In October 21, 2014, award-winning essayist and journalist Chuck Smith first reported on the Ateneo Teleserye Elective. The article may be found archived in this link, though I have taken liberties to republish it here. But curiously, I was also able to locate my extensive responses to Smith’s questions. I am sharing my answers first, and then the article. This Philippine Star article, if I may say so, started out what became my sustained public engagement on the teleserye.
How did the idea to do a class on teleserye come about?
I have been studying closely Filipino soap operas for a long time, but only produced scholarly papers on them quite recently. One paper is coming out on Pinoy teleseryes after what I surmised as the “Korean turn”. Many of our teleseryes are slowly being patterned after the Korean dramatic modes, and in my recent discourse, I realized that this “phenomenon” so to speak is but another manner by which soap operas in the Philippines are being developed/redefined—of course, by market and global trends, etc. I was interested in trying to find out how the teleserye turned into what it currently is, and as a scholar, my response to this challenge is to provide a historical perspective. However, since my background is Literature and Critical Theory, I figured that the best approach to this was providing a Generic (Genre) one. Studying the genre of the teleserye necessitates a historical perspective. It helps trace the development of a genre in a particular time frame, and in a particular historical continuum.
Did you (or the people involved) encounter any difficulties to have such a class approved?
Proposing a course like this is not really new for Philippine humanities departments (English, Filipino, Cultural Studies) in general. In the Ateneo alone, departments have been offering courses on—believe it or not—Planets and Zombies, Game of Thrones (perceived in a Thelogical way), and Gender and Society. In La Salle, Harry Potter is studied as an elective—something unimaginable many years ago. In the academe, we call these courses pop cultural, and because they require the aid of other disciplines, thus they are “interdisciplinary”. What could have challenged the proposal of the course is the long-standing belief system regarding the “great divide” between high and low culture. The teleserye course got through! This, I think, reflects that much has changed in Philippine cultural studies—as in cultural studies in general. We need not anymore defend—to the death—the study of these texts—and we have to thank the likes of Soledad Reyes and Rolando Tolentino for clearing the way. My own studies of the teleserye is inspired by Dr. Reyes’ generic study of romance in Philippine Literature.
What will the course be all about?
From the syllabus: “This course explores the contemporary soap opera called the “teleserye” in Philippine television in contemporary times. Using cultural studies and media studies frameworks, the exploration will be historical, poetic, and aesthetic in nature, attempting to explicate the development of the genre as it was practiced, defined (and re-defined) in the last 30 years (the perceived “contemporary” by the proponent), beginning with the return of democratized Philippine television after the 1986 Edsa Revolution, until the most recent “Korean turn”. This course is designed for literature majors and minors wanting to engage in Filipino popular cultural texts, communication majors desiring to deepen their understanding of the genre, and all interested in subject.”
Are there already students who have shown interest in taking the teleserye elective?
I was told there are students intending to enlist.
How did you determine your viewing list?
Basically, I had to remember my own experiences of the soap. I had to list down all soaps I have watched—and that was my way of helping create a historical account of the Filipino soap. I was being my own informant, so to speak, my own autoethnographic subject. I also consulted with scholar-friends sympathetic of the soap/teleserye, and they suggested soaps that I have missed. Generally, I was trying to account for my own history of watching soaps/teleseryes, and that became the basis for the viewing list—which I have to say is arbitrary and not canonical in nature.
However, I choose the soaps for two things: (1) innovation; and (2) contribution to the development of the genre. I know it’s trickier than this, but from my own viewing, I’d usually remember how this or that soap was bold enough to do things not yet undertaken by other soaps of its time. Though I had to supply my creation of the viewing list with other substantive research and counter-checking (cross-checking Wiki entries on synopses, for example), I knew I was trying to make sense of my own history of viewing.
Why is there a need for the teleserye to discussed/studied in an academic setting?
