If religion was the opiate of the masses in the time of Karl Marx, then Soap Operas might just be the opiate of the masses today.
Being in Brazil for a week has left me with the impression that I am below average! In TV watching that is. Brazilian based Rede Globo, is the fourth-largest public TV commercial network in the world and one of the largest producer of soap operas, or novelas as they are called in Portuguese. And the average Brazilian watches 4-5 hours of television a day, equal and some say higher than US daily television consumption. I am definitely well below average!
What first got me thinking about television consumption and soap operas was driving across Sao Paulo for a meeting and seeing the shanty homes of clapboard and corrugated tin, many with satellite dishes attached! Not just on a few, but on many. And my friends tell me that those without tv dishes tap into the signals from their neighbours. And the streets of Sao Paulo are lined with electronics companies and massive displays of TVs. Television consumption in Brazil is upwards of 85%, and that’s in a country of approximately 195 million.
And television, especially soap operas have a very real impact on people and society, especially in developing countries. Several studies have shown that in Brazil, the introduction of television and the ubiquity of soap operas (novelas) has dramatically impacted both the fertility rate and divorce rate in Brazil. The vast majority of novelas depict happy families as being rich, white and with few children, while at the same time depicting unhappy families as being poor and having many children. A powerful stereotype and influential role model for women in Brazil, especially the under-educated majority. In fact, soap operas are so powerful that women routinely name children after the most popular stars! And you can even watch your favourite soap opera in a taxi cab!
In addition, long hours of television watching has been linked to reduced community involvement, as more and more people stay at home to watch the tube instead of socializing within their communities.
But, there is also some good news in that soap operas also help educate people on social issues, such as AIDS and HIV, spousal abuse and other issues in urban societies. Brazil has undergone a massive cultural paradigm shift, due in large part to how women are portrayed in soap operas, in its women’s attitudes and their self-esteem. In roughly the last 50 years, Brazil’s birth rate has dropped from 6.3 children per woman in 1960 to 1.9 today. That’s lower than the United States’ rate of 2.0.
To me, such a powerful medium for social impact can go either way, a blessing or a curse. But one thing is for certain, soap operas in Brazil are not going sway!
Written and Posted by:
John R Childress
Senior Advisor on Corporate Culture, Leadership and Strategy Execution
Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture and FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid
PS: John also writes thriller novels