November 17, 2003
JANET HOPE CAMILO TAURO
In the year 1996, “Marimar” entered Philippine television, and things were never the same again. When the sizzling Mexican telenovela “Marimar” aired in the government-owned station RPN Channel 9, it zoomed to the top of the ratings chart in June 1996, the country’s media giant ABS-CBN, with its P3 billion yearly income, almost fell down on its knees in defeat. The “Marimar” episode clearly stimulated certain radical changes in the country’s TV programming. For one, in the year 2001, Philippine TV programming remains pervasively characterized by translation.
All acts of translation are essentially acts of communication. Thus, when foreign TV programs, which are translated into Filipino through dubbing and/or recreating or localizing, are considered as acts of communication, the implications of their ubiquity in present-day Philippine television are instructive and enormous for scholars and critics of mass communications in the country. This is especially so as we develop translation both as a profession and an object of criticism.
As an act of communication, translation in Philippine TV can be categorized into two modes: first, the translation of Mexican telenovelas and Japanese anime into Filipino through dubbing, and second, the translation of foreign programs into Filipino by recreating or localizing its concept and format. Dubbing is an act of translation which refers to a technique used to replace totally the originally recorded audio without modifying the video signal to communicate the message to the target audience. Localizing is an act of translation used to adapt a product to the language, cultural, and other requirements of a specific target environment or local market.
The year 2001 saw the country’s TV programming bombarded with the first mode of translation: the dubbing of Mexican telenovela and Japanese anime. Every TV station has three to five Mexican telenovelas and Japanese anime dubbed into Filipino. ABS-CBN has popularized the telenovelas “Alicia” and “Camilla” and the Japanese anime “Digimon” and “Cardcaptor Sakura.” GMA 7, its closest competitor, boasted of its equally popular “Morelia” and “Monica Brava” and the Japanese anime “Lupin III” and “Pokemon.” Linguistic, politico-colonial, and sociopolitical factors have influenced the continued success of Mexican telenovelas and Japanese anime translated into Filipino.
The use of the Filipino language boosted the popularity of Mexican telenovelas and Japanese anime since about 80 percent of local programs are now done in the national language. Reciprocally, the telenovelas and cartoons have also elevated the Filipino language to a commanding level of popular acceptance. Imagine a Japanese or a Caucasian character speaking in the native tongue, the sight of which could not but have impressed viewers still in the thrall of colonial mentality.
One analysis often used to explain the phenomenal popularity of Mexican telenovelas is the cultural proximity to Mexico. The Philippines shares with what used to be called Nueva España 300 years of Spanish subjugation and was even ruled by the Mexican Viceroy on behalf of Spain.
Sociopolitical factors also explain how translated Mexican telenovelas have mesmerized Filipino audiences. The poor and oppressed, who constitute the majority of the Filipino viewing public, can obviously relate to the sufferings of Marimar, Monica Brava, and Camilla.
In the Philippines, to be poor is practically a crime. In the telenovela, the poor protagonist is always being blamed for crimes perpetrated by the rich antagonists. This might tell us much about the immediate appeal of these melodramas. But Marimar, Monica Brava, Alicia, Morelia, and Betty all fight back: this symbolic resistance to oppression Filipino viewers have been known to like. Given these situations of social crises and disappointment, the viewing public is left with no recourse but to seek consolation in fairy tales and the storylines that portray how they can fight back, even if only symbolically.
It is important to note, however, that aside from linguistic, politico-colonial, and sociopolitical factors, the production aspects have also contributed to the success of telenovelas. Dubbed telenovelas and anime proliferate because they generate a great deal of revenue but do not cost much to produce. Translators, some of whom are also dubbers, are not trained, and are therefore paid cheap. TV networks prefer to spend more on promoting the telenovelas than on exerting efforts to improve the quality of the translation and dubbing of these shows.
For instance, the RPN 9 executives admitted that they footed the P1 million-plus-per-day bill incurred by “Marimar” star Thalia on her visit to the Philippines in August 1996. In July 2001, the star of GMA 7’s “Monica Brava” traveled to Manila with all of her expenses paid for by the network. To promote the telenovela, the “Monica Brava” star guested in almost all of the GMA 7 shows and even in some of its news and public affairs programs while doing the usual tour of shows in crowded malls. But seven years after the “Marimar” episodes, no training workshop, no seminar has been conducted to develop or improve the skills of artists in the dubbing industry by the country’s TV networks and academic community.
A second mode of translation that has transformed the landscape of Philippine TV programming, most evident in 2001, is the translation of foreign programs into Filipino by recreating or localizing the former’s concept and format. “Dawson’s Creek” is translated into “Sa Tabing Ilog,” “X-Files” into “Okatokat” and “Kagat sa Dilim,” “Sex in the City” into “Attagirl,” “Charmed” into “Daddy didodu,” “Seventh Heaven” into “Munting Paraiso,” “L.A Law” into “Your Honor,” etc.
One factor that explains this other phenomenon is that since the inception of TV in the Philippines, the government has never really set quotas on the number of imported programs. But since TV has always been more of a local than a global medium, the number of foreign programs for 2001 has actually diminished. Despite the rising popularity of local programs, it cannot be denied that foreign influence continues to share the country’s television programming. This is seen in the proliferation of foreign programs’ concepts being translated or recreated into local versions. Scarce new ideas and the commercial nature of the television networks have also contributed to the abundance of localized programs.
