Rebel with(out) a cause-and-effect

Here in the Philippines, it seems like Sunday afternoons already became teen/tween show fare time on local TV.

While I was eating late lunch earlier, my habit of turning on the TV just to see what’s up still continues. And this is what I noticed: that the 3pm onwards time slot is kind of like the “newest” time slot for teen shows here in the country. I quote new because I haven’t been updated of when this has been going on. From what I remember in my younger years, Saturday afternoons were the teen target time slot. Sundays were reserved for lunchtime musical variety shows that usually extend for more than an hour, and then they are followed by a couple of drama shows immediately followed by the Sunday afternoon showbiz gossip shows. Well,  I guess shifts change. And here we are.

I guess it’s great timing to target teens during these times. Usually, they have been active during Saturday afternoons that it’s useless to air shows for them here, since they are usually out on gimmicks with friends, or participating in after-school activities and stuff like that. At least with Sunday, as it is identified as a family day in the Filipino culture, the teens/tweens are kept at home and are happily at home as well. So as the adults do their own thing after lunch with the family, the kids also do theirs. Captive audience, I suppose.  Which is good.

But that’s not what I’m concerned about. I’m concerned with what kinds of messages are being sold to tweens/teens in these shows. As a content creator for TV, I have been careful, too, to not write in harmful messages or anything that would also induce any kind of negative behavior among the viewers. Especially since I was a children’s TV show writer before (tweens writer now), it’s particularly tricky to toe the line of being realistic and being preachy. But well, sometimes the networks do that for you, because they often put down definitive guidelines for us writers to follow. And aye, there’s the rub, m’lads and lasses.

It's a good thing if you could also direct your own script since you could have more quality control. But that's not typical here. (September 2009 QC on location shooting an episode of Happy Land)

Looking at the three shows I’ve seen, I channel-surfed and tried to see how each show crafts their storylines in the three major channels today. I haven’t really seen some of these shows in full before since some are somewhat new-ish, but one I’ve seen before during its earlier season (the TV5 one). So the ones I caught were ABSCBN2’s Growing Up, TV5’s Bagets, and GMA7’s Tween Hearts. All of these shows, like any other teen fare, are ensemble type of shows featuring one group of friends or barkada as we call them, with different personalities, of course, to show different types of characters (for meatier conflict), and of course they have to undergo the usual teen stuff like angst, parental conflicts, conflicts with each other, and falling in and out of love.

Same same. What’s new? All teen shows reflect such storylines, but I guess what differentiates one show from another is treatment. And in this sense, I still appreciate the top two networks for this. Since I have been exposed to how ch2 does things this year, it’s obvious that their motto is “Melodrama rules!” because of their family core target, so thus any show there should have some parental figure, always, present in their shows, no matter if the show should be focusing mostly on teens anyway (meaning parents/teen exposure is given equal weight rather than merely inserting parental storylines every so often like what I saw in ch7). I guess that’s what I don’t really like with the network since sometimes, their audience intent overshadows their content focus. So thus, we get stories like in Growing Up where the parents should be in the frame there somewhere.

Tween Hearts, on the other hand, also had some parental insertion but only when the teen needs it, like that scene where one girl needed to consult her mother about her sister getting mad at her over some boy or something like that. That one is good since it’s needed very much, and it’s integral to the story of the teen. But what I don’t like with how the show was treated was that there were too many MTV-ish moments, like a montage of scenes showing the teens doing their usual teen stuff while a popular tune plays along. I guess this is also a way to hook the viewers since they identify with the songs as well, but just not too much, please.

And what I admired in treatment with ch2 and ch7 — which is the good acting and good handling of the story overall, meaning actors act realistically and characters don’t appear two-dimensional — is what I didn’t like in ch5. Bagets is full of two-dimensional characters and the handling of the story leaves much to be desired. Yes, it’s a comedy primarily but if they’re going to be true to the movie where this series was spun off — that classic Filipino teen flick of the ’80s called BAGETS — the humor there is realistic, not slapstick. In the TV version, it’s all slapstick: actors look like they’re acting (at least those with talent while the others who only look handsome and cute just, well, pose!) so no realism there to buy, storylines sound so ridiculous that no amount of execution could save it (like that three-way competition of running for some class office position; it’s a realistic enough story but the execution is somewhat lacking in depth) or if there are funny scenes, the treatment is kinda amateurish judging by the show’s production values (or the lack thereof, like that one dream sequence where schoolmates were supposedly laughing at this boy, and it appeared like about 20 extras were just packed in a tight garage of a posh house or something like that, but it’s supposed to be set in school). I don’t know; TV5’s drama department seriously needs overhauling, in terms of production values.

