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Key terms

In the following dictionary you are introduced to the central terms that are important for the project. Foremost is to distinguish between the different genres and to understand our working terms. You will also find explanations of terms that are key for our methods and research approaches.

The telenovela has its origin in Latin America and for a long time has become a cultural asset on the continent. Latin American telenovelas are watched not only in a national context, but also far from national borders. Likewise, Turkish and South Korean telenovelas are now also shown on Latin American television.

Telenovelas reach all social levels and are often watched together with the entire family. They are therefore aimed at all age groups and genders. They are usually shown Monday to Friday during prime time, after the evening news, and are thus considered as mass media. A telenovela consists of several episodes that are built upon each other. A telenovela consists of about 120 and 180 episodes. The story has a clear beginning and ending, and runs, in contrast to the soap opera only for a limited time. Even if an episode is missed, it's still easy to follow the story. A telenovela almost always follows the structure of a melodrama.

At the beginning of the plot stands a conflict, an injustice. The main character, in many cases a woman, finds herself in a situation where she cannot achieve what she wants. This can be for various reasons, for example economic, because she lives in poverty, or her living circumstances are very precarious. Social affiliations for example can be another problem, if she belongs to a particular family or has no family at all. Another kind of conflict could be that she doesn't know something at the beginning, which puts the main character at a disadvantage in comparison  to other characters. The  main protagonist’s character is modest, kind, and generous. During the telenovela, a love relationship develops with a man, often from a higher social class. The protagonists must face challenges, secrets, and intrigue. In a telenovela, as in melodrama, there are different characters, such as the villain, the protector, the troubled and the fool. The family of each character often plays a significant role in the plot. The end of the telenovela is often predictable but still remains exciting. A telenovela has a happy ending, such as the fulfillment of the love affair that seemed impossible at the beginning or the achievement of justice. The initial injustice is resolved over the course of the plot.

A telenovela plays with the contrasts between rich and poor, good and evil. Everyday emotions that we know from life are evoked, such as love, disappointment, and anger. This allows the viewer to identify with the characters and leads them to follow the telenovela faithfully over numerous episodes. Elements are used to create suspense. For example, secrets between the characters play an important role, which are revealed during the plot and allow different storylines. The cliffhanger at the end of an episode, such as the famous "to be continued," is designed to show the outcome of the situation in the next episode, making viewers want to continue watching through the telenovela. Telenovelas have a great influence on society because they often highlight social problems, such as unemployment, poverty, or corruption, among others.  But primarily it is because the telenovela offers elements with which its audience identifies, and it thus becomes emotionally involved.

Find more information about telenovelas:
- Gordillo, Inmaculada (2011): La hipertelevisión: géneros y formatos, Pp. 123-137.
- Martín-Barbero, Jesús (1988): Matrices culturales de la telenovela, in: Revista Estudios sobre las culturas contemporáneas I (4/5), Pp. 137–164.- Mazziotti, Nora (Hg.) (1995): El espectáculo de la pasión. Las telenovelas latinoamericanas. 1. ed., 1. reimpr. Buenos Aires: Ed. Colihue (Colección Signos y cultura, 4).- Michael, Joachim (2014): Telenovelas und kulturelle Zäsur. 1. Ed., Bielefeld: Transcript.
-Soler Azorín, Laura (2017): La Telenovela, eso que nadie ve pero todo el mundo sigue. ”. In: Hispanorama, 157, Pp. 12-16.

The working concept telenovelas de la memoria, which refers to those telenovelas and series that deal with contemporary historical topics of the recent past, originate from historical memory research. This concept implies arelationship of this type of telenovelas and series to their audience. The most important characteristic of telenovelas de la memoria is that most of the audience remember the events portrayed from their own experience  or have heard stories told by their parents or grandparents. The historical events shown in telenovelas de la memoria thus reach back three or perhaps even four generations. This characteristic distinguishes them from historical telenovelas, which also deal with historical events, but are based on events that took place far in the past, for which there are no longer any contemporary witnesses for the period depicted.

A telenovela de la memoria is usually a historical telenovela, which often uses names of real people in the form of melodrama or docudrama. Likewise, visual material from historical archives can be used and incorporated into the telenovela (known as image migration).  Filming often takes place either at actual locations of the events depicted, or these locations are fabricated, and incidents are re-enacted. Producers of these telenovelas and series themselves often claim that they want to contribute to historical memory. The events depicted are related to a collective trauma of society. The productions offer a representation of the past that can shape themselves into the collective memory through the classification of individual experiences and contribute to the historical consciousness of a society.

The aforementioned characteristics of the telenovela de la memoria help the viewers classify their own memories and identify with the narrative presented. This is done through a process of negotiation, which is not always free of conflict, as it creates unwanted memories or fuels internal family discussions that have not yet made its way into everyday life.

