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3 ways to watch ‘AlDub’

12:21 AM November 04, 2015

Is it worth watching?

Two related incidents the other weekend compel me to take the “AlDub” kalyeserye seriously. Our former dean shared over lunch that she followed AlDub on YouTube. The morning after the concert, I read a friend’s post on Facebook decrying the stereotyping of Aldub followers as less smart for enthusing over an inconsequential show.

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Any cultural studies academic must render a far more cogent explanation of the AlDub “phenomenon.” If it’s right under one’s nose, there’s no way to evade its popularity. It appears that when mass culture opens an ukay-ukay, it’s located just across from the ivory tower.

Commentators take two opposite attitudes toward the kalyeserye. One is the elitist stance couched in paternalistic concern that the media have duped viewers and led them away from more relevant national issues. Lea Salonga’s kababawan tweet drew flak, but it has not deterred people like Gabrielle Michelle Aguillera from taking Salonga’s side. Al Christ Selim calls the AlDub excitement “misplaced hysteria.”

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Others express an indulgent attitude. Anthropologist Anna Leah Sarabia draws on archetypes to explain its massive following. Even sociologist and Inquirer columnist Randy David confers upon it a “postmodern sensibility.” I’ve heard that someone is teaching AlDub at the University of the Philippines.

Analysts of this camp possess some similarities. University-based, they’re endowed with cultural capital exclusive to an elite group. Their opinions are highly regarded for legitimizing a cultural commodity outside their circle. However, they bridge this social gap by justifying popular taste.

The elitists cry “Apocalypse!” and the populists hum “The masses know best.”

Stuart Hall, a British cultural critic, proposes three positions of reading TV programs that may help us toe the line between snubbing and romanticizing popular culture. We understand “reading” in a broad sense to mean the interpretation of cultural commodities that encompass verbal/nonverbal, acoustic/visual artifacts, or a blend of these forms. We can read a Tolstoy novel, a comic strip, a latest dance craze, a fashion must-have, a painting, or a kalyeserye.

  • In dominant-hegemonic reading, viewers interpret the program as its producers want it to be received. Since a TV program is a complex of denotative and connotative meanings, a hegemonic reading creates—most often unconsciously—a correspondence between the dominant ideology the program produces and audience receptiveness to the overt and hidden messages. For example, I can read AlDub as a love story that mimics the challenges I must face from disapproving parents and the socioeconomic barriers between me and my partner. It also confirms my belief in spontaneity (reality TV) as a measure of authenticity (hindi plastic). At the end, destiny will triumph because God has planned everything for the best. I just keep the faith.
  • Negotiated reading acknowledges these hegemonic messages of the kalyeserye, but negotiates its control over my life situations. For example, I can laugh at the actors’ antics and follow their adventures regularly. However, I don’t necessarily allow my life to revolve around the show. I will not extend my lunch break just to watch Alden and Maine. If I were a barber, I’ll attend to my customer first. I can take control of my media consumption by switching channels between commercials. I may appreciate Alden’s pamamanhikan, but I wouldn’t put up with a nagging future in-law. Or I could follow the AlDub couple, but I need not switch to brands they endorse. A negotiated reading could produce a failure in communication between the TV network and me.
  • Oppositional reading is the most enlightened type because the viewers are relatively aware of the segment’s main text (denotation) and subtext (ideology). Viewers interrogate the assumptions behind the plot, characterization, and “moral” lesson of AlDub. They employ fragments from the program as components to construct an alternative discourse not intended by the TV network. For example, I can read the Cinderella reference as a deficient narrative of real-life marital experience. The wedding doesn’t always result in a woman’s happiness. After the honeymoon, who washes the plates? Does #AlDubNation really represent the nation, or just an imagined community of fans? Why is the emotionally-loaded term “nation” appropriated? For which purpose? An oppositional reader may simply turn off the TV.

If we can identify how we consume media commodities, we avoid a facile postulate that parody, a postmodern technique, is a social critique. First, it’s not exclusively postmodern. It’s older than Chaucer. Second, a postmodern parody is self-reflexive. It is aware of its mediated nature and its complicity with the hegemony it contests. Without this awareness, parody can retard to what Fredric Jameson termed as “waning of the affect,” a disengaged depthlessness. The task of the public intellectual is to tease out the polysemy of AlDub and craft an alternative discourse. I call this “diffractionist” reading.

We can also exorcise ourselves from harshly equating IQ with cultural taste. They are different domains and must be judged separately.

So, do I follow AlDub? No, I have yet to finish Emile Durkheim’s “The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life.”

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Going back to the question: Is it worth watching? It’s worth reading.

Cyril Belvis is assistant professor at De La Salle Araneta University in Malabon City. He earned his graduate degree in literature at the Philippine Normal University.

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TAGS: AlDub, Eat Bulaga, Kalyeserye, Media
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