SOMEONE TO HATE, SOMEONE TO LOVE
Wil Time Big Time
I first stumbled into his show while surfing the channels for news. The Willing Willie show. First impressions: A masa show, and gee, that guy's good, fast, witty, playing the audience. Shortly after, the show was suspended because of a young-boy-cyring-while-gyrating-like-a-macho-dancer child abuse charge. Then, there were the TV news clips of his deprived fans clamoring for him to come back. Early on in his return with Wil Time Big Time, my curiosity piqued, I tuned in to watch the show. Then again, the next day, then the next. Soon, I was hooked . . intrigued.
I'm not really sure what drew me to the show. The host? The dancing girls? The audience? I'm trying to figure it out as I write.
Everyday, the audience packs the house, waving banners and I Love You Wille placards, on cue providing backdrop of applause, cheers, singing, and dancing. There are sections grouped by localities or provinces, cheering wildly for their contestants. The cameras pan the crowd for guests frenziedly dancing for attention, foreigners (must show for international flavor), OFWs waving their placards of country origins, pretty faces (always in the front rows), guests with missing front teeth (camera has a weird penchant for these), the well-dressed and burgis-types (always in the front rows), and the grandmothers (always in the very front row).
The contestants come from come from near or far away, many with borrowed transportation money, some traveling a day or two. They come from all walks of masa life, each day featuring special groups: farmers, fishermen, GROs, bus drivers, people with missing teeth, people with special talents, single mothers, gays, graduates who failed their licensing exams, girls who can dance, boys who can sing, bibingka vendors, and, even, young girls with great looking legs (No Kidding!). Some arrive at the break of dawn, hoping to improve their chances of getting picked. Some have auditioned more than half a dozen times.
When the contestants are called up, most scream and squeal, some shrieking in uncontrollable delight and short bursts of hysterics. They shout that they have attained their dream. Nandito na ako! Artista na ako! For the contestants' guests, especially the female guests, it's the same dream realized. Whren Mr. Willie asks: Ano ang pangarap mo? - I think he asks it knowing what many of them would say: Makarating dito. Makita ka. To see Willie, to meet him. To hug him or to kiss him, for themselves or for their sick mother who can't come or a lola who watches everydat at home. To confess Natupad na ang pangarap ko, while they fight their tears, and serve him daily doses of adulation: Ang guwapo mo pala. Mas guwapo ka sa personal. Andy Warhol predicted 15 minutes of fame for everyone. Mr. Willie Revillame gives you five - or more - of those minutes.
And more. You want tears? Tears you get. Mr. WIllie masterfully draws out stories from constestants and guests that can burst the most resistant tear sacs. Vignettes, short and sad stories of their lives, as the audience listens, dabbing at their tears, as they listen to the stories, all too sadly familiar. More tears, as they say on television what they would never say in their private lives - apologizing, giving thanks, asking for forgiveness, or reciting reaffirmations of love. Catharsis and tears. And there's Mr. Willie, emotionally bonding with them, his voice situationaly racked with sadness and measuredly toned down, oozing with empathy and sympathy, always ready to hand out a tissue to wipe their tears dry, sometimes dabbing on his own tears.
This is the masa. The Willie devotees of this Iglesya ni Willie. The show is their stage. It's a 2-hour masa high - of games, laughter and tears, singing and dancing, cash-handouts and prizes as the contestants bask in their minutes of imagine fame, while the audience cheer in vicarious delight. As Mr. Willie, drowning in applause and adulation, says: Kaya kami nandito, para makapagbigay sa inyo ng kaligayahan. This they get, watching the show, and being part of the show. It is truly their show, as much as it is Mr. Willie's.
I have watched him umpteen times, and continue to watch, trying to figure out what makes him click. By all measures there are better entertainers, better singers, better comedians. But there's one thing he does better, or best: He connects with the masa. He knows the masa. Doing it in a style, all his own.
I don't know what his roots are. If he lived among the masa. Whether he grew up poor, or grew up rich but close to the poor. But he knows the masa, and so effortlessly connects with them. Critics and detractors call this masa thing all a show-biz act. I disagree, this isn't theater, and I'll bet my house on it. It's honest and unaffected, a genuine feeling for the masa. And I think that's why he does it with great ease. Being kissed and kissing back, being hugged, and hugging back. Crying with them, laughing with them.
