Saturday, November 15, 2014

The other soap

WHY do happily married women follow the TV lives of unhappy wives?

My sister and I often start and end our day commiserating with Yvonne and bashing Victor. Yvonne and Victor are the Guevarras, not really our neighbors except by way of television and the internet.

In the television series, “Two Wives,” the Guevarras were happily married until Victor moves out and lives with Janine, unmarried but with a daughter. Since it started last October, the teleserye about awry domestic lives has also upset ours.

My sister works four days a week in Sydney, keeps house for a family of four, organizes her “free” days around cooking, cleaning, washing, marketing, driving her daughters and husband to appointments, and lately, spoonfeeding the family dog with a slipped disc. Yet, she finds time to follow the teleserye on the net or walks to her in-laws to catch the episodes on cable TV.

My husband comes home earlier so he can eat dinner before the drama starts. (I always thought he came home late so he would be too tired to analyze my meals.) When he couldn’t escape the Guevarras, he switched off the TV set twice and placed it once on mute. Even from the sanctuary of our room, he complains he can still hear me hiss at Victor or roll my eyes at Janine.

When I retorted that one had to imagine the sound made by a pair of rolling eyes, he said I was up to this feat because I could muster fake sympathy for fake characters driven purely by a TV formula for making money.

According to the late Emil Rizada Jr., a pioneer in Cebuano radio dramas as “Sebyo the Boy Wonder,” soap operas began as continuous radio programs sponsored by multinational soap companies. Since its real purpose was to sell soap, the radio soap opera then was written for women.

Today’s women have more on their mind than soap, but TV serials seemingly still appeal to a predominantly female audience. Given the power of the soap opera format—one proof being that TV networks will invest in local productions rather than feature only foreign imports—cannot audiences demand better scripts and empowering messages?

The character of the feckless, faithless husband is probably indispensable in a format that has to show the dichotomy of good and bad within half of the allotted hour (commercials, like villains, being necessary evils in mass entertainment).

But why the depressing overpopulation of spineless females in soaplandia?

A recent episode in “Two Wives” has Yvonne and her friends chipping in to buy her a bikini and a cover-up. The objective: wrest Victor from Janine. When a friend questions this tactic (of course, Yvonne is deaf to the bellows of enraged wives from all over the world and the blogosphere), the “good wife” explains that she has to win back her husband for the survival of their son.

Why toy with the power of the subliminal message? After the writers and director put her up on the pedestal as the blameless victim, Yvonne resolves to get back “her man,” the same lowlife who sexually, emotionally and financially abandoned her and their son.

If the same network producing “Two Wives” can include “relationship experts” in a reality show involving real couples, why cannot they conjure up a social worker to help Yvonne with the Battered Woman Syndrome, which keeps the victim in thrall of her abuser, even at risk of death?

If my sister and I could rewrite the teleserye, we would entitle this, “Solo parents”. It will be about coping: how Janine tells her daughter why she is unmarried (much simpler and saner than paying a man to stand in as the father); how Yvonne and Victor assure their son that although they’ve ceased to become a couple, they remain parents to him (don’t lie to children or assume they are not as intelligent and sensitive as you); and how Yvonne finds work, gets government aid, starts an enterprise, or goes back to school (sleeping with the enemy is not the only option left for those going solo).

In the early days, radio could make listeners believe anything. Noy Emil told me he met radio fans who could not believe the young man he was then was Sebyo the wonder boy.

If the teleserye dignified women, I, too, would become a believer.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu's November 16, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, "Matamata"

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