Manila Vanilla

What it's like to be a U.S. Fulbright scholar, basketball player, journalist, and the whitest man in Metro Manila.

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Location: Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

New Yorker by birth, shipped across the globe to the world of malls, shanty-towns, patronage, corruption, basketball and a curious burnt-toast smell that wafts around at dusk

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Only Place GMA meets Obama

This commercial will not surprise any Filipino readers, as I'm pretty sure it was played around the clock during PBA games, TV Patrol, Wowowee and every other widely-watched program on Philippine network television. I saw at least one actual TV Patrol segment about the commercial and it's Barry O'Bomber look-a-like star, who although first rumored to be Pinoy, turned out to be Indonesian (this seems appropriate, given Obama's upbringing).

One quick side note: Look-a-likes are universally funny. Everywhere I've traveled (which isn't that many places, but at least I grew up in a diverse city), people like look-a-likes. But nowhere have people loved them as much as in the Philippines, where finding kamukhas is a tier-two national pastime just behind basketball, cockfighting and videoke. I remember traveling to a PBA game in Bacolod City with the Alaska Aces in 2007, where the night before the game I spent almost two hours sitting in front of a TV with five of the players, all of us watching and pointing out kamukhas for each other and anyone else we happened to know. When the albino Filipino comedian Redford White came up on screen, my white ass was toast. But no matter how realistic --  or, as was more often the case, unrealistic -- the resemblance between two kamukhas, the response was the same: uproarious laughter.

Back to the president. The commodification of Obama's image is nothing new. It probably culminated during the week of the inauguration last January, when T-shirt and tchotchke vendors inundated Washington, D.C., gold rush-style and even the official presidential inauguration committee got in on the action with its online store and boutique near the Mall. I'm already sickened by the flood of carbon copy books about Obama, none offering much that hasn't already been on TV or online, and I know the deluge isn't over. So it's no surprise that Obama -- or his Indonesian doppelganger -- is popping up in commercials. And while I have not scoured the Web for amusing Obama commercials from every spot on the globe, it's hard for me to imagine enjoying one more than I enjoy this one from the Philippines.

For starters, the kamukhas are great. The Obama lookalike is very close, but beyond that, he's got a slightly goofy manner that tells viewers to get ready to laugh. The Gloria Macapagal Arroyo lookalike is laughably bad in terms of resemblance, which I believe reflects the mostly negative public opinion of her in the Philippines. She was sworn into office the same day as George W. Bush, and it's looking like her presidency will end in a similar state of disgrace. I'm confident that I could find a woman bearing a closer resemblance to GMA in the ladies' car of the MRT any weekday morning in Manila. So it says something that the producers of the commercial decided to hire this more gremlin-ish character, and, of course, that they chose to slap the hyperbolic upper lip mole on her. 

The commercial's jokes fall into the English-Tagalog wordplay genre, which is rife with puns that are humiliatingly corny but also irresistible. 

"Try our kare-kare, it's OKs!" says GMA. Or is she saying "ox"? Kare-kare is a dish of oxtail stewed in peanut sauce with eggplant, green beans and other vegetables. "OKs", pronounced like "oaks", is an annoying Taglish way of saying OK.

"Ginataang mais. It's corn, but we use our coconut!" Ginataang mais is a dessert of corn and malagkit rice in coconut milk. "Use your coconut" is something you hear parents say to kids or coaches to players. "Use your head!"

Then, of course, the product, Motillum, an anti-nausea pill that helps with indigestion and dyspepsia, which I'd say is a suitably weird thing to be advertising with two heads of state.

But wait, there's time for one more pun. This one is by far the corniest, but also the funniest of all, because you knew it was coming, and you knew it was awful, as did everyone involved in producing the commercial, but everyone got on board and pulled it off with gusto. (This is how I understand the frequent ritual acts of mass humiliation in Filipino culture -- like Wowowee or the unavoidable fate of being forced to dance or sing at most public gatherings. There's an underlying social contract. Everyone agrees to laugh and be good natured. When your number is up, you have to act the fool. Sooner or later, everyone gets pulled into the spotlight and forced to embarrass themselves. And I must say, as someone who participated in a lot of embarrassing spectacles, that it feels pretty cathartic.) 

After Motillum cures Obama's tummy ache, GMA offers him a cup of powerful Barako coffee from Batangas. "Café Baraks?" she asks, with a giant shit-eating grin that says, "You heard me. I just used the worst pun imaginable."

Then, as the coup de gràce, the camera pulls out and shows GMA and Obama standing side-by-side, with Gloria topping out about 18 inches short of Obama's head, somewhere around his sternum. 

Finally, there's a current events tie-in to this commercial that I'm pretty sure the producers had no way of anticipating, but that makes it even funnier. The ongoing saga of GMA's attempts to meet President Obama or get some kind of public acknowledgment from him is a growing source of embarrassment to the Philippine president. She tried to meet him during the campaign but it didn't work out. She called to congratulate him after the election, and he didn't return her call for days. Last week, she eked some favors out of U.S. congresspeople to get an invitation to a National Prayer Breakfast that Obama attended, and again failed to get face time with the president. (Article here.) Suddenly, the desperate caricature of GMA in the commercial is starting to look much more like her real-life counterpart.


Anonymous Cara said...

If I'm not mistaken, the performer playing GMA in this commercial is male.

10:44 AM  
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6:16 PM  

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