True confession time. I’ll admit it. I’ve just spent a joyous, kilig-filled weekend watching the inspired silliness (but is it really silly?) of the Filipino “AlDub” love team — Alden Richards and “Yaya Dub” Maine Mendoza — as they garnered a new Guiness World Record 41 million tweets, also filling a 55,000 seat stadium for …. what? Essentially, for a glorified episode of Eat Bulaga, a noontime variety show that’s been on TV in the Philippines since 1979. You ask: That’s what generated 41 million tweets? Yup. Confused? It’s worth trying to figure out because in watching this and sharing the experience, I find myself convinced that as a citizen of tired old jaded we’re-too-cool-for-such-nonsense America, we can in fact learn a lot about humility, empathy, resiliency, and pure cathartic joy from our AlDub-crazed Filipino neighbors.
What’s All The Fuss About?
Here’s a crib sheet: Eat Bulaga is a noontime variety show in the Philippines. “AlDub” is the love team combination of Alden Richards and “Yaya Dub” played by Maine Mendoza, hence AlDub — characters on the show. The show itself is a grand, unruly, joyous celebration of silliness every day at noontime, with many different segments, characters, hosts, and various moving parts. Yaya Dub is part of a segment of the show that takes place on the streets of the Philippines — she plays yaya (nanny) to the formidable “Lola Nidora” in segments filmed on the street in which a wacky group of lolas (older women, played by male comedians in drag, what can I tell you?) who give prizes daily to less fortunate viewers of the show.
So . . . Yaya Dub and Alden were working separate elements of the show and had no scenes together until one day in July when cameras caught Yaya Dub admiring Alden on a monitor — and from that accidental glance, alert producers sensed an organic love story and began to incorporate the budding but carefully unrequited romance into the show’s daily storyline on the Juan For All All For Juan segment — a storyline that included millionaire matron Lola Nidora (played with pure comedic genius by Wally Bayola) keeping the would-be lovers apart because the stern Lola believes it is not yet “tamang panahon” — the right time — for the two to take their relationship forward. The running story proceeds under the moniker “Kalyeserye”, literally ‘street theatre’ . . . . which is what it is, since a lot of it takes place on streets lined with fans.
Still with me? Okay, here’s the first time they met. If you don’t speak Tagalog it can be a little confusing but you’ll get the gist — Yaya Dub is doing her bit on the segment, then looks at a monitor and sees Alden on the split screen — and her reaction is priceless. Her eyes get big and it’s clear to the Greek Chorus panel of hosts that there’s an attraction — and they run with it, causing Yaya to basically blush her way through the rest of the segment as the hosts chatter away and give their opinions about what they’re seeing.
The Maine Mendoza Factor
Add to this the fact that Maine Mendoza who plays Yaya Dub is something absolutely unique in the corporate machine of Phiilippine show business — a self-made internet star whose selfie dubsmash lipsynch videos made her an online sensation before she joined the entertainment mainstream. Because of these origins, her particular brand of stardom has a far more organic vibe to it than is typically the case with rising “establishment” stars in the Philippines. She’s pure authentic viral buzz, not machine manufactured stardom–and add to that the extraordinary morphability of her looks, from fearlessly makeup free funny-face on her videos to stunning beauty queen when the situation calls for it, and you have a truly unique persona that is, inevitably, the biggest and by far the most deserving “crush ng bayan” (crush of the nation) seen in the Philippines in many years. She’s a genuine talent and don’t be surprised if people like Saturday Night Live come looking for her.
And Alden the Sincere Suitor
It may have started with Maine admiring Alden … but it quickly flipped with Alden tearing up as he sang God Gave Me You, and in virtually every nuance of spoken word and body language, conveying that he truly does see in his would-be paramour a beautiful soul that he wants to win. His genuine nature and gentle spirit are critical ingredients to the brew that has caused this to become so enrapturing for so many.
And so . . .
Alden and Maine are frustrated in their attempts to meet — and they pine for each other via split screen video, she from the streets, he from the studio — communicating via writing on pads and dubsmash lip synch, and waiting impatiently for Lola Nidora to give them the green light that “Tamang Panahon” — the right time — has arrived.
And that is what this Saturday event — the one that garnered 39M tweets — is all about. “Tamang Panahon” — the “right time” when Lola Nidora will finally allow the relationship to progress.
It goes without saying that a big part of what’s driving the craziness is the fact that people sense that there is a real attraction between the two — it’s not just for show, it’s for real on some level. How real, and how far it might go — well that’s a big part of the fairy-tale appeal.
Kilig-Power On Display
And so, this past Saturday, Lola Nidora finally acknowledged that it’s Tamang Panahon — the right time —
Throughout the broadcast, cutaways to the audience show faces that are completely enraptured by what they are seeing. There is as an honesty, and an unself-conscious joy to be found here, and to be envied if you can’t feel it yourself.
Is there a Larger Lesson From This?
I have to confess, I think I see more in this than even my Filipino friends do. Many of them see the whole thing as a little excessive, somehow a vaguely negative indication of Filipinos being sweipt up in some pop culture hysteria that is ultimately insubstantial and somehow vaguely demeaning to a culture that specializes, it seems, in being self-critical. They say it’s kababawan, meaning shallow. Really? I firmly disagree. I see it as something truly beautiful, life-affirming, even inspiring to my leathered old American self.
