Fandom, the Filipino diaspora, and media convergence in the Philippine context

Sarah Christina Ganzon

Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

[0.1] Abstract—In an analysis of AlDub (the romantic pairing of actor Alden Richards and dubsmasher Maine Mendoza) and its fandom, I focus on the show's combined usage of old and new media, which has implications for media convergence in the Philippine context as well as the ways in which fandom in this context is used to negotiate identity and belonging in the context of diaspora and deterritorialization.

[0.2] Keywords—AlDub; Fandoms of color; Globalization; Romance; Transnational fandom

Ganzon, Sarah Christina. 2019. "Fandom, the Filipino Diaspora, and Media Convergence in the Philippine Context." In "Fans of Color, Fandoms of Color," edited by Abigail De Kosnik and andré carrington, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 29.

1. Introduction

[1.1] On October 24, 2015, #ALDubEBTamangPanahon broke Twitter by bringing in more than forty-one million tweets within 24 hours (Hegina 2015). It surpassed a world record set during the 2014 FIFA World Cup in the competition between Brazil and Germany. AlDub is a Filipino supercouple or love team composed of matinee idol and actor Alden Richards and YouTube dubsmasher Maine Mendoza, nicknamed YayaDub after her character in the Filipino noontime show Eat Bulaga. That day, members of AlDub Nation, the moniker for AlDub's legions of fans, flocked to a sold-out charity event in the fify-five-thousand-seat Philippine Arena—considered one of the biggest concert arenas in the nation—to witness the couple meeting without any restrictions for the first time and potentially starting to date after months of making the most of their romance on split screen. This event was broadcast on live national television. Prior to the event, AlDub was also marked as a consistent trend setter on Twitter, with #ALDubEBforLove garnering twenty-six million tweets on September 26, and twelve million tweets for #ALDUBMostAwaitedDate on September 19 of the same year.

[1.2] The AlDub Nation is a fandom that is ripe for analysis. Firstly, it is a fandom wherein a large part of the Philippine diaspora population is noticeably visible (note 1). Secondly, AlDub gives us a picture of what media convergence (Jenkins 2008) looks like outside of North America and Europe and other Asian media empires such as Japan and Korea (Iwabuchi 2002; Shim 2006). Thirdly, the dynamics of AlDub Nation indicate the ways in which fandom can become a space to demonstrate citizenship and ways of belonging. In this essay, I explore all those points and signal the importance of diasporic fans in the study of fandom. The study of fans within diasporas can give insights into the effects of globalization and deterritorialization (Appadurai 1996) and ways in which belonging and identification are expressed.

2. New media, old values: Eat Bulaga and Filipino television

[2.1] Eat Bulaga, the show wherein AlDub had its beginnings, is the Philippines' longest running noontime television show; it started in 1979 and is run mostly by comedians. As a variety show, it features a number of segments, including talent shows, beauty contests, and shows for charity. While this form of television is definitely considered a form of old media, shows of this format have in the past few years included the use of social media to facilitate social interaction and to attract more millennials and Filipino migrants as audiences. Indeed, the Philippines lags behind in terms of ICT speeds and infrastructure (Camus 2018), but it has a technologically engaged millennial population, particularly on mobile and social media (Revesencio 2015). Moreover, its large overseas worker population numbering in the millions, many of them women, reportedly utilizes mobile technology as a way of connecting with family members across time and space (Uy-Tioco 2007). Indeed, within the Philippine media industry, AlDub has received much praise for bringing together the nation's largest audience groups: Filipino households, millennials, and the overseas population (Benguan 2015).

[2.2] AlDub starred in Kalyeserye (note 2), Eat Bulaga's soap opera parody segment, part of the larger "All for Juan, Juan for All" segment, a split-screen live telecast set on both Eat Bulaga's studio and an off-site location, usually impoverished Filipino barangay communities and suburbs. The segment's tagline, Magbayanihan tayo [Let's do bayanihan], indicates the segment's primary ethos, which is to invoke a sense of community and national unity. Bayan is the Filipino word for nation and bayanihan means "being in the nation." However, the more accepted use of the term is its use to describe "a spirit of communal unity, work, and cooperation to achieve a particular goal" (Yumul 2013). The concept can be traced to an old practice mostly in rural areas wherein townsfolk help families move houses by placing the house on bamboo stilts in order to relocate it to a new place. What this particular Filipino value shows is the idea of helping members of the community in need without expecting anything in return. A more common example of the word's modern usage can be found during times of calamity (such as typhoons) when there are calls from communities and the local media to help other Filipinos in need via disaster relief, donations, and funding drives. It is this sense of community and nationhood that "All for Juan, Juan for All" invokes, resulting in a form of bayanihan that is mediated by both television and social media.

[2.3] Previous scholarship has noted the existence of fan activism and other ways in which the lines between fandom and politics are blurred (Van Zoonen 2004; Bennett 2012; Brough and Shresthova 2012; Jenkins 2015). Kalyeserye and AlDub Nation thread somewhere along this vein in their use of the rhetoric of bayanihan. In keeping with the segment's primary ethos of bayanihan, Kalyeserye's hosts encourage AlDub's fans to participate in a number of charities and donations for impoverished communities. AlDub "Sa Tamang Panahon," for example, was a charity event to help build libraries for provincial schools (Bulaong 2015). Outside the show, fans both within the Philippines and abroad are also known to organize events among themselves—blood donations, book drives, and feeding programs, as well as helping gather support for the Lumads or indigenous communities in the southern part of the nation who have lost family and homes due to mining and armed conflict. In this way, AlDub Nation envisions fandom literally as a demonstration of one's citizenship and as an expression of belonging, particularly when the boundaries of the nation have been extended toward other shores where many Filipino workers contribute their labor.

