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The reception and consumption of telenovelas in Senegal

May 18, 2016

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This is a fourth set of notes under the broad theme of media and change in preparation for the volume Postill, J., E. Ardevol and S. Tenhunen (eds.) forthcoming, Digital Media and Cultural Change (working title). The notes are taken from a wealth of media anthropological research into this question that has remained to this date well hidden from media and communication studies. This research deserves, in my view, to be read more widely if we are going to finally expand this interdisciplinary area of scholarship beyond its customary fixation with the global North.

Notes prepared by Fran Barone (my emphases)
Used with permission

WERNER, J. 2006. “How Women Are Using Television to Domesticate Globalization: A Case Study on the Reception and Consumption of Telenovelas in Senegal”, Visual Anthropology 19, 443-472.

Data collected in the suburbs of Dakar during the first six months of the year 2002 (p. 443).

TV is the dominant visual medium in contemporary Senegalese society, esp. among the urban population, young people and women (p. 445)

Two main trends in the current mediascape of Senegal: 1. decline in still and silent images like picture-stories and magazine and rise of television and video; 2. growth of domestic (television, video) or semi-public (Internet) media consumption over public ones like cinema (p. 446).

12 Telenovelas from Brazil and Mexico are popular in Senegal, largely because they deal with everyday issues and social problems that the general public is concerned with (p. 447).

Most women staying at home organize their daily household tasks around the viewing of telenovelas: “As a result, household members are meeting together every day, at regular intervals, according to a pattern of synchronization which is set and engrained in their daily routines and might last for years” (p. 456).

When viewing telenovelas dubbed in French, young people often have to translate into the local language for older viewers: “Consequently some individuals, especially young children, take advantage of their skills in the reception of telenovelas to negotiate a new place inside the group” (p. 458)

Telenovelas have a visual impact on women’s fashion in Senegal, with young women having local tailors make clothes to match female characters on the shows (p. 459).

Numerous common representations of women that carry over from Brazilian to Senegalese society, including 5 stereotypes.

  1. women are accountable for keeping the social order/kinship.
  2. if men have dominant social/economic power, then women are more powerful in feelings/desires/attraction.
  3. relationships between women waiver from solidarity/friendship to jealousy/distrust.
  4. “concerns the functioning of a hybrid and complex society in which a modern and progressive urban culture is rooted in a traditional and backward rural culture, and in which the market economy is challenged by gift-based, sociallybound economic exchange”.
  5. overall hierarchical social order, hardships and frequent references to religion (p. 462).

People of all ages and genders watch telenovelas in Senegal and can therefore use them to explore new ways of social exchange between boys and girls, parents and children (p. 464). “In other words, TV talk is a crucial forum for experimentation with identities, especially among the young” and “Consequently, a new kind of orality is being created which has powerful implications as it shifts the basic balance of communication, between oral and printed uses of language, in favor of the former” (p. 465).

Influence of telenovela on everyday Senegalese life: “As for the elements which might be retained and collectively discussed and eventually applied in the lives of telenovela consumers, they are, among others, the consideration parents display toward their children, and the straightforward way they speak to them about issues like sexuality, love feelings, or drug consumption. Also, the fact that female characters are able to tell men what they think ‘‘because they have more legal rights,’’ or the fact that there is no violence, at least physically speaking, exerted by men on women in telenovelas, make women think a lot about their rights in a society where violent behavior is still a common feature within the familial group, whether between the spouses or between parents and children” (p. 466).

“In other words, telenovela watching contributes to making women think about their way of living as something that is neither inevitable nor necessary” (p. 466).

Micro-sociological interpretation suggests scope for change for women by applying what they see on TV in their own lives. Macro-sociological interpretation suggests that “the desire expressed by women for more freedom of choice in the marriage sphere is hindered by their economic dependence on men: a situation which is unlikely to end in the near future in Senegal, as women are still less educated than men and as their overall employment rate is very low.” (p. 467)

“This situation results in tensions and conflicts between people and generations, the outcome of which is uncertain but which might result in a conservative reaction and a tighter control over television broadcasting from Islamic pressure groups. This is the main reason why inside the intimacy of their houses women undo the fabric of the telenovelas, pick up some threads, and intertwine them discreetly and quietly into the social fabric they weave day after day, hence making the boundaries between genders and between generations change almost unnoticeably.” (p. 468)

Women also take advantage of telenovelas to gain more autonomy in the economic field […] because they meet their expectations for new ideas and conceptions which might help them to find their way in a fast-changing world” (p. 468).

Photo credit: Star Africa

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