Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Painful reality check

This is my column today.

We already know that truth is stranger than fiction because there is no soap opera in this country that’s more riveting or bizarre than what we see in the news.

So when reality television shows hit our local idiot boxes, we knew it was going to be a fad because the possibilities were simply endless. We happen to be a country with a very high threshold for the absurd. We put up with all kinds of shenanigans from our leaders. We find something to laugh at even amongst the gravest life and death situations. We do not stone to death government officials who have the audacity to stand by implausible election results.

We know that simply watching real people in a glass house can be entertaining because those people are Filipinos and therefore expected to be funny, dramatic, crazy, opinionated, etc.
It’s a small wonder then that “Pinoy Big Brother” is a hit in this country.

The second “regular” season of the show is currently running and is scheduled to end in two week’s time. Technically, it is the fourth run of the show which also had a celebrity edition and a teen edition. I caught some of the episodes of the current edition during its first month and promptly tuned off because it was, in a word, boring.

As I wrote in my blog, it struck me that the current PBB housemates were chosen primarily for reasons that have to do with aesthetics rather than personality mix or talent.

As can be expected, the housemates simply indulged in mindless chitchat or lazed around in various stages of undress. The show’s production people had to stimulate the housemates with all kinds of activities and tasks before any action or excitement could happen.
But then I underwent surgery and stayed home for a couple of weeks so I tuned back in—or tried to at least. I’ve been a passive viewer in the last two weeks. Ordinarily, these last few weeks should be exciting and frenzied as the show builds up toward its finale.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. In fact, it is the opposite that is happening. It’s the level of inactivity and ennui that has increased. Thus, the show has been experimenting with all kinds of psychological tactics to produce something remotely interesting. The tactics now border on manipulation, exploitation and emotional abuse. A number of my friends (including some psychologists) have been urging me to write about the situation.

“Pinoy Big Brother” is being marketed as the teleserye ng totoong buhay (real- life soap opera). The show makes big pronouncements about how it celebrates the Filipino within us. It is not accidental that the show’s theme song is “Pinoy, Ikaw Ay Pinoy” (You Are Filipino). The show also goes to town with how it is about helping individuals achieve personal growth, service to others, world peace, and yada yada yada. In short, it’s supposed to be the next best thing to ice cream.

Thus, we expect reality. We expect truth. We expect drama and tantrums and conflicts, but we don’t want to see the scripted version. We expect the real thing. But sadly, what we have been seeing is getting farther and farther from the truth. While those kids in the show, as well as their emotions, may be real, their situation is not. The reality they live in is getting more and more contrived and scripted. It’s not reality TV anymore; it is worse—it is fiction being packaged as reality.

Watching the current season has ceased to be entertaining. It has become emotionally draining instead. The housemates have become virtual puppets that are manipulated to produce “money shots”—you know, those gripping moments when emotions build up and erupt and consequently make ratings zoom up to the stratosphere.

What we’ve been seeing in the last few days have been frenzied efforts to subject the housemates to various forms of stress and pressure all designed to produce an emotional breakdown. In short, money shots. (Okay, adult readers can also make parallelism with pornography. It is the same concept.)

“Pinoy Big Brother” makes all these under the guise of helping the housemates conquer their fears and traumas. It is supposed to be a free lesson on the dynamics of human behavior. I have nothing against helping people in this aspect. At the very least, it makes for good entertainment such as when people who have a phobia for snakes are forced to handle reptiles. However, it does not make for good psychology. It’s not that simple.

Helping people cope with psychological issues cannot be reduced to a few seconds of airtime. So in the end, it really does more disservice to the cause of mental health.

To cite an example, I have fear of heights. When this information was revealed at a dinner party, someone actually suggested that I conquer it by visiting the roofdeck of the tallest building in Makati and standing as close as possible to the edge until I am able to get used to the height. That’s what they do on those television shows, he said. Well, that’s really terrible and dangerous (in not downright fatal) advice.

We know that “Pinoy Big Brother” is first and foremost a business project designed to rake in revenues; that it needs to compete for ratings. Regular soap operas do this by adding more special effects and increasing body count. Obviously reality TV can’t do that although this edition certainly produced a number of casualties who had to be rushed to the hospital.

What “Pinoy Big Brother” has done is up the ante in terms of emotional manipulation. Their main tool has been to expose the weaknesses, the hangups, the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the housemates. They used to do it subtly. Now it is brazen. They even brought in a housemate from the first season known for his brutal frankness to perform a specific job description: To sow intrigues and to make the housemates fight. When that didn’t work, they resorted to airing taped conversations that were supposedly done in confidence. The show has just pushed the cause of counseling two steps back. I can already see guidance counselors having to deal with doubts about the wisdom of sharing confidences.

How did we get here? We simply expected a “teleserye ng totoong buhay.” We did not expect the show to package protagonists and antagonists that people can hate or love or choose from.

It is very easy to blame the housemates for the mess they find themselves in. After all, they responded to the cattle call and volunteered to be part of it. But they did so with hopes of earning a quick ticket to stardom and supposedly, a better life. I am sure they did not expect that they would be hated or ridiculed by the public.

Now we are seeing the ugly side of reality TV. At its very essence, it is about using people. It is about abusing those who are willing to submit to anything just to achieve celebrity status.

2 comments:

Jego said...

The housemates have become virtual puppets that are manipulated to produce “money shots”...

