Not just about numbers

My September 29, 2015 column.
A friend who lives abroad sent me a message over the weekend, basically expressing amusement tinged with a bit of dismay that Filipinos were about to break another world record, this time for the number of tweets about a single event.  Like many other Filipinos, he was closely observing the mass hysteria over the Aldub phenomenon.  I empathized with him.  I told him he was in a better place compared to many others who got hooked into either hating, defending, or justifying their addiction to the Aldub phenomenon.
I am not sure if Eat Bulaga was successful last Saturday; but if not, I am sure it will just be a matter of time before they succeed in breaking into smithereens whatever existing record there is on Twitter.  The phenomenon is just heating up and I am sure they intend to bring the couple to the altar in a grand wedding ceremony in the coming weeks or months.  I wasn’t really sure what benefits—other than bragging rights—could be derived from hitting a gazillion mark on Twitter.  At the same time, I did wonder if people saw the possibilities and opportunities in the phenomenon.
For people who are still doing mental acrobatics trying to make sense of the Aldub phenomenon, check out the mass hysteria over the Nida-Nestor, Guy-Pip, Sharon-Gabby, and other similar pairings in the past.  I think I was in high school when the reunion movie of Nora Aunor and Tirso Cruz III was shown—and I still have vivid memories of the pandemonium that attended the screening of the movie.  They had to close streets because of the sheer number of people who turned up.  Of course the manner in which people express their adulation has already changed; fans no longer hold vigils and descend in full force at movie events to show their support—there are now social networking sites available.  Nevertheless, the world that we live in may have changed dramatically in the last 20 years, but we’re still basically the same deep down inside—we’re still a people who  goes gaga over love teams that defy social conventions.  We’re still big-time suckers for good old-fashioned romance, particularly those that involve Filipino cliché situations such as an attendant strict or authoritarian parent, class or economic divide, etc. 
To consider the whole preoccupation shallow, or lacking in depth or substance is to mock Pinoy pop culture.  Many major events and movements in the world have been sparked by “shallower” stimulus.  It can even be argued that the whole phenomenon is yet another reflection of the inherent inventiveness of Filipinos.  It’s basically improvisation at work, and those in the know are aware that improv is the most difficult form of comedy.  I also think that the set-up actually triggers higher-level thinking.  Unlike in a soap opera where audiences are required to suspend disbelief, the Aldub portion in Eat Bulaga goes to town with all its on-the-spot improvisation—the characters fumble their cues and everyone makes jokes about the kind of effort they make in stretching things too far.  The Saturday editions of the show basically happens in the vicinity of the Broadway Centrum in Quezon City and while the production people try to make it appear as if the characters run around and travel through a wide geographic area, the hosts make punch lines about how silly they all look because everyone knows they are in the same area, anyway.   
As I wrote in a previous column,  a major reason why people are hooked on the Aldub romance is because everyone is in on the whole charade.  We all know the various complications are made up and we all know that the people behind the show are basically pulling everyone’s leg—we all know we’re all just having fun.  Of course there are those who hope and pray that sparks do fly between the two characters and that Alden Richards and Maine Mendoza really do get attracted to each other in the process.  But most people are aware of the realities of the show, and move on with their lives after 2:30 p.m.  The madness is kept to a tight schedule.
But I do concede that there is a part of me that indulges in some wishful thinking; I do wish that the people behind the show see the immense responsibilities that come with the rare gift or privilege of having millions of Filipinos as followers.  I do wish that the people behind Eat Bulaga (or for that matter, Showtime which has a similar portion involving a broken-hearted girl who also got her five minutes of fame in social networking sites) find the moral courage to use that power and influence constructively. 
What is not being discussed is that the Aldub phenomenon has filled a need among Filipino audiences and it is up to the Eat Bulaga people to provide direction, and more meaning into the whole experience. 
So yes, while I do think that the current phenomenon is not necessarily lacking in depth, I think that perpetuating the same over time without any effort to channel it towards a loftier purpose is a monumental waste of opportunity.  Just imagine, for example, what 25 million tweets on responsible voting, or saving the environment, or even reducing violence against women and children can do.  This cannot be all about ratings. There is more to business than just cornering a lion’s share of the audience.
Similarly, I understand that the Iglesia Ni Cristo has also sent word that they intend to break the existing world record on the number of spectators gathered for a single movie screening event when they unveil Felix Manalo, the biopic on the founder of the religious sect, next month. I personally smell politics behind the whole effort, but there must be more to breaking records than just getting the numbers. Otherwise, it’s a meaningless exercise; like gathering dumb driven cattle.


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