There is no doing an assessment of 2015 in Philippine culture without seeing #AlDub in big black letters. After all, this coupling was not only a surprise, it has also moved from the “KalyeSerye” and the internet, to the realm of print and TV advertising, magazine cover stories and film.
Sure, the elite/elitista among us will say: what crap we feed the masses! Down with Eat Bulaga!
Yet that might be the most unproductive—not to mention wrong—assessment of the state of pop culture in this country, the kind that wins Tito Sotto votes, and most every other celebrity. The kind that will keep Eat Bulaga—or a wannabe version of it—on the air for decades to come.
The power of three
The “Juan for All, All for Juan” portion has been the high point of Eat Bulaga viewing for a while now. Even when Ryzza Mae Dizon was at her most famous, it was the banter between her and Jose Manalo, Wally Bayola and Paolo Ballesteros on remote location that elicited laughter. There was also always Vic Sotto, Joey de Leon and Allan K. in the studio as counterpoint to the three on location.
The unscripted and free exchange among skilled komedyantes is enough to get you to laugh a bit and cry a little every day. After all, lest the growing number of sponsors and the KalyeSerye have made us forget, “Juan For All” is a response to the kind of poverty and need that is in nation. That it would appeal to a TV-watching public goes without saying: the dream of being picked to win the huge prizes for the day is a measure of that need.
But also there’s the comedy that Jose-Wally-Paolo are capable of—not the now normalized brazenness of comedy bar theatrics (ala Vice Ganda), or the dumb bimbo archetype singing out of tune (ala Anne Curtis). Instead it is highly skilled comedy that strikes a balance between silliness and kindness, comedy and compassion. This trio reins in the drama that is in real people’s lives, by using some good ol’ Pinoy hiritan and alaskahan, ready to poke fun at themselves instead of crossing the line of offense.
A stroke of genius was having Marian Rivera-Dantes (pre-pregnancy) come in and do the portion with the trio, which layered it with a female voice that was frank and mataray, always ready to reprimand the lazy every Pinoy still dependent on their mothers or wives. It was the kind of engagement that only Marian could get away with.
On their own though, Jose-Wally-Paolo can take on any barangay.
The Doña, the yaya, the prince charming
When Wally started doing Doña Nidora, I thought the matrona persona was en pointe and hilarious. It was a finger pointed at the absurdity of excess and decadence given the state of the nation, and what better way to do it than by actually uprooting the extravagant matrona we see in fancy malls, sushal subdivisions, and Sunday mass, and putting her in a real impoverished barangay? Wally was already reason enough to watch it, because that archetype is so familiar and so current, it could be a gift that keeps on giving.
And then YayaDub happened. The archetype played by Maine Mendoza is as familiar as the Doña she serves: the servant-girl who is as mataray and snooty as her amo, a defensive stance and identity borne of her employment. The class difference and struggle is of course intrinsic to this relationship; yet the taray of YayaDub already gives her more character, a measure of her independence despite.
And then there is her kilig—the unexpected and uncontrollable kind, one that happened on noontime TV, and one that was viewed by even more people online. But this was not just YayaDub breaking into a smile at the sight of Alden Richards watching her at the studio; it was Maine falling out of character because she was surprised by what she saw on the monitor.
It would begin the anti-loveteam that is the fictional #AlDub, and the real partnership that is Maine and Alden (MaiDen), both of which gave birth to the KalyeSerye as we now know it to be a tongue-in-cheek dramedy on noontime TV. One cannot take it as seriously as the daily soap operas, yet it cannot be dismissed as cheap drama.
On the one hand the tropes are familiar: the Yaya who finds a prince charming, the bedimpled boy next door willing to work hard for love, a superior character taking control of the situation, dictating what will happen to love on trial. While the Doña was soon enough being called Lola Nidora, it did not remove from the fact of YayaDub being an employee, bound to the rules of the woman she serves, even when it is already about her personal life and feelings at stake.
Of course the narrative has since become about the Doña’s—and her two sisters’—reversal of fortune, a fall from grace that has Yaya taking on a more powerful role in the narrative. This, while the courtship continues with Alden, and while the line drawn between the fictional KalyeSerye couple and the real Maine and Alden become more and more blurred by the minute.
It would be interesting when the real might render the fiction meaningless, and when the fiction will truly be just that, especially since one senses that it is the dynamic between the real and the make-believe that has made this tandem work. In the meantime, Eat Bulaga’s competition has since been brought to its knees, and Richards and Mendoza are stars.
Fandom in the time of hashtags
The public’s fascination with #AlDub is no surprise for two reasons: one, the fact of the fanaticism that we are predisposed to as nation given aspirational images and narratives—the more real the better; and two, the fact that love sells.
Eat Bulaga’s creative team did not only know the latter, they also knew how to work with the former. What they did was create a fictionalized and exaggerated—therefore hilarious—struggle for the couple to see each other beyond the TV monitors, making for a magnified, more contemporary version of good ol’ Filipino-style courtship. They kept the interest going without milking it all it was worth. Sooner than later they had Yaya and Alden meet up, within the rules of course of Lola Nidora.
The public watched, yes. But also the public spoke. Dictating this love story to some extent by revealing what scenes, what lines, what moments would trend on Twitter, which subplots would get record hits on YouTube. A good social media monitoring team would know exactly what the public wanted at any given time, based solely on what is being said by #AlDubNation online.
That is what this fandom has been called. It has also been called organic, and deemed inexplicable—an unconventional way of building a fan base. But it’s entirely possible that this is merely fandom in the time of technology, when Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube access are cheaper, and it is brought to bear upon TV’s tried and tested. What Eat Bulaga might lay claim to is that it is an old dog that was willing to learn new tricks—and laughed all the way to the bank with it, too.
What Mendoza and Richards have yet to prove is that they are independent of Eat Bulaga and its limitations, and that ultimately the spontaneity of their pairing might translate to an assertion of freedom. Certainly the kind of honesty and silliness (especially of Mendoza) is a refreshing departure from the manufactured images of the Pinay celebrity; but now that she’s endorsing everything from Coke to McDonalds, Belo to Tide, one hopes she might know enough to say no to whitening products, for example, if not slimming pills.
While Mendoza and Richards have yet to be politically relevant, #AlDubNation has proven itself to be capable of independent political thought, at least if the causes it has tried to carry via hashtags on Twitter are any indication, and yes, their presence at the Lumad Camp. To some extent it still seems like #AlDub’s public is showing the two stars the way towards free thought, beyond Eat Bulaga as an institution.
In 2016, what one hopes to see is #AlDub, but more importantly #MaiDen, doing it differently from every loveteam that has been manufactured by the big networks. Social engagement with the pa-cute, political relevance (no matter how subtle) with the love, harnessing the power of TV and the love story towards something bigger. Now that’s a 2016 worth looking forward to for this #AlDubNation.