The Aldub Phenomenon

My September 8, 2015 column. 
Traffic around certain areas in Metro Manila and other key cities was unusually light last Saturday.  There were less people on the road; in fact, most were glued in front of their television sets.  No, there wasn’t a Manny Pacquiao fight on.  So instead of the usual cheers and boos, there was the intermittent shrieking and giggling as people swooned over the latest pop phenomenon to hit Philippine television: The Aldub romance, representing Alden Richards and Yaya Dub (Maine Mendoza).
In case you have been living under a rock in the last two months, it’s a short segment of Eat Bulaga, the country’s longest-running noontime show. Eat Bulaga people have invented the term “kalyeserye” to describe the segment as most of the action happens literally on the street of whatever barangay the show is doing remote telecast from.  On the show, Richards and Mendoza haven’t met physically and are merely shown via a split screen, interacting mainly by lip-syncing snippets of popular songs a la dub smash, and by writing and flashing short messages for each other onscreen.  Richards “performs” at the Broadway Centrum Studio and Mendoza out in the streets.  Mendoza plays the role of the yaya of the snooty Lola Nidora, who is adamantly against the relationship. 
The Aldub phenomenon has shattered new records in Twitter and local TV ratings, which has befuddled many.  So how do we explain the Aldub phenomenon?
I think the main attraction of the Aldub romance is that it has brought out our collective penchant for matchmaking, called “tuksuhan” in local culture.  We enjoy setting people up for romantic situations and in this particular case, everyone in the show indulges everyone else’s in the game.  We’re all having the time of our lives teasing Richards and Mendoza no end, and the two are more than willing to accommodate.
There’s also the spontaneity factor; the whole thing is not scripted and it is clear that everything is made up as the show goes along.  Everyone is improvising and the mishaps and foibles all form part of the show’s charm.  In fact, they stumbled into the “romance” purely by accident; in one episode, Mendoza was caught on cam tickled pink by an on-cam Richards and the audience lapped it up.  The show decided to pick it up and made it into the phenomenon that it is today.
 It’s also a hit because for once the audience is not at the mercy of scriptwriters and directors who, most of the time, stretch logic too far in local soap operas to the extent that dead people are resurrected and ill-fated lovers become siblings. Here the audience knows that all the plot complications are just for kicks, that Lola Nidora is a phony (he is a man, for crying out loud), and that everyone is in on the whole charade; there’s a lot of nudge-nudge, wink-wink going on and it’s all part of the deal.  Everyone knows that everyone knows that everyone is just pulling everyone’s leg.  Everyone can really have fun without the guilt and the second thoughts.
At the same time, the humor is organic.  Because it is mostly improvisation, everyone has to mine the situation for laughs and end up bouncing ideas on each other.  It’s like watching classic Pinoy stand-up comedy—sometimes they get a bit physical, or end up roasting each other, but all in the spirit of fun.
Because majority of the viewers (and those with the tendency to obsess) are women, younger people, and well, gay men, it is understandable that most of the adulation is directed at Richards. The shrieks released last Saturday every time Richards is shown on screen must have reached new decibel levels.  There’s also the fact that Filipinos really do relate with the señorito-maid complication which has worked in countless hit movies and shows. I can understand how many women can identify with Mendoza’s Yaya Dub/ugly duckling character.  The divides that exist between the two characters on many levels (physical, aesthetics, social, etc) add more spice. We are a people that find great fulfillment in the classic “langit-ka-lupa-ako,” against-all-odds syndrome. It is rooted deeply in our psyche; we are suckers for Pangako Sa ’Yo, Bilangin Ang Bituin Sa Langit storylines.
But we also know the Aldub phenomenon has a shelf life, which explains the many appeals to GMA-7 to delay the meeting between the two for as long as possible. People know that when the lovers meet, it would be downhill from that point on.  And finally, the show has wisely turned the whole thing into a multi-media event and of course people are always willing to jump at the opportunity to express themselves in social media.
I am not a fan of noontime shows (like most people, I have an 8-5 job so I don’t really get to watch noontime shows) so I don’t really know why the success of Aldub is being flaunted on the face of ABS-CBN’s Showtime hosts. For crying out loud, the Aldub romance may be new and charming and fun, but it has not elevated the overall quality of noontime shows.  But if it is any consolation, at least, on this one, we’re not total victims.   For once, everyone’s in on what’s really happening.


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