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Social Merchandising

Researchers have delineated telenovelas' influence in many levels of society. In research of media framing and citizen competence, Porto (2001), set up to study the daily newscast "Jornal Nacional". His study focuses on television audience's interpretations of politics in Brazil. At first, he explains, it is not his intent to include telenovelas in the research, even though he knows of the importance of this genre in understanding Brazilian cultural politics. However, the participants in the study keep bringing the telenovela "Terra Nostra" into the discussion even when not asked about it, or when the topic is not relevant to the novela. Porto (2001) is forced to include the telenovela in his study, as he points out: "I realized that the genre was unavoidable". Part of the explanation for the strong audience appeal rests on the ability of the telenovelas' themes to cross socio-economic, genre, and age barriers. Telenovelas are part of the daily conversation among all sorts of individuals in Brazil, as Page (1995) points out:

The addictive appeal of the telenovelas has become a kind of glue that binds the disparate elements of Brazilian society. Residents of shacks in frontier towns in Amazonia and high-rise apartments in São Paulo, wealthy matrons and humble maids, children and their grandparents, attorneys and janitors (and even many intellectuals who insist that they despise television) all share a common fascination with the characters and the plot convolutions of hit novelas .

Hamburger (2000) analyzes the impact of the interaction of viewers of the telenovela “O Rei do Gado” (The Cattle King) on the redefinition of politics and intimacy in Brazil. One of the main themes this novela address is agrarian reform, but it also deals with infidelity, and violence against woman. Among other debates, "The Cattle King" generates discussions about marriage, and perceived ideas of womanhood and manhood. Hamburger (2000) describes viewer's interactions as follow:

Viewers take telenovela plots and characters as references to that which they share with their fellow viewers. The yellow, blue, and green national colors mobilized in previous telenovelas define Brazil as the place where these narratives happen. References to the agrarian conflict identify Brazil as the territorial base of this genre's narratives. These references signal the geographic boundaries of an imagined collective that does not define itself by one dominant content or by a homogenous body. This imagined national collective exists as a heterogeneous community that debates certain issues brought up by telenovelas. Because they have a well-known, cross-class, cross-gender, cross-age, and cross-regional audience of viewers, and because of their references to national symbols and repertoires, viewers understand telenovelas as displays of models of behavior. This does not mean that they agree or assume these models. Rather, it means that they position themselves in relation to them. In doing so, they take topics that telenovelas address as legitimate topics for public discussion… But beyond simply inspiring opinions about polemic issues, telenovelas provide a repertoire through which viewers engage their personal experiences in public terms, that is, in terms that are recognized as legitimate by fellow viewers.

Like "The Cattle King", other telenovelas have incorporated social messages into their plots. This model is borrowed from the same concept of product placement, or merchandising. In Brazil, the insertion of socially relevant subjects in the telenovela storyline is therefore, appropriately called "social merchandising". There are many examples of social merchandising in the Brazilian telenovelas, where the author incorporates socially relevant themes into the telenovela context. Perhaps the first Brazilian writer to intentionally use the televised serial drama as an educational medium was Benedito Rui Barbosa with the telenovela "Meu Pedacinho de Chão" (My Small Piece of Land). According to Fernandes (1994), this is the first educational novela in Brazilian television. It aired August of 1971 to May of 1972, co-produced by TV Cultura and TV Globo, for this novela the writer focuses on rural themes, the struggles of farm workers, and he also includes agricultural information. Other novelas that venture into social and political issues followed. "Explode Coração" (Explosion of the Heart), by Glória Perez, aires by Globo in 1996, and brings up the discussion of missing children and child labor. Mixing fiction and reality, Glória Perez takes one of the characters into a scene where real mothers protest for their missing children in Rio’s downtown area. The scene alludes to the well-publicized massacre of street children by the police on July 23, 1993, at Rio’s Candelária Square. There are claims that this actually helps reunite some families and it encourages non-governmental organizations to continue the campaign (Fernandes, 1994; Hamburger 2000). Another topic introduced in this novela is the traditions and beliefs of the gypsy culture, through a gypsy woman’s love affair with a non-gypsy man. This old melodramatic formula of impossible love helps Glória Perez display the music, dance and secular traditions of gypsy culture. Later, she uses the same recipe to spice up the telenovela "O Clone. " Silvio de Abreu explores homosexuality in the telenovela "A Próxima Vítima” (The Next Victim). This telenovela aires in 1995 by TV Globo, dealing with polemic themes, such as racial prejudice, which is seen on the screen by a middle class African-Brazilian family.

Social merchandizing can also be displayed in the telenovelas without incorporating the message in the main storyline. That is the case with a plug to the public health campaign about Hanseniase in the telenovela “O Clone", 2001-2002. In this case, a popular Brazilian singer visited Dona Jura’s bar, showed her a poster and talked about the campaign. The telenovela "Pátria Minha" (My Homeland), written by Gilberto Braga and broadcasted from July 1994 to March 1995, exemplifies the use of both tactics of social merchandising, including or not including the topic in the storyline. This novela is shown in the year of the soccer World Cup in the United States and Brazilian presidential elections. It does have an optimistic view, and according to Fernandes (1994), Braga wants to affirm that it is worthwhile to live honestly in Brazil. The themes built in the telenovela plot are about the Brazilians that live and work in the United States, affectionately called “Brazucas", (no translation) along with housing, racism, and female adultery. It also portrays coming of age scenarios such as the first sexual experience, condom use, and communication between parents and their children. A more recent (2003) Globo production "Mulheres Apaixonadas" (Passionate Women) takes on various pro-social themes, such as domestic violence, female alcoholism, and violence in the streets. Manuel Carlos, the author, writes a very poignant scene where one of the characters is killed by a stray bullet. The characters are caught in a shootout between the police and robbers in the streets of Rio. It sparked popular clamor against violence, even an organized march in the streets of Copacabana. "Mulheres Apaixonadas" also touches on the subjects of organ donation, breast cancer, prostitution, and elderly abuse. Coincidently, in October of 2003, Congress approves the "Estatuto do Idoso", a compilation of laws for the protection of senior citizens (Estatuto do Idoso, 2003). Sergio Cabral (2003) a Brazilian senator praises the telenovela for tackling these themes and helping raise awareness about the problems, pressuring the legislature to expedite the approval of the measures that were idle in the Senate for five years (Cabral, 2003).



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Acknowledgements / Dedication - Abstract



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