3. Intimacy and the Filipino diaspora

[3.1] Love teams, or industry-supported romantic pairings, have been staples of Philippine cinema and television since the 1920s (Belleza 2017). They play huge roles in making films and shows more marketable. Apart from AlDub, other popular love teams include JaDine (James Reid and Nadine Lustre), KathNiel (Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla), and LizQuen (Liza Soberano and Enrique Gil). A number of them have their own social media campaign managers (and sometimes armies of Twitter bots), often using the very same infrastructure utilized in Philippine election campaigns (Thinking Machines 2016; Ressa 2016). AlDub is no exception, but in comparison to a number of Filipino love teams, part of the couple's appeal to the Filipino public is their reel-real romance, which often blurs the line between illusion and reality.

[3.2] Many would probably describe AlDub as an accidental pairing but one that the showrunners would eventually take advantage of. In 2015, Alden Richards, who had just wrapped a miniseries, was invited to host Eat Bulaga. Shortly after, Maine Mendoza, who initially gained popularity from her Dubsmash videos on YouTube, was hired to play a snobbish personal assistant named Yaya Dub who only communicates via dubsmash. Originally, both were only intended as temporary cast members, and both were known to admire one another off-screen even though they had not officially met. However, in one episode, Maine Mendoza accidentally broke character after seeing Alden Richards, giggling (kilig) (note 3), smiling profusely, and subtly flirting (pabebe) (note 4) via dubsmash with the young actor, who also flirted back. In response to positive feedback and the couple's on-screen chemistry, the showrunners decided to create Kalyeserye, a mock-soap opera and improvised comedy segment, around the couple, with a Cinderella-type plot and forbidden romance plot. To keep the reel-real aspect of the couple's interactions, both actors were severely restricted from one another, only being allowed to physically meet one another several months into the show. Indeed, one of the most common activities in AlDub nation is the collection of genuine romantic moments between the couple, both on-screen and off-screen (note 5), as well as online and off-line, thereby forming their own version of a collective intelligence (Jenkins 2008).

[3.3] The most remarkable aspect of the Kalyeserye segment is the split-screen interaction. This type of interaction was not specifically made for Kalyeserye, as it was previously used to simultaneously broadcast from Eat Bulaga's studio and the offsite location at the same time. This proved to be convenient for Kalyeserye, as Alden was often assigned to host in the studio and Maine at the off-site location. The split-screen type of interaction notably registers to a number of overseas Filipino workers who mostly keep in touch with their family long distance almost in the same manner via video calling applications such as Skype (Tamayo 2015).

[3.4] Another reason for Kalyeserye's popularity is that the show hearkens to premodern traditional Filipino values, such as respect for one's elders and the value of patience and perseverance, and to traditional Filipino courtship practices (Marquez 2015). A significant part of the plot involves Alden trying to appease YayaDub's employer and adopted grandmother Lola Nidora, who does everything to keep the couple apart and encourages the couple to wait for tamang panahon or the right time for each other. This is the reason why the charity event "Sa Tamang Panahon" was able to gather a lot of attention, as it is considered as the culmination of this particular series' arc by allowing the two characters to meet with no restrictions at last. In a lot of ways, it is also the show's way of capitalizing on a national nostalgia for a premodern Philippines.

[3.5] While it is easy to dismiss fans of this particular form of mass culture and mass media consumption (note 6) as cultural dupes, it should be noted that for many overseas Filipino workers and families, television is a way of coming back and remembering the people, the places, and the things one has left behind in pursuit of greener pastures for one's self and/or one's family (Cabañes 2015; Tamayo 2015). In this way, the AlDuB phenomenon speaks volumes about the myriad ways in which intimacy (Giddens 1991; Pratt and Rosner 2012) is refigured and renegotiated within globalized modernity. In the case of AlDub, fandom and mass consumption are used to demonstrate and negotiate belonging.

4. Conclusion

[4.1] Many studies on fandoms mostly have been focused on local communities. The existence of a fandom such as AlDub Nation begs for a translocal analysis of transnational fandoms, particularly as the case of AlDub indicates the importance of diaspora communities within fandoms. Future studies can look more into the various texts and rhetorics that tie these communities together and the various ways in which they use technology to organize and express belonging.

5. Notes

1. For example, according to Hontiveros (2015), for #ALDubEBTamangPanahon, two-thirds of the tweets came from outside the Philippines, with a large number of tweets coming from Europe, the Middle East, and the United States' west and east coasts.

2. Kalyeserye means "Street Series," pointing to the fact that it is unscripted comedy performed on Filipino public spaces brought to live television.

3. There is no English equivalent for this word. Kilig is used to describe that feeling of excitement when something romantic occurs. Breaking character allowed Maine Mendoza's kilig to become visible on screen.

4. Pabebe is a colloquial Filipino term for acting cute, especially toward one's crush. AlDub popularized what is known as the "pabebe wave" and made an event out of it on national television.

5. The most retweeted tweet of #ALDuBTamangPanahon was Maine Mendoza's (as herself and not as her on-screen persona) personal message to her costar after the event.

6. There is actually a Filipino term for this kind of mass culture consumption: pang-masa, which is translated as "for the masses." Sometimes, this is used derogatorily, but politicians also use this term to make populist appeals. It hearkens to the wide class divide within Philippine society.

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