Up Drama Down

By: Reyshimar Arguelles

DRAMA has always been an important part of our media culture. It’s a form of entertainment distracting us from the trivialities of real life by exaggerating common forms of conflict. For every emotionally charged sibling rivalry over a mayoralty post, we get a love triangle narrative involving twin sisters and a millionaire bachelor played by Jason Abalos.

It’s simple why TV stations continue to churn out clichéd storylines featuring typecast talents and tired plot elements. The spectacle that drama brings is sellable as it panders to the emotional sensibilities of audiences. It draws us into conflicts where the role of the antagonist is to make things increasingly worse for the protagonist, who strives for a definite conclusion to all the hardship meted out by the forces of adversity. That being said, Filipino telenovelas are manufactured in such a way that we are expected to root for the good and lambast the bad.

Afternoon and evening soap operas portray a moral dualism that not only makes for an engaging story, but also influences how we consume media products. Consequently, we are made to suspend any attempt at analyzing the deeper implications of conflicts and, instead, subscribe to what the medium wants us to consider as good and bad.

This is exactly how the Tulfo brothers cultivated a reputation as journalists cum vigilantes out to defend the weak. Their presence across all mass media has made the Tulfo brand both highly feared and highly respected, despite the fact that the siblings employ a sensational approach when they act as the public’s foremost moralists targeting the demons that prey on the innocent.

A closer look at an episode of their public service programs Bitag and Tulfo in Action helps us understand the kind of format the Tulfos operate. Each episode establishes a problem encountered by a hapless victim of abuse by authorities or deceit by fellow citizens. In a bid to resolve the issues themselves when no other alternative is available, the Tulfos would directly contact the scoundrels and make sure they resolve the issue as soon as possible. When you answer a call from a Tulfo, expect the conversation to be diplomatic and civil at first, with a high chance of reaching a dignified conclusion. Things will only go downhill if you resist, refuse, and deny, in which case, your soul is at the mercy of Erwin, Raffy, and Mon’s barrage of insults and threats. This confrontational style of reality TV is what makes the Tulfos appealing to an audience that’s hungry for the next police chief or swindler to be put on the grill.

In their own world, the Tulfos project themselves as allies of soap opera protagonists in their quest to regain their dignity and defeat those who did them wrong. They are able to do this using a formula that has worked to their advantage until recently when Erwin Tulfo called out DSWD Secretary Rolando Bautista and berated the former army general over live television.

Current and former armed forces personnel didn’t take Erwin’s words too kindly and the Tulfo magic backfired when the military community rained down a flurry of condemnation on a media brand deemed impenetrable. The Tulfos’ penchant for creating drama has transformed them from protagonists into villains who are made to realize that their perceived toughness doesn’t put them at a moral high ground. What it does is simply the same thing soap operas are made for: creating a loyal viewership that adopts a watered down moralism.

Of course, the Tulfos are not the only ones who deserve a good ego beating. There are others who, like the Tulfos, also use drama to further their agenda, convincing us that they are on the side of good when all they do is muddle up the very definition of good.

The lesson we can draw out from all this is that acting tough doesn’t make you the good guy. Reality doesn’t work like the dramas we love. Here, there’s always a thin line between acting like a savior and acting like a demon.