Tuesday, July 05, 2005

 

Shit Ba Ang Nasa TV?

A UP Diliman freshman wrote GMA Network’s higher-ups to complain about Sis. The letter is an interesting jump off point for a discussion on media content. However, since the letter was not directly addressed to me, it may not be prudent to reprint it here in full. Instead I directly quoted parts of the letter that are examples of common complaints about Philippine Television. All opinions expressed here are personal and are not official statements of GMA.

“There is one particular morning talk show that really irritates me: Sis… recently, I have seen nothing but production numbers and mindless celebrities giggling about their love lives, which, believe it or not, sparks no flame of interest in a lot of your viewers. Believe it or not, not everyone in the Philippines want to listen to Gelli and Janice de Belen tease each other on national television about their past flames…You could use your network to educate the Filipino television viewers rather than dulling their minds with senseless ramblings…imagine how much better our country would be if they saw, instead of dancing men in drag, something that inspires them to reach a goal, something that will actually benefit the masses.”

Sis has gone through dramatic changes through the years - all in an effort to win the ratings war. Nowadays, the show can be described as talk-variety. Airtime devoted to interviews has been drastically reduced to give way to musical numbers. And in the very few talk time, there is a conscious effort to veer away from heavy, serious topics.

Believe it or not, based on our show’s high ratings since we’ve adapted this formula, most of our viewers like it. So I’d rather not believe the letter writer when she says that the production number and talks on love lives spark no interest in a lot of viewers. Which brings me to the first point of this rejoinder. Most people assume that since they don’t like what’s on TV, the majority doesn’t as well. Thus they get irritated with media’s insistence on showing the public what it doesn’t want when as an enterprise, we couldn’t insist on selling a product consumers don’t want.

Media (specifically Philippine free television) does not simply come up with TV shows without considering what people like. We rely on audience research, global trends, and most importantly, on ratings. I’ve expounded on ratings in another blog entry so there’s no need to repeat its significance here. You may boo the following statement but, yes, we just give what the audience wants.

In doing so, the pursuit of higher ratings compel us to study our audience – to be sensitive to what they want and what they need. Now do people really need musical numbers and ramblings about celebrity love lives? At 10:30 in the morning, yes. They want and need an entertaining program that will help them catch their breaths from the busy morning of preparing breakfast, ironing uniforms and sending off spouse, children or amo to work and school. They don’t need serious discussions on cancer and parenting as illustrated by the poor ratings of our episodes that tackled those issues.

Media – and media critics – cannot just ignore empirical data and show what they think is good for the audience. That is arrogance.

“The show’s lack of substance isn’t the only thing that disturbs me. There is a fairly new addition to the show that I can’t quite understand: the drag queen intermissions. Let me make one thing clear: I am not, in any way, homophobic, but the way homosexuality presented here is unbecoming, rude and insulting, even to the homosexual community. This kind of thing is the kind of thing that makes people homophobic – a man, scantily clad, showing not even a hint of dignity, lip-syncing to cheesy novelty songs, or, even worse, mutilating a musical masterpiece. These production numbers in Sis emphasize homosexuality’s “freakiness,” instead of making it acceptable to society. Channel 3’s (sic) Homeboy, is even less gay than Sis, even though Boy Abunda hosts the former.”

There are so many objectionable statements in the preceding statement I just wanna scream. The letter writer identifies as a straight female so she cannot possibly speak for the homosexual community. For the record, many of us gay media producers do not think that the drag queen intermissions (more popularly known as the Raging Divas) are unbecoming, rude and insulting.

Seeing the Raging Divas in their fabulous costumes and performing gaily day in and day out does cannot make anyone homophobic. Close-mindedness and prejudice do. I can only hope that the education the letter writer will receive from UP will make her see the light.

Media has been criticized for promulgating the stereotyped image of the homosexual. Now a more diverse portrayal of homosexuals can be seen on television. Boy Abunda is one of them. But the fact that he chooses not to impersonate female singers does not make him intrinsically a better, more respectable homosexual than the Raging Divas. Nor is he less gay. He’s simply different.

What the Raging Divas do is not easy. It requires a lot of creativity, technical preparations and practice. I say this to give them due credit, not to make those freaky homosexuals acceptable to society. For the longest time, daytime TV has steered clear of drag queens because they do not rate...until the Raging Divas came along. While “society’s acceptance” is no longer the goal of the gay movement, it is refreshing that empirical data suggests that the conservative daytime audience has realized that men in drag are no longer objectionable.

“Please do not dismiss these words as something a (sic) naïve dream, because all things good come from dreams, however small or ambitious they may be. If what your network claims to be is true, if you really are concerned about the people, be a true Kapuso and make an effort to change the trend of deteriorating values.”

In Entertainment Media viewer opinions expressed through mail or phone calls are taken seriously since it is believed na sa bawat isang nagreklamo, marami pa ang ganu’n din ang nararamdaman. Audience preference has a big impact on TV content. In fact, if enough steam is made over an objectionable TV program, media may yield notwithstanding the ratings.

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