But Bong, that is exactly the point of the show: Big Brother. As in Orwell's 1984. Big Brother is supposed to manipulate them. Complaining about this aspect of the show is like complaining that there's dancing in Shall We Dance.

(Im proud to say that Ive never seen a single episode of PBB.)

Tonskie said...

I got this over the internet!

An Open Letter To The PBB Management

I would like to express my disappointment with PBB season 2 and its management. I know this letter will most likely be ignored but still I would like to vent my frustration over three things: (1) the misleading announcements/ teasers, (2) the grossly biased editing of the primetime edition, and (3) the livestreaming.

MISLEADING ANNOUNCEMENTS/ TEASERS

In the April 28 episode of PBB on primetime, Toni Gonzaga announced that a housemate would be forcibly evicted, but the identity of the said housemate will be revealed on the next day’s episode, April 29. So the viewers waited with bated breath for the April 29 episode. However, the April 29 episode only showed the confrontation which transpired between Bea and Maricris, ending with Toni’s pronouncement (again!), “kung sino ang mapapatawan ng forced eviction, abangan bukas.” The viewers waited with bated breath for this very important development, only to learn that the scheduled announcement was put off for the next day. Toni did not even explain why.

This is not the first time that PBB misled its viewing public. This also happened with the balut episode of Tina. It was announced in TV Patrol World and in the PBB Update of Bianca Gonzales that the balut episode would be shown on the PBB primetime edition that evening. However, the primetime episode only showed the same teaser shown on TVPW and Update, with Toni saying, “abangan ang buong kaganapan bukas.”

Are you doing this for the ratings, or what? TV rating is the only possible reason I can think of why you have to fool the viewing public. And fool us, you did.


GROSSLY BIASED EDITING OF THE PRIMETIME EDITION

Since the first season, I have already observed the one-sided editing of PBB shown on primetime to favor certain housemates. This season, the unfair editing is so disgusting. You can’t blame us if we think you are trying to protect a certain housemate because of your very crude and biased editing, as in garapal talaga.

I am referring in particular to Wendy Valdez. It is very obvious that you are favoring and protecting her because you never show her bad side on primetime, whereas you have no qualms in showing the bad side of the other housemates. Some of her bad behavior which you did not show on primetime include, but are not limited to, the following :

1. Wendy’s rudeness to Tina such as: speaking in Tagalog while looking at Tina then laughing out loud – Tina even had to ask her several times if she (Wendy) wanted to say something; while sharing a cigarette, Wendy commented, “ke bago bago, nakiki-share” ; while they were together with some other housemates, Tina was talking about Europe then Wendy said, “ang boring,” and immediately left; Wendy only talked to Tina because BB gave her a task.
2. Wendy and her cohorts having their backbiting sessions inside the prayer room, neither were they punished. The house rule state that, “The prayer room is a special spiritual place in the Big Brother house where you can contemplate, read the Bible or other spiritual materials, and pray. You are not allowed to hangout and conduct other activities in the Prayer Room. Keeping the place solemn is the rule.”
3. Wendy violated the “no mouthing of words” rule. Even Bodie, her ally, called her attention to this, but she was not given an automatic nomination. Her automatic nomination was for the lapel microphone which she turned off.
4. She called Saicy’s attention when the latter started to hang out with Gee-Ann, telling her, “akala ko doon ka na sa kanila.” Apparently, she does not want her minions to associate with the other housemates. And she had the gall to comment that the other girl housemates do not hang out with them! It is she herself who is creating a faction with herself as leader. Those not in her group are the subject of their backbiting sessions.

There are more incidents of Wendy’s bad attitude never shown on primetime. I don’t need to enumerate all, as I am sure, you are well aware of them. You just chose to ignore them to make Wendy look good on primetime.

Another disgusting thing about primetime is your tendency to show a particular event several days late. Whereas in the previous editions of PBB, events occurring on a particular day are shown on primetime the next day, now it’s shown two or three days after. And some scenes are stretched over several days like Wendy’s overacting reaction to Bruce’s leaving. The viewers had to suffer through it for several days. Oh, come on! We are fed up with the Wendy-Bruce “loveteam.”

I pity the viewers who rely only on the primetime edition and do not follow the events on the “24/7” livestream. They are the ones being duped. All TV viewers deserved to see both the good and the bad side of each housemate.


“24/7” LIVESTREAMING

Some subscribers sarcastically call the supposedly 24/7 live feeds as only 20/7. Why? Because they pay for 24/7 access but there are times you turn the feeds off to compel them to watch the unfolding events on primetime instead. You are cheating the subscribers of their money. And you claim “technical reasons” as your excuse. The subscribers are not stupid.

Another indication that you tend to favor Wendy: There are times when the two cameras showing the live feeds are focused only on Wendy even when she is not doing anything. Naka-tunganga lang siya, pero nakatutok ang dalawang camera sa kanya! There are other housemates in the house, why focus on Wendy alone? If your cameramen are so smitten with Wendy that they cannot help but focus on Wendy, at least assign one camera to the other housemates. The subscribers do not pay good money just to watch Wendy on live feed.

Would it be too much to ask for an improvement in your management of PBB?

I used to be an avid follower of PBB since season one but I am beginning to wonder if season two is worth all the trouble. I just hope your machination won’t backfire on you.

Respectfully yours, (You’ve lost my respect.)
Regretfully yours,
Anonymous