We need to study the teleserye because (1) it is part of our culture, and (2) it is part our everyday. I say that the teleserye is often a misunderstood genre, and people can’t be blamed for complaining about its usual predictability and formula. What people don’t understand is that there’s much to be found in predictability and formula, things that may actually explain our social and cultural realities. The course, I have to emphasize, does not intend to defend the teleserye from its haters; far from it. I wanted to unearth those things that are covertly embedded in cardboard characters, worn-out violence, and stereotypes. In providing a generic study of the teleserye, I hope to able to show the hidden clockwork, so to speak, of the teleserye. It is very much informed by our history, by our contemporaneous realities.
Do you think the contemporary Filipino soap opera has influenced Philippine art and literature?
I will be bold to declare that contemporary Filipino soap opera is both art, and literature—Philippine art, and Philippine literature. It is art, but art that speaks to particular audience aspirations and “imaginings”, so to speak. It is also literature, because it is a text that writes our world views and narratives. I sound philosophizing (or namimilosopo) here, but thinking about how the soap influences Philippine art and literature, for me, seems isolating it as a “creative” text (and I’m using the word “creative” here to emphasize the creative potential of the soap in shaping popular consciousness).
My other approach to this question is intertextual. The question of influence seems to be a top-down approach to tracing the “development” of the soap opera genre in the Philippines. I still have to see how soaps influence Philippine art and literature in general, but I am pretty sure that Philippine art and literature shape the soap of today. The ideas of romance, of the hero, of overcoming struggles—all of these are embedded in our cultural forms. The epics have them, revolutionary writing, the short story in English, the popular novel-series and komiks in the Filipino languages. The foreign also informs the soap—since the soap is essentially of foreign import. Our current idea of drama is very much observable in the teleserye, and like many high-brow drama shown in PETA, Resorts World, or CCP, it dramatizes contemporary life. It makes us reflect about realities—even in their absurdest situations and forms.
What is the importance of the teleserye in Philippine pop culture? In Philippine literature?
The mere fact that the word has stayed on since its introduction by way of the soap Pangako Sa ‘Yo makes it already iconic. All the networks use the term teleserye to refer to soap operas, with innovations and aberrations, of course. Usage alone suggests that it has already been registered into popular consciousness, and the argument of the course is basically that the teleserye already exists as a dramatic form, as a new kind of literature that has to be explicated properly like other literary or cultural texts. It is here to stay, I think, and its industry usage points to a particular aspect of its staying power—the term was able to formulate for the public, an idea of the genre, and this genre is peculiarly Filipino. In my initial outlining of the history of the teleserye, our TV networks may be observed as constantly re-branding the soap opera to introduce particular genre niches—there’s the telenovela, of course, after the Latin American soap boom; there’s also the Chinovela/Asianovela/Koreanovela; in other instances, other name-types were used to define the kind of drama being produced, like the sineserye, the sine-novela, the fantaserye, etc. The teleserye has curiously found itself becoming the mother-term, so to speak, the encompassing umbrella term. I’m curious as to who in ABS-CBN actually invented it. He/She has invented a word, a genre term! A term which basically articulates the landscape of our daily TV viewing for many years now.
A website recently published an article on how the Pinoy teleserye “will never upgrade to Hollywood level?” Do you think this is true? Is there even a need for the Pinoy teleserye to “upgrade” according to the standards of Hollywood?
I really don’t see the need to upgrade to Hollywood level. We know that we’re not Hollywood. Hollywood has its own imaginaries, demons to slay. We have our own realities and fantasies to consider. Whoever is making this claim is gravely mistaken, and the comment speaks of an ignorance that is quite prevalent in social media nowadays. Our culture has long been afflicted by colonial mentality—and this statement, to me, is even passé. Are there even efforts to upgrade to Hollywood level? I think, we’ll have to give it to the networks, that they are not trying to do that, in the first place. There is, however, a curious turning to Asia, as seen in what I had dubbed as the “Korean turn”. I say this is curious, because we have long been considered “too Western” by many Asian cultural scholars. It may be considered an overreading, but this is just my take: the teleserye now is currently at a production high point because after mastering the Koreanovela (by way of translation, local adaptation) we ended up bent on claiming an “Asian” facet, finally. This Asian facet however is cosmopolitan, not necessarily and merely “oriental” in nature. If I would be allowed to say so, our teleserye in its current form is conversing with the globalized world, and not just Hollywood, if we pursue that Asian, cosmopolitan bent. We’ve had enough of 50 years of Hollywood!
