The Power of Duff Comes To Texas (in Spanish)

by:  Sebastián Bravo Montenegro at 10/28/2013

Texas newscaster Michelle Valles and Charles Duff from The Power of Duff have a lot more in common than their day job. Like Charlie, Michelle found herself in the middle of a controversy when her popular sign off phrase “Goodbye and hasta mañana” created waves of support and dissent in the city of Austin, Texas. The job of any broadcast journalist is to connect to their audience. As much as they can provide objective reporting and commentary, they also need to appeal to a larger audience with an aura of familiarity and trust, and often, a local journalist becomes an informal symbol of the community to which they are broadcasting. Each journalist discovers a way in which to inject their reporting with a personal trademark that differentiates them. But what happens when they infuse parts of their personality that their audience does not respond to?

Michelle’s Spanish sign-off quickly became a debated choice and elicited a divided response from her viewers. Some greeted her warmly while she walked on the street; others wanted her to stop immediately. When you are “on-air,” the potential to influence and reach millions of people is a given, but in order to maintain that power, you must meet the expectations of your audience. For Michelle, this meant she had to adapt herself to conform to whatever form of “Latinidad” her audience was used to.

Michelle shares her experience navigating the broadcast world as a Latina in this clip from HBO Latino series Habla Texas:


Michelle poses an interesting question halfway through the clip: “Why does her speaking Spanish on-air make people so angry?” What, specifically, is it about Spanish that creates such an immediate and aggressive uproar? Similar questions arise in Stephen Belber’s The Power of Duff. When long-time broadcast journalist Charlie Duff begins offering public prayers for his deceased father and those in need, he divides his town into believers and skeptics. Michelle and Charlie serve as an example of the media’s widespread power as a polarizing force in the United States and reveal interesting aspects of American culture, whether about the relationship to faith and religion as is the case with Charlie’s on-air prayers, or the increasing presence of Latinos in the United States with Michelle Valles’ “hasta mañana.”

These events beg the questions: should we interpret everything “on-air” as a political statement? When on-air personalities like Charlie and Michelle decide to make a personal decision on a public stage does it immediately become a political statement or is there a distinction that makes them one? What do you think? Join the conversation below.

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Lisa Timmel,  Bevin O'Gara, and Charles Haugland share their thoughts on New Plays, Dramatury, and their experience sharing nightly conversations with the audiences that come to see our shows. Get the inside scoop of new scripts and play development!

 
 

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