will describe later on), had to be shown always from a positive point of view in the movies, illustrated magazines ─including historietas (comic stripes), the radio and TV, establishing a clear correlation between them and the well-being of those positive characters the audience loved the most. Conversely, whatever opposed to “progress”, had to be shown as harmful ─destructive, antisocial, negative─, both for society and individuals. “Personal advancement” was the general, dogmatic and unquestionable goal, at least as far as it concerned main characters.

Simultaneously, positive human values had to be promoted because both parts agreed in that they were desirable for everybody ─they constituted the common grounds for a public discourse, I talked about earlier. A man, for example, could not be shown beating a woman or child, or married to several women at the same time; they all agreed those were undesirable behaviours they did not want to support.

Ideological revolutionary foundations had to be promoted actively, too, including the Government’s approved official version of History.

The previous paragraphs serve as an introduction to the content policies I will now describe:

First content boundaries: The synonims of progress.

a) Literacy was depicted as the sure key to self-advancement and success ─any knowledge stored in print, had to be considered true and worthy, automatically.

b) education was shown as the only sure way to self-advancement and a better job ─therefore, in telenovelas there were no incompetent, unlikeable, or destructive teachers; schools taught only objective truths ─”science”, not “biased and faulty points of view”─ (as opposed to what “individuals and families taught”); and schooled individuals were always treated better than those who lacked studies.

c) health (but only through modern allopathic medicine, and hygiene) was represented as the foundation of well-being. Folk medicine –with its herbs and massages, with its closeness to natural elements and cycles, and its frequent spiritual invocations, could only prove either useless or fatal ─as in Marcha nupcial (1977).25 Physicians made no mistakes. Self-medication could only prove fatal. Characters never smoked nor drank, unless they were to die of it (occasionally, they were allowed to hold a glass of “champagne”, but only during very special celebrations, and the camera could never focus on the action of drinking from it). If they had a drinking problem, only A.A. (Anonymous Alcoholics, a non-gobernmental organization) could help them. Kids might die of amoebic dysentery in a telenovela (a healable illness nowadays), because they had forgotten to wash their hands before lunch …just once. Sports were the key to recognize a worthy young character. Drugs were not shown, not even from a negative point of view; they simply did not belong in our country’s brand-new modern image –people had no need to escape from a perfect Revolutionary society. And, as a matter of fact, few did.26

It is common to read and hear about the negative influence of media on society, but seldom do we speak about their equally pervasive positive influence. A content policy about health has helped the Revolutionary Government improve the general well-being of its people. It cannot be doubted, for example, that slogans like “wash your hands after going to the bathroom and before eating”, or “if you sell food, do not serve it before first washing your hands, or right after holding money”, have helped expand average life-expectancies; or that the easier access to modern allopathic medicine, has helped to reduce infant and maternal mortality rates.

d) Industrialization had a favourable image in telenovelas; it created riches and jobs, and brought poor peasants into the “civilized”, modern…

e) …urban-life where potable water, drainage, electricity, telephone, doctors, education, and commodities were available ─this almost flawless image, by the way, was one of the first ones to collapse, early in the 1980’s.27

f) Peace and freedom. There was little organized crime in telenovela Mexico, no drug-dealers, no terrorists, no unpunished crimes, no social un-rest, no kidnaps, no strikes (there can be no unhappy workers in a perfect Revolutionary society); no prostitution, no homosexuality, no suicide, no abortion;28 no un-punished corruption,29no banning… ─no failure whatsoever in the Revolutionary system.

g) Economic welfare had to be shown as the mandatory consequence of all the above-mentioned.

Even though our first reaction to content controls is usually negative, we must not forget that migration to the cities (until the 1980’s, at least) helped reduce the misery of thousands of peasant families, and improved their life-quality. We tend to idealize small peasant and native communities, nowadays, conveniently forgetting how children and women are sold, used, and are generally exploitated in many of them ─for example.30

Other content boundaries.

h) Ideological foundations.

Logically, the first ideological taboo was democracy, because the Revolution was instigated –and initiated, to the cry of, “Effective vote, no more reelections” (“Sufragio efectivo; no reelección). Democracy was the only political system that could bring progress to the country, and as such had to be depicted always favourably. Elections, according to TV newscasts, were always clean. TV companies avoided the issue in telenovelas, though, because they were afraid to anger the audience.

Religion was a particularly difficult subject, as the Revolutionary discourse related it to ignorance, poverty and fraud; but it could not be continuously portrayed that way, because it greatly angered the audience, too –as it is generally better liked and respected than the authorities, despite the many human imperfections of its members. Alienating the audience could not be considered a good strategy, if the authorities wanted TV companies to transmit its messages to the people. A certain balance was reached by virtually showing no religious elements at all, …so that people would learn how to live without them. Proselitismo religioso (the promotion of religion) was ruled out of telenovelas,31 not only because or general ideological reasons, but also because religion remained an illegal activity in Mexico until January 28th, 1992 (forbidden by the National Constitution, no less), and direct immediate negative consequences could fall upon the TV company and its personnel for “infringing the law”. Even after its legalization, its practice remained greatly hindered, compared to most other countries’.

The audience rejected a love-story that did not end with a religious ceremony.32 Therefore, long awaited weddings could be shown briefly, but “priests” in them were usually not allowed to talk during the ceremony (their voices were muted, while we listened to a love song).

Party or political promotion was ruled out of telenovelas, too, to avoid alienating the audience.33

Public criticism against the “system” was generally tolerated from worthy and notable left-wing intellectuals ─whose prestige the authorities inderectly granted and managed through allowing their works to be distributed, as well as through grants, awards and subsidies, or through employment in official cultural institutions, for example),34 as long as it did not reach too broad an audience, in order to counterweigh the people’s mainly conservative pressure against school and media contents. That way, the Government proved to be –always, the “center” wing, the key to balance and stability.

La traición (1985) is a good example of how contents could be negotiated with the censor. Originally, the story’s most powerful character was that of a State Governor who repeatedly abused his authority; the telenovela depicted how he amassed riches out of the misery of his people, and how he made use of crime and injustice as an instrument to retain power and annihilate those who were not his friends.

The R.T.C. censor understood the story could put the Government in an uncomfortable position, and asked for changes. Televisa, then, created a secondary character, and loaded him with all the misdeeds previously planned for the State Governor ─the new-character’s boss, and under whose authority the villain was mistakenly thought to work. The innocent Governor ─a revolutionary heroe, by the way, was finally proven excellent, and the Revolution proved its uprightedness and desirability once again.35

The official version of History was untouchable, too: In 1965, a telenovela was produced about Maximiliano y Carlota (Maximillian and Charlotte), the unfortunate emperors of Mexico. The central story was that of Carlota’s great love for her husband. Unfortunately, the XIXthcentury Mexican Republic founding father, Benito Juárez, turned out to be the villain, as he decreed the emperor’s death at el Cerro de las Campanas. People’s reaction against the national liberal heroe and for the emperors was such, that the authorities ordered the TV-company to repair the national heroe’s good name, in a following telenovela.

i) General human-values.