Examples for telenovela de la memoria: Anos Rebeldes (Brazil, 1992), Los 80 (Chile, 2008-2014), Pablo Escobar, el patrón del mal (Colombia, 2012)

Find more information about telenovelas de la memoria:

- Contreras Saiz, Mónika (2017): Narcotráfico y telenovelas en Colombia: entre narconovelas y “telenovelas de la memoria”. In: Hispanorama, 157, Pp. 26-31.

- Contreras Saiz, Mónika (2019): «Te reconstruyen la historia»: Teleseries sobre la dictadura militar chilena y en la conciencia histórica de sus telespectadores. In: Javier González Arellano, Nicolás Del Valle Orellana und Damián Gálvez González (Hg.): Golpes a la memoria. Escritos sobre la posdictadura chilena. Madrid: TEGE, Pp. 135–152.

In our project we assume that telenovelas and series produce memory images. The audiovisual products we analyse deal with topics from the recent past of some Latin American countries. Therefore, most viewers have their own memories or know the topics from stories they have heard about them (see Telenovela de la memoria). We understand memory images as visual, emotionally linked ideas that convey an interpretative framework of a certain past, which have been created in a certain historical and audiovisual context. Events, historical persons, historical-social actors, historical conditions or processes are transmitted in the television format and received by the audience. In this sense, memory images are produced by telenovelas and series on the one hand, and on the other hand they are also personal visual memories of historical events that are triggered (and in some cases transformed) by the reception of such telenovelas or series.

A docudrama is a hybrid genre that combines elements of documentaries with narrative elements of a melodrama. A docudrama combines reality with fiction. The concept originates from a communication studies perspective. The term docudrama is often used for a one-off presentation, such as a single episode. Thematically, a docudrama deals with real events or historical figures from the recent past. Through the presentation, a version of history is offered to be understood. Similar to a melodrama, a docudrama stimulates the viewer's own feelings and plays with emotions. For this, the use of music and light is very important. A docudrama has an ethical and moral effect on the audience, as they learn something about history through the reception of the docudrama. It ends with an appeal to morality and the reappraisal of the events. As in telenovelas de la memoria, authenticity is achieved by incorporating historical material, such as archival and pictorial material or props that relate to the period shown. Real places can serve as filming locations or places that are recreated true to reality. A docudrama thus stimulates the viewer's own memories of the time shown and plays with the hybrid arrangement of real and fictional elements. Cinematically, a voice-over is often used, an off-screen voice that narrates the events from the perspective of a third person, as for example in the trailer.

Find more information about docudrama:

- Antezana Barrios, Lorena: “Docudramas televisivos como vehículos de memorias generacionales”, in: Simone Maria Rocha und Rogério Ferraz (Hrsg.): Análise da ficção televisiva. Metologias e práticas. Florianópolis 2019, S. 223-244

- Santos, Alexandre Tadeu dos: Afinal, o que é docudrama? Um estudo do gênero a partir da telenovela brasileira. São Paulo 2013

- Lipkin, Steven N.: Docudrama Performs the Past. Arenas of Argument in Films based on True Stories. Newcastle upon Tyne: 2011.

- Lipkin, Steven N. Real Emotional Logic: Film and Television Docudrama as Persuasive Practice / Steven N. Lipkin. 2002.

Since the introduction of the telenovela in Latin America, social reality of the continent has been represented in its melodramatic scripts. There are telenovelas that do this more clearly than others. For such we use the working term telenovelas of "fictional reality". We understand those to be telenovelas that highlight social phenomena that cannot be traced back to any concrete historical event but are nonetheless part of Latin American history and present. These include, for example, migration, femicide or corruption. These are issues that have always been part of Latin American history and haven’t lost their relevance. The migration of Latin Americans to the U.S., the difficulties of arriving in the U.S., corruption, the fear of violence and poverty, and repression against women are ongoing problems on the continent and therefore certainly play an important role on the formation of Latin American identity. Likewise, they are issues that for a long time could not influence social debates, as they were kept under wraps or haven’t been acknowledged, such as violence against women, which only became part of political and social discussions through feminist protests and movements such as ni una menos (#NiUnaMenos). Although these phenomena are hardly associated with concrete historical facts in national historiography, addressing these issues in telenovelas, even in a fictional representation, is important for our project. We assume that stories about femicide, migration, or corruption in telenovelas can also evoke memory images in viewers and will therefore be included in our research. Likewise, telenovelas or series that address these topics can trigger ongoing discussions.

