Telenovelas as Art Curriculum Content

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In 2003, the Greek national curriculum for art subscribed in part to the visual culture trend evident in the international art education literature. Specifically, it sought to extend the content of art lessons to include not only fine art but mass media and popular culture content as well. However, there was a gap between Greek educational policy and teachers' everyday classroom practice. Although I conducted preliminary research, I was not able to find any published results of studies dealing with visual culture education theory and practice in Greece. Therefore, I decided to explore ways of introducing visual culture to primary age students.

IN FEBRUARY AND MARCH 2007, I investigated the possibilities of visual culture art education in two Greek Primary schools in Athens with students in Grades 5 and 6. One of my goals was to determine whether or not the telenovela genre was appropriate as curriculum content in primary art education. I chose telenovelas because they are a prevalent form of visual communication and integral part of daily life in Greek families with a very large number of primary students almost certainly watching them. I conducted preliminary group interviews with 143 primary children to determine their preferences of visual culture genres. They watched Latin American telenovelas broadcasted by private and state TV channels'during the afternoon. They especially referred to the Argentinean teenage telenovela Rebelde Way, which I decided to use as the content of the art lessons I developed. This artide provides background information about telenovelas and presents themes and learning activities I used to teach about them. It also discusses the appropriateness of telenovelas as art curriculum content.

Telenovelas: A Brief History

Telenovelas are melodramatic fictional TV series produced mainly in Latin American countries. Their roots go back to radio soaps produced in the US in the 1940s (Lopez, 1995; La Pastina, 2006). They are broadcast on a daily basis and last from 6 months up to 1 year (Rêgo, 2003). Typically their narratives are melodramatic, relying on stories about romantic couples whose relationships face opposition (La Pastina, 2006). Their main plotline and subplots usually include elements of suspense in the form of returns from the past, reversals of fortune, and painful confrontations to ensure viewers watch continuing episodes. Since the 1970s, telenovela producers have attempted to go beyond classic melodrama. Nowadays they deal with controversial social issues that are closer to real life: drug abuse, abortion, corruption, homosexuality, cloning, environmental issues, racism, and urban violence (Rêgo, 2003). They have also started creating themes that appeal to children and teenagers. For example, the telenovela Chiquititas is about orphan children who have to deal with a nasty orphanage manager.

Telenovelas are financed by commercial Latin American TV conglomerates - such as the Brazilian TV Globo and the Mexican Televisa - or independent producers, and primarily produced for a home market (Lopez, 1995). Since the 1980s they have been widely exported to Russia, US, Spain, China, Greece, and other countries. During 2006 and 2007 when I conducted the group interviews and the intervention, Floricienta, Rebelde Way, Luna la Heredera, Gata Salvaje, and La Fea Más Bella were being broadcast by state and private Greek TV channels. In January 2007 the private channel Mega aired the first Greek telenovela called ... (Maria the Ugly) based on the story of the Colombian telenovela Yo Soy Betty La Fea. Since then another six Greek telenovelas have aired by private channels which are adaptations of Latin American or Spanish ones. Famous Greek actors work in them and their production value is quite high. They play during primetime TV hours to a large audience.

The plotline of the Argentinean telenovela Rebelde Way I selected as content for the art lessons revolves around the life of a group of rich and a few poor students who attend a private high school in Buenos Aires. …