Only for You! Brazilians and the Telenovela Flow, Stockholm
Fry, Peter, Ibero-americana
Thais Machado-Borges, Only for You! Brazilians and the Telenovela Flow, Stockholm: Columbia Stockholm University, 2003.
A typical scene among would be learned folks in Brazil occurs when someone inadvertently refers to a recent episode in the current nine o'clock soap opera (telenovela). Eyebrows are raised, the unfortunate perpetrator of a lapse in taste looks slightly embarrassed until another kinder soul admits to having also seen the episode, by chance as it were, between the news and a documentary film. Of course the perpetrator may take a different route out of the possible social embarrassment, admitting his or her addiction to soap operas, even justifying such addiction by praising the talents of Brazilian writers and actors and the quality of production. She might also insist on the advisability of watching the soap operas in order to keep in touch with mass tastes in the country. After all, telenovelas are supposed to be (and are, according to Machado-Borges) the daily fare of the vast majority of Brazilian households. Whatever the case, the embarrassment remains. People who claim "good taste" should not be seen watching soap operas. That brings them far too close to "consumption", and as Mary Douglas so aptly put it many years ago, "[t]here is obloquy for merchandising and guilt in ownership" (Douglas in Isherwood, 1980).
Thaïs Machado-Borges joins the small band of Brazilian social scientists who take telenovelas seriously (see Almeida, 2003; Hamburger, 2005). Concentrating on one particular novela but bringing in many others, she explores the way in which viewers engage with representations of Brazilian society. Although it is basically a study of reception, Thaïs Machado-Borges provides important information on production, which is itself constrained by reception. The process of writing telenovelas in Brazil involves a constant to and fro between the imagination of the authors and constantly monitored audience reactions. This is part of what MachadoBorges appropriately terms the "telenovela flow," the infinite ways in which telenovelas permeate society.
As a study in reception, this book breaks new methodological ground. Instead of relying only on structured interviews or "focus groups," the author preferred to pay attention to the way in which telenovelas enter into the daily lives of the people around her in the city of BeIo Horizonte. Listening to conversations among domestic workers in her building, friends and relatives, Thais Machado-Borges was able to perceive the way in which people of all social classes "relate to and engage with the telcnovela flow" (p. 15). On the basis of these observations, the author then conducted informal interviews to tease out the meanings involved. By so doing she was able to understand the way in which telenovelas provide ample scope for the merchandising of objects and ideas, for the construction of subjectivities and for a shared pool of moral narratives that provide common grounds of meaning for the daily constructions of legitimate behaviour. …