Examples for telenovelas of fictional reality:

- About migration: La doble vida de Estela Carrillo (Mexico, 2017), Eva Luna (USA, 2010), Allá te espero (Colombia, 2013), Nino, o Italianinho (Brazil, 1970)

- About corruption: Por estas calles (Venezuela, 1992), La venganza de Analía (Colombia, 2020)

- About femicide: La Doña (USA, 2016), Alguien te mira (USA, 2010)

Find more information about telenovelas of fictional reality:

- Pastel, Renée (2019): Hashtag Television: On-Screen Branding, Second-Screen Viewing, and Emerging Modes of Television Audience Interaction. In: Keith Feldman und Abigail de Kosnik (Hg.): #identity: Hashtagging Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Nation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, S. 165–180.

Narconovelas are a subcategory of Latin American telenovelas and refer to telenovelas that deal with drug trafficking and the fight against it in Latin America. In a narrative way, paired with fictional and cinematic elements, the serial format narrates wars between drug cartels, or drug trafficking and its relationship to local politics. Mostly, it is about the trafficking of cocaine. In the foreground of a narconovela are the drug lords and their drug cartels. The viewer sees the events from the perspective of drug traffickers and can identify with them as well as feel sympathy for them. Supporters of other drug cartels, the family, the police, or paramilitaries play secondary roles. Even though drug trafficking in Colombia and Mexico has already claimed countless victims, the narconovelas contribute to a partly positive image of what is happening. Narconovelas often have an international reach and thus shape the image of the represented countries, such as Mexico or Colombia. Narconovelas have been shown on television in Latin America since the early 2000s. The plot of narconovelas is based partly on facts and real characters but are combined with fictional elements. The genre of narconovela can be classified as an action series, with scenes that show violence, murder, sex, excess, intrigue, and drugs. Common themes of the narconovela also include impunity from prosecution and corruption, as well as a lack of power by the state and society's trust in institutions and politics. Narconovelas show a reality of Latin America that often results from the failure of political institutions: the intervention of criminal organizations.

Examples for Narconovelas: La Reina del Sur (USA, 2011), El Señor de los Cielos (Estados Unidos, 2013)

Find more information about Narconovelas:

- Benavides, Oswald Hugo (2008): Drugs, Thugs, and Divas. Telenovelas and Narco-Dramas in Latin America.

- Contreras Saiz, Mónika (2017): Narcotrafico y telenovelas en Colombia: entre narconovelas y "telenovelas de la memoria". In: Hispanorama (157), Pp. 26 – 31.

Historical telenovelas are characterized by their depiction of a specific period or specific historical events. They usually deal with important sociopolitical changes in the early history of a country, such as wars or deeds of heroic national figures. They thus contribute to the formation of national identity. Events are reconstructed and combined with fictional elements. Authenticity is built through historically accurate props and costumes, the depiction of real personalities and events, and the use of real places as filming locations. Historical telenovelas differ from telenovelas of memory as they show events that the audience cannot themselves remember based on their own experiences, such as the Latin American wars of independence, the slave trade, or the Mexican Revolution.

Examples for historical telenovelas: A escrava Isaura (slave trade, Brazil, 1976, 2004), Gritos de muerte y libertad (Mexican war of independence, Mexico, 2010), La Pola (war of independence in today’s Colombia, Colombia, 2011)

During television broadcasts, discussions can usually be followed simultaneously on social media, such as Twitter. This phenomenon is called second screening (Giglietto; Selva 2014). This refers to the simultaneous interaction and discussion on a “second” screen. This can be a smartphone or tablet while an audiovisual content is being watched on TV or via a streaming platform. The focus is often less on the reception of content but rather on social interaction with others, which is why the concept is also referred to as social television (Selva 2016). To find possible (un)known discussion partners in the digital space, hashtags (#) with the title of the television show, such as the series or telenovela, are often used, or specific people, such as actors or producers, are addressed with so-called tags (@). The discussion on the internet, which thereby becomes transregional and medial, is important for the work with digital methods for the GUMELAB project to be able to analyse the reception of telenovelas and series.

Read more on Second Screening/Social Television:

Giglietto, Fabio; Selva, Donatella (2014): Second Screen and Participation: A Content Analysis on a Full Season Dataset of Tweets. In: J Commun 64 (2), pp. 260–277. DOI: 10.1111/jcom.12085.

Pastel, Renée (2019): Hashtag Television. On-Screen Branding, Second-Screen Viewing, and Emerging Modes of Television Audience Interaction. In: Keith Feldman und Abigail de Kosnik (Hg.): #identity: Hashtagging Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Nation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, pp. 165–180.

Pires de Sá, Fernanda (2018): Connected Co-viewing on Facebook: A Brazilian Telenovela and the Perception of Media Realism. In: Television & New Media 19 (7), pp. 646–659. DOI: 10.1177/1527476417741672.

