[Marxism] soap and revolution

michael a. lebowitz mlebowit at sfu.ca
Wed Jul 28 15:37:08 MDT 2004


Venezuela's political soap causes a stir
Wed 28 July, 2004 13:09

By Patrick Markey

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Lights, camera and ... revolution.

Venezuela's state television channel, the broadcast cheerleader of 
President Hugo Chavez, is airing a new soap opera that producers say better 
reflects life under the left-wing former army officer than shows on the 
country's private networks.

Opposition critics have panned "Amores de Barrio Dentro" or "Love Inside 
the Barrio" as crude, pro-Chavez propaganda ahead of a August 15 recall 
referendum on the president's rule.

But producers say the drama about love and life in a poor neighbourhood 
presents an alternative to broadcasts by private stations that Chavez has 
attacked for their relentless criticism of his self-proclaimed revolution.

"People are keen to see other things," said the drama's director, Roman 
Chalbaud, a noted local film-maker.

"The American Civil War was the setting for the love between Scarlett 
O'Hara and Rhett Butler -- what happens politically influences people for 
better or worse," he said.

The show, which debuted at the end of last month, airs every Wednesday and 
is expected to run for a year.

The state-sponsored program faces tough competition in a nation obsessed 
with slick commercial soap operas that feature flawless beauties in tales 
of love, sex and betrayal.

"Love Inside the Barrio" has as its backdrop the turmoil that has rattled 
the world's No. 5 oil exporter for more than two years including a coup, 
street protests and a strike that brought the country's oil industry to a 
standstill.

The show centers on the relationship between a young female Chavez 
supporter who lives in a working-class barrio and a male journalist whose 
father hates Chavez. It opens in 2001 as the opposition begins a brief 
strike to try to force the president from office.

In an odd blend of politics and passion, the two lead characters share a 
kiss amid swirling tear gas as police battle protesters and the male star 
is wounded in the head.

"The problem with revolutions is that when they try to sell themselves they 
do it in a crude and wooden way," said Leonardo Padron, a Chavez foe and 
writer of the nation's most popular commercial drama "Cosita Rica" ("Sweet 
Thing").

"What you see here is an hour of propaganda or political proselytising," he 
said.

MEDIA WAR AS ENTERTAINMENT

The sharp political divide over Chavez already plays out daily on the 
nation's television screens.

Private channels reflect the opposition view of Chavez as a tyrant whose 
social policies have failed to combat widespread poverty. The state channel 
boasts of his success and his battle as a regional voice standing up to the 
powers in Washington.

International media watchdogs have blamed Chavez for inciting violence 
against local journalists with his fiery rhetoric. He likens the nation's 
major channels to the four horseman of the apocalypse and blames them for 
backing a brief April 2002 coup.

Producers say the new drama illustrates events those private channels 
failed to cover, such as anti-government bosses punishing workers for 
refusing to take part in strikes and opposition protesters forcing 
businesses to close down.

The new drama clearly leans in favour of Chavez and the show's producers do 
not hide their political sympathies. At the recent premier attended by 
Venezuela's vice president, director Chalbaud urged the audience to give 
Chavez their vote.

In one recent episode, radical opposition supporters prepared Molotov 
cocktails and an old woman was driven to near insanity by frenzied 
anti-government broadcasts. The show uses news clips of real events.

"It's a creative alternative to show Venezuela's reality and show the 
atrocities and abuses committed by the opposition," said Tarek William 
Saab, a pro-Chavez congressman who plays himself in a brief cameo.

Padron's "Sweet Thing" has its share of controversial characters -- a 
blunt-speaking businessman with mannerisms resembling those of Chavez and 
another who is unmistakably based on Lina Ron, a radical supporter of the 
president.

"Sweet Thing," shown on private station Venevision, caused a stir earlier 
this year when it re-created anti-Chavez protests. The show aired shortly 
after a week of violent demonstrations in favour of a recall vote.

Seeing tires burning in the streets of an upscale neighbourhood, some local 
residents feared a repeat of the violence that killed at least nine people 
in five days of clashes between troops and protesters.

"My intention was to create a soap opera that didn't escape the realities 
of the country," Padron said. "Venezuela is living the most important 
moments in its modern history."


Michael A. Lebowitz
Professor Emeritus
Economics Department
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6

Currently based in Venezuela. Can be reached at
Residencias Anauco Suites
Departamento 601
Parque Central, Zona Postal 1010, Oficina 1
Caracas, Venezuela
(58-212) 573-4111
fax: (58-212) 573-7724



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