Sometimes, that’s also tricky: how real or seemingly real could you get in presenting situations with teens? Remember that being a teenager is like being a volcano about to erupt, especially with the onslaught of all those hormones, the teen angst, the changing tides of the body/intellect/emotional responses and such, happening all at the same time that sometimes, it’s hard not to be caught up in some form of rebellion or another, be it a small one or a huge one.

Remember that classic film REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE? That’s where my blog title comes from: James Dean shattering the all-American notion of the perfect all-wholesome all-happy teenager when that story presented teens being in emotional conflict and turmoil. “You’re tearing me apart!” is the classic line spawned there, when he was confronted by his parents who have been having problems of their own and not knowing that their problems also affect their teen son’s problems. Of course there’s also Sal Mineo’s teen character, perceived to be a closeted gay in that film (but of course that analysis only surfaced decades later).

Aside from this film, the '50s also started seeing more teen angst depiction which was earlier epitomized in JD Salinger's quintessential novel Catcher In The Rye, published a few years before Rebel came out.

And this is why I also admire some foreign TV series aimed at teens: because they are somewhat depicting issues that reflect the reality of teens. This is so unlike here where some TV networks insist on doing teen shows that are only full of fluff, or they merely present teens as happy-go-lucky persons without the real deep-seated angst that often torment teens. In short, Philippine TV sometimes tends to gloss over the real issues about teens. Or if they do tackle them, they are merely mush content to squeeze out more melodrama — for the ratings.

So thus, as a queer advocate, this also frustrates me since there have been shows that promote heterocentrism only. Where are the gay teens? Where are the lesbian teens? Where are the queer teens who are deathly afraid to come out of the closet for fear of queer condemnation? I wrote in an article before how I got frustrated with a concept development meeting before as someone ignorantly pitched a lesbian storyline where the lesbian would eventually turn straight, and the boss reinforced this with a sign of approval, because he said “naturally, the lesbian will turn straight in the end.” Sometimes I wonder which planet these people came from, that they are so far removed from reality. And to think that what they are creating is content based on reality, but whose reality are we depicting anyway? Certainly not ours, not us queers. Only them, straights, heterosexist ones at that.

Sometimes, these TV head honchos say they only produce shows that the audience wants to see. But how about us queers, especially queer teens? This is where media literacy should come in, as I think television needs an overhaul in how they value things when it comes to depictions. Yes, I know I’m dreaming, but if only to reflect realities that real teens face, like this teen:

My Australian queer mate just posted that link on FB and when I watched it, it moved me. Yes, how about his story, as a teen, living the way he is, and being treated the way he is, just because he is different? I admire the courage of this kid. I seriously wish there would be more shows to address concerns like his — because queer teens aren’t invisible, but television — at least Philippine television — renders us invisible.

So more than depicting the usual teen fluff — of having a crush on someone else’s girlfriend, reacting that a girl’s boyfriend still hasn’t replied “I miss you too” to her “I miss you” greeting, trying to reach out to a ka-barkada who’s brokenhearted, making macho competition compacts of “may the best man win” in courting one girl — think of the non-boy/girl storylines that could make a huge difference to those teens who do not follow the boy/girl structure, and yet are still full-blooded citizens of the TV nation that deserve airtime. Queer teens have problems and issues, too; they have storylines that needed to be told. Because like the heterosexual teens, they, too are human.

Like Santana. Watch this.

How come Glee could do it? Now this is a good queer storyline developing, as I blogged in my personal blog. How I envy writers who could explore such issues freely. Sadly, I may never be able to do that here in my country — unless I also start buying my own TV network to create programs they have been neglecting to create. But I know I’m dreaming.

I don’t know; don’t pinch me yet. I still want to have that dream sequence. Because as a TV writer, I don’t want to lose hope. Just yet.

Well, I don’t know. Let’s see.

~ by leaflens on December 4, 2011.

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