In this second mode of translation, a Filipino version would try to adapt the light entertainment and melodramatic aspects of foreign programs. Light entertainment refers to the pleasures and values of a variety show type of program conventionally marked by the use of glamor and extravagance. On the other hand, melodrama refers to the way acting, editing, musical scoring and the use of the zoom lens work together to create scenes of high melodrama.
The Filipino version of soap operas have values of light entertainment since they also emphasize glamor, the use of locations and the presentation of promising and veteran stars. “Minsan Lang Kita Mamahalin,” for instance, uses mansions with imposing staircases, uniformed servants, candlesticks on tables, and scenery of vast lands. The characters of “Pangako sa Iyo,” Madam Claudia Buenavista and Ms. Amor Powers, carry the same kind of glamorous nuance, with their impeccable make-up and fashionable clothes which claim to be businesslike but which verge on extravagance.
Light entertainment is also present in the Filipino version of game shows with the use of hi-tech settings in “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?,” “The Weakest Link,” and “Korek Ka Diyan,” the sci-fi costumes of Kris Aquino, and the suits of stiff hosts Christopher de Leon, Edu Manzano, and Vic Sotto.
Just like its foreign counterpart, light entertainment is also present in the local situation comedy or sitcom programs. The sitcoms make fun of perceived social deviance like the flamboyant gays in “Pilya,” “D Pilot,” and “Arriba Arriba,” warring weird couples that always make up at the end of “Kaya ni Mister, Kaya ni Misis,” and there are “feeling-macho tambays” in “Cool Ka Lang.”
One can say that even in the local TV news programs, light entertainment is also present in the professional but fairly excessive attire of newscasters, the urbane setting, and the inclusion of humorous segments like that of Marc Logan in “TV Patrol.”
The melodramatic content of the localized soap operas, on the other hand, can be seen in the plethora of coincidences and last-minute rescues and revelations: Lea coincidentally saw her father with his mistress in “Pangako sa Iyo,” Catherine accidentally found herself in the home of her long lost father Ferdinand whom she still doesn’t know in “Ikaw Lang ang Mamahalin.”
Even local game shows have melodramatic content. “The Weakest Link” interviews the losers who criticize those who have voted them out of the game, and Edu the host disparages the players for not banking the money. The effect is dramatic. When “Game Ka Na Ba’s” winners give some of their earnings to their favorite charity, this is also dramatically heartwarming.
Just like the foreign version, the local news and public affairs programs are definitely melodramatic with their often sensationalized news reporting. Light entertainment and melodramatic elements are the ingredients for a commercial hit. Hence, these are widely used. However, even with an array of these commercial ingredients, some local TV programs still attempted to tackle social issues and won international and local awards for their social relevance.
ABS-CBN’s “Pangako sa Iyo” director Rory Quintos got a “Highly Commended” citation for Best Director from the Asian Television Technical and Creative Awards. The early part of “Pangako sa Iyo” took on the problems of farm workers, but the show was later lured into adopting a commercial formula. Due to so much focus on this, local TV programs, just like their foreign counterparts, fail to relate their content with audience expectations. These translated texts offer the audience a deliberately artificial world. Women are characterized as housewives while statistics show that a great majority of workers are women. Situation comedy is always about the poor even though being poor is no laughing matter.
Television is known as a hybrid medium inhabited by an extraordinary number of dichotomies. Ironically, however, the diversity of the TV world is not seen in the Philippines. TV is only about money. The two modes of translation pervade in TV programming because they make money for the networks. The TV industry thus focuses on how to master the technique of making shows that sell.
Public discourse about television remains nil, and TV is receiving little scholarly attention despite its potential yield for both linguistics and cultural studies. TV and its modes of translation are being sneered at by scholars and treated as a set of techniques or skills that needs to be practiced rather than as a discipline or field that needs to be studied and developed. The TV industry spends millions of pesos on research, true. But its focus, however, is not on television studies but on audience preference and ratings. Philippine TV after all has been and is still privately owned and controlled as a profitable commercial enterprise. The academic community and industry alike view the medium and its communication system only as a televisual representation technique.
Certainly, there have been various efforts to uplift the country’s TV programming. For instance, the Kapisanan ng Brodkasters ng Pilipinas (KBP), an organization of more than 150 members working for a free and responsible media, celebrated its 28th anniversary in April 2001 with a project to elevate broadcast media standards. In coordination with the country’s top schools and universities, the KBP has organized students to monitor programs which are violating the organization’s code of ethics.
Another effort to further develop the country’s TV programming was the holding of the First National Soap Opera Summit organized by the non-government organizations and the academe community. The conference aimed at integrating social issues in soap operas as a vehicle to uphold value formation, but the creative people of TV felt that they were invited to discredit their soap operas in light of the social issues and in the process ostracize them.
The National Commission for Culture and the Arts also contributed to the development of TV programming by launching in the early part of 2001 a 13-part series featuring 500 years of the country’s history. This was an effort to promote the people’s historical and cultural awareness.
These efforts, however, are not enough. There is still a need for the academic community and the TV industry to synchronize their acts and address the issues and problems in a common effort to develop television studies. There is a need to synchronize theory and practice. There is also a need to synchronize the academic community and the TV industry and begin to attend to the problems of translation, language, and televisual representations in present-day mass communication in a Philippine setting.
Discipline, which comes from the academe, and technique, which comes from the TV industry, should work together. The combination ought to receive priority attention because television studies, still unheard of in this country, is both concerned with discipline and technique. The academic community and the TV industry should emphasize both the acquisition of the theoretical background of the discipline and the development of practical skills in televisual representations.
They should work together in the ongoing, multi-faceted and often contradictory debate as to the true nature of television. No doubt the TV industry has grown. But is it growing up?