by Ace Aceron
“Creativity in the individual and collective process of becoming idiot produces phenomena that may be neither aesthetically brilliant nor politically very sound, but constructs forms of performance and craftsmanship that allow the inhabitation of the present, creating modes of living that explore the true through the false. Idiocy problematizes the mechanization and exposure of subjectification; it is light and funny, but also very dark in what it asks and reveals through its behaviour: the trouble of the current human condition.” (Goriunova,2012)
Early this month, Ashley Rivera, known for her online alias Petra Mahalimuyak, broke social media with another viral video on her much-famed barok Filipino accent. Five years and counting, Petra’s Youtube hits have communicated indirect satirical criticisms of Filipino pop culture and atypical behaviors. With her recent post on “Commonly Mispronounced Words”, Petra channeled her comedic self to mimicking showbiz personality Erwan Heussaf in his French tutorial video. Garnering around 234,000 views, 1,934 shares, and 9,500 reactions on Facebook, there is no denying that Petra Mahalimuyak has again proven her social media stardom. Pegged on Heussaf’s faintly self-absorbed and sophisticated showcase of French speaking, Petra’s version did not fall short on entertaining her viewers with the same degree of self-confidence, and a great deal of craziness and hilarity.
Unlike Heussaf’s video however, Petra’s purpose is pure entertainment with no intention to educate or display any sort of noble stature. It makes it idiotic in form and function, yet so interestingly loved by many. She is praised with comments of endless laughter, appreciation and fanaticism:
“Hahahahaha I love you!!! I’m not sure if you ‘ll ever get to read this so I’m going to fan girl na. I love you, you’re so funny!”
“Gotta admit i havent seen your vids in a while, but ive been a fan since waaaay way back. Happy to see you’re still you, still funny as hell and i still love”
“Been watching since what year? 2011? mygad i love her”
“Been a fan since you started YouTube. I witnessed people bashing the way you speak back then (di nila nagets na echos mo lang hahaha) and your come back video was bomb!!! Hahaha you’re the reason why I started watching YouTube videos! So amazed to see how far you’ve come”
Her secret must be in her consistent portrayal of a relatable alter ego – that which expresses a liberated self, unafraid of unconformity and social expectations. Her barok or thick probinsiyana accent, coupled with a seemingly unrehearsed mannerism of a trying-hard and pretentious socialite, may be a form of idiocy but at the same time a characterization of an inner consciousness repressed by norms of conduct and social inhibitions. The entertainment value comes with allowing this consciousness to bravely surface through a creative and superb enactment of a true-to-life situation or action.
In her take of Heussaf’s video, Petra flawlessly interprets the imperfect Pinoy English through the laughable pronunciation of words like “ambiance”, “any”, “mocha frappe” and “broccoli”. She captions her post by hinting on its humor and relatability:
“Commonly Mispronounced Words” Aminin nyo, may times na di nyo talaga alam pano i-pronounce yung isang word OR na-babarok ka ng di oras. It’s okay, that’s life. O diba? Ang late ko gayahin si Pareng Erwan. Hindi po ako marunong mag-french…. french kiss lang. Cheret. Anyway, hope you still enjoy this!
Studies on the alter ego also help us understand Petra Mahalimuyak and why she continuously captures the interest of the Pinoy netizen. According to Jason Laddock, people with alter egos seem to live in their dreams and have a life of what they had always wanted. They imagine themselves in the world of their dreams and reach their goals with the help of an alternative self. Most of the time the interest of the person and his/ her alter ego are the same and they try to develop it in their own manner. This applies with Ashley Rivera and the people who see themselves in her or in the character of Petra Mahalimuyak. Given social media as a platform and an outlet for the other self to exist, they create and live in a world where they can just laugh off their mistakes and imperfections, instead of being judged, ridiculed and excluded for them.
Besides her ability to relate and reach out to her online followers, Ashley Rivera is undoubtedly talented and skillful in bringing life and color to Petra Mahalimuyak. A quick look at her YouTube playlist gives us a range of impressions of her from being a playful mind, a bored person, to being a talented actress and a creative multimedia artist.
The social media diva is a curious case, much like someone diagnosed with a multipolar personality or like an accidental online hero whose sense of humor liberates us from a pretentious self-promoting society. This leads us to finding Olga Goriunova’s three elements of idiocy, simplicity, humor and craftsmanship or the do-it-yourself character in the Petra Mahalimuyak phenomenon. In her videos, Ashley through the person of Petra Mahalimuyak seems to have learned how to effectively blend the three elements as means for social media attention.
What made a simple homemade video a sensation is not idiocy itself, but also the elements of humor and craftsmanship made visible by the simplicity and straightforwardness of delivery. Goriunova is right in the case of Petra Mahalimuyak by saying that “it is light and funny, but also very dark in what it asks and reveals through its behavior: the trouble of the current human condition.” In the digital age, where validation and affirmation are earned through likes, shares and comments, idiocy has become a tool for social media supremacy. Ashley or Petra’s intentions on one hand could be self-serving and symptomatic of histrionic tendencies; on the other, it could promote the lesson of being true to oneself and provide escape to the unnecessary social pressures and the pseudo-standards in Philippine society (e.g. speaking in English with a highly Americanized accent). It is just hoped that through her influence we find more solution than trouble in the current human condition.