The Nacionalismo Revolucionario required that the media made use of the “national language” (Spanish). Particularly during certain periods (like Echeverría’s presidency or sexenio), Mexican TV could pride itself on using practically no foreign expressions, and maintaining a minimum level of linguistic correction.

A number of telenovelas was produced to promote or reinforce behaviours the Government deemed necessary or convenient for the country –they were known as “telenovelas with social (or pro-social) contents”, or “in society’s own interest”. Amongst them: Ven conmigo, Acompáñame, Vamos juntos, Caminemos, Nosotras las mujeres and Por amor (1976-89), and lately Los hijos de nadie (1997). The first one, Ven conmigo, mainly promoted adult education (together with family planning), and was well appreciated by a majoritarian audience (rating or percentage of “TV homes” it reached: 32 points as an average). Caminemos and Vamos juntos mainly promoted family-planning, and attained only 15 points (both below their time-slot audience averages); the rest reached an even smaller public. The instinctive, blatant and growing rejection the audience showed for them, made TV companies no longer advertise when one was being created to comply with the authorities –the label: “social content telenovelas”, was dropped; not the practice–.

In spite of this, it is generally accepted that these telenovelas became the key to decreasing the total fertility rate in Mexico from 6.37 to 3.8 children-per-couple in only 14 years (accompanied by extensive government campaigns and easier access to contraception, of course).36

R.T.C. did not care very much about other types of contents people worried more about ─violence, sex and nudity, inappropriate language, and the lack of works that exalted the role played by families in our country. Through controlling offensive material, though, the authorities were offered a justification for other types of content control. It must be recognized, any way, that they made a better work about controlling them in TV, than they did in comic-books,37 until the progressive collapse of many of the Revolutionary myths, and the broadening of banning policies which started in 1984-85.

Feces and guts have always been considered distasteful by all sides, but Televisión Azteca seems to be giving them a try, too.38 Death has been no problem, as long as it be contextualized according to our culture.

As a general rule, the censors’ goal was to avoid any material that instead of raising the audience from “its former ignorance”, could have potencially reverted it to a pre-revolutionary statu-quo. Tabloid news (until 1995), and soft and hard pornography were definitely banned out of TV, for example.

  • A short history of religious elements in Mexican telenovelas.

As banning decisions were discretionary –R.T.C. representatives negotiated every single one, case by case (company by company, channel by channel, producer by producer, work by work, and even scene by scene…)–, exceptions to any generalization abound. A rough profile can be drawn, though, where it regards the banning of religious elements ─the most sensitive ones in Mexico. Such profile can give us an idea of the many changes experienced during the long period covered by this analysis.

Until the birth of Televisa, the fierce competition for audience amongst the four private channels (2, 4, 5 and 8),39 and the economic pressure of advertising agencies, clients and brokers (who expected channels to please the audience, and paid costly for it), did not permit a very strict content control. Before 1973, for example, many lives of saints became extremely successful telenovelas, and even toured around Iberoamerica, Africa, and Southern Europe. The life of Saint Martin of Porres, for one, was firstly produced before video-tape was invented. When due to its success other nations wanted to have it, the main actor (René Muñoz) was invited to enact it once and again for different TV-companies in various countries around the world.

After the merge of all four channels, and the birth of Televisa during Echeverría’s period, a more strict control became possible. The only religious central-plot line allowed after 1973, was San Martín de Porres’ ‘last version: El Cielo es para todos (1979), sponsored by Colgate and Café Oro;40 …again a commercial success. Sponsorships, by the way, dissapeared in those years, as far as I can remember, until Televisión Azteca revived them around 1995.

Occassionally, religious elements were allowed, with a varying degree of success. Mundo de juguete (1974-1977)41 showed the child protagonist attending a school run by Catholic nuns in a country where it was forbidden by law to do that openly, …and receiving her First Communion from the Pope in Rome. Not only this: It depicted positive and attractive religious characters. Children raved on it to the point that the company couldn’t end it as scheduled; chapters were added to it once and again, until it became the longest work in the history of Mexican telenovelas (children works are usually, and by far, the longest ones).

A story enacted by a very popular actress, Angélica María, conversely, showed the Guadalupan apparitions as a dream, and was ignored by people.42

Around 1977, holidays ceased to be celebrated on TV. Daily schedules were no longer cancelled on important dates, be them civic or religious. This was well received, and was generally considered as a step ahead towards modernity. It certainly became a step ahead towards the total omission of religious contents, too.

Under the leadership of Víctor Hugo O’Farrill, the golden years of Mexican telenovelas arrived (1982-1986). Anthropo-centrism, Modernism and progress joined forces to create some of the most notable works Televisa has produced. Greater technical and monetary resources, and an ever-improving industrialized production process, permitted to create memorable stories (like the above-mentioned Chispita and La traición, and Gabriel y Gabriela, Bodas de odio2ndversion, La fiera, Vivir un poco, Tú o nadie and Cuna de lobos) where religious elements were either scarce or absent.

Great stories, great production teams, and the lack of competition (i.e.: lack of works created under different rules), permitted these telenovelasto attain unparalleled success, with up to 71 points’ maximum ratings (for example: closing chapters at the end of a telenovela).

Such success invited producers and authorities to carry the revolutionary discourse even farther, and several works were then created either with a small number of negative religious elements, or braking with particular social ─not Revolutionary, boundaries.

En carne propia1990, under the model of Cuna de lobos (one of Televisa‘s most notable successes)–, depicted a priest (a merely secondary character), in a not-very-agreeable way, for example. The story failed to attract the audience. El rincón de los prodigios (1987) obtained similar results. It told the story of a peasant child who is thought to posses supernatural gifts, to the point that many are healed simply by placebo effect –by suggestion, when he prays for them. He grows into a renown healer and prophet, outside the orthodoxy of the majoritarian faith. Doctors, teachers, priests, authorities…, none compared to Monchito. People disliked it almost from the start. And this despite the fact that the author was an exceptionally agreeable, knowledgeable and generous person, with a notable sense of humour.

Then, and for a short period of time, Channel 5 imported a few Venezuelan telenovelas, where blessings, medals, and churches abounded. The result: Ratings soared, but were quick to drop again when such stories were replaced by more “Modern” Mexican works (Modern” in the sense of “works perceived as more sordid by the general audience”).

Ratings, actually, started their non-stop decline in 1987… Well, non-stop, but with frequent exceptions: Seemingly unimportant stories attained significant success. Religious elements were present in many of them ─marginally, of course, but depicted from a respectful point of view (respectful in the sense that believers’ creeds were not contended, but were actually justified). Cadenas de amargura (1990-91), for example, showed a happy and positive priest who suddenly found out, later in life, that during his long-past youth (long before realizing that he wanted to become a priest), he had conceived a daughter with his then-beloved fiancèe (the woman died shortly before he returned to town, many years later). He kept on being a priest after discovering he had an already-grown child, but his daughter never lacked guidance, help or love afterwards: He was loyal both to her and to his vows. When his daughter asked what he would have done had her mother been still alive when he returned home and learnt about his fatherhood (would he have married her?), he softly answered: “I loved her dearly and truly. Yet, it was not her dissappearance –what wrongly looked like her rejection, that pushed me into priesthood, into the service of God and others; it rather gave me the opportunity to meditate about what I wanted to do with my life, what my life-mission was. If she had returned to me then, I still would not have married her because I had finally discovered my vocation to priesthood. Yet –I assure you, I would never have ignored my duty to you, or my sincere respect towards her.” (ad libitum).

