By Nickky de Guzman
Confession: it is hard to highlight one “idiocy” video that broke the internet, not because of the lack of it, but rather, its over abundance. From the absurdity of the Pen-Pineapple-Pen to the banality of this Pia Wurtzbach wanna-be, the internet is a repository of things, both good and bad; flop or pop. And in the pursuit of finding one absurd video to dissect and discuss, I came up with two realizations: Filipinos are creative and they are mostly idle.
“Creativity” and “idleness” may be polar opposites, but Filipinos show that indolence—sometimes—sparks genius. Dubbed as the Social Media Capital of the World, the Philippines has proven that it is home to a slew of seemingly stupid short videos made by arguably creative people who have lots of time in their hands, or, in today’s slang, “ang daming time!” but, at the same time, “matataba ang utak,” or a millennial speak to mean witty and funny.
From ennui to creativity?
An idle mind is the devil’s playground they say. It was just an ordinary day, some time in 2015, when Maine Mendoza decided to dub/lip synch some iconic Kris Aquino scenes and uploaded them online. Her videos went viral overnight, making her the biggest internet sensation that year and earned her the title “Yaya Dub” and “Queen of Dubsmash.” Few months after, she and her partner Alden Richards scored 41 television commercials and earned P200 million (and counting).
Like Maine Mendoza, another internet superstar called “Awra” had nothing better to do when he and his sister decided to upload his homemade video on Youtube in 2016. His viral video showing his acting skills scored him millions of views and instant television and movie appearances in ABS-CBN’s Probinsiyano, Super Parental Guardians, and Your Face Sounds Familiar.
While the two viral sensations are still visible online and on TV (and raking in more cash), there are some temporary personalities whose popularity flickered overnight, including the infamous “Pabebe Girls” and Mamon Girl.
While Yaya Dub is credited for her “pabebe wave” or a wave that imitates the Ms. Universe contestants, the word “pa-bebe” arguably may have originated from a teenager named “Mamon Girl.”
On November 25, 2014, a random teenage girl named Mary Elias, alone and with nothing better to do in a mall, decided to take a video of herself eating a pastry, while distinguishing how the poor and the rich eat their mamon (sponge cake). Hence, the moniker “Mamon Girl.”
She said in the five-minute video (here is the link ): “Ako lang mag-isa, wala akong kasama, sad.” She ate her mamon while pouting and projecting on camera. Her video, which was shared on Facebook and Youtube, garnered almost a million views, but also earned the annoyance of the audience (who I thought also had nothing better to do because they finished watching an irritating selfie video). Those who have watched her said she was “pa-bebe.”
And this is how the new word was born. “Pa” in Filipino is a prefix that means “to act like” while “bebe” is the bastardized English for “baby.” In short, “pabebe” means to act cute, innocent, and demure in real life, but especially on camera.
While “Mamon Girl” and her “pabebe” act was bashed online, there were, apparently, a tribe of other “pabebe” girls lurking on the internet who made their own videos to defend the growing “pabebes” in the Philippines.
Called “ang babaeng walang kilay” (the girl who has no eyebrows at the left wearing white) and “ang babaeng utal” (the girl who stutters and is wearing blue), random girls Janet and Michelle shared a video on Youtube telling people to leave them behind and let them be “pabebes.” Their 45-second video went viral, garnered almost five million hits on Youtube, and gave birth to many other parody videos and memes. (Here is the link to their video: Pabebe Girls )
Here is Maine Mendoza doing her own parody of the Pabebe Girls video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cuSxREvD6_U
The viral videos that hit the local scenes adhered to Olga Goriunova’s checklist. They are simple, comic, and homemade. The personalities mentioned above were very vocal in their interviews that they did their videos out of fun (and lethargy), and were not after the fame, that may or may not come with it (really?). And in their seemingly naivety and DIY-ness, they snatched the public’s attention.
But then again, not every raw and “idiotic” video posted online springs from the ennui of the everyday life. Some viral videos can be funny and heartwarming at the same time and are made with a greater goal. The recently viral hit video of siblings Bunak and Bilog is one example.
Here is the video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUP3GL0kr4U (Too bad our WordPress account cannot load videos here.)
While the one-minute raw video posted on Facebook and Youtube has successfully captured the attention of three million viewers (and counting), the video was solely made for one audience: the sibling’s father. Thanks to the popularity of the video, some television shows like GMA’s Kapuso Mo Jessica Soho, which are after the ratings, did a feature of the two kids and later revealed that Bunak and Bilog did the video for their dad who abandoned them, that’s why “gusto nila i-pasok sa Facebook.”
While Olga’s claim that “idiocy acquires a performative character; it is crafted, practiced, and re-enacted…” holds water, some videos go viral because of their unintentional rawness and comic relief.
