Tuesday, August 24, 2004


If television is the modern opium of the masses, then our people today must be drugged beyond the absurd. Have you seen prime time TV shows lately? 4 to 5 solid hours of brain-frying hallucinogenic experience. And since there are two major stations airing them, then that makes 8 to 10 hours total. Whew. Who needs X when you've got GMA-ABS-CBN?

At first there was the phenomenon of Mexican soap opera imports (Marimar, Maria del Sol etc.). What could be more surreal than blond hispanics mouthing Tagalog? But anyway, Filipinos took the bit because there are talking dogs, beautiful babes and the well-trodden story arc of the poor and oppressed young woman winning the battle against big, bad, rich usually older woman by marrying the young, dashing, rich young man.

Beautiful But Oppressed hails from the hinterlands or some other rural area toiling away at the fields. Meets Dashing Rich Debonair on vacation. The two fall in love and would live happily ever after if not for the Older Baddie. And so the requisite insult-hurling, cat fighting, and not to forget Big Time Oppressing (for no apparent reason but for the sheer evil of Big Baddie) must lengthily unfold before our eyes before Beautiful But Oppressed learns to fight the dirty fight and finally triumphs over Older Baddie. Its easy enough to see the box-office appeal of these agalog-speaking hispanics, their soaps could have been local if not for the "better" looking actors.

Local soaps usually make the same juxtaposition of the Poor and Oppressed in the rural areas being treated cruelly by both Destiny (as though it were a given that, well, they're just poor period), and the Rich from urban Manila. Its a cheap play on modernity vs. tradition, town mouse and country mouse but its a hit for the masses (and some from the non-masses) because it must strike on similar cultural sensibilities.

Isn't it a cultural given that everyone wants to be rich? Isn't this the ultimate goal of each and every Filipino? And musn't he or she do everything humanly or inhumanly possible to achieve this? If you happen to be a nubile young woman, well then, the way to do it is snag yourself a rich young man. Nevermind getting an education. Nevermind entrepreneurial ingenuity. Nevermind working your ass off at the work place. You just need to work your ass.

And then came the imported tsinovelas (Meteor Garden). The storylines don't deviate much from the lowest common denominator of young woman oppressed (either because she's poor or just because she's female) and in financial trouble. She may be maltreated once in a while by her significant other but that's OK, because this is the normal male-female dynamic. Young men must be brash, arrogant and showy while young women must be timid, giving and self-effacing.

The similar theme of the suffering female is the cornerstone of every single soap opera in this country (imported or not). Tears flowing from women's eyes must be more precious, more tragic. Be they humans, mermaids or mutant aviary escapees. Household pets no longer corner the talking-animal niche. Crustaceans and varying winged-creatures are now in on the market share. TV is indeed getting more absurd if prime time is a barometer. This is escapism beyond the escape. Its as if we tune in to the idiot-box to enter the universe of scripted lives because we know, that in the end, there is only happy ending.

Why would you want to live and see the real world when it has nothing good to offer?

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