In 1993, Televisión Azteca (Channels 13 and 7) was sold into private hands, after a short reorganization (1989-93) meant to prove that it could compete commercially against Televisa. Brazilian telenovelas, full of sexual, religious, and political elements (those we couldn’t use in Mexico), were clearly liked by a more selective audience. Their Realism and sense of humour trapped a more educated, urban audience –the one that does not usually watch them, or accept that it does. Televisa ‘s ratings had already been falling for five years when Televisión Azteca ‘s ratings started to raise little by little…

R.T.C., on the one side, had gradually opened banning criteria, starting around 1984-85, mainly as a reaction to civilian boycotts against newscasts.43 Televisa, on the other, started to try sexual and violent elements in its stories, first, and transgressive linguistic elements, later, with results deemed surprising (not positive) by its creative personnel –whose view of life is habitually way more liberal than the general audience’s.

The greater freedom in the depiction of sexual, violent and linguistic contents has been accompanied by a consistent reduction of sales (even during economically more stable years like 1990-93). In the last seven years (i.e., since 1990) most telenovelas have not been able to exceed average historical ratings for their time-slots, while competition has increased tremendously. The end of 1994 and the beginning of 1995 brought such dramatic cut-backs on advertising expenditures that for several weeks few clients could afford TV-spots, and channel owners had to make use of them (to advertise other companies of their own).44 Lack of consumption forced prices down, while operating costs rocketted, forcing programmers to schedule more spots than ever: On November, 3rd, 1995 a sixty minute long telenovela chapter ─Lazos de amorcontained 50 advertisements and only 38 scenes…; which also reduced its opportunities to attract viewers. Today, out of every 30 minutes of transmission by Televisa or Televisión Azteca, a media of 11 minutes is dedicated to publicity. Televisión Azteca is even showing on-screen advertising banners during entertainment and contest programs; something previously forbidden.

Since 1994, approximately, both Televisa and Televisión Azteca have increased their advertising budgets. Never before had telenovelas required so much help to attract people’s attention.

The TV-industry needed new resources to recover popularity, and after trying out many strategies, it rediscovered religion nearly three years after the oficial recognition of faith as a lawful activity. Religious elements, as we will see, remain marginal today (1997), even if their number grows steadily. The mixture of formerly forbidden linguistic, violent, sexual, …and religious contents in single works (as in Alguna vez tendremos alas,45 1996-97, for example) has raised mixed reactions in the audience, with no clear positive effect on ratings on the long run. No wonder: These are esentially antithetical elements, that cannot work well when jumbled together thoughtlessly.

  • Religious elements in two week-long samples, 1996-97.

With all this information in mind, I asked myself: Can one infere a correlation between the abundance of religious elements and high ratings? I analyzed two full-week samples of Televisa ‘s telenovelas, one from January 1996 and the other one from May 1997. The results are the following.

The use of religious elements is definitely growing (25 % more in the second year’s sample than in the first), but they remain marginal to the main story: No religious main-plot-lines, no religious motivations or limitations to characters’ actions, scarce explicit attendance to rites (other than weddings), no supernatural participation in the development of the story, etcetera.

Religious elements employed, could be divided into five main groups:

* Environment, like churches appearing as part of a city’s landscape,

* Objects, like crucifixes as house or office decorations,

* Wordsfrom casual exclamations and invocations, to the brief mention of religious data or prayers,

* Rites, like talks about, or explicit attendance to, christenings, weddings, funerals, etcetera, and

* Personsfor example: characters who are very pious, nuns, priests, missionaries, etc., which was the scarcest one, as could have been expected).

85 % of all religious elements in the 1996 sample, and 68 % in the 1997 sample, belong to the “words” and “objects” classifications. The majority of them are casual exclamations (like, “my God!”), medals, images and crucifixes –most of them clearly marginal (small, brief, irrelevant or unimportant).

Religions other than the majoritarian one, are seldom mentioned in the sample (only once in Los hijos de nadie, 1996). Outside the sample, I keep records of only four cases: a Pre-hispanic native marriage-rite in Entre la vida y la muerte (1992; the German audience loved it, whereas the Mexican one simply ignored it), a Japanese marriage-rite in El Pecado de Oyuki (a rating failure in Mexico, too, despite the fact that previous versions has attained great success), a Protestant preacher who was only interested in profitting from people in Tieta (a great rating success when compared to the historical average for its channel and time-slot),46 and Nada personal (where two positive and attractive secondary characters were Protestant, according to the original story’s very lengthy abstract).47

Some isolated examples permit us to suppose that religious elements, when shown in a respectful way, can raise ratings notably. One of them is the death of Rosario, a co-protagonist in El premio mayor (7:05pm, Thursday, January 18th, 1996). The girl had suffered since birth: ‘Was abandoned by her parents, ‘raised by a compassionate neighbour whose family abused Rosario in more than a hundred ways; and finally married the man she loved, …only to lose him shortly later when he opposed publicly to some criminals. At that point, our character wanted to become a nun, but had to resign when she discovered she was pregnant. Then she fell ill and was asked to choose between her life and that of the baby, and she chose to give birth ─faithful to very strong cultural, economic, emotional and instinctive motivations for maternity in the large majority of Mexican women, but faithful also to the majoritarian faith’s teachings that the more vulnerable being has to be protected by the most powerful one. Telenovelas have to reward positive behaviours according to cultural parameters, and so much suffering deserved an uncommonly good prize. The producer could think only of one: Our lady of Guadalupe (the Marian representation closer to Mexican believers’ hearts) had to take Rosario into Heaven personally. The producer’s marksmanship proved extraordinary when congratulating calls poured into the TV-company until its telephone system collapsed. The audience had been touched to the point that they wanted to see Rosario’s death once and again. The chapter was aired again the following day, and people kept calling for repetitions; but the company could not broadcast it for a third time; the story had to go on.

What the producer did not realize, is that he got it right by sheer chance. His lack of religious knowledge did not distinguish between actual death and dormición  ─two different religious terms: The Virgin did not exactly die, and was taken by angels into Heaven ─body and soul, a few instants after she sort of fell asleep in a definite way; that is dormición. The rest of us usually die –we abbandon our body, while our soul moves on to its eternal destination, until the day of the final resurrection, when body and soul will reunite for ever, according to the majoritarian faith’s teachings. The producer had planned to represent Rosario dying “just like the Virgin” –like in a famous painting by Murillo: The Immaculate Conception; but the actress’ lack of cooperation forced him to enact the whole scene in a minimum time.

El premio mayor, in fact, was the single sampled telenovela ith the larger number of negative religious elements.

