No matter how much we complain or give praise about it, it is a fact that stares us hard right in the face: our country is fixated with showbiz. It has become part of our culture — Filipino pop culture to be precise. From advertisements to philanthropy to politics, celebrities are almost always a focal point. Since the departure of strongman Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, who during the Martial Law years suppressed freedom of the press due to (alleged) circumstances beyond his control, emerging media moguls (led by ABS-CBN) somehow tinkered with the newly satiated freedom of many anti-Marcos Filipinos whose civil liberties were intentionally excluded by military rule. As emotions were running high during that time, new expressions of TV freedom (this includes TV Patrol’s rather controversial “on-air tabloid” style) were suddenly introduced to minds that had just been freed from years of media suppression. Not much later, Kris Aquino, the daughter of Marcos’ successor herself, became its prized darling and has been so for close to three decades already. Post-Marcos media’s coddling of suppressed liberties using glitz and glamour as well as appeal to emotion, including the enthronement of political daughter Kris as the “Queen of all Media”, is probably one of the reasons why celebrities from both TV and film have been treated by Filipino masses as if they’re demigods. The masses adore them more than anyone else, especially since the characters they portrayed on screen somehow mirrored real-life scenarios of the ordinary Juan de la Cruz. That is why their fame has even been used as a gauge for political readiness.
But fame, of course, is not without its repercussions. With fame getting into their heads, many showbiz personalities throughout the years have become notorious for acting like their Hollywood counterparts: their lavish lifestyle, foul behavior off camera, and personal scandals have been fodder for the very same ratings-hungry media which takes advantage of both them and their followers.
With the growth of Internet usage at the close of the last century, many have observed that TV and film appreciation may have reached a saturation point. Social media now provides a healthy avenue for Filipino netizens to look for new alternatives as against overexposed media brats. In fact, today’s revered media darlings (Charice Pempengco, Arnel Pineda, Bogart the Explorer, etc.), not to mention indie film breakthroughs, originated from the Internet.
But what happens when both TV and Internet personalities were put together?
“We’re moving towards the direction where both [social and mainstream media] have no choice but to co-exist,” observes TV host and talent manager Boy Abunda. And the first stop towards that direction is currently materializing on noontime TV.
For close to three months now, Filipinos all over the world via cable TV and the Internet have been glued to Eat Bulaga!‘s “Juan for All, All for Juan” (JAAJ) segment to witness an ongoing series that began in accidental fashion. The longest noontime variety show in the country has hit a goldmine with the unplanned formation of an unconventional love team between matinee idol Alden Richards and Internet sensation Maine “Yaya Dub” Mendoza. Eat Bulaga! since then has capitalized on the hugely popular tandem by creating what they call a “Kalyeserye”, much to the detriment of rival networks and to the amazement of pop culture observers, social media pundits, and even sociologists. Alden and Maine’s huge following has even given their love team a nickname which trends on various social media (particularly on Twitter) every single day: AlDub, a portmanteau of Alden and Yaya Dub.
And just how wild is this latest Filipino pop culture craze?
AlDub brings back reminiscences of our fanaticism over Mexican actress Thalía brought about by her “Marimar” telenovela during the early 90s. Since AlDub’s accidental inception last July 16, social media have been pregnant with reports about office workers who miss or adjust their lunch breaks just to catch the ongoing AlDub drama, with some arriving late or not reporting for work at all. School children have been vocal about their wish for class suspensions (one provincial governor took time to answer such clamor). TV sets inside malls, restaurants, and other related establishments are being flocked by customers during noontime. Bus, jeepney, tricycle, and train terminals with TV sets have waiting passengers tuned in to them, unmindful of waiting for the next ride. Many sari-sari stores and bakeries shut down operations whenever Kalyeserye is about to begin. A video of a little girl crying because of AlDub’s star-crossed situation became viral in YouTube. One militant solon unashamedly professed his support for the love team. Fellow showbiz personalities like Judy Ann Santos, Ai-Ai de las Alas, and many others confessed that they are fans of the love team. Even people from ABS-CBN, the heated rival of Eat Bulaga!’s studio GMA Network, were not spared from the AlDub fever.
OFWs are not spared from the craze. As in the case here in Filipinas, many AlDub fan clubs from other countries have sprouted like mushrooms, keeping themselves abreast of each episode. And speaking of other countries, US film giant Walt Disney Studios stunned its Filipino fans when it posted on its Facebook page two characters from one of its popular animated films commenting on the AlDub fever!
