‘Poetry is what is lost in translation.’
‘Poetry is what is gained in translation.’
Joseph Brodsky, Nobel prize-winning poet
‘Poetry is what gets transformed.’
Octavio Paz, Mexican Nobel prize-winning poet
‘Ang pagsasalin ay isang
(Translation is an act of subversion)
BS Medina Filipino fictionist, SEAWRITE awardee
When the sizzling Mexican telenovela Marimar
was translated/dubbed into Filipino (the Philippine’s national language) and ran in 1996 by the lowly government-owned
station RPN Channel 9, it zoomed to the top of the ratings chart in the Philippines, stunning the executives
of the country’s media giant ABS CBN network (yearly income: 3 billion pesos) into disbelief.
episode’ clearly stimulated certain radical changes in the country’s television programming but, more importantly,
it also revealed the counter-hegemonic power of Filipino viewing audiences and their ability to translate and transform the
received text and its televisual representations and the contexts from which these issue.
In this paper, the researcher will explore this question of counter
hegemony from or by the viewers of TV media and messages and how it confronts the most predictive forms of TV marketing or
programming designed by the industry’s executives and practitioners.
In media sociology and translation studies all acts of translation
are essentially acts of communication. (Hatim & Mason, 1997) Thus, when foreign television programs which are translated
into Filipino through dubbing and/or imitating or localizing are considered as acts of communication, the implications of
their ubiquity in present-day Philippine television are instructive and enormous for scholars and critics of mass communication
in our country, especially as academicians develop translation both as a profession and an object of criticism.
However, research on telenovelas and other translated television
programs remains nil in the Philippines.
Why study the popular telenovelas and other popular foreign programs translated or appropriated into Filipino? Some scholars
have asked this question. Because it is there?
Such an answer may seem flippant but actually it is precise. As the Filipino
critic Isagani Cruz (1997;53) says in an essay published in the Philippine journal Diliman Review :
‘The scholar who refuses to deal with popular culture soon
finds himself a hyphenated person, an intellectual on campus, an ordinary human being at home. The true scholar must see his
experiences [of popular culture and academic culture] as a totality not as fragments.’
In the first part of this paper, the researcher describes the ‘text’
as the foreign program translated into Filipino through dubbing and localizing, its televisual representations, and the production
and consumption contexts within which it assumes life and power.
In the second part of the paper, the researcher explores the counter-hegemony
of the active television audience/the Filipino receptor of the text as consisting in
their ability to translate the received text and thereby transform it and their
As an act of communication, translation in contemporary Philippine
television can be categorized into two modes: first, the translation of Mexican telenovelas and Japanese animae into Filipino
through dubbing and second, the translation or appropriation of the foreign program (Western, Asian and European) into Filipino
by recreating or localizing its concept and format.
Dubbing as an act of translation refers to a technique used to replace
totally the originally recorded audio without modifying the video signal to communicate the message to the target audience;
while localizing is an act of translation used to adapt a product to the language, cultural, and other requirements of a specific
target environment or local market.
Linguistic, politico-colonial, and socio-political factors have
influenced the continued success of Mexican telenovelas and Japanese animae dubbed into Filipino and the localized and/or
imitated television programs. These factors are everywhere present in the translated text’s televisual representations.
It is clear that the use of Filipino boosted the popularity of Mexican telenovelas and Japanese animae since about 80 percent
of local programs are now done in the national language. Reciprocally, the telenovelas and cartoons have also elevated the
Filipino language to a commanding level of popular acceptance.
Try to imagine a Japanese and/or a Caucasian character speaking
in the native tongue, the sight of which, its televisual representation, could have not but only impressed Philippine viewers
still famously or notoriously in the thrall of colonial mentality.
One analysis often used to explain the phenomenal popularity of
Mexican telenovelas is that of the cultural proximity to Mexico -- that the Philippines shares with what used to be called
Nueva Espaņa 300 years of Spanish subjugation and was even ruled by the Mexican Viceroy on behalf of Spain for a considerable
Socio-political factors also explain how the televisual representations
of the translated Mexican telenovelas have mesmerized Filipino audiences. The poor and oppressed, who constitute the majority
of the Filipino viewing public, can obviously relate to the sufferings of Marimar.
