Sunday, May 1, 2011

Salvame Deluxe (for JZ)

Here in the US I pay an ungodly amount of money to get a few Spanish TV channels but Telecinco is not one of them. Which may be a good thing, since if I had access to it, I might get sucked into the sick pleasure of watching their Salvame franchise, which takes up a seeming majority of their weekly programming. Run by sinister Italians of the Berlusconi school of "entertainment," the network focuses most of their time on lurid reality TV shows and gossip chat fests that last for hours on end. The latter resemble and compete with Donde estas, corazon? a show that I have written about before here. (see #Spain is different) However, they take this genre to dramatic extremes. If DEC attempts to keep the veneer of objective journalism up, underscoring the journalistic credentials of the interviewers and their fact-checking of sources, Salvame makes no pretense of either accuracy or decorum. It runs every afternoon from about 2-5 or 6. Then on Fridays it becomes Salvame Delux. On other nights they have La Noria which is similar, and a new show called Enemigos Intimos (Intimate Enemies) in which people betray ex-friends/lovers/employers or family members often backed up by a lie-detector test. When this is not on, they play all kinds of reality TV shows. The latter provide much fodder for the tertulias (a perverse appropriation of the term for a literary gathering to discuss ideas) since they can replay the most prurient or violent moments, invite participants once they leave or ask past contestants to comment on current ones.

But the main source of their tertulianos are family members/ex lovers/alleged ex lovers/neighbors of anyone remotely famous. Many of these people make it into this roster by making unfounded allegations regarding sex with a famous person's husband, or accusing a stepfather of incest, or anything inflammatory that allows them to appear on several of these shows. The idea is to provoke the party accused to respond, thus perpetuating the cycle for a while, and then transforming the accuser into a known entity. If this individual is related to a big celebrity, for example, niece/ex-husband, this is the best case scenario because they can be kept on retainer to comment on the famous person's activities for as long as that person lives, and when they die! If you have never seen this show, you will be lost. The stories go back for weeks or maybe decades.

Like your own dysfunctional family, it takes an intimacy developed over a life-time to understand why people are reacting the way they are. Since many people DO watch their shows every day for hours, buy their magazine Salvame or the many others in the kiosks from the classy HOLA -the Photoshopped Pravda for the Royal family and other elites - to the trashy Cuore or Pronto, and then discuss the polemics with their friends (see the #salvame hashtag on twitter), this becomes the unifying story for many Spaniards. In a fit of despair while watching the show in Barcelona last month, I decided that if Benedict Anderson's theory in Imagined Communities was that newspapers and primary schools created the modern sense of nationhood, in contemporary Spain, it was Salvame.

The paradigmatic tertuliana is superstar Belen Esteban, or La Esteban. Known as La Princesa del Pueblo, or the Spanish translation of Lady Diana's honorific Princess of the People, this crass, volatile and inarticulate ex-girlfriend of even crasser bullfighter Jesulin de Ubrique made a career out of being his ex girlfriend and mother of his -according to her- neglected child. Over the span of almost a decade, she has literally made millions as a hired participant in these hours-long screaming matches punctuated by obscenities and sometimes physical violence. Nothing - not children, not ghoulish descriptions of death and dying, not accusations of domestic violence, incest, robbery, prostitution not graphic descriptions of sexual encounters -is off-limits here.

Through her pregnancy, to her several plastic surgeries, illnesses, wedding and many break ups with current husband Fran, all conducted literally on air, Belen's life is a 24-7 Big Brother / telenovela in which Telecinco has made her a star of their franchise.

The latest narrative element in the Salvame Delux arsenal is La Caja. I should say that their aesthetics are very Pop, Baroque, camp and quasi Almodovar-esque. But this box which I liken to a Panopticon is the absolute limit. It consists of a massive box in which videos and photographs are projected during interviews of some of the tertulianos. Many of the shots are split screen, in which you see for example retrospective footage with the tertuliano being interviewed and sometimes also the tertuliano sitting in the box reacting to either or both of those. So it becomes very meta and self-reflexive visually and in terms of narrative. This self-referentiality echoes the structure of the narrative and the role of the tertulianos, since they are there because of their relation to an earlier story or famous person. But you have to be in on the reference to know this, and La Caja is presented as a kind of collective baring of the soul, to show you the audience what you have never seen (which seems unlikely given the lack of limits on this show, where these people have no sense of Too Much Information, privacy or decorum - for example, taking photographs of corpses would not be surprising on this show). My favorite moment is when they frame La Caja from above, a sharp bird's eye view of the tertuliano, exposed like a prisoner in the Panopticon or a military target just prior to a drone attack.

For more on La Caja, see this video

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