AlDub has also been breaking Twitter records. Last September 24, its
#ALDubEBforLOVE hashtag drew an astonnishing 25.6 million tweets! A week earlier, #ALDUBMostAwaitedDate was tweeted and retweeted more than 10 million times in a span of 14 hours (the final tally was 12.1 million). Guinness World Records is reportedly considering awarding the latter with the “Fastest Rising Worldwide Trend” Award.
How this love team is embraced by people from all walks of life, from a wide range of demographics, is certainly unprecedented and astounding. It would be thoroughly surprising to meet anyone who is not familiar with today’s most recognizable faces on both TV and social media. But for the sake of those who are still stuck in some kind of antimatter universe, here’s something to fill you in (and for the millions who already know, a reminiscence)…
It all began when Dubsmash, a video messaging application for mobile devices, captivated the interest of local netizens early this year. With the application, users can choose an audio recording of a well known recorded quote from an uploaded list and record a video of themselves in which they dub the quote. Usually, the uploaded quotes are lines from a movie or a TV program.
Enter Nicomaine Dei Mendoza, or simply Maine, a pretty twenty-year-old lass from a petite bourgeoisie family in Santa María, Bulacán. She graduated from an exclusive school where she took up culinary arts and had her on-the-job training in New York. As such, it’s unlikely for a pretty young lady with intimidating credentials to make fun of herself online, least of all distort her face for everybody’s amusement. But that’s what exactly Maine did to herself. Just a few months ago, her Dubsmash parodies of various people, most notably presidential sister Kris Aquino, have gone insanely viral, this because of her expressively creative ways of dubbing those persons’ lines, complete with body movements, make-up, and props to boot. Her facial elasticity and the preciseness in which she dubs made it appear as if she’s not dubbing at all, as if she really owned the uploaded voices. Because of her dubbing creativity, her Dubsmash videos became viral, with her rendition of Kris Aquino last summer earning more than a million views overnight.
Since then, any mention of Dubsmash will immediately bring Maine Mendoza to mind, at least in our country. Netizens now call her the “Dubsmash Queen of the Philippines”. And the buzz which she has inadvertently created caught the attention of Eat Bulaga! who then recruited her via Facebook. She was given the role of Yaya Dub which is short for Divina Úrsula Bukbukova, and her last name would be Smash, an ingenious homage to the video messaging application that made her an Internet sensation; yaya is Tagálog for nursemaid. Her responsibility as Yaya Dub is to be the girl Friday to comedian Wally Bayola’s snobbish and supercilious Doña Nidora Esperanza y Zobeyala vda. de Explorer, or Lola Nidora for short. Together, they join José Manalo and Paolo Ballesteros in JAAJ doing comedy vignettes in various barrios in Luzón while helping out less fortunate families (drawn through a lottery from the studio) by giving them food, cash, and other prizes from Eat Bulaga!’s wide array of sponsors.
Let’s face it: it is already common knowledge that GMA Network is behind its rival, media giant ABS-CBN. While some of GMA’s shows have proven themselves to be more successful over their rivals (this includes Eat Bulaga!), mainstream media popularity is being enjoyed by a majority of ABS-CBN programs. As such, many of the former’s talents are considered by many as second-rate compared to the latter’s stars. A marquee with the name “Alden Richards”, a GMA Network contract star since 2011, has less appeal if it were to be placed vis-à-vis ABS-CBN matinee idols such as Daniel Padilla or Enrique Gil or James Reid. So despite his string of successes in his mother studio, Alden seems to be “still struggling” when it comes to the mass appeal being enjoyed by Padilla, Gil, and other ABS-CBN male stars, as if he is still carving his own niche in local showbiz — all this, of course, was before the AlDub craze that is currently sweeping the Filipino community worldwide by storm.
Nevertheless, Alden has everything a matinee idol needed to have in order to succeed: good looks, good build, and admirably good manners. But the impression remains that his seemingly goody two-shoes image is just that — another good-looking fellow who will soon fade away from GMA’s supposedly lackluster limelight. Whatever fame Alden has couldn’t seem to go toe to toe against that of his more popular counterparts in ABS-CBN. One write-up even called him the “John Lloyd Cruz of GMA” (Cruz is one of ABS-CBN’s top stars), a comment which, of course, complements Cruz more than Alden.