Selva, Donatella (2016): Social Television. In: Television & New Media 17 (2), pp. 159–173. DOI: 10.1177/1527476415616192.

A series, like a telenovela, operates with elements of suspense and of melodrama. The broadcast of the individual chapters usually takes place once a week, often on the weekend. Series consist of different episodes that last between 45 to 50 minutes. These are shown in different seasons, each of which has about ten to thirteen episodes. The plot of each series varies depending on the genre, as the choice of subject is quite loose. The focus is on a fixed group of main characters with whom the audience can identify. There are different storylines, which are often initiated by secondary characters. Even if you miss an episode, you can still easily follow the storyline. The plot is clearly limited. Unlike many telenovelas, a series does not always need to have a happy ending. Series are often sold as DVDs or featured on online streaming platforms, like Netflix or Amazon Prime. This makes watching a series an individual experience, as it is not tied to a fixed broadcast time on television. In the genre of series, there are different types, such as anthology: a series with different chapters that are not interconnected, and each has its own self-contained plot. Miniseries are characterized by fewer episodes and a more intense plot. A miniseries has more than one, but no more than fifteen episodes.

Find more information about series:
- Gordillo, Inmaculada (2011): La hipertelevisión: géneros y formatos, Pp. 138-141.

The soap opera was originally a radio format in the U.S. (radionovela), in which a radio program ran daily, backed by large and numerous commercial breaks. Soap operas have existed on U.S. television since the 1950s. The target audience was mainly women, who watched the shows while men were at work. Therefore, commercials often offered products for beauty and household.

The soap opera refers to a serial format that usually runs on television from Monday to Friday. The individual episodes run during the day or in the early evening before the evening news. The plot is designed to be long, based on different characters and events, and runs for several years, if not decades. The German soap opera Lindenstraße ran on TV for over 40 years, the English soap opera Coronation Street has been running since 1960. A soap opera does not have a clear ending, as there are different storylines and a variety of characters. The tension through the episodes is maintained by means of melodramatic elements and cliffhangers. A close bond is built between the audience, which watches the soap opera regularly and the characters. Even if you have missed a few episodes, it is easy to catch up with the storyline.

Find more information about soap operas:
- Gordillo, Inmaculada (2011): La hipertelevisión: géneros y formatos, Pp. 119-123.
- Brunsdon, Charlotte (1995): The role of soap opera in the development of feminist television scholarship. In: Robert C. Allen (Hg.): To be continued. Soap operas around the world. Transferred to digital print. London: Routledge, Pp. 49–65.

The dramatic genre of melodrama arose from the combination of theatre and music. It dates to the 18th century and has evolved over time. History shows that melodrama is an immensely popular genre. To ensure that everyone could understand it, in the early days of musical theater the characters were defined in clear, simple, and Manichean terms: the good and the evil ones. The emotions portrayed were strong, determined and without any nuances. A funny character was joined by the tragic undertone of the protagonist. Good always triumphed over evil and a happy ending followed.
Since its beginnings, melodrama as a genre has been threaded through various forms of media, such as the serial novel, the radionovela, cinema, etc. The telenovela melodrama is a dramatic work that focuses on emotion and plot, told in a serial format. Generally, it depicts the development of a hero or heroine moving towards a promising future. There are conflicts of interest, rivalries between antagonistic goals, clashes between social classes, and a struggle against prejudices and resentments. The hero or heroine overcomes obstacles, conflicts and, finally, defeats his or her enemies. There is usually a secret to be uncovered. All this is accompanied by a preponderance of romance and sensuality, portrayed by good-looking actors and actresses in attractive settings and costumes. However, many Latin American telenovelas have changed and continue to change the melodramatic genre. By them being realistic, they provide a narrative that could happen in real life. Latin American telenovelas have included and changed social notions about age, class, territorial areas, and gender. Telenovelas sometimes refer to historical moments, regions, and cultures, as well as national and even transnational issues.

Read more about Melodrama:

- Martín-Barbero, Jesús, Muñoz, Sonia (Coordinadores) (1992): Televisión y melodrama. Géneros y lecturas de la telenovela en Colombia. 1. ed. Bogotá: Tercer Mundo Ed. (Comunicación social).

- Martín-Barbero, J.; Rey, Germán (1999): Los ejercicios del ver. Hegemonía audiovisual y ficción televisiva. 1. ed. Barcelona: Ed. Gedisa (Estudios de televisión, 2).

- Carabrujas, José Ignacio (2002): Y Latinoamérica inventó la telenovela. 1. ed. Caracas: Alfadil Ed (Ludens, 15), Pp. 115 – 144.