112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

Haunting the Spanish Soap Opera: The Specter of Queer Desire and the Romance of Capital in Amar en tiempos revueltos

Jodi Eisenberg, University of California, San Diego

The lesbian storyline in the Spanish soap opera Amar en tiempos revueltos earned the show its highest ratings. Set in the time of the fascist dictatorship, the love story allows viewers to celebrate their own progressiveness, despite contemporary Spain’s continued oppression and exploitation of queers and the working class. I unpack these hauntings and slippages to reveal the investment of Spanish capitalism in lesbian sexuality.


Spanish soap opera Amar en tiempos revueltos aired seven seasons, an impressive 1,706 episodes, as well as four two-episode primetime specials, on Television Española’s Cadena 1, finishing its last season in 2012 with an overall average of 2,503,000 viewers representing a 21.3% share of audiences.  The highest ratings for the novela correspond with the climax of its lesbian romance plot, revealing not only the lucrative nature of certain types of lesbian visibility, but also the capacity of Spanish audiences to embrace a lesbian romance plot set in the time of franquismo, regardless of the fact that extremely little is known of the experiences of lesbians during the dictatorship. 

The telenovela is one of many texts produced in the democratic era that represent the Civil War and dictatorship years (1936-1975).  As Isolina Ballesteros has posited, these “memory texts” are really “‘Spectral’ modes of cultural representation, symptomatic articulations of the traumas and ghosts of an improperly buried past” (1).  While the survivors of the violent repression of the dictatorship have been silenced and depoliticized, their memories and politics emerge in ‘spectral modes of representation’ like Amar en tiempos revueltos

What Avery Gordon describes as “haunting” becomes a valuable means of describing the relationship between the purported project and the actual impact of many “memory” texts.  As he writes, “haunting is one way in which abusive systems of power make themselves known and their impacts felt in everyday life, especially when they are supposedly over and done with… (iv).  Due to the incomplete nature of Spain’s transition to democracy, it is not surprising that television might reveal previously repressed or silenced political narratives.  What might not be as immediately obvious are the economic and sexual narratives that also “haunt” these texts—that is, the alternative visions of the Spanish economy and those desires and identities that fascism prohibited and punished.

The celebration of modernity that characterizes the first decade of the twenty-first century links the political features of that period with cultural and economic ones, placing strong emphasis on the impact of this modernity on gender and sexuality.  Same-sex marriage, domestic violence legislation, increased time off from work for parents, both male and female, are all deployed as both markers of distance from franquismo, and neoliberal mechanisms for the production and management of ideal citizen-subjects of the democratic Spanish state. I analyze how Amar features slippages that reveal the flaws in this narrative of progress, while seemingly celebrating the advantages of democracy for historical memory of the Civil War and dictatorship.  These slippages ultimately reveal capital’s investment in gender and sexuality as part of statist projects and mnemonics.

The show features a particular insistence upon the repressive nature of franquismo, while also congratulating the contemporary regime for its celebration of that which signifies as left, queer, feminist, or otherwise non-normative—so long as this celebration does not challenge  accumulation practices.  For example, female homosexual desire might be represented, as it is in Amar en tiempos revueltos, as dangerous and forbidden, yet universal and comprehensible to heterosexual as well as homosexual viewers.  How could this love be wrong?, viewers are made to ask.  Nowadays, they are given to conclude, these women can be together, and live freely, thanks to same-sex marriage legislation passed in 2005 by a government led by the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party).  However, the coalitional queer politics that might indict the exploitation of gender and sexual labor and point to intersections of gender, sexuality, race, and class are not included in the portrait of “queer desire.” 

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