Recently, Alden was given the chance to be launched as a major actor when he was given the weighty role of national hero José Rizal in the epic docudrama “Ilustrado”. Surprisingly, despite the name Rizal and the historicity attached to it, the drama series was not warmly received. It lasted for a mere 20 episodes, immediately forgotten.
The birth of a phenomenon
As many fans already know, Alden was hired by Eat Bulaga! in May this year as one of its many co-hosts, but only for a month-long trial period. He was followed by Maine a few weeks later. But they were not put together since Alden’s duties are studio-based, hosting a contest for attractive young men. Maine, on the other hand, is always on the road together with her JAAJ colleagues. The only interaction that JAAJ cast had with their studio colleagues, particularly Eat Bulaga!’s main hosts Tito, Vic, and Joey (popularly known as TVJ), was via split screen communication.
The magic began when Eat Bulaga!’s staff found out that Maine had a real-life crush on Alden who she has yet to meet. The staff then thought of pulling a soft prank on her by having Alden sit with the audience at the studio while Maine was doing her grumpy Yaya Dub routine (JAAJ was somewhere in Olóngapo). Then this happened:
And just like that. Sparks flew on their first split screen meeting. Local netizens immediately noticed the delightful interaction between Alden and Yaya Dub and were tickled pink with how the latter unintentionally broke character. Yaya Dub’s masuñgit demeanor was shattered beyond her control. For the first time since her TV debut, Eat Bulaga! fans saw grumpy Yaya Dub’s genuine smile. More “kilig” moments between her and Alden transpired in the following days. On social media, particularly on Twitter, netizens were on a frenzy, demanding more screentime for the two. It was during those early days when somebody thought of coming up with the catchy nickname AlDub which spread like wildfire. Eat Bulaga! management took notice of the well-received split screen flirtations which seemed to have overtaken the segment itself. And then there’s that huge spike in the ratings, of course. Noontime viewing habits have never been the same since that unexpected July 16 episode. Kalyeserye (a Joey de León coinage) was born and has been on a nonstop rampage both in the ratings and in social media.
Because of the craze, Alden’s career was rejuvenated like never before! Both he and Maine have become instant media darlings and endorsement favorites. Just recently, fastfood giant McDonald’s Philippines and cellular service Talk N Text have also capitalized on AlDub’s huge popularity by making both Alden and Maine as their endorsers. And even before their commercials were premiered for the first time (especially in McDo’s case), netizens were already abuzz with excitement. It can even be said that McDo’s AlDub TV advertisement has become the most anticipated TV commercial in local media history. Now they have more lined up.
But what made AlDub in particular and Kalyeserye in general tick among an overwhelming majority of Filipinos?
Explaining the craze
It can be argued that while AlDub is the centerpiece of the so-called “teleserie parody”, it’s the whole Kalyeserye itself that has captivated millions of Filipino viewers all over the world. Wally’s superb breakthrough acting as the strict Lola Nidora hilariously complements the eccentric nonspeaking Yaya Dub of Maine who merely “dubsmashes” as a way of communicating. And as Kalyeserye took flight to stardom, Manalo and Ballesteros followed suit in the zany acting, eliciting hordes of laughter and tears wherever they go.
Many have attempted to explain the reason for this phenomenon. One sociologist claimed that “Cinderella complex” is the underlying factor behind the craze, It holds water since Filipinos have been exposed to “clacismo” conflict (poor boy/girl falls in love with rich girl/boy) in local romance movies for many years, a phenomenon that can be traced to our Spanish colonial past since it was the Spaniards who introduced feudalism here. And that’s the core of the story of Eat Bulaga!’s Kalyeserye: a matinee idol and a nanny falling in love — split screen style, though. But the twist here is that the nursemaid’s rich boss (who is later revealed to be related to her) is against the blossoming love affair for reasons not yet clearly known (in the story, the reason is written in Lola Nidora’s diary, but it was stolen by a mysterious riding-in-tandem).
Eat Bulaga!’s Kalyeserye is deemed by many as a parody of telenovelas or teleseries (hence the name). But if you look at it closely, it is more than that. Teleseries are rehearsed and taped whereas Kalyeserye is delivered spontaneously. As already revealed in various interviews, the actors don’t have a script. They merely follow a storyline. In drama circles, this is called “improv acting”. And since it’s improv comedy, the actors are given the license to break the fourth wall from time to time, that’s why it’s not unusual for televiewers and studio audiences to see them trying hard to control their laughter whenever a fellow actor (or other Eat Bulaga! hosts on the studio) blurt out one-liners or rib them with other hilarities.
