‘AlDub’ and the culture industry
The culture industry refers to that phenomenon in which the powerful media manipulate people’s minds in order to reduce them to conformists. Theodor Adorno explains that television permeates people’s lives as a tool for mass deception. Consumer goods are peddled in such a way that they lure audiences into impulsive buying and mindless consumption, all for the sake of profit. The products promoted by the culture industry emanate from false needs, which point to the fact that consumer culture creates docile minds, making it easy for capitalist forces to control, dominate and take advantage of the masses.
Adorno, in explaining the advent of TV, mentions the problem of content. The programs people find on TV are often produced in order to make them passive and malleable viewers. Georg Lukacs, through his concept of reification, tells us that in such a situation, human subjects are eventually objectified. The capitalist material world takes over and subjugates the autonomy of the individual. Objectification is the alienation of men and women from their nature. The culture industry makes this manifest. In the culture industry, the human being confuses pleasure with true human happiness. Pleasure comes about by means of manufactured desires out of our false consciousness of reality. True human happiness is all about a life that is worth living.
In a world such as ours, people expectedly resort to virtual reality on TV in order to find an alternate truth to the ugly economic circumstances in which they always find themselves. This alternate truth is their way of justifying the kind of existence people have. This act of escapism from reality comes as some form of relief from the problems people face in their everyday life. It also temporarily emancipates people from the seemingly hopeless case of politics. But beyond politics, people hook themselves on TV because the alternative world it offers simply provides them with a sense of realism to their dreams and their most ardent desires.
One important element with regard to TV is the need to preserve the audience. The noontime show “Eat Bulaga” may have found the right formula for this. “Juan for All,” a segment in the show, visits depressed communities and poor households, and creates an impression among the people of the hosts Tito, Vic and Joey as helpful and compassionate—“matulungin at maawain sa kapwa.” There is nothing wrong in helping the poor. However, it may also appear as some form of negative behavioral reinforcement in so far as people resign themselves to their fate and irresponsibly depend on sheer luck in order to escape the poverty trap. Critics often point out that the poor are the most exploited sector in Philippine society. They are still being exploited.
People from all walks of life in our distinctly Filipino culture recognize and appreciate the good in “AlDub.” This fairytale-like moment of two human beings captures the human imagination because it appeals to human life’s most powerful desire—love. While the tendency to be repetitive at times with respect to its message also points to aesthetic mediocrity, to insist that it is superficial is wrong because it suggests that only those who purportedly belong to high culture are capable of deep thinking whereas the poor are not.
Before the phenomenal success of Maine Mendoza and Alden Richards in this “kalyeserye” of “Eat Bulaga,” millions of people across various demographics in Philippine society were attuned at one time to Isko Salvador, popularly known as “Brod Pete,” who parodied the TV evangelizing of Bro. Ely Soriano in the then popular “Ang Dating Doon.” Instead of lifting verses from the Bible, Brod Pete got his spiel from somewhere else. And instead of saying “amen,” his followers fanatically chanted “alien.” People found tremendous enjoyment in “Ang Dating Doon.”
It cannot be denied, though, that the ultimate winners of this phenomenon are the TV networks. Industry players undeniably make a lot of money when they hit the jackpot by finding the right combination. But the right combination should not be confused with the compatibility of two people who are acting as lovers. Human poverty, the lack of access to high culture where one may experience other options like the opera, may refer us back to that stream of false consciousness in which the masses may find themselves.
This reflection is not meant to take away anything that is good from what people feel about AlDub’s core message. It is wrong to dictate on people what they must watch on TV simply because someone thinks that he or she has higher aesthetic standards. Things only become harmful when people are no longer able to freely distinguish work from leisure. On a very positive note, AlDub may even be considered a healthy alternative to the senselessness of a Kim Kardashian video clip.
Christopher Ryan Maboloc is assistant professor of philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He has a master’s in applied ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden.