Well let’s face it: Do the telenovelas of Philippine TV really have anything to offer the common people?
I’m an upper middle-class Pinoy who lives with a lot of kasambahays who just love to watch telenovelas. While I hate said shows with a passion, I cannot help but notice a few issues with the said programs. Considering that my kasambahays are a good example of common Filipinos, I will hazard a guess that this is what most people watch in common Filipino households. So, without further ado, here are some of the observations I’ve made regarding many of the Philippine telenovelas I’ve been forced to watch over the years:
- Rich People are Bad: Here is a very common theme. Of course, again there will be people who’ll say there’s the occasional friendly tycoon or compassionate scion but these are usually the protagonists of said shows and are all too often not very realistic.
- The Myth: Wealthy people are shown to be vapid and prudish elitists whose only real interest is gloating to the masses and bullying impoverished protagonists. They have little time for their families because of business obligations and often throw expensive balls so they can flaunt their wealth and bully the heroes. With the exception of wealthy heroes, this is par for the course in most telenovelas. As a matter-of-fact, everything they do is a way for them to get ahead of the poor heroes and, if they show any generosity, it is a means for them to humiliate said heroes.
- The Reality: Wealthy people are often bogged down by business meetings and other company-related activities but one can guess that they also try to do their best for their family and make time for them whenever they can. They have extravagant parties and vacations simply because they can afford them and the demands of their day-to-day work often require a considerable reprieve. Since most rich people are usually educated, they can sometimes understand the situation of poor people better than the poor themselves and there are those who are actually willing to help. Unfortunately, a lot of poor people are uncooperative which brings us to the next item:
- Poor People are Good: Yet another staple of Pinoy teleseryes. Unlike the above, poor people are almost always good. The hero will most likely be poor or, if rich, will find a love interest among the poor.
- The Myth: Poor people are almost always the victim of rich people. They are often depicted as hard-working people who are usually just unlucky in life. If they are ever in a room with rich people, the rich will always find a way to bully them.
- The Reality: While there are poor people who are poor because of the way our system is, there’s the fact that the vast majority of them are poor because of their own doing. Now don’t get me wrong, I have friends who are impoverished but efficient but there’s the sad fact that these are actually the exceptions that prove the rule. Most poor families have fathers (or at least breadwinners) who are irresponsible and waste their earnings on destructive vices like alcohol, nicotine, extramarital intimacies and gambling. Poor mothers, while occasionally pretty good, are usually too dumb to object to their husband’s questionable practices and do nothing but produce more children with them. A lot of their children, who can be quite demanding and want gadgets and parties despite not being able to afford them, often don’t value education the way they should and simply drift like garbage in a sewer pipe. Poverty is NOT a permanent state and smart poor people eventually move into the middle-class and even become wealthy by making the right moves like staying in school and budgeting their money but this is something a lot of poor people don’t know. In fact, most squatters seem quite content about squatting.
- There is No Middle Class: This is probably one of the worst offenders of all as this creates a false dichotomy in society. I have met people who classify you as either “rich” or “poor” and that there’s nothing between them. In fact, I know people who like to call even the lower middle-class “rich” just because they can afford things that he can’t. False dichotomies are perhaps the most dangerous of misguided ideas because they invite you to take sides in a conflict that is either absurd or non-existent.
- The Myth: There are only either “rich” or “poor” people in society. If they have their own car, they’re “rich”. If their house looks shabby, they’re “poor”.
- The Reality: There are a lot of middle-class people in the Philippines. While they may not be as numerous as the poor and not as influential as the rich, they contribute a lot to the country’s well-being and are a capable force if they are utilized properly by the country. They are often smart and industrious and are the backbone of any other country. As of late though, the number of middle-class people in the Philippines is dwindling because many of them are finding it more profitable to live elsewhere, lending some reality to the claim that they don’t exist.
- Foreigners are Bad: This has close ties with item #1 but I often see a lot of it. This is actually quite ironic since most of the cast probably has some foreign descent somewhere. Common examples of this include rich Europeans, sadistic Japanese and vapid/insensitive Americans.
- The Myth: Foreigners are often looking to take advantage of Filipinos. They bribe officials to overlook their illegal activities and they almost always have hidden agendas. In the case of Japanese, Koreans and Singaporeans, they are often depicted as snobbish racists and, especially the Japanese, are associated with questionable sexual activities.
- The Reality: Foreigners are a mixed bag just like Filipinos are a mixed bag. However, unlike us, most foreigners have a strong sense of national identity and will always choose their culture over any other. This may seem insulting to some Filipinos but you have to understand that foreigners will always love their homeland more than ours. Another concern is that telenovelas poorly interpret the culture of foreigners and often depict them in a negative light often to cater to “Pinoy Pride”. Worse yet, I have yet to see a realistic and accurate depiction of foreigners in a telenovela like the missionaries and relief workers who came to help us in the aftermath of Yolanda.
- Life is about Revenge/Revenge is Good: One of the most common plots of telenovelas is where the poor protagonist gets even with the rich antagonist after getting rich him/herself. While this is often disguised as “karma” befalling the wealthy villain, it nonetheless comes off as too ironic or impossible.
- The Myth: A poor person who is bullied by the rich should take revenge on his/her oppressors once he/she gets rich.
- The Reality: A poor person will stay poor of he/she cannot get over the petty issues of the past. Really, revenge isn’t going to make positive changes in your life. It might make you feel better but using those resources for improving yourself (proper investment and expanding your business) is certainly more productive than using it to get even or get ahead of someone who burned you in the past. You can say that it’s a case of the “dog biting back” but at the end of the day, that just makes you a “dog”.
- Love, even When Poorly Thought Out, is Always RIGHT: Yep, this is one of the most common themes out there. Poor dude falls in love with rich girl and they get together or vice versa and live happily ever after. This is probably the worst offender out of all those mentioned here as I have seen it destroying careers and individuals over the years.
- The Myth: Love is always right no matter how impossible, impractical or absurd it may seem. Indeed, there is always the idea that one should always “follow one’s heart”.
- The Reality: Yes, everyone has the right to love who they want to but a plan for the future is necessary if you want the relationship to last. Following your heart is good, but guidance from your brain is also important. Love is important, as anyone will tell you, but it’s not the only thing that one should consider in life.
On the surface, these shows claim to be “slice of life” programs and attempt to show Filipinos the reality of life. Unfortunately, if that’s the case, then reality is very unrealistic. First off, women like Kim Chu, Marian Rivera and Anne Curtis look and behave nothing like the common Filipina. Filipinos are naturally brown or brazen-skinned (something that is often considered attractive in European countries) and their celebrities, who are usually quite pale and are often of foreign descent, aren’t exactly good examples of what Filipinos look like. Also, crime and criminals are downplayed: When was the last time you saw an instance of police brutality on prime-time TV and when was the last time you saw a realistic depiction of a squalid squatter’s area.
You can always say that telenovelas are just there for entertainment and nothing more. However, like what happened to people in Nazi Germany, people who have no choice but to watch these shows on a regular basis begin to incorporate these elements into their daily living and take them as truth. In fact, I see a lot of this in our neighborhood these days. As telenovelas continue to shove these misguided ideas into the minds of the masses, one can only wonder about the future of this country.
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