Kalyeserye’s improv acting adds up to the charm. However, it is but another ingredient to what makes up the whole picture. To put it more bluntly, Kalyeserye is essentially a zarzuela. In fact, we see several elements of it: comedic acting with matching colorful costumes, drama and romance, and much dancing and music — “Dubsmash” music, that is. And it’s all done on live TV, hence the “modern-day” tag. AlDub is a reincarnation of this now rare Spanish lyric-dramatic genre. The zarzuela, in fact, is an important component in our national identity because it has been a major part of our history for more than a century. As a Hispanic people, it is already in our genetic memory, in our DNA, Deep within the Filipino psyche is a nostalgic longing for this theatrical art form which has endeared generations of Filipinos since 1879.
(Incidentally, Vicente Sotto, the grandfather of Tito and Vic Sotto, 2/3 of Eat Bulaga!’s TVJ triumvirate, was one of the first writers of the zarzuela. In 1902, Sotto wrote “Maputi ug Maitum” or “Black and White”, a zarzuela in the Cebuano language).
Zarzuelas of old were also known to tackle and include social issues of the day as well as to impart values. These we see in Kalyeserye whenever the riding-in-tandem appears (the prevalence of riding-in-tandem crime incidents), whenever Alden and Yaya Dub show their split screen “lambiñgan” right in front of a very upset Lola Nidora (impetuous juvenile relationships), whenever Lola Nidora cautions Yaya Dub to act like a “dalagang Filipina“, and a whole lot more. And speaking of values, Kalyeserye has also been earning both praise and support from various sectors, most notably the local Catholic Church, for subtly imparting traditional Filipino values and customs that, sadly, are rarely practiced by Filipinos nowadays. As a matter of fact, we can boldly claim that Kalyeserye has Filipino values written all over it. We see this whenever Alden writes “pô” and “opò” in his fan sign communications with Lola Nidora and her two sisters Lola Tidora (Ballesteros) and Lola Tinidora (Manalo). We see this whenever Yaya Dub performs the “mano pô” gesture, bowing her head towards the offered hands of Lola Nidora, Lola Tidora, and Lola Tinidora as she presses her forehead on their hands. And that only strengthens our claim that, indeed, this show is a modern-day zarzuela because it imparts the appreciation of Filipino culture, customs, values, and even spirituality (Alden making the sign of the cross before a Catholic image as he enters Lola Nidora’s mansion in episode 63).
In Kalyeserye we see more of this Hispanic genetic memory of which we spoke of earlier. Remember the first time Yaya Dub broke character when she couldn’t control her smile towards Alden? She immediately covered her face with her abanico. Wittingly or unwittingly, she mimicked the Filipinas of olden times who covered their faces with abanicos each time their faces revealed their emotions. Her now famous “pabebe wave” is, in fact, a modest/demure way for a Filipina to wave towards her admirer. And need we mention that this novelty word is rooted in Spanish? “Pa” is a Tagálog prefix while “bebe” is Spanish for “baby”.
We all laugh at the “asaua ni” jokes being thrown around by cast members when, unbeknownst to many, it is a nod to the Spanish language’s gender rules. And need we remind everyone that the word Kalyeserye is derived from Spanish (calle + serie)? And of course, there’s Lola Nidora whose name was inspired from that famous Hispanic American cartoon character called Dora The Explorer. Lola Nidora herself speaks (broken) Spanish from time to time.
But how come Lola Nidora seems to have never aged in spite of the fact that she’s already 150 years old? All her three bodyguards are named “Rogelio”. The riding-in-tandem seems to come out from nowhere. In many episodes, we see Alden from one part of the screen hand out flowers and other gifts to Maine who’s at the other screen (in one hilarious episode, Alden hands out a glass of water to Lola Nidora; but when the latter, who is on the other end of the screen received it, it became a cup of coffee with a drowned fly in it). How come Yaya Dub (prior to episode 58) couldn’t speak? And who could ever forget episode 24 when Yaya Dub participated in Eat Bulaga!’s celebrity contest “Dabarkads Pa More”? After her performance, she was threatened by Lola Nidora, in the form of a witch, to immediately flee Broadway Centrum or she would turn into a fat pumpkin.
