Prime time TV in Brasil is like prime time TV in most any other Latin American country. Starting at 6:00 every night almost every Brasilian tv channel is tuned in to their favorite novela. In the 1980’s when there were only a few national TV channels, if your windows were open, you could hear the novela’s theme music from the neighbors playing in sync with your own television.
Everyone watched novelas.
In the 1980’s there was a classification of novelas by time:
- 6:00–usually a more historic story, told in a different era, mostly rated PG
- 7:00–usually a more modern, light hearted story, mainly rated PG 13
- 8:00–this was prime time. These stories could be dramatic, comedic, historical, supernatural–the stories were always over the top, A-level actors, had much higher budgets, and were usually always big hits; these were the more “risque”, always pushing the envelope a little bit further.
The other thing about Brasilian novelas is that they are finite. There is a beginning and an end with each one lasting about six months. The first novela I remember watching was a “novela das 7” called “Um Sonho a Mais.” It was a light, fluffy, ridiculous story whose plot I vaguely remember only after reading about it on Wikipedia. This was my introduction to the daily, can’t miss, 6 day a week world of Brasilian soap operas.
It was probably around September of 1989, the new novela das 8 had already premiered. It was based on the novel Tieta: Goat Shepherdess by celebrated Brasilian novelist Jorge Amado. This was a rare thing–to adapt a novel into a novela. The buzz intrigued me so I decided to check it out one evening.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t immediately hooked. It took place in the interior of Bahia–I had lived for a period of time just north of Bahia in Recife. The actos sounded like the people I grew up with in Recife–they had the distinct dialectal pronunciations that typified northern Brasil. The story was humorous–nothing overly dramatic like most novelas das 8. And it was just fun.
And then there was the title sequence. This was something else altogether.
The theme song was influenced by the current lambada craze, so it was uptempo and catchy. The background was the beach dunes of the fictitious setting. And across the screen a bed of rocks slowly rotates and becomes the torso of a beautiful, tan, naked woman. This imagery is repeated in various scenes–each one featuring a beautiful naked body. You can watch it here if you like.
As a 15 year old, the closest thing I had seen to a naked breast was at the beach–and even then they were covered by little triangles of cloth, the opening title sequence was uncomfortably erotic. I was embarrassed if my parents decided to watch it with me. I mean, these were breasts–beautiful, perfect breasts. I could care less that this opening was technologically advanced for 1989, there were breasts.
And I never missed an episode–I actually enjoyed the story, not just to watch breasts every night. This was long before the days of digital TV and DVR. What I had was our trusty VCR and what I called a “junk tape”. I quickly learned how to program the VCR so that it would record the show every night. Reruns were not a thing in Brasil. If you missed an episode, you were shit out of luck.
The actual novela went on to be one of Brasil’s most watched and best loved novelas of all time. And from the moment we returned to the US, I wanted to rewatch it. I tried to find bootlegs of it–and I did find some episodes on YouTube, but there was really no way to watch it from beginning to end. However, thanks to GloboPlay, a Brasilian streaming service (and ever present nostalgia), every episode is finally available to watch. I have been slowly chipping away at all 196 episodes for the last few months. It is as good as I remember which is reassuring that I also watched it for the story.
I was “allowed” to watch this TV show because it was humorous and because it was part of the ephemeral zeitgeist of the time–but I wasn’t allowed to watch or participate in Carnival, literally one of the most foundational cultural elements of the country. I don’t know, maybe because there were too many breasts being shown at one time or they weren’t part of a silly soap opera. It was dichotomies like this, though, that even though I didn’t realize it at the time, created who I am today.
I recently wrote about the people that define who I am as a father and a husband. The next few essays I am going to write are going to be on who I have become as a person and what has shaped me to be who I am. I have changed alot since I was a 15 year old ogling at breasts on a TV show in Sao Paulo, Brasil. I have changed alot since I was a lonely high school kid. I have changed alot since I was in college, and I have slowly been shaped into who I am now with the help of my wife, my kids, and (frankly) therapy.
Now, as it is 8:00, I have a certain novela to watch.