Listening Post

Colombia's narco novelas

Why are Colombians tuning in to the gritty tales of narco trafficking?

Last updated: 16 Nov 2013 16:04
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On the Listening Post we spend a lot of time analysing news production, but we also like to explore the politics behind other types of TV narratives - like for example soap operas around the world.

Television has the power to build social imaginaries and construct the way people see the world. Problem is narco novelas communicate that the definition of success is to get rich at all costs and that anything goes - for narcos and for politicians - and that’s had a very damaging impact on Colombian society.

Beatriz Quinones, Colombian National TV Authority 

Colombia has been the longtime regional hub for famed telenovela - and a few years ago, it moved away from the fairy tale tone and started making grittier dramas about narco trafficking which have been a huge hit.

Nelson Martinez, an executive producer for El Cappo on Mundo Fox, says: "Colombia has always been the audiovisual mecca on this continent. Our dramas stand out from other producers in Latin America. It's amazing how an anti-hero like a narco trafficker captivates audiences - he is at once complex yet human and that's why people fall in love with him."

Earlier this year however, one series telling the story of the country's far-right militia group sparked unprecedented controversy. The Three Cains dramatised the lives and loves of the Castano brothers, the leaders of a paramilitary group.

Critics said the show made heroes out of murderers and silenced the voices of the victims.

"The problem is that the Castanyo brothers are presented as heroes. Their evil sides are shown too - that's true - but those of us who have made films know perfectly well that the public end up feeling more sympathetic towards those who are on screen most," says Hollman Morris, the managing editor of Canal Capital.

Protests against the show even ended up convincing companies to pull their advertising from the show.

Despite the complaints, the show has topped ratings - and the format is being exported regionwide. So it is unlikely the genre will die out any time soon.

Marcela Pizarro reports on the political baggage weighing down Colombia's narco novelas. 

Listening Post can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Saturday: 0830, 1930; Sunday: 1430; Monday: 0430.

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