Since, in the Philippines, to be poor is practically a crime, the
fact that in the telenovela, the poor protagonist is always being blamed for crimes perpetrated by the rich antagonists might
tell us much about the immediate appeal of these melodramas. But Marimar and other well-loved heroines in the telenovela fight
back: this symbolic resistance to oppression Filipino viewers have been known to like.
Given this endemic situation of social crises and disappointment,
the viewing public could not help but seek consolation and courage in these televisual representations that portray how they
can fight back, even if only symbolically.
A second mode of translation that has transformed
the landscape of Philippine television programming is the translation or appropriation of foreign programs into Filipino by
recreating or localizing the former’s concept and format. Dawson’s
Creek is translated into Sa Tabing Ilog (By the Riverbank), Sex in the City into
Attagirl, Charmed into Daddy didodu, 7th Heaven into Munting Paraiso (Some Heaven).
One factor that explains this other phenomenon is that since the
inception of television in the Philippines,
government has never really set quotas on the number of imported programs (Kenny and Pernia, 1998; 79). But since television has always been more of a local than a global medium, the numbers of foreign programs
has actually diminished. (Jacka, Sinclair and Cunningham, 1996).
Yet despite the rising popularity of local programs, it cannot be
denied that foreign influence, particularly Western, continues to have a significant impact on the country’s television
programming. This is manifested in the proliferation of foreign programs’ concepts being translated or appropriated
into local versions.
Centuries of colonialism, scarcity of new ideas, and the commercial
nature of the television networks have also been cited as reasons for the abundance of localized programs.
In this second mode of translation, a Filipino version would typically
attempt to adapt the light entertainment and melodramatic televisual representations of foreign programs into local tastes
The Filipino version of soap operas has televisual representations
of light entertainment since they put emphasis on glamour, on the use of scenic locations, and the presentation of upcoming
and veteran stars. Minsan lang kita mamahalin (Only once will I love you), for
instance, makes use of mansions with imposing staircases, uniformed servants, candlesticks on tables, and scenery of vast
landed estates. The local actresses of Pangako sa iyo (This, I promise you), Madam
Claudia Buenavista and Ms. Amor Powers, assume the same kind of glamorous countenance, with their impeccable make-up and fashionable
clothes, which seem businesslike but which verge on extravagance.
The melodramatic content of the localized soap operas, on the other
hand, can be seen in the plethora of unexplained coincidences and last minute rescue scenes and astonishing revelations in
the story and plot.
Light entertainment and melodramatic elements are the known ingredients
for a commercial hit in the Philippines;
hence these are the widely used modes of televisual representation. However, due to the nature of these visual representations
as commercial formulae, localized TV programs actually fail to relate their content to the state and needs of the audience.
These translated texts offer the audience a deliberately artificial
world. Women are characterized as housewives while statistics reveal that majority of Filipino workers are women. Situation
comedy is always about the poor even though being poor is no laughing matter. Rich people are always burdened with love problems
when in fact surveys claim that this is one of their least obsessive concerns.
Why do these programs proliferate despite
the fact that the audiences are unable to associate or identify the visual representations with their local context? The answer to my mind lies in the power of the Filipino viewing audiences to receive
the televisual text, critically translating, producing and reconstructing it to suit their needs and interests.
Theoretical explanations that the audience is an active receptor/translator/transformer
of the text can be found within ‘cultural studies’, most apparently within the encoding/decoding model developed
by Stuart Hall (1980). Hall believed that the process of television encoding is an expression of linked but separate moments
of production, circulation, distribution and reproduction. Each of this process, according to Hall has its specific practice
that is necessary to the flow but does not guarantee the next moment. For instance, production of the text does not mean consumption
of its meaning as encoders/producers of the message might have intended. Consumption of the text is always from the point
of view of the person/audience who understands it. The receptor therefore, plays an active role in the construction of meaning
by translating the text based on how she understands it.