And hence, his near-failure –actual success, reminds us of an important fact: Most people in the media do not believe in what the rest of society believes. It does not matter whether we talk about religion, folk-medicine or else, the audience decline is an actual indicator of how they have lost contact with the culture they feed on, and whose spokesmen & spokeswomen they should be. According to Mims’ & Lerner’s definition of Literature, narrations can hardly be majoritarianly, permanently, successful when their authors refuse to serve as vehicles for their society’s view of life, for their ideas, values, and culture.

Returning to my hypothesis, the analysis proved that the profusion of religious elements does not guarantee a high rating. As a matter of fact, the four telenovelas with the greater number of religious elements were either the two most disliked by the majoritarian audience (Pueblo chico, infierno grande, and Los hijos de nadie, 1997), or the two better liked (Esmeralda, 1997, and Lazos de amor, 1996).

This permits us to conclude that marginal religious elements potentiate a certain telenovela s performance –good or bad, but alone by themselves cannot guarantee a large audience.

  • Televisión Azteca.

Televisión Azteca assured me that they have no content policies similar to the above-listed ones. They have two single worries: that the telenovela will sell, and that the R.T.C. representative will allow them to air it,48 which demonstrates by itself that they do have content policies! Do they have policies for choosing what telenovela story to produce? ─I asked, knowing that this first filter usually tells what companies’ main content policies are. Yes ─they said: Firstly, they must be interesting; then, they must be well structured, original, different and long enough. That is all…

A distinct content policy can be traced, though, in most recent Televisión Azteca‘s telenovelas. Gender, minority and political issues are their preferred content choice. According to Time (the magazine), their creators think their works are “dissenting soaps”.49 The producers’ left-wing activism backgrounds, allow us to define their telenovelas as contemporaneous left-wing Realism.

All things considered, it can be said that they chose to explore outside the previously narrow content-limits, in order to stop the rating decline, and that ─only maybe, they chose to alienate the majoritarian audience, instead of angering R.T.C. censors. The break with the past was apparent enough to draw people’s attention to their works, which helped them to increase their ratings at first; it was no surprise, therefore, that ratings dropped even more dramatically later on. However, it is still a surprise to notice how far they have been allowed to go, without raising more adverse reactions from either R.T.C. or the audience –except for declining audience volumes. The fact that a non-feminist gender TV-program (Ellos, nuestros hombres) ─a misoginous comedy, actually,50 was produced and advertised by Televisa but never broadcast, whereas Mirada de mujer (1997, a gender, yet openly feminist telenovela) encountered no obstacles, makes us think there might be new R.T.C. content policies.

Obviously, neither happy families with more than two or three children, nor a non official view of history, will be found in Televisión Aztecas transmissions. And neither will there be stories taking place outside Mexican, mainly-urban environments.

The success of a politically-tinted work like Nada personal (1996), or that of Mirada de mujer (1997), where polemic subjects like abortion, homosexuality, and divorce-and-remarriage, were depicted without taking into account or justifying local cultural parameters about them –while long paragraphs were certainly dedicated to ridiculeor diqualify them, or to justify opposing points of view, tells us something is changing. The fact that they were a success mainly in urban Mexico City, and not in the rest of the country, tells us the audience has clearly split. Fourty years of content banning have finally created an audience for programs lacking in local cultural parameters.

But, …a majoritarian audience?

  • Conclusions.

Content control was the logic consequence of the historical processes of XXthCentury Mexico, and one of its Government’s keys to stability and permanence. In exchange for postponed collective values, the Revolutionary discourse offered progress. This worked well until the economic crisis became permanent, and people lost all hope in the ruling party’s ability to make the myths of progress come true for most of us.

TV-channels’ survival was conditioned to their subjection, but a number of benefits was guaranteed to them in exchange for it.

As a result, two different TV-audiences coexist today in Mexico. Ironically it is the fabricated audience (the one who strongly believes in the Revolutionary myths, even if it no longer believes in the Revolutionary Government), who is coming out of control, pressing against banning, for democracy, and complaining the most because of the general sense of having been wronged. We are talking of a mainly urban audience, with more studies than their parents, but less faith (a Rationalist, Materialist, Anthropo-centrist audience) –artificially crafted by the authorities, but who has now turned against them to a great extent.

Civilian pressure has changed the rules of the game, but not for popular cultural icons, as the Luz Clarita example (1996-97) we initially mentioned showed us.

Marginal religious elements, when respectfully employed, do not guarantee a certain telenovelas success, but potentiate its failure or success, thus helping the story reach larger audiences when it is liked.

Media personnel have lost contact with their people’s culture. This, the (until a decade ago) ever narrowing censorship limits, and the need to survive commercially, have forced producers to repeat the same formulas over and over again. Altogether, these problems have produced declining general ratings. A fiercer competition, rocketting costs, and the reduction of their clients’ advertising budgets, have forced TV-companies to massively bomb the audience with publicity, which has further reduced their products opportunities’ to be liked by people.

A sociological interpretation of Literature, provides us with a useful key to understanding why certain popular works (telenovelas, in this case) achieve success or failure, depending on whether they share their society’s view of the world, or not.

1Aired Monday, February 2th, 1981, through Thursday, February 4th, 1982, on Channel 13; time: 7-7:30pm, firstly, then 6:45pm-7:15pm, and lastly 7-7:30pm (Teleguía).

Government operated channels were allowed slightly more freedom in what they transmitted, partly because their reach was much narrower than their private counterparts, but also because they usually adhered to the official content agenda more strictly than anyone else.

2Aired Monday, November 15th, 1982, through Tuesday, December 27th, 1983 (the latter is a probable end-date), on Channel 2; time: 6-6:30 pm, firstly, and lastly 6:30-7pm (Teleguía).

3Audience ratings previous to 1990, cannot be confirmed. Not even I.N.R.A., the only company measuring them at the time, keeps copies of such costly studies, …according to their representative. He assured us that their electromagnetic archives had been damaged by pollution, that the machines that could read them had been destroyed by the 1985 earthquake, and that they keep no paper copies of them.

Whatever the truth, the storage facilities where they took us, certainly held no relevant material.

4According to the abstract published by Teleguía, Monday, January 15th, 1982, Channel 2, 6-6:30 pm.

5Aired Monday, September 30th, 1996, through Friday, February 21st, 1997, on Channel 2; time: 4:30-5pm, firstly, then 5-6pm (Teleguía), and lastly, 4-5pm (according to the producer’s office).

6Mapat, cited interview.

7Protele’s marketing posters, and S.E.C. (Spanish Entertainment Company)’s Video Romance, novelas en video ‘s launching video.

8“Éstos son los 100 programas más vistos de la televisión mexicana durante 1996”, published by Televisa on all main Mexican newspapers, on Friday, October 18th, 1996. The chart was organized according to I.B.O.P.E.’s ratings.

I would like to point that ratings from the three companies can hardly be contrasted; that they frequently contradict one another, and that incongruities can be found in ratings measured by any one of them.

Despite of this, main indexes held stably over time, because when one of the companies stopped operating (I.N.R.A.), its key personnel was hired by the newest one of them (I.B.O.P.E.).

