New Discourses and Traditional Genres: The Adaptation of a Feminist Novel into an Ecuadorian Telenovela

By Avila-Saavedra, Guillermo | Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, September 2006 | Go to article overview

New Discourses and Traditional Genres: The Adaptation of a Feminist Novel into an Ecuadorian Telenovela


Avila-Saavedra, Guillermo, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media


This study explores the adaptation of the feminist Ecuadorian novel Yo Vendo unos Ojos Negros into a telenovela, a Latin American form of serialized television drama that always comes to a narrative conclusion, which aired in Ecuador in 2004. Notions of genre theory, intertextuality, hegemony, and feminist criticism inform the analysis. Discourse analysis of the television text identifies recurring narratives and compares them to those found in the original literary work. The focus of the study is to reveal the degree to which the radical discourse of the novel was maintained, transformed, or eliminated in the process of adaptation.

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Through a textual analysis of the recent adaptation of Alicia Yanez Cossio's (1979) novel Yo Vendo unos Ojos Negros, this study explores the paradoxical process of adapting a feminist novel into the genre of the telenovela, "a form of melodramatic serialized fiction produced and aired in most Latin American countries" (La Pastina, 1997, p. 1634). This study explores the ability of the telenovela genre to incorporate nonnormative discourses regarding gender roles and economic structures, and its potential to promote or prevent social change. It is an important project because Spanish and Portuguese-language telenovelas are immensely popular among millions of viewers in Latin America. It also contributes to the development of a body of knowledge on a genre that deserves scholarly attention due to its potential influence on the formation of cultural and social ideas.

Since the late 1970s, Latin America has witnessed the birth of a new generation of women writers, who examine social, economic, and political relations from a feminist perspective and produce new challenges to traditional structures. At the same time in the realm of mass media, telenovelas, often criticized for reinforcing traditional gender roles and patriarchal models of social relations, have remained an important social institution in Latin America.

Through textual analysis of the telenovela, this study identifies recurring narratives and compares them with those found in the original literary work to demonstrate the degree to which various aspects of the radical discourse of the novel were maintained, eliminated, or accommodated in the process of adaptation. The study relies on feminist approaches to media studies and the notion of hegemony as the process of cultural accommodation. To identify the elements of the telenovela as a genre and its potentially homogenizing discourse, notions of genre theory and intertextuality inform the analysis as well. The study provides insight into the textual range and limitations of an immensely popular genre.

Genres and Intertextual Readings

The notion of genre analysis has its roots in literary criticism. Feuer (1992) explained that originally genre did not concern itself with cultural or historical characteristics but solely with the structural elements that serve to classify a literary work into a category of related works. Rosmarin (1985) discussed genre as those elements of a particular text that remind one of something else while remaining unique, therefore serving a purpose of classification but not of evaluation. In film, the notion of genre focused on the formulas devised by the studio industry to facilitate production and guarantee popularity of films (Altman, 1999).

It was not until the 1950s that a critical perspective, one that considers the text's relation with its intended audience, was brought into genre analysis. According to Feuer (1992), a new conceptualization of genre where "we can retain the method of literary definition of genres without necessarily retaining their content" (p. 141) is necessary for television. For example, the broad television definition of the soap opera does not account for stylistic and thematic differences between daytime and prime-time serials, nor for the cultural and social characteristics of Latin American telenovelas. …

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