You’re planning to do a dissertation on the Filipino soap opera? Where did this interest in the teleserye come from?
Watching soap operas all my life, of course.
The academic love affair however started with watching Koreanovelas. Since I had to wait for their airing, I eventually got hooked on local teleseryes. From then on, I became fascinated, because I was starting to see a lot of similarities between Koreanovelas and teleseryes. Consequently, I started writing about Hallyu, particularly Koreanovelas, and later on included Pinoy teleseryes in the discussions. I realized that one has to be crazy over these things before one could articulate about them critically.
Ateneo to offer ‘teleserye’ course
Chuck Smith-The Philippine Star
October 21, 2014 | 4:16pm
MANILA, Philippines – Mara and Clara, Maya and Ser Chief as part of the class curriculum?
Ateneo de Manila University students will soon have the option to take a course on “teleserye.”
Officially titled “Literature and Ideas III: The Philippine Teleserye,” the said elective—which will be offered as an open elective to students of ADMU in this schoolyear’s upcoming second semester—will attempt to study the “modes and development” of the contemporary Philippine soap opera. It is thought to be the first academic course in the Philippines to focus on the teleserye.
The course will require undergraduates to “explicate the development of the genre as it was practiced, defined and re-defined in the last 30 years” using “cultural studies and media studies frameworks.”
“This course is designed for literature majors and minors wanting to engage in Filipino popular cultural texts, communication majors desiring to deepen their understanding of the genre, and all interested in subject,” the course syllabus explained.
Students will also be required to watch episodes of a number of soap operas spanning from the past 30 years—from “classics” such as “Mara Clara” and “Familia Zaragoza” to more contemporary shows like “Iisa Pa Lamang” and “Be Careful With My Heart.”
Tom Rodriguez and Dennis Trillo of GMA-7’s ‘My Husband’s Lover.’ The 2013 soap opera is one of the shows included in the viewing list of poet and scholar Louie Jon Sanchez’s teleserye elective at the Ateneo de Manila University. Shows in the course’s viewing list include GMA-7’s ‘Amaya,’ ‘Encantandia, ‘Mulawin,’ and “Villa Quintana’ and ABS-CBN’s ‘Mara Clara,’ ‘Pangako Sa ‘Yo,’ ‘Dyesebel,’ ‘May Bukas Pa,’ and ‘Maging Sino Ka Man,’ among others.
It will be taught by poet and scholar Louie Jon Sanchez, who has been watching and studying the teleserye for several years now.
Sanchez said the idea from the course came about from his own scholastic explorations about the genre. He was also inspired by writer and scholar Soledad Reyes’ academic discourse on the Filipino romance novels.
“I was interested in trying to find out how the teleserye turned into what it currently is, and as a scholar, my response to this challenge was to provide a historical perspective,” he explained.
Why is there a need for formal and academic study on the Filipino soap opera, a topic that is considered a “low brow” by a number of scholars and critics?
“We need to study the teleserye because it is part of our culture, and it is part our everyday [lives]. I say that the teleserye is often a misunderstood genre, and people can’t be blamed for complaining about its usual predictability and formula. What people don’t understand is that there’s much to be found in predictability and formula, things that may actually explain our social and cultural realities,” Sanchez explained.
The course, he added, does not intend to defend the teleserye from its haters. Rather, he wants the course to “unearth” the clichés and stereotypes embedded in the soap opera and show how the genre “is very much informed by our history, by our contemporaneous realities.”
Sanchez also believes there is no need for the local soap opera to upgrade to “Hollywood level,” in reference to a viral online article that lists down reasons why the teleserye will not reach “the expert level” of US shows.
“I really don’t see the need to upgrade to Hollywood level. We know that we’re not Hollywood. Hollywood has its own imaginaries, demons to slay. We have our own realities and fantasies to consider,” he said.
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