9Video Romance…, cited launching video.

10“Hostage takers in Peru soften”; Daily news, Monday, December 30th, 1996, and “Al Tupac Amaru le gustan las telenovelas”; El Heraldo de México, December 30th, 1996.

11“Más que la paz, al E.Z.L.N. le interesa una novela de televisión”; El Heraldo de México (front page), August 12th, 1996.

12Miguel Sabido; Towards the social use of soap operas; Institute for Communication Research, paper presented at the Annual Conference of the International Institute of Communications, in Strasbourg, France; September, 1981, and “Un método anticonceptivo ‘de telenovela'”; Reforma, September 1st, 1994.

13Francisco Javier Torres Aguilera; Análisis histórico de la exposición a las telenovelas en México, estudio descriptivo, master degree dissertation; Universidad Iberoamericana, México, 1991; page 37.

It is worth mentioning how hard it was to get hold of this work. Be it by chance or for other reasons, not even the university library where he received his degree, had classified it properly, which made this dissertation virtually impossible to locate.

14“Brokers” were free-lance producers who bought TV-time at a wholesale discount-rate, to air their programs, and who then re-sold part of that time for advertising, for a benefit. Chepina Peralta was a broker, for example, who produced a famous cooking program.

15Jean Meyer; La Cristiada; 8thed.; México, Siglo XXI, 1983.

16A goal not-so-far from its people’s hearts, if we recall the history of Mexico during and after the War of Independence (1810-1821, and on), and during the Revolutionary process (1910-1921, 1926-1929, and on), as well as the large number of governments and revolts the country had to undergo in relatively short periods of time. This generated power vacuums during which the most vicious miscreants around, terrorized upstanding citizens and average people alike, rapaciously seizing anything of value from their legitimate owners, and rendering human life, honour and dignity defenseless. There were presidents who lasted but a few hours in office.

17I am using the word “myth”, in the sense of a generally accepted truth, born in previous times, dealing with ideas or beliefs, tied to a particular country or culture, but which may be proven inexact or even considered untrue in other times or by other cultures.

Unlimited, permanent progress, is impossible to understand, for example, for many Eastern cultures with a cyclic view of time.

18“Literature”; Encyclopaedia of the social sciences; MacMillan, New York, 1957; page 525.

19Idem, page 524.


21Anne Rubenstein, “The uses of failure: La Comisión Calificadora, 1944-1976″, in Bad language, naked ladies, and other threats to the nation; a political history of comic-books in Mexico; unedited, circa 1995; pages 128-157. Published eventually by Routledge Univ. Press in English, and by the Fondo de Cultura Económica in Spanish.

22I myself have asked for it in person and in writing, and evidently have received no answer, which further supports my interpretation.

23Genoveva Martínez M., cited interview.

24As I have already mentioned, during the last two and a half sexenios, public outcry has boycotted pro-Governmental newspapers and newscasters, particularly during electoral campaigns. R.T.C. reacted to it by gradually opening banning limits…, that is: by allowing to air what people would probably reject.

During the first quarter of 1997, a national campaign raised over four million signatures from an angry audience, offended by the notable increase in violence, sex and nudity, and offensive language. For the first time, left and right wing, different religions, non-religious and politicallyunaffiliated citizens, and even advertisers, gathered in a joint effort “for entertainment but against antisocial behavioural models” (Campaña “A favor de lo mejor” en los medios de comunicación).

25Starting in 1987 (El rincón de los prodigios), several telenovelas have shown folk medicine and witch-craft as superior or more powerful than medicine. Until today, though, they have had no success.

26Epidemiology of drug abuse in Mexico, a comparative overview (in regards to the United States of America); Centros de Integración Juvenil, A.C., México [Handbook collection, research profile, volume 3], August 1992.

27During the 1980’s, the collective image of the city suddenly changed, becoming ruthless and inhuman, probably to stop peasant migration to it when jobs and accommodations were no longer available for everybody.

28Lineamientos técnicos de la telenovela (in-company manual); Departamento de Supervisión Literaria, Televisa, circa 1988; pages 6-7.

29In 1986 a Mexican American wrote a letter to a very succesfull comic TV-program that denounced social malladies, Qué nos pasa. He had finally returned to Mexico on vacations, after many years of having left it; and he had been robbed money, cards and passport by a policeman, near the Ángel de la independencia monument, in Mexico City.

His problem could not be enacted in the program, because law-enforcement agencies could never be depicted under a negative light.

30Eugenia Revueltas, telephone conversation, October 11th, 1997, regarding huicholcommunities, for example, where women are frequent subjects of incest, and badly beaten if they refuse to have sexual intercourse with the partner chosen for her by others (Cfr. Lourdes C. Pacheco Ladrón de Guevara, “Iolianaka: da tus frutos, Madre-tierra; las huicholas”, in La condición de la mujer indígena y sus derechos fundamentales, seminario internacional; compiled by Patricia Galeana; Federación Mexicana de Mujeres Universitarias, Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and Secretaría de Gobernación, México, 1997; págs. 177-196).

These troublesome facts, are better ignored by media (like in the María Isabel telenovela,1997, where the protagonist is supposed to be huichola). Hardly surprising if we remember that both the Revolutionary Governement official stance in regards to the native communities in Mexico (Indigenism”) –between 1921 and 1989, approximately; and Governmental agendas after 1995, all coincide in shedding only in a favourable light on them.

We support the authorities’ non-discriminatory aim; but is no-one going to break a sword for the vulnerable and the defenseless amongst them…?

31Lineamientos técnicos…, op.cit., pages 6-7.

32A recent example of this, is Si Dios me quita la vida (1995), where the protagonist married only por lo civil by civil law, as oppossed to being married in a religious ceremony. The story was disliked by people, as ratings showed.

33Lineamientos…, op.cit., pages 6-7.

34An example: The production of the movie Redes, by the Ministry of Education ─first shown at the National Palace of Fine Arts (Bellas Artes, in 1936), would not easily have been permitted to a private open-TV channel, for example. It was a “thesis” film, structured to put forward and justify the Marxist view of Capitalist exploitation and value-gain unfair expropriation (expropiación no compensada de la plusvalía), and could be considered an invitation to social revolt. Why then the Government produced it, but for the reason we have claimed?

It was directed by Fred Zinnemann and Emilio Gómez Muriel, and the music was written by Silvestre Revueltas, the great Mexican composer.

35Fernanda Villeli, lecture given at the A.M.M.P.E. (Asociación Mundial de Mujeres Periodistas y Escritoras), on September 3rd, 1992.

36Francisco Javier Torres Aguilera, op.cit., pages 71-98 and 211-231, and previously cited works by Miguel Sabido.

37Anne Rubenstein, op.cit.

38“Sonia Infante responde a los ataques que recibe ahora en programa de la misma empresa donde labora”; El Heraldo de México, July 2nd, 1997.

39Many years later (circa 1990), the Government restructured band-width and forced Channel 8 to become Channel 9, to make room for Channel 7 (firstly controlled by the Government, and later privatized as part of Televisión Azteca).

