19 May 2005
Rebelde with a cause - Rebelde en Canada
Hot Mexican TV soap opera becomes an ad for Alberta tourism
By David Agren
When Lorena Rochin, a university student in Guadalajara, Mexico, flipped on her television set recently to watch her favourite telenovela (soap opera), images of the snow-capped Canadian Rockies flashed across the screen.
"It's gorgeous," she says of the Lake Louise scenery, used as a backdrop for a clandestine make-out scene.
Through a partnership deal with the Canadian Tourism Commission, the hit teen telenovela Rebelde (Rebel in English) filmed episodes in Calgary and the Canadian Rockies in early March, which aired in Mexico in late April.
The show is so popular, even guys are into it, says Rochin. "(At least) 80 per cent of my friends watch it."
The show's success and audience demographics captured the attention of the Canadian Tourism Commission, which saw it as a vehicle to launch Canada's immense popularity to even greater heights in Mexico.
"Rebelde has a very nice peculiarity… middle classes are watching, also (upper-class) Mexicans, including parents," says Jorge Morfin Stoopen, Mexican director for the Canadian Tourism Commission, who is based in Mexico City.
More than 10 million Mexicans watch the show weekly and it's aired throughout Latin America. "This is exactly the target we are looking for," says Morfin Stoopen.
More than 173,000 Mexicans visited Canada in 2004, making it the nation's sixth largest source of tourists. "In 2004 we increased our number of Mexican travellers to Canada by 22 per cent," says Morfin Stoopen. "For Canada, Mexico is a very important market."
In the Canadian-made episodes, Rebelde actors frolicked in powdery snow, skied in the Rockies and rode on dogsleds. Along with capturing Alberta landmarks like the Banff Springs Hotel, Lake Louise and downtown Calgary in Rebelde episodes, cast members posed for Maxim-style photo shoots – complete with bikinis and fur coats – and filmed a music video.
Some of the cast members recently formed a pop group called RBD, whose sappy hits top the Mexican pop charts. In Alberta, the RBD members donned western duds for their videos: jeans and leather trench coats for the guys and a pink cowboy hat for the female lead singer. The show's theme song is incessantly played on the radio and in clubs in Mexico.
Set in an exclusive private school, the show captures the melodramatic antics of teenagers often locked in class-driven feuds and delivers a heaping dose of eye candy in nearly every scene.
Take, for example, Diego, a baby-faced kid whose dad thought his son was gay.
"He's super hot," gushes Rochin, adding she would watch the show less often if Diego weren’t a cast member. In a typical telenovela twist, the father set his son up with his trophy girlfriend – who, says Rochin, "looked like a slut" – to ensure Diego wasn't gay. Predictably, the pair fell for each other, creating a rather bizarre love triangle.
Rebelde also exposes class schisms in Mexican society, pitting the fresas – snobs from rich families – against the becados (scholarship winners). Never mind the nacos, the newly rich who try too hard to fit in with the old-money set and come across as gauche in the process.
Rebelde naturally draws comparisons to popular teen series like Beverly Hills 90210, Dawson's Creek and The OC, but surpasses them all in sheer tackiness. Only in a telenovela would the school uniforms consist of short denim skirts, super high boots, white- or blue-collared shirts, red neckties and jackets for the girls. The guys' uniforms, which feature a similar necktie and jacket combination, are somewhat bland in comparison. Even the heartthrob teacher resembles a rebel, with his long hair and casual work attire.
Besides the racy plot lines, the show sets trends for young Mexicans. Shortly after premièring last fall, guys began wearing red ties similar to the show's school uniforms. Girls put star stickers on their foreheads, mimicking Mia, Rebelde's lead fresa. Both genders began sporting yellow Lance Armstrong Livestrong bracelets after some characters on the show donned the bands.
Canadian Tourism Commission officials expect to capitalize on the show's incredible trend-setting ability, increasing Canada's lustre among young Mexicans, who already possess positive attitudes towards the country.
In a recently published magazine profile, Diego – played by Christopher Uckermann – called Calgary his favourite city. After reading the piece, Rochin says, "It's my favourite (city), too. That's where I'm going next year."
Actually, her student exchange will land her in Edmonton in January.
Published in FFWD (Calgary).
UPDATE: Rebelde went off the air in Mexico, but it continues in other countries.