And the most bizarre yet most interesting part of all this is that the cast of Kalyeserye are able to interact with TVJ or whoever else is sitting on the JAAJ table, thus blurring the lines between fiction and reality.
There are lots of questions in Kalyeserye which nobody even bothers to ask not because the show is just a parody but because such questions don’t really need any answers. Or to be more apt, many weird occurrences in Kalyeserye just don’t require any explanation at all. Kalyeserye is simply out of this world and at the same time it is not because the segment still has to co-exist with the goings-on of Eat Bulaga! (Yaya Dub’s participation in the grand finals of “Dabarkads Pa More” in episode 75 best exemplifies this). This strange mix of fiction and reality is called magical realism.
Magical realism traces its roots to Latin American Literature, another Hispanic creation.
But it can never be ignored that the major selling point of Eat Bulaga!’s Kalyeserye is its so-called “kilig” factor between Alden and Yaya Dub. Kilig is a modernized spelling for the word “qilig“. Many say that it has no direct translation to any language. So let’s go back to history to find out more about its meaning.
On page 265 of the book “Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala” (published in Manila in 1860 by Spanish friars Juan José de Noceda and Pedro de Sanlúcar), we see that qilig is defined as “temblar el cuerpo por picado de culebra” which means “the shaking of the body as caused by a (poisonous) snakebite”. That is why today, we associate kilig/qilig to that shaking, inexplicable feeling whenever one is infatuated or falls in love. The split screen antics of Alden and Yaya Dub have given their fans an overload of kilig/qilig not only to the young but across all age groups, including married couples. Surprisingly, even the “baracos” are not spared!
What in the world could have caused this strange occurrence, that even full-blooded males are swooning over AlDub?
Aside from the clacismo conflict that was explained earlier, one telling reason is the fact that Alden and Maine (prior to the September 5 episode and all succeeding Saturdays after that) had never met or communicated in real life. The only communication they had for most of the time was through split screen and fan signs. To some, this setup endeared netizens towards the show because Alden and Maine’s situation reminded them of long-distance relationships that are linked only by the Internet. Many of them use Skype, FaceTime, and other related video chat applications to communicate with their long-distance love interests. However, not all netizens use such software. Therefore, we still have to dig deeper into the Filipino psyche…
We go back to Intramuros, the blueprint of all towns in Filipinas.
During the days when the sun had not yet set on the Spanish Empire, houses inside the Walled City were built so close together that neighbors could see the interiors of each other’s houses through their large windows. This set-up was taken advantage of by young lovers who surreptitiously communicate through windows at night. This romantic practice by young Filipino lovers during the Spanish times spilled over to other towns across the country whose houses were similarly built like those inside Intramuros — close together.
The above facts remind us of this once popular tale of two lovers in old Quiapò who communicated with each other only through the windows of their respective houses. They have never spoken outside of their homes; only through their windows. The boy once attempted to come close to his wooed who was then walking outside the church but hesitated especially when he saw his lover’s parents with her. This went on for a while until, no longer able to bear her emotions, the young lady challenged her lover to formally court her and to present himself to his parents. Their courtship eventually gave birth to the traditional habanera Filipino song La Flor de Manila, now known as Sampaguita (more about this story in a future blogpost).
During that time, Filipino suitors touching even just the hands of Filipinas were considered taboo. The only time that they were allowed to come in close contact to each other was during the day of their wedding. And that adds up to the thrill which we now call qilig/kilig. In modern times, however, all of this has been lost. The Filipino youth, Anglo-Saxonized to the core, have engaged in premarital sexual relationships in wild abandon, debasing love of its purity and truest form. That is why Alden and Maine’s first appearance together in split screen last July 16 woke up in us our latent Hispanic romanticism. The split screen were, in a way, the windows of those old houses where lovers of yesteryears whispered either puppy love frivolities or their undying love for each other.
Lastly, AlDub is not your ordinary love team. Unlike all love teams we have, they’re not what most showbiz-loving Filipinos call “pa-tweetums” or “pa-cute“. They are weird and wacky, making their tandem somewhat revolutionary. But most of all, they subtly spread Filipino CATHOLIC Values. That is why they have touched base to our latent Hispanic soul. AlDub has inadvertently reconnected us to our past selves.
Like many other pop culture phenomena, Kalyeserye will one day run its course. But the positive effect it has on Filipinos about rekindling their time-honored values will be for keeps. Let’s enjoy and cherish it while it lasts.