40René Muñoz, cited interview.

41End-date is approximate.

42Luis Reyes de la Maza, cited interview.

Of course, such a violation of the official contents agenda, had to be compensated sufficiently: In exchange for the positive depiction of these religious elements, the producer included an exemplary and beloved character (“Tío Polo”), who was divorced and remarried during the telenovela, and an equally exemplary and beloved nun, who renounces her vows to marry the affectionate and attractive father of the girl protagonist (“Sister Rosario”). The religious message, therefore, was mixed.

43It is meaningful that the economic crisis started in 1981, with massive devaluations, mex-dólares [a Mexican equivalent to the Argentinian “corralito”; the Government expropriated all foreign currency accounts in national banks, and paid them at a much lower price], bank-expropriations and the like, because it means that only 4 years of economic crisis destroyed the ruling party’s overpowering image of social perfection, carefully built along sixty years in the Government. How well the new myths were sown, though, is apparent in that the people has stuck to them, even if they have turned their back against the Government’s party.

44December’s mistake” ─as it was then called, forced banks to close for a couple of days, to prevent money from leaving the country, creating a very difficult situation for both the Government and the financial establishment.

45In this story, an evil, cruel, ugly and rich-less villain, violently beats a quite-good-looking, intelligent, independent, rich, and pregnant female-coprotagonist ─his love partner, and sends her to hospital. But yet achieves to retain her by his side, by using soft-words only! I do not think R.T.C. would have permitted to air such a reaction formerly, when women “had to be emancipated from inhuman or unfair duties, imposed on them by religion”.

[Please take note that the majoritarian religion does not force a spouse to remain by the side of the other, if the first one’s life or “eternal salvation”, or those of his/her children’s, are endangered by the other spouse. We are therefore not making a case for or against religion, for or against the Government’s agenda. We are only pointing at important changes in agenda contents, that responded more to ideology than they did to reality.]

46Brazilian made, transmitted circa 1990 by the then Government-owned Channel 13.

47Aired by Televisión Azteca in 1996. It notably increased the TV-company’s audience market share, but mainly because it was the very first politically tinted main-plot authorized for transmission in Mexico.

In October 1997, right before the conference in which this paper will be presented, Nada personal ‘s sequel (Demasiado corazón) is starting transmissions. As of today, it is difficult to forsee whether it will be a success or not.

48Genoveva Martínez M., cited interview.

49June 2nd, 1997; pages 36-40.

50Teleguía, year 45, number 2344 [July 12th-18th, 1997]; pages 14-17.


I remain thankful to the experts I interviewed: Víctor Hugo O’Farrill (July, 2nd, 1997), Luis Reyes de la Maza (July, 29th, 1997), René Muñoz (August, 20th, 1997), Mapat (August, 20th, 1997), Ignacio Lebrija and Emilio Larrosa (August, 14thand 21th, 1997, respectively), Gloria López de Cruz, and Genoveva Martínez M. (who represented Ignacio Durán, September, 24th, 1997), for sharing their valuable insights and knowledge about telenovela production in Mexico, with me. The following pages reflect my conclusions, and not necessarily their personal stances on the subject.

I want to thank Emilio Larrosa, Claudia Padilla, Gloria López de Cruz, Ana Lilia Villarreal Cáceres, and Gerardo Antonio Magaña, for their kind help locating recorded material.

Special thanks to the three audience-measuring companies currently operating in Mexico [1997], for sharing data with me: I.N.R.A. (Jorge and Luis Mercader, Gustavo Salas), I.B.O.P.E. (Ana María Ortega, Mónica Pellicer, and Aarón Silva), and Nielsen (Arturo Fernández).

Teleguía’s (the first TV Guide magazine published in the world) help proved priceless in locating specific data about particular works. Thank you to Rocío Maldonado and Yésica Contreras for allowing me to skim through their archives.

The National Periodicals and Newspapers Library of Mexico (Hemeroteca Nacional de México) has fought a hard battle to preserve part of our national popular culture. It is only too sad, however, that this effort has not been pursued steadily. Copies of Teleguía, for example, stopped being catalogued in 1989, and many volumes are missing –have disappeared altogether from the shelves. This worries me, because it is not unfrequent for media companies to keep poor records of their own work. And even when they do, it is not easy for researchers to gain access to their archives.

And last but not least as the saying goes: My warmest thanks to Anne Rubenstein, Heather Levi, Eric Zolov, Gil Joseph, Eugenia Revueltas, Aurelio González, Jaime Litvak, Manuel Ignacio Pérez Alonso, José Antonio Pons Valenzuela, Víctor Hugo O’Farrill Toscano, María Elena Pérez, Enrica Schettini-Piazza and V. Vaccari, without whose help this work would have hardly made it to the end.

Image source: (© Fever)


    A todos nos complace leer/ver/oír, eso que confirma nuestras opiniones –nuestros valores, ideas y creencias–, en lugar de oponerse a ellos, de ridiculizarlos, o de confundirlos y ensuciarlos.
    Por eso es que una agenda de contenidos que vaya en contra de los valores, ideas y creencias del público, no es viable comercialmente en términos generales.

    Han transcurrido 17 años desde que presentamos esta ponencia en Estados Unidos. La agenda de contenidos de los medios, especialmente en México, parece haberse distanciado aún más de la de su público, lo que merma por definición sus posibilidades de auto-sustentabilidad económica.

    ¿Cómo ha respondido el poder a este reto?
    Televisa y TVAzteca parecerían haberse fusionado de facto, para “repartirse el pastel” en lugar de agotarlo compitiendo –de ser éste el caso, bastaría para demostrar por sí mismo que la agenda de contenidos prima por encima de toda otra consideración–.

    En lo que se refiere a las autoridades, el trato favorable (fiscal, penal, etc.) hacia los medios que le son afines, parece haberse incrementado notablemente, como para compensar por la onerosa carga de una agenda de contenidos impopular.
    Como ejemplo, tenemos esta nota periodística sobre la condonación de un adeudo fiscal multimillonario más, en mayo de 2013, a la televisora principal, para mejorar su calificación crediticia y facilitar la colocación de varios miles de millones de deuda a largo plazo, en los mercados financieros:
    . (en español). (in English).
    – * –
    Aún más: Secuencias de eventos, posiblemente no relacionados entre sí, pero que se han dado en torno de la televisora principal (asociada naturalmente al gobierno), plantean la probable interpretación de que toda competencia será aplastada brutalmente, y sin pasar por los cauces legales.
    Veamos un ejemplo:
    . Empresario presenta propuesta de canal de televisión abierta al Gobierno, al abrirse un concurso público.
    . Pocos meses después: Derrame tóxico de ácido de empresa minera de su propiedad, causa tragedia ambiental.
    . Su foto es publicada por el Gobierno, lo que lo convierte en diana (blanco) de linchamiento, acoso, secuestro, etc.
    . La televisora principal lo expulsa de su consejo de administración.
    . .
    . .
    . El empresario llega a un acuerdo con las autoridades sobre las compensaciones debidas por el derrame tóxico.
    . El empresario se retira de la licitación de canales de televisión abierta.
    Los eventos pueden no guardar relación entre sí
    (por ejemplo: otra interpretación posible, sería que de haber ganado, hubiera puesto el nuevo canal al servicio de la televisora principal),

    ¿pero se animaría ud. a poner un canal de televisión abierta en México, después de leer lo que le sucedió a este empresario…?
    De hecho, muchos postores se retiraron de la licitación. Sólo quedaron tres –todos mexicanos, y más o menos relacionados con el sistema político–.