I see a connection between the unrestrained empathetic joy that Aldub Nation feels, and the strength and resilience and commitment and love of family that you see when you look at Filipinos laboring abroad as nurses, teachers, domestic helpers, construction workers, seamen, or any other job — separated from their families for long periods of time, sending money home every month, yet somehow keeping a smile and a sense of optimism and hope for the future. Frankly, I don’t see Americans capable of that kind of sacrifice and familial love — nor do I see them capable of this kind of unrestrained and unself-conscious shared passion for …. well, anything.
I see a connection between the joy of this experience and the strength, sense of humor, and resiliency of the victims of typhoon Haiyan — the smiling toughness of spirit in places like Samar, and Leyte. . . .(and I know what that’s all about because my wife’s from a tiny town on the southern coast of Samar, one of the ones that were devastated by Yolanda, so yes, I know . . . )
I see a connection between this ability to feel for others and something about Manny Pacquiao that touched the world. The luster may have gone off Manny Pacquiao a little in the Phililppines because, by becoming a politician, he has gone from a fairy-tale storyline like AlDub to something that Filipinos are naturally and quite reasonably suspicious of — political ambition. But roll the tape back a few years. Did you ever notice how, after a big fight, Manny Pacquiao would inevitably say his goal was to “make the people happy” — a statement that to an outsider sounds rather bland and simplistic. But contemplate the kind of “happy” that AlDub creates, which is the same kind of mega-charged “happy” that Manny Pacquiao created by winning championship fights in style on the world stage, that kind of transcendant, joyous moment of release in which the spirit soars and the shortcomings of life dissipate, even disappear. That’s what Manny was referring to when he said he wanted to “make people happy” — not the mild diversion kind of “happy” — something deeper, more meaningful — and that’s what Manny and AlDub have both created.
For me — there is something in the Filipino culture that I admire for allowing such an unabashed, joyous, shared celebration of “kilig” — that feeling of giddiness experienced either directly if you’re the one falling in love, or vicariously if you’re the one watching it happen and rooting the lovers onward. I felt it this weekend and and afterwards I feel both drained and renewed. I’m not sure what chemical forces were released within me — but I know it was a good thing for my health, my spirit, and my ability to keep on keeping on through the travails in life. Then I think about America and try to imagine something so magical and joyous taking root in the entire national consciousness here and I’m sorry — I just can’t fathom it happening. We’re too hip, too cool, too jaded.
The “Tamang Panahon” Fairy Tale of It All
The producers of Eat Bulaga are very shrewd, very smart people. They’ve been at this since 1979, and throughout that whole period they’ve managed to keep their finger on the pulse of a nation that in that time has gone from martial law to People Power to the Cory Aquino years and all that has followed since then. And so when they had that inspired moment when they saw in Yaya Dub’s attraction to Alden an opportunity for storytelling — they pounced on it, but they did so with a deep understanding of their countrymen and what makes them tick. The storyline they came up with is pure fairy tale — and the playing out of it on this past Saturday had about it as grand a sense of deliverance as Cinderella ever did.
Along the way, they also created a value-affirming juggernaut that has achieved a spectacular level of popularity while affirming and subtly shaping traditional Filipino values of humility, restraint, loyalty, patience — Tamang Panahon means “in the right time”, which is Lola Nidora’s explanation when she intervenes to keep the couple apart. To an audience vicariously wanting the relationship to bear fruit — it’s on one level an artificial barrier — but on other levels it’s teaching patience, it’s teaching respect for elders and tradition, and discipline, and in a larger and more meaninful sense it’s teaching a life-affirming belief that “in the right time” whatever is wearing you down, whether it’s a love that can’t be brought to fruition like AlDub, or whether it’s the pain of separation if you’re the overseas breadwinner and thus separated from your family at home, or whether it’s the fact that you live today in poverty — that sa tamang panahon, in the right time, things will be better.
It’s that larger interpretation of what’s going on with Aldub that really captures the special strength and resilience of the national character — a character that has caused Filipinos to earn respect around the world as hard-working, self-sacrificing, ever-smiling examples of love of family. They are able to do it, at least in part, because there is within the Filipino a superior capacity for joy, a unique capacity for mega-empathy with one another and thus the sharing of experience, that is superior to that of other cultures. Call it kilig-power — the capacity for shared, empathetic joy that created the intensity that led to 41M tweets.
It’s something to be proud of — and I’m proud to have been able to feel it too.
And with that as a VERY long intro …here’s the Saturday show, which you can view on Youtube….all the fireworks are in the last hour ….. Enjoy!
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P.S. Scroll down and leave a comment if you have a second. It’s great to hear what people are thinking about this phenomenon. Thanks!
I served at the U.S. Embassy in Manila from 1986-1990, then made movies in the Philippines from 1990-2000 including Filipino movies Umiyak Pati Langit and Anak Ng Dagat, and international coproductions Goodbye America and Legacy. I married a Filipina from Samar, Lorena Llevado, in 1999. We live in Los Angeles and hope to retire to the Philippines one day in the not too distant future. She and I and my writing pal Bob Couttie have books about the Philippines, Samar in particular, which we enjoy sharing.