From the Less Mature Files: Spanish Soap Operas 🔗As an undergraduate at Drexel University in the mid-90's, I served as a columnist, contributing weekly bits of satire in an effort to amuse others or at least myself. I'm dusting off some of those columns and reprinting them here, in raw, unedited form.
In writing columns, I genuinely never wanted anyone to take my columns seriously enough to be offended, but I've learned that it's nearly impossible for a writer to write completely inoffensive material. No matter what you write, someone will take offense to it.
Some more than others.
This column generated some heated e-mails. In particular, I received one e-mail from a very, very irate high school Spanish teacher in Texas. "I'm not sure what kind of Spanish they taught you in your high school," he wrote, "but you can not turn any English word into Spanish by adding a vowel." The letter went on to chastise me further, saying I should pick up a Spanish book before I start writing about the language, and pointing out that Spanish was spoken in many countries, not just high school classrooms.
Check one in the "clearly missed that this was satire" column. For those playing bingo at home, you can also check off "lacking sense of humor."
There is some truth to this column. I really did make a "Medico Alerto" commercial for a high school project (and it was a hit), and I truly did find game shows on Spanish television baffling. We used to watch Sabado Gigante in class regularly, and I could not understand why contestants were so happy about winning a 6-pack of Coca Cola. I'm sure I must have been missing something.
Anyway, to find out why I offended a Spanish school teacher, read on..
For my column this week, I originally planned to write about the distinct apathy that seems to flourish within the population of students at Drexel. However, I sort of lost interest. Instead, I will write about Spanish soap operas.
But first, I feel an obligation to correct some factual errors made in my last column. In my last column, I wrote that the settlers originally crossed the Appalachian Mountains in the year 2,000 B.C. This was an error. In actuality, the settlers crossed the Appalachians shortly before the last Presidential primary election, except Lester, who is still trying to make his way across.
Further, it has been brought to my attention that the Pennsylvania Turnpike was not built in 1400 as I had reported. The roads that became the Turnpike had been paved in 1400, but the Turnpike was not officially commissioned until late 1934, when Victor Lecoq and William Sutherland devised the idea of charging people money for driving on these roads.
I regret these errors, and will attempt to use more caution from now on.
The invention of the television in 1240 A.D., shortly after Christopher Columbus discovered plutonium, has led to an enormous array of entertaining television shows, ranging from pink dinosaurs prancing like idiots, to exciting infomercials, which allow common people (or at least multinational corporations masquerading as such) to sell uncommon products at exorbitantly high prices.
I have come up with an amazing idea for a product which I could easily sell through an infomercial. The product is a one-page pamphlet which describes my revolutionary idea for losing weight. (For $10 more, one will be able to buy a companion pamphlet which describes how to gain weight.) I don't want to give away the details now, but the general concept behind my plan involves eating less (or more) food.
But, as I alluded to earlier, the purpose of this column is to describe Spanish soap operas. As you are probably aware, soap operas are so named because they have nothing to do with soap nor operas, in the same way that hot dogs are neither hot nor made of dogs, but are instead commonly made out of orangutan intestines.
If you are fortunate enough to have cable, you might have access to a channel which is broadcast entirely in Spanish, such as Univision.
Spanish is a language that people speak in, similar to English, except that every word ends in an 'o' or 'e'. For example, to say "much", you would say "mucho." "Ulcerate" remains unchanged, since it already ends in an 'e', although you can feel free to add upside-down exclamation marks and question marks, as in: "!?ulcerate!?"
Spanish is mainly spoken in high school classrooms across the United States. I took two years of Spanish in high school, where I learned that "Scott" translates roughly into "Carlos."
My Spanish teacher in high school, Senora Espitia, is one of the nicest teachers I've ever had, but she had this annoying habit of speaking in Spanish all the time.
For example, she would enter the classroom and exclaim "!Buenos dias, mi muchachos!" We would have absolutely no idea what she was saying. She continued on for a few minutes, enthusiastically talking about something or the other (global warming? Price elasticity in a freetrade market?), until it became clear that we really didn't know what she was saying.
Her demeanor would then change, and she would begin yelling at us in an outrage, eventually storming out of the room in tears. Sadly, she would never teach us any bad words in Spanish, although we suspected she regularly used them and we just didn't know it.
To bolster our appreciation of the Spanish language, we were assigned projects. For one project, I pulled out a video camera and re-created a commercial with some friends, entirely in Spanish.
At the beginning of the commercial, a person is seen working under his car, most likely changing the oil or perhaps attempting to dislodge a cat from the radiator. But this person is directly under the garage door, which is communicated by dramatically panning the camera up to show that the person is directly under the garage door.
Suddenly and without warning the garage door begins to close. (This is communicated by dramatically panning the camera up to show that the garage door is closing.) The person under the car becomes aware of this too late, and cries out for help as he is crushed underneath the garage door. At the time we taped this, some neighbors were walking by my house, and they gave us a very strange look and later called the police.
But alas! The crushed person has "!Medico Alerto!" He pushes a button on the transmitter around his neck, and the scene changes to me, sitting behind a computer, chatting on an invisible phone in English.
You see, I played an English-speaking person who was given a job at "Medico Alerto" even though I didn't speak any Spanish. Further, I was an incompetent fool who ignored the various messages flashing on the computer monitor which were attempting to relay the general idea that a person was in dire need of help.
Our video was a great hit in class, which we could tell because most people stayed awake to watch it, although Senora Espitia pointed out that it would have been nice if more Spanish words had been used than just "Medico" and "Alerto."
With this experience behind me, it was with great interest that I watched a few minutes of a soap opera on a Spanish cable channel recently. Thankfully, with my two years of high school Spanish, I was able to determine that the actors and actresses were indeed speaking in Spanish, or at least in some language that was not English, although I had no clue what they might be saying.
Initially in this soap opera, a lady is seen standing in front of a stove, cooking something that appears to be dead, in that it isn't flopping around or anything. The lady is weeping, which leads me to believe that she is upset. Suddenly there is a cloud of smoke and another lady magically appears, dressed like a fairy and holding a wand.
The fairy lady appears to console the weeping lady, saying something in Spanish (or possibly German). The weeping lady says something back to the fairy, also in Spanish (or possibly Canadian). I believe she is complementing the fairy lady on her dress.
The fairy lady then waves her wand, and a can of tuna (or possibly oil) appears. The weeping lady, seeing the can of tuna, immediately breaks into a wide grin. She excitedly opens the tuna with a can opener and empties it into her frying pan.
American soap operas would be much more interesting if they had riveting plots like this. For example, Melrose Place, which I honestly don't watch - at least, not the re-runs - is dull compared to this. Aaron Spelling, take note. And don't forget the can of tuna. Muy importante.
However, our game shows continue to beat the smithereens out of Spanish game shows.
On the most popular Spanish game shows, contestants win prizes, just like in America. During one show, I witnessed a lady winning a game by saying something in Spanish. The host says something back in Spanish, indicating that she has just won. An attractive lady then walks into the scene, holding and caressing a six-pack of Coca-Cola. The winning lady immediately breaks into tears of joy, thrusting her hands to her mouth and then hugging the host. I interpret this as meaning that she is very pleased with herself for winning the six-pack of Coca-Cola.
On American game shows, contestants win cars and all-expense-paid trips to Spanish-speaking countries.
M. Scott Smith is a junior majoring in computer science. Today, his column was sponsored by the words exorbitantly, !?ulcerate?!, and smithereens.
- By M. Scott Smith, July 4, 1995. All rights reserved.