    En México se acostumbra a interpretar los hechos sistemáticamente de forma distinta a la oficial, porque el cerebro busca instintivamente información que refleje fielmente la realidad para poder tomar decisiones útiles en orden a la sobrevivencia, y mucha gente ya no espera la verdad de quienes tienen la función social de difundirla.
    De ahí que esta misma noticia sea combinada con otra simultánea (asesoría de imagen de un periodista a un grupo que operaba al margen de la ley), para producir más interpretaciones de los hechos, pero ninguna favorable al poder (una difundida desde la izquierda, y la otra desde el centro neoliberal del espectro político):


    [Nota añadida el 3 de marzo de 2015:
    Éste artículo desapareció de su web.
    Trataba de cómo batallones de bots emiten twits de forma orquestada cuando es necesario acallar una tendencia natural.]


    El enlace previo nos llevaba el cartón “FLUJO DE CAPITALES”, que mostraba a un empresario saliendo de la empresa, y a un criminal entrando, y que desapareció de las webs, twitter, etc., del caricaturista]

    Por eso es que, incluso como estrategia política, no convenga oponerse sistemáticamente a los valores, ideas y creencias de la población, y mentir por defecto. Lo sistemático es predecible por definición, lo que lo torna inútil.

    Como decía el experto en gestión de la comunicación y las crisis Enrique Alcat, q.e.p.d.: “La mejor estrategia de comunicación, es decir la verdad, y decirla a tiempo” ( ).

    Reading/watching/listening to works that validate and confirm our opinions –our values, ideas and beliefs, pleases all of us. That’s why those works which systematically oppose, ridicule, muddle or tamper with what we feel strongly about, are commercially un-viable, in general terms.

    17 years have elapsed since we read this paper in the US. Media content agendas seem to have grown even further apart from what their audiences –particularly in Mexico, would like to receive. This reduces media’s probabilities to remain self-sustainable (from an economic point of view).

    How have those in power responded to the challenge?

    Televisa and TVAzteca seem to have merged un-officially, dividing the larger market amongst themselves, instead of exhausting it in an open competition. If so, this would demonstrate by itself how content agendas take priority over every other consideration.

    Where it regards the authorities, the resolution of different conflicts (in taxes, penal issues, etc.) always in favour of kindred media, seems to have clearly escalated, as if to compensate for the heavy burden of an impopular content agenda.
    The multibillionaire tax write-off granted once again to the main Mexican TV company in May 2013, in order to help it improve its credit rating before a huge long-term debt-sale was launched in the financial markets, serves us to prove the point.

    . (in English).
    . (in Spanish).
    – * –
    Furthermore: Sequences of events that may possibly be unrelated to one another, but that have sorrounded the main television company (a Governmental partner), pose the interpretation that competition will be crushed brutally, and not even through legal means.
    Let us remember one case:
    . Businessman enters public bid for a couple of new open TV channels.
    . A few months later, tons of toxic acid are spilt by a mine of his property, causing an environmental tragedy.
    . His picture is published by the Government, which turns him into a target for lynching, harassment, kidnapping, etc.
    . The main TV company expells him from its board of directors.
    . . [in Spanish]
    . .–94719.html [briefer, in English]
    . .
    . The businessman reaches an agreement with the authorities in regards to compensations due from the environmental damage.
    . The businessman retires from the open TV channels’ bid.

    The events may be unrelated
    (for example, an opposite interpretation is possible: that the businessman might have bid for a new channel, with the goal of turning it into the main TV company’s control),

    but would you dare to bid for a TV channel in Mexico, after reading what happened to this man…?
    As a matter of fact, many left the bid. Only three remained –all of them Mexican, and with more or less ties to the political system.

    Mexicans reinterpret systematically any piece of news generated by official media, because the human brain strives to find accurate information in order to survive (there is a correlation between accurate information and useful decisions), and many no longer expect truth from those who should provide it by default (by social function).
    Hence why some of the events we mentioned, have been combined with other ones they coincided with (journalist caught providing professional advice to criminal groups), to produce even more interpretations, as long as they make sense of the facts while opposing official news (both links in Spanish, one from a left wing source, the other one from a neoliberal, center wing, author):

    [Note added on March 3rd, 2015:
    This article disappeared from its web.
    It explained how legions of bots coordinate to produce twits when a natural tendency needs to be silenced.]


    [NOTE ADDED ON JANUARY 10th, 2015:
    The previous link took us to a cartoon named “Flow of capitals”; it showed a businessman leaving the company, and a criminal entering it.
    The cartoon has disappeared altogether from his web, the newspapers’ sites, his twitter account, etc.]

    That’s why, even from a political strategy point of view, it doesn’t pay to systematically oppose your population’s values, ideas and beliefs, and to lie by default. Anything “systematic”, is forseeable by definition, which renders it useless.

    As Communication and crisis expert, Enrique Alcat (r.i.p.), always said: “Best communication strategy? Always tell the truth. And be timely: Do it before someone else does” ( ).

  2. . [English translation follows]

    Este artículo hace referencia a conceptos relacionados con la religión mayoritariamente practicada en México: El Catolicismo, pero también con otros credos religiosos, particularmente monoteístas.

    Se puede emplear –y de hecho se emplea– las mismas estrategias del contenido, tanto en favor, como en contra, de otros esquemas de valores, ideas y creencias (religiosos y políticos), alrededor del mundo.

    Cuando uno crea obras para un consumo mayoritario, popular, uno debe tomar en cuenta los valores, ideas y creencias de su público meta –su substrato cultural–, para construir sobre ellos, y no contra ellos. ¿Por qué? Primero para poder ser comprendido. Segundo para que pueda haber identificación entre el público y el mundo narrativo que estamos construyendo para él. Pero también –Tercero– para no causar daños graves al cuerpo social.

    Me explico: Cada religión mayoritaria conforma un sistema autónomo, que tiende a la homeostasis pues sin ella no habría logrado perdurar. Y por lo mismo, tiende a compensar sus propias debilidades, con sus propias fortalezas.

    Por esta razón, si los creadores de obras populares modifican el corpus de creencias, lo malinterpretan o lo sesgan, incluso con buenas intenciones, sus obras desequilibrarán tanto al sistema de creencias, como a la sociedad, generando un daño mayor que el bien que hubieran podido conseguir si hubieran construido sobre el propio sistema, contando con su respaldo y natural autoridad para promover todo lo que sea bueno y razonable.

    Para poder hacer esto, es necesario conocer la religión del público al que nos dirigimos.

