What English word takes up the role that “kababawan” does in Tagalog? Shallowness, mediocrity, cheapness, slapstick, “sophomoricity”? The trouble with all this is their pejorative tone. I am not following the televised romance between Alden and Yaya Dub, and I do not really care much for the Pastillas that the rival network dishes out. But from what I hear, the plot (if any there be) is indeed shallow: a boy with a good face and a winsome smile trying every trick on the book to win a girl’s attention. This show however is the reason that neighbors congregate wherever there is access to television, and for the excited shrieks of teens and, interestingly, even of matrons. And while there seems to be a new elitism attempted by those who snub the show as against those who follow it with devotion bordering on piety, this divide does not run parallel to social and economic classes. It is, in fact, a confusing phenomenon: kababawan.
It is, however, no less confounding than Facebook. There, one can follow erudite discourse, and one also has ready examples of the most egregious of fallacious (non)reasoning. Some commentators are consistently thoughtful, reflective and sober. Most others are alternately penetrating and silly, with no apparent remorse for this disturbing intellectual swings that would so easily qualify as bi-polar disorder had they to do with moods and emotional disposition.
It is not any different with newspaper columnists and media commentators. On some days, you are caught up in their truly involved ratiocination; on others, you find your self chuckling (or gritting your teeth—it really all depends on your particular neurosis!) at the non sequitur and ad hominem that are hurled at the audience either as humor or satire or diatribe. As for our comics, are they really comic? Much of what is made to pass for humor is downright rude, insulting even, but there will always be enough applause and laughter to reinforce this compromise with intelligence!
It looks like we are bored with consistency. In the same way that we have been culturally hospitable with the result that there is no single strand that we can truthfully point to as “Filipino culture”, the same thing is true in respect to thought. Almost everything that has come our way has become part of Filipino culture. And there is corresponding resiliency of thought that allows us to be profound at one time, shallow at another, thoughtful when we feel like it, sloppy with our inferences when we are otherwise disposed.
Revisited in terms of social theory, our life-worlds are constituted by difficult-to-reconcile elements, but this is no trouble because its perspectives, understanding, norms and categories are never thematized. We go by norms to which we do not take a critical position and talk about things in categories familiar to us, likewise uncritically assumed. Nothing wrong with this. It is the way of the life-world. However, rationalism directs its critical gaze ever so often at aspects of our life world, and then we question the assumptions, criticize the norms and distance ourselves from the “given” categories. This is one way of explaining why it seems that we are conflicted.
And so, why the almost national fascination with Alden and Yaya Dub? All who watch know that it is fiction, make-believe. And that, for Ricoeur, is precisely its appeal: It offers us a possible narrative, probably not realized in the lives of those who cheer and shriek, but the perennially “mababaw” plot of boy-meets-girl-and-wants-to-meet-her-again that strike the eternally “malalim” chords of love and the inexhaustible richness of the intersubjective encounter!