Hall (1980) also claimed that the audience consumption of the text
is not ensured not only because of the process but also because the television message is polysemic. The television text is
constructed as a sign system with various components. It carries various meanings; hence it can be interpreted in various
The text is however, ‘structured in dominance’ leading
to a ‘preferred meaning’. But since the audiences are situated in
various social positions, they are able to decode/translate/consume the text in various ways.
Following this, the researcher looks at the Filipino television
audience as active translators and creators of the received text who cannot be fixed as objects of TV but rather as subjects
acting their own narratives (Bhaba,1994) The researcher relates TV programming to what Bhabha identified as the pedagogical,
referring to the national narrative that fixes people as objects with claims to historical origins, and Filipino audience
reception to what Bhaba called the ‘processual’, which marks the people as subjects performing their own narratives
in the day to day acts of living.
These immensely helpful theoretical
accounts allows the researcher to assume that Filipino audiences can produce their own meanings of the text depending on the
way the text is structured and open-ended and on the particular domestic and cultural contexts involved.
One may therefore read the prevalence of foreign programs translated
into Filipino through dubbing or localizing as a manifestation that active Filipino audiences are able to transcend race and
One way to speculate the ability of the Filipinos to transcend race
and class differences into novel situations is because under conditions of underdevelopment they have been coerced to uproot
themselves and be rhizomatic, setting roots in new and often inhospitable environments.
About ten million Filipinos live abroad,
according to the country's Labour Department while non-governmental organizations on the other hand put the figure as high
as 7.5 million. Most Filipinos work in the Middle East, with the United States
the second-most-popular destination, followed by other countries in Asia.
A popular notion among Filipinos themselves is that the Filipinos’
ability to speak English and their Western- tinged outlook after years of Spanish and American colonization give them the
capacity to transcend their racial confines.
However, it is more than that. Oscar Campomanes (1998; p.2) recently
explored the ‘globality’ of the Filipinos in a theoretical essay advocating the adoption of a new paradigm called
Filipino Studies instead of the conventional Philippine Studies framework that limits the study of the Philippines as a national
and culture area.
‘The shift from Philippine to Filipino studies is more than
semantic; it is, in fact, paradigmatic as I hope to suggest here. It is a position and a project that is premised upon the
emergence of Filipinos as distinct constituencies and as articulate voices in the recomposition of American or global polities
and socio-economic orders within the last three decades; that is, as Filipinos, in large numbers, now exceed the borders of
the Philippines, as well as those of the United States and other countries where they migrate, work, settle, or create new
identities, communities, and cultures.’
In the Philippines,
powerful television producers can no longer dictate and/or predict what programs equally powerful audiences prefer. For instance,
despite the popular notion that the telenovelas and soap operas’ target audiences are the economically poor majority,
the upper middle class are also avid viewers of Latin American telenovelas. Even our former presidents Corazon Aquino and
Fidel Ramos have admitted to being regular watchers of Marimar.
On the other hand, those who are categorized as the poor and supposed
mentally challenged Filipino audiences are devoted viewers of news and investigative television programs which are originally
designed for the country’s middle classes. As a result of these unpredictable
audience preferences, news and investigative television programs are now using Filipino (the lingua franca of the Filipino
masses) as the medium of communication; and advertisements which used to cater to the economically upper class such as credit
cards and cell phones are now being shown during the timeslots of the telenovela and soap opera.
Filipino audiences are active producers of meaning and not passive
consumers of televisual commodities. Since it is difficult to speak with any exactness that the Latin American telenovelas
cater only to the poor and oppressed who seek consolation in fairy tales; and that informative programs are only for the intellectuals
and the rich, one can deduce that these audiences create their own texts from televisual representations filtered by their
own critical consciousness, history, culture, sense and sensibilities and relating these to their particular contexts.