    Y para ayudar a los creadores en esto, queremos ofrecer aquí links a páginas web que describan/expliquen las religiones principales, de la manera más clara, respetuosa y completa que sea posible –páginas creadas sin intenciones de crear polémica, de enfrentar sistemas de creencias, de agredir, o de hacer proselitismo así, sin más–.

    Si ud. conoce alguna (por ejemplo: sobre el Islam en general y sus distintas variantes, sobre el Cristianismo en general y sus distintas variantes, sobre el Budismo, el Hinduismo, etc.), por favor hagánoslas llegar –responda a este comentario–, para que podamos incluirla aquí:

    *** Hasta el momento, hemos localizado las siguientes: ***

    Sobre el Catolicismo:

    Sobre el Judaísmo (en inglés):


    This article refers to religious concepts that belong in Catholicism, the faith more widely held in Mexico, but also in other religious creeds, and particularly in Monotheism.

    The same content strategies can –and are in fact applied –for or againstother sets of values, ideas and beliefs (religious and political), all around the world.

    When we create works for mainstream media, with a popular consumption in mind, we must take into account our target audience’s values, ideas and beliefs –their cultural substrata–, in order to build upon them, and not against them. Why? First, because we want to be understood. Second, because only this way will our audience be able to identify with the narrative world we are delivering to them. But also –Third reason, so that we won’t seriously harm the social body.

    Let me explain: Each main religion constitutes a self-contained system, that tends to homeostasis, as otherwise it wouldn’t have survived longlastingly. And because of this, it tends to compensate its own weaknesses with its own strengths.

    That is why, when –for whatever reason– media producers modify the belief system in their works –that is: when they misinterpret it or picture the belief system in a biased fashion–, their works imbalance the whole system, religious and social, causing more harm that the good they probably pursued. Whereas, if creators had built upon the basic belief system instead of against it, they would have found themselves supported and backed by its natural authority, in everything that is humanly good and reasonable.

    If we want to create works that will both be loved and longlasting, we need to become versed in our target audience’s religion.
    In order to help creators succeed in this matter, we want to offer a number of links to webs that describe/explain most main-religions, as respectfully, clearly and completely as possible (in a non-aggressive, non controversial, non-confrontational, not-necessarily-proselytizing way).

    If you happen to know one (for example: about Islam and its different variations, in regards to general Christianism and its different variations, in regards to Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.), please tell –respond to this commentary, so that we will be able to include it here.

    *** The ones we have found this far are: ***

    In regards to Catholicism:

    In regards to Judaism:


      Important differences between the following words:
      “Arab”, “Muslim”, “Islamic”, and “Islamist”.

      [Here you have an abstract of the following article:

      The first map in the article shows Arab countries;
      the second map shows mainly Muslim countries
      (not every citizen in them is a Muslim,
      and many non-Muslim populations have inhabitted them for centuries or millinnea, like the Chaldean Christians in Irak, or the Coptic Christians in Egypt, the bereber in North Africa, etc.):

      The purple countries are Arab, AND they also are located in the Arabian peninsula;
      the green countries are still Arab, but are located outside the Arabian peninsula;
      the blue ones are still Arab, but not mainly Muslim (like Lebanon, who is equally Christian);
      the light brown ones are not Arab, but hold large Muslim populations (like India).
      Iran, by the way, is not Arab, but Persian (its impressive cultural heritage dates further back by millennia); but it is mainly Muslim indeed.

      “Islamic”, on the other hand,
      is the adjective we use to refer to art and other cultural phenomena emerged from, or created by, or belonging to, Muslims
      –very much like the adjectives
      “Christian” in regards to Christianism,
      “Jewish” in regards to Judaism,
      “Budist” in regards to Budism, or
      “Hindu” in regards to Hinduism.

      However, “Islamist” is a political term that refers to those persons and entities (Muslims or not, Arab or not)
      who –in their context, think Islam should serve as the foundation of the political structures in a society.
      Amongst them, for example, there are important institutions who do not agree with violence, like the main philosophical authority in one of the most-extended branches of Islam, Sunnism:
      the University of Al-Azhar, in Egypt (one of the first universities in the history of the world):


      Do always remember that headlines, news, and their interpretations, are disseminated by many different interest groups, and logically respond to them.

      Make sure YOU don’t end up supporting agendas that oppose your values, ideas and beliefs, through trusting an often biased or untrue interpretation of reality.

      • ESPAÑOL

        Diferencias importantes entre las siguientes palabras:
        “Árabe”, “Musulmán”, “Islámico”, e “Islamista”

        [Ponemos aquí un resumen del siguiente artículo: ]

        El primer mapa muestra los países árabes.
        el segundo muestra los países que son mayoritariamente musulmanes, y los dibuja de distintos colores
        (ojo: Tengamos presente que no todo ciudadano de estos países, es musulmán,
        y que coexisten en ellos importantes poblaciones no-musulmanas, que los han poblado también durante siglos y milenios, como los cristianos caldeos en Irak, los cristianos coptos en Egipto, y los bereberes en el norte de África):

        Los países en morado, son árabes, y se ubican además en la Península Arábiga;
        los países en verde, también son árabes, pero se localizan fuera de la Península Arábiga;
        los países en azul también son árabes, pero sus poblaciones no son mayoritariamente musulmanas (es el caso del Líbano, que es igualmente cristiano);
        los países en color amarillo ocre (castaño claro), ni son árabes, ni son mayoritariamente musulmanes, pero cuentan con importantes poblaciones musulmanas (como la India).

        Irán, por cierto, no es árabe sino persa; y su importantísima herencia cultural es previa, por milenios, a la árabe. También es cierto, no obstante, que gran parte del mundo persa, es actualmente musulmán.

        “Islámico”, por otra parte,
        es el adjetivo que usamos para referirnos al arte y a otros fenómenos culturales que surgieron de, fueron creados por, o pertenecen a, los musulmanes
        –lo usamos para referirnos al Islam,
        como usamos los siguientes adjetivos:
        “cristiano” con respecto del Cristianismo,
        “judío/judaico” con respecto del Judaísmo,
        “budista” con respecto del Budismo, e
        “hindu/hinduista” en lo que se refiere al Hinduismo–.

        Ahora bien, el término “islamista” es político, y califica a aquellas personas y entidades (musulmanas o no, árabes o no),
        que creen que en su contexto, el Islam debería de servir de fundamento a las estructuras políticas de una sociedad.

        Entre ellas, se encuentran instituciones de primerísima importancia, que repudian el uso de la violencia, como por ejemplo, la principal autoridad filosófica de una de las ramas más extendidas del Islam, el Sunismo: la Universidad de Al-Azhar, en Egipto (una de las primeras universidades del mundo):


        Tengamos siempre presente que los titulares, las noticias, y sus interpretaciones, son difundidas siempre por partes interesadas,
        y que por lo mismo, rara vez son neutrales.

        Asegúrense de que, leyendo las noticias, no vayan uds. a terminar creyéndose una interpretación de la realidad, que sea falsa, o esté sesgada,
        y que así los lleve a apoyar agendas que de hecho se oponen a sus valores, ideas y creencias.


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