115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Towards a Transmedial Fairy-Tale Texture? Jane the Virgin's Millennial Mise-en-Scène Cross-Mediates Telenovela, Romantic Fantasy, and Social Media Forms within the Twenty-First Century TV Screen

Ida Yoshinaga, University of Hawai'i, Manoa

Latinx dramedy Jane the Virgin, a postmodern romance for the digital era, helps me theorize a reconsideration of fantasy as an audio-visual narrative mode. Focusing on how mise-en-scène creates a fantasy viewing experience, I analyze how the show blends animation, social media, fiction, and telenovela, into a televisual fairy-tale texture.


US telenovela Jane the Virgin, a postmodern immigrant fairy tale for the digital era on the CW Network, blends a soap-operatic narrative that's equally informed by romantic fiction and prime-time dramas, with folkloric storytelling from diasporic Latinx communities and with a bold experimental mix of audio-visual forms, including Disney-like animation, printed words from written literature, witty voiceovers by a neurotically self-reflexive narrator, and cheerful social media iconography, integrated into the serialized, episodic form of the live-action TV dramedy. Using this globally oriented, US series as a case study, I challenge the hegemonic direction of fantasy theory established by speculative-fiction scholars such as Farah Mendlesohn, Tzvetan Todorov, and Samuel Delany, which anchors definitions the fantasy genre around the physical or historical impossibility of the narrative's actual realization. This show offers one of several new languages for televisual fantasy, which I'm proposing as a digital-era, device-specific, "fairy-tale texture" (using fairy-tale structuralist Jessica Tiffin's concept). The key to grasping televisionary fantasy is to study not only the written narrative, plot, or dialog, but also how elements of mise-en-scène—especially art design, editing, cinematography, animated effects, creative subtitling, staging, and soundscape—create a fantasy viewing experience. Fantasy, following the liberal-functionalist definition of folklorist Jack Zipes, has nothing to do with whether story content is "real" or physically/sociohistorically unlikely to occur; rather, the genre’s practice empowers participants to exercise their imagination, such that they can overcome oppressive social structures, or obtain spiritual succor and renewal in the face of daily encounters with such structures.

Jane the Virgin centers on a three-generation family of single Venezuelan women living together in modern Miami: the titular Jane Villanueva, a studious waitress, who is accidentally impregnated by the sperm of a wealthy hotel industry heir; her mother Xiomara, a professional dancer and sex-positive single parent; and Xo’s mother Alba, a religious and traditional, illegal immigrant, the show’s sometimes unreliable moral and cultural center. JTV produces its surrealistic fairy-tale texture by both presenting itself as a romance and wondrously, self-reflexively, speculating upon the very construction of the romantic narrative, in all its sociocultural, global, and mixed-genre forms. The series playfully offers three doors through which audiences are made to think about how we expect romantic stories to proceed over diverse media platforms. The voiceover narrator’s once-upon-a-time style of storytelling combines a sense of Villanueva family history (an oral form made visual) with frequent reflections upon the telenovela form, paired with occasionally animated visuals to exaggerate the romantic aspects of each scene. Scenes on the sets of various serial shows starring Rogelio de la Vega, Jane’s TV star father, allows the directors to juxtapose the “reality” of their actual TV show’s plot with the ridiculous constructedness of these series-within-a-series telenovela. Finally, Jane’s efforts to become a published romance author are also underscored by displays of various written forms flashing across the screen: print fiction, teleplays, social media, text messages, etc. This whimsical narrative ethos of JTV creates a twenty-first century fairy tale, drawing on surprising, subversive, fresh, audio-visual forms.