The Bunak-Bilog short video was shot at home. It was unrehearsed. And while it was not “idiotic,” its comedic appeals because of its innocence. Bilog, the girl singing in the tape, said in her interview that she wanted to make a video, post it online, and hope that her father would see it.
The viral video captured the imagination and attention of our resident “Dubsmash Queen.” She made her own rendition of it, and as usual became a viral hit, gaining more than 10 million views online. Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hd335SWhFAg
Amid the popularity of such “idiotic” videos, I am left with the same sentiments Olga Goriunova shared on her study: “While it (viral video) is light and funny, it is dark in what it reveals and asks: the trouble of our current human condition.”
Why are viewers hooked on an “idiotic” video of someone eating mamon? Where do you guys find the time to watch some nonsense videos of cute cats and random people singing in the shower? While I am not saying I don’t watch mindless videos and consume senseless memes, I am at awe that people find the patience and the time to create and watch them. Is the Philippines—the texting and selfie capitals of the world—reduced to creating and consuming “stupid” videos to while away time? Aren’t we all supposed to be busy with life?
Democratization of space
The proliferation and democratization of today’s social media spaces stimulate our inner psychological beings of wanting to share, connect, and be heard, regardless of the content as mentally stimulating or not. Facebook, Instagram stories, and Snapchat are accessible, easy to use, and encourage us to create videos, especially the mindless ones because they are more relatable, albeit no-brainers. According to Tech Crunch website, Facebook alone is home to 100 million hours of videos being watched every day. While Youtube is a host to million more.
To answer my question why people create and consume idiotic video: because of social media mediation and the user’s appropriation. The topic on “idiocy” is highly related with our topic on popular culture. John Fiske said that the popular culture of the masses, and well the “idiots,” proliferate because of personal associations and meanings. He said: “Popular texts [including the idiotic videos] are inadequate in themselves—they are never self-sufficient structures of meanings, they are provokers of meanings and pleasure, they are completed only when taken up by people and inserted into their everyday culture.”
“If the cultural commodities or texts do not contain resources out of which the people can make their own meanings of their social relations and identities, they will be rejected and will fail in the marketplace. They will not be made popular,” Fiske added.
Youtube is an example of a platform that permeates semiotics. It was originally started by Pay Pal employees so they could share videos among themselves. And when it was bought by Google in 2006, Youtube grew bigger in reach, users, and uses. Now, everybody can upload videos, educational or idiotic.
The proliferation of idiotic contents and why they appeal as a popular culture is motivated by their relatability. Further, the democratization of media has also let people cross boundaries from high and pop cultures and educational and idiotic videos. What do I mean? I mean anyone of status can create “idiotic” videos in the context of the popular culture. Let’s take the classic example of Yaya Dub again. She was born wealthy, she went to De La Salle College of St. Benilde, she travels a lot, and I suppose, she has the means to acquire “high culture,” but because of the Dubsmash mobile application and Eat Bulaga show, she was able to relate to the masses and the popular culture because she was charismatic and relatable.
Now Yaya Dub generates more money by creating more “idiotic” (I mean banal) videos. The popularity of idiotic videos and our popular culture have always been intertwined with marketing, sales, and income. Fiske said: “…It is fruitless to argue against the basis that culture and profit are mutually exclusive terms.”
On marketing and drawing the line
Sometimes, the marketing aspect comes in after a viral video captures the consciousness of the masses. A good example is Marlou, a member of the local boy band called HASHT5 or “Have a Successful Honor and Talent 5” group.
The HASHT5 group creates music and dance videos on Youtube and Facebook, and its most popular member is Marlou. But he is popular not for his good looks, but the lack of it. Because of his “popularity,” albeit short, a facial care center called Flawless got Marlou as their ambassador and challenged everyone that they could make his face smooth and flawless. Apparently, Marlou became popular because he was often associated with pinipig crunch.
Despite all the fun in the world wide web, this is where things become more serious. Because people are only after the likes, shares, and the popularity of their uploaded video, they sometimes, or more often, cross the line and bash people, or even hurt themselves in the process. In case of Marlou’s, Flawless has encouraged the idiocy culture and public shaming. (After all, our discussions on public shaming, idiocy, and popular culture are intertwined.) This is a vicious cycle.
In the efforts to become “funny” and viral, some Facebook pages proliferate the culture of shaming, idiocy, and misogyny. An example is this:
This is downright idiotic and shameful. I remember we discussed this in the class on when and how do we draw the line. When is enough, enough? And when is an “idiocy” become too idiotic, it’s unforgiving? Unfortunately, in the name of more likes and more laughs, some have crossed the line with or without knowing it. I am echoing Olga Goriunova’s sentiments, is this the current human mind and condition?