As a television show, Ugly Betty has been a worldwide success. From its original columbian telenovela: 'Betty Le Fea', the show has spanned various international versions of this comedy. The most well known incarnation that is televised in the Western world is the US's Ugly Betty.
But what attracts viewers and fans especially to Ugly Betty per se isn't just the humour and the drama aspects of this series but the characters, storylines and situations.
These characters, storylines, situations all deal with and explore themes and concepts relating to culture and identity.
From Marc's sexuality to Betty's attempts to fit into a society, of which at the same time she is trying to maintain her cultural and ethnic roots. And it isn't just Marc and Betty: the other characters are also somewhat (cultural) stereotypes of what people perceive as the 'norm' in society- the so called bitchy (and dumb) blonde in Amanda, ladies man Daniel who has a habit in sleeping with women; the Scot Christina, the transsexual Alexis- Daniel's sister, who used to be a guy up until he had the sex change and became a 'she'; teen Justin's (blantant and) implied homosexual characteristics via the clothes he wears, his feminine voice and his interest in performing.
Even Hilda, who for a mother, is perceived as a slut for the way she dresses, and that she couldn't afford a college education because when she was a teen, she was pregnant and thus, had Justin.
From a cultural aspect, Ugly Betty is diverse in this area- this includes gay culture, Latino culture, femininity, fashion, class and celebrity and fame. It is rare to find a show as appealing and entertaining as Ugly Betty itself, whilst at the same time, as a cultural commodity- i.e TV show, it finds the time to highlight and acknowledge cultural and social ideas, within a dominant mass culture- i.e entertainment and as a means to inform the masses. It realises that the message it is trying to convey is more than just 'beauty is only skin deep'. It is that of culture itself and its significance on other people and themselves and how it impacts them, on a general and personal level.
Cultural theorist b]Stuart Hall[/b] once said that language use and the way people communicate to other people, works on the basis of institutions, power, class and wealth.
In applying that concept to Ugly Betty, the manner in which the likes of Wilhelmina, Marc, Amanda, Daniel and Christina interact with or behave towards Betty is often based on or down to their social or cultural status as individuals in society. However, with say Daniel, he comes from a wealthy background and thus, we'd tend to associate wealth with arrogance and snobbiness. Yet Daniel is the opposite, as he treats Betty with respect and courtesy as a person. And Betty's influence on him is making him become a better human being.
A structural anthropologist, Belgian Claude Levi Strauss
based his notion of culture and meaning, in reference to what he calls 'binary oppositions' where two sets of terms or concepts are joined in relation to each other. Examples of binary terms include black/white, male/female and young/old. Alas, meanings and ideologies are generated through the comparisons of two different- yet similar concepts.
In Ugly Betty, the binary oppositions as featured are beauty/ugly, gay/straight, hispanic/western culture, work/family and good/evil, as symbolised by Daniel and Betty (good) and Wilhelmina and Marc (evil). Another example of binary ops at work is the contrast between the clean White Mode offices and the bright and vibrant red, yellow and green colours which decorate the Suarez home.
In Betty Suarez, as much as it is argued that she is an outsider and she is having to conform to certain rules and standards at work, being the protagonist that she is, Betty is integral to the show because she is the main focal point within the programme. Despite her appearance and the bad clothes she wears, it is her down-to-earth, nature which keeps her grounded and she tries to use it to help the likes of Daniel, Marc and Amanda to change their negative ways and make them realise they do not lack compassion and heart as individuals.
It's interesting to note however that the likes of those characters rely on Betty and for her to help them get out of the mess they are in; as this shows that they manage somehow to see through the physicality of Betty and understand that deep down that there is a person who not only tries to do the right thing, but of whom wants to be there for others.
In a culture, where how you look and the way you dress often determines whether or not you'll be accepted, the situations the characters find themselves in, say something about their individual personality, behaviour as well as social and cultural backgrounds. Ugly Betty is the type of TV show, which attempts to make inroads in emphasising that in a society where the dominant classes are making progress in every mass sector, the so-called lesser groups in society, i.e, ethnic minorities and gays and lesbians are just as much of a high priority.
Once branded the new face on television, Ugly Betty is making the type of positive impact it is attempting to achieve on audiences everywhere. Hopefully, through hard work the achievements and attempts by the characters, particuarly by Betty, make them realise that anything is indeed possible.