Soap opera speaks a universal language, presenting characters and plots that resonate far beyond the culture that creates them. Latin American soap operas-televelas-have found enthusiastic audiences throughout the Americas and Europe, as well as in Egypt, Russia, and China, while Mexican narco-dramas have become highly popular among Latis in the United States. In this first comprehensive analysis of televelas and narco-dramas, Hugo Benavides assesses the dynamic role of melodrama in creating meaningful cultural images to explain why these genres have become so successful while more elite cultural productions are declining in popularity.Benavides offers close readings of the Colombian televelas Betty la fea (along with its Mexican and U.S. reincarnations La fea mas bella and Ugly Betty), Adrian esta de visita, and Pasion de gavilanes; the Brazilian historical televela Xica; and a variety of Mexican narco-drama films. Situating these melodramas within concrete historical developments in Latin America, he shows how televelas and narco-dramas serve to unite peoples of various countries and provide a voice of rebellion against often-oppressive governmental systems. Indeed, Benavides concludes that as one of the most effective and lucrative industries in Latin America, televelas and narco-dramas play a key role in the ongoing reconfiguration of social identities and popular culture.
O. HUGO BENAVIDES is Associate Professor of Anthropology, Latin American and Latino Studies, and International Political Economy and Development at Fordham University in New York City, where he directs the M.A. program in Humanities and Sciences.