For instance, with the localized programs, the visual images which
represent the very glamorous life of the rich people might manifestly provide entertainment and amusement to the Filipino
audience but this is only the first level of reception, for a translation of these visual texts ensues according to its relevance
The very relevance of formulaic scenes in localized soap operas
is that, ironically, they allow Filipino audiences to lament these texts as unrealistic narratives – as shown by public
commentaries elicited in television talk shows, surveys, restaurants, and street corners.
The People Power experience is another indication of the fact that
the Filipino audiences are able to translate the text, effectuate transformation, overcome class and ethnicity boundaries
and ‘localize’. For the second time in 15 years, the Filipino people rose to overthrow a corrupt leader. In 1986,
millions gathered on EDSA, Manila's main avenue, to demand
the resignation of dictator Ferdinand Marcos; on January 20 it was President Joseph Estrada, who was coerced to step down
after four continuous days of mass protests.
The immediate trigger for the four-day people's revolt was the collapse
of impeachment proceedings against Estrada, a mock trial witnessed by majority of Filipino television viewers from diverse
cultural, political and economic backgrounds. The president had been put on trial before the country's Senate in December
after allegations surfaced that he had accepted more than US$10 million in pay-offs from illegal gaming.
The televised proceeding, dubbed as the ‘telenovela of the
year’, was telecast by major television networks. Then, on January 15, the Filipino audience witnessed how Estrada's
backers, who had the numbers in the senate, voted to exclude vital evidence, prompting government prosecutors to walk out
in disgust. The pro-Estrada senators jubilantly cheered their victory — in front of a live audience of millions listening
to and watching the trials on radio and television. That night, the Filipino
audience as an active receptor, translator and creator of the media message, spilled onto the streets with anti-Estrada banners
and flags. All of these happened without the televisual text, for example, or the coverage of the developing political events,
directly telling them to revolt. The country is broke and under such circumstances, the backers’ efforts to cover-up
the president’s plundering of the country’s remaining wealth was revolting -- this is the message that the Filipino
audience created on their own. That night, the Filipino audiences transcended class differences and as a result, various cultural,
religious, student and labour groups joined forces in an effort to transform their political context and oust a corrupt leader.
With this experience the Filipino audience became confident. They
have brought down the government with ‘people power’ before and they know it could be done again. In this case,
the act of viewing was a live meeting between audience and text, between the two active producers/translators of meaning,
during which an exchange of ideas between them generated new meanings, new texts and new political possibilities.
Another indication of the ability of the Filipino audience to translate
the text and transform the context is manifested by Filipino artists. A local critic and national artist Bienvenido Lumbera
claimed that MTV Rock and Rap which are some of the most invasive forms of western popular culture that electronic media offer,
ironically, are being used to provide a critical language by urban artists protesting against nuclear stockpiling by the US in the Philippines.
Lumbera (2000;326) observed that:
‘Artistic creation in the Philippines is being shaped by the images that leap out of the
screen and lodge in some corner of our consciousness until summoned by a related experience that needs expressing.’
It is this critical Filipino consciousness evident in the viewing
practices and their ‘survival’ as well as localizing tactics that contribute to the making of Filipino active
receptions/translations of text and the concomitant transformation of receptor contexts in the Philippines. The consciousness is in the Filipino history, for their history is
a ceaseless story of struggle - against the Spanish colonization, then the Americans, then the Japanese, and now against abusive
and corrupt political leaders. It is in the Filipino language for they have the
word tao, a very active word that does not discriminate, for it can refer to male or female, homosexual or heterosexual, a
person or a group of people. It is in their being tao, in their capacity to survive, to struggle despite all the never-ending
man-made and natural disasters, because Filipinos believe that they can transform not only the text but also the context in
their day – to – day acts of ‘translations.’
Yes, television is a powerful medium in the Philippines considering that Filipinos watch about 200 minutes
of television daily. Yes, the prevalent television programs which are translated
through dubbing or localizing are irrelevant to the Filipino’s needs, interest and problems. But audiences, the Filipino audience in particular, can translate and transform these ‘irrelevant’
texts, can ‘translate’ across class and ethnicity and make the irrelevant text relevant to their contexts and