Gabriel García Márquez Describes the Cultural Merits of Soap Operas, and Even Wrote a Script for One

The rela­tion­ship between lit­er­ary writ­ers and the film indus­try has giv­en us many a sto­ry of major cre­ative ten­sion or down­ward mobil­i­ty. Most famous­ly, we have Fitzger­ald—who grav­i­tat­ed to Hol­ly­wood like most writ­ers did, includ­ing the more suc­cess­ful Faulkn­er—for mon­ey. When we look at the career of one of Latin Amer­i­ca’s most cel­e­brat­ed writ­ers, how­ev­er, we find a very dif­fer­ent dynam­ic. Although Gabriel Gar­cía Márquez did not have what we might con­sid­er a suc­cess­ful career in the movies, his inter­est in cinema—as a screen­writer, crit­ic, and even as an actor—stemmed from a gen­uine, life­long love of the medi­um, which he con­sid­ered equal to or sur­pass­ing lit­er­a­ture as a form of sto­ry­telling.

“I thought of myself as a writer of lit­er­a­ture,” says Márquez at the begin­ning of the doc­u­men­tary Mar­quez: Tales Beyond Soli­tude“but it was my con­vic­tion that the cin­e­ma, the image, had more pos­si­bil­i­ties of expres­sion than lit­er­a­ture.” And yet, he goes on…

Films and tele­vi­sion have indus­tri­al, tech­ni­cal and mechan­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions that lit­er­a­ture doesn’t have. That’s why I said once, in a peri­od of falling out with films, “My rela­tion­ship with film has always been that of an uneasy mar­riage. We can’t live togeth­er or apart.” 

Film even­tu­al­ly need­ed Márquez more than he need­ed film. And yet he nev­er dis­dained more pop­u­lar enter­tain­ments, “pro­duc­ing more than twen­ty screen­plays, some of them for tele­vi­sion,” accord­ing to Alessan­dro Roc­co’s Gabriel Gar­cia Mar­quez and the Cin­e­ma. He even rel­ished the chance to write soap operas. In 1987, he told an inter­view­er, “I’ve always want­ed to write soap operas. They’re won­der­ful. They reach far more peo­ple than books do…. The prob­lem is that we’re con­di­tion [sic] to think that a soap opera is nec­es­sar­i­ly in bad taste, and I don’t believe this to be so.” Márquez felt that the “only dif­fer­ence between La bel­la palom­era” [a TV film based on his Love in the Time of Cholera] and “a bad soap opera is that the for­mer is well writ­ten.” Though his pro­nounce­ments on the cre­ative poten­tial of tele­vi­sion may seem pre­scient today, they did not seem so at the time.

In 1989, Márquez got his chance to write for tele­vi­sion soap operas, with a script, The Tele­graph tells us, “about an Eng­lish gov­erness in Venezuela called I Rent Myself Out to Dream.” In the clip above from Tales Beyond Soli­tude, Márquez gives us his demo­c­ra­t­ic phi­los­o­phy of the arts: “To me music, lit­er­a­ture, film, soap operas are dif­fer­ent gen­res with one com­mon end: to reach peo­ple…. In one sin­gle night, one episode of a TV soap can reach, in Colom­bia alone, 10 to 15 mil­lion peo­ple.” He con­trasts this with his book sales and con­cludes, “it’s only nat­ur­al that some­one who wants to reach peo­ple is attract­ed to TV soap like to a mag­net­ic pole. He can­not resist it.”

Márquez also served as the pres­i­dent of the Inter­na­tion­al Film and Tele­vi­sion School, in which posi­tion, he said, “I can’t start by being scorn­ful of TV.” And yet the nov­el­ist’s regard for soaps was not sim­ply a mat­ter of pro­fes­sion­al­ism. “For me,” he said, “there’s no divid­ing line between cin­e­ma and tele­vi­sion, they’re just images in motion.” Ulti­mate­ly, we can see Gar­cia Márquez’s total faith in the nar­ra­tive poten­tial of all forms of pop­u­lar narrative—film, folk tale, the cher­ished telen­ov­ela—as an essen­tial part of his writer­ly ethos, which has tak­en him from the dai­ly scrum of the news­room to the Nobel cer­e­mo­ny stage in Stock­holm. “Ulti­mate­ly all cul­ture,” he says else­where in the doc­u­men­tary, “is pop­u­lar cul­ture.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Aki­ra Kuro­sawa & Gabriel Gar­cía Márquez Talk About Film­mak­ing (and Nuclear Bombs) in Six Hour Inter­view

Read 10 Short Sto­ries by Gabriel Gar­cía Márquez Free Online (Plus More Essays & Inter­views)

Lit­er­ary Remains of Gabriel Gar­cía Márquez Will Rest in Texas

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • AnonAnon says:

    My guilty plea­sure, final­ly jus­ti­fied!!! I streamed Jane the Vir­gin (U.S. ver­sion) last sea­son and it had all the fea­tures I love: over-the-top dra­mat­ic soapy sit­u­a­tions, but humor, wit, and snap­py dia­log. Ole!

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