The Phenomenon of Yo Soy Betty la Fea

" En Colombia, un país azotado por las luchas internas, esta telenovela representa un escape de la realidad en una nación abrumada. En Betty... no se habla de guerrillas ni de narco-tráfico. Es un mundo paralelo a todo lo demás que sucede en el país.  Creo que esta es una forma para que la gente se olvide de la realidad, a la vez que reímos un poco durante media hora o una hora al día"  Ana María Orozco

The telenovela Yo soy Betty la Fea is the story of Beatriz Pinzón Solano, a well-educated, intelligent, idealistic and timid woman who was ugly looking.  This telenovela was produced by the RCN network in Colombia, became a phenomenal hit and was exported successfully to many other countries in the world.  The chart below shows the ratings in achieved by the Yo Soy Betty la Fea in four Latin American countries during the month of March in 2001.


Source:  IBOPE Media Information, March 2001

         

Why was this telenovela so popular?  Yo Soy Betty La Fea was produced by the new Colombian network RCN.  Colombia is a country in which cocaine has played and still plays a major role in national development.  Corruption is endemic among elected officials.  Violence is perpetrated by various armed groups against each other and, quite often, against the citizenry.  In this context, Betty comes through as a symbol of the uncorrupted innocence of Colombia.

Outside of Colombia, the popularity of Yo Soy Betty La Fea has been speculated to due to a number of reasons.  For one thing, people are used to seeing telenovela characters played by stars such as Thalia.  That is nice, except not many people in real life looks like Thalia.  In the end, these other telenovelas are just fantasies.  They are diverting, but less than totally satisfying.  Along comes Yo Soy Betty La Fea, with a female lead who definitely must be said to look ugly.   

Apart from the look of the female lead character, Yo Soy Betty La Fea is also peppered with other doses of realism.  The daily interactions of the characters involve all the little indignities of social, economic, racial, educational and gender inequalities.

         

At the beginning of the series, Betty got a job at a major fashion design company.  Although she was educated as an economist, she could only obtain a job as a secretary.  Towards the end of the series, Betty underwent a transformation --- the braces were gone, the thick glasses were replaced by wire frames and the hair was restyled.  This was obviously pre-planned since the actress Ana María Orozco was not cast because she looked like the perfect Betty, because she was a beautiful woman who then had to go through hours of preparation each day for her role.  Betty also moved up the corporate ladder to become an executive.  Worst yet, Betty married her boss, who was shown throughout as being mean-spirited, insincere, unfaithful and therefore quite undeserving.  The prince that Cinderella got was in truth a despicable frog.  To some, therefore, this was not a 'fairy tale' ending but a total sell-out.

Yo Soy Betty La Fea was obviously a money-generating machine for its producers.  Nevertheless, the story had to reach its end since the cast had been working without pause for eighteen months.  A sequel is being planned, although there are no details.  In the case of the USA, Betty La Fea appeared on the Telemundo network and was largely responsible for bringing up its ratings.  The rights to the sequel have already been given to its rival, the Univision network.

As business cynics, we suggest that the plotline of the sequel might be this: Betty contemplates the ugliness of the reality of her marriage and career, and makes some important and surprising personal decisions.  That should resonate with the chords of quite a few hearts out there ... 

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(posted by Roland Soong, 7/1/2001)


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