And part of the masa thing is knowing masa humor. He knows where to go with it, how to play with it, how to milk it. One minute he's laughing at himself, making fun of himself, stumbling with his English, making tongue-in-cheek confessions of his lonely and love-battered life. They laugh at him and with him. The next minute, he's making fun of the contestants. Commenting on the lumpy-bumpiness of the middle-aged women coming up for hugs, saying: Mas masarap yapusin ang mga dalaga. Or shameslessly, making fun of and jiggling the protuberant and sagging bellies, the bilbils, of midriff-bare middle-aged dancers. They laugh with him. So often, he treads into this critical censure zone of sexual innuendos and double entendres, and before I can finish thinking - There he goes again! - he's already backtracking, correcting, and admonishing himself. As they laugh with him. He knows how to tickle their funny bones. It's a mastery of the masa humor.
As good as he is with the humor, the guy is witty. Fast, sharp, rarely missing an opportunity. At first, I thought the wit might be scripted. But I've heard and watched it so many times, in unexpected banterings and repartees, to know that it's genuine wit.
He fills up the rest of the show with a lip-synch rendition of one of his many mellow and never-break-a-sweat love songs, uncomplicated love songs the audience relate to, sings and sways along with. (If you watch the show often enough, It gets a little boring listening to the same songs over and over again. That's when I switch channels to check out for news.) Then he's handing out his largesse of money, Wil phones, and Wil jackets, picking out from the audience predictable recipients of his benefaction - OFWs with their banners of origin and children with handicaps. Then, there he is plugging his Wil cologne, Wil phone, his Wil Mall, and Wil water. Even does a good number of the ads.
This is the Willie show - two hours a day, six days a week, drawing in numbers and ratings. That, boys and girls, is power. And It's rumored to earn him 1 to 2 million pesos a day. If I were the powers-that-be who hold his contract, I'd get him bodyguards and food tasters, and perhaps, a full-time doctor in tow. Keep him healthy, because guest-hosts won't work. Repeat, they won't. And don't fire him, cause he'll just take his whole kit-and-caboodle, set up shop at the next station, and kill you with his numbers.
Of course, some people don't like him. Ipokrito. Mayabang. Bastos. Arogante. Nakakasuka. Nakakahiya. When some one makes that kind of money or wield that kind of power it won't be difficult to find some reason to be critical or dislike him.
Ipokrito. Some see this masa thing, the hugging and kissing, as a sham, reporting that outside the studio he is Willie-The-Untouchable, surrounded by body guards, deaf to the adulation that is showered on him in the streets. But he's not a politician or a Mother Theresa, expected to shake hands or lay hands on the masa. His venue is television, his stage, the station studio.
Bastos. Yes, he admonishes, counsels, insults, disparages. I don't know how much of it is scripted. I have seen and heard him overstep over to the side of the offensive, lewd, rude, degrading, insulting, and humiliating. Although he has a soft heart for the children with congenital disorders and intellectual impairment, he can be quite brutal on staff and guests who are overweight. But as the audience laughs with it, I realize it's part of his mastery of the masa humor, knowing what to do and where he can go with it. Still I wonder how he gets away with so much of it, and I also wonder why the guardians of morals, civil society or the powers-that- be don't take umbrage at his remarks. Perhaps, he knows where the bar has been lowered to, and he continues to test how much further it can be lowered.
Mayabang. When you have a show that rates, that earns you 2 million a day, mayabang is the easy criticism, especially when you're endlessly plugging your Will phone, Wil cologne, and Wil Mall, with all the burdensome gossip that he doesn't just ogle at the dancing girls. (Maybe it's ingit, envy, and that's a cardinal sin.) I just see a guy who has found his grail, who feels very confident in his stage, entertaining, reaping from the commerce of TV, and who seems to be having a hell of a good time doing it. Granted the guy has a big ego, but it helps to have an ego as big as your head can hold to stay on top of this kind of work, doing this day-in day-out.
And for the critics who slam him for his guests having this or that IQ, or his contestants having palakol grades, or that it dumbs the industry down. Hello? Hello? This is not a quiz show. Not the Jeopardy show. Or the Want To Be A Millionaire show. Wil Time Bigtime does not pose cerebral. It's pure entertainment for the masa. And you can't slam the masa for making it a top show.
The bottom line is commerce. Philippine television rules the lives of the masa, and audience share and ratings spell commerce. The commerce of Philippine TV is the selling of masa consumables: shampoos, noodles, hot dogs, vitamins, and sweet spaghetti sauce. (Not cars, vacations packages or banking services-that's for the print media.) All the stations are doing the same thing - going after and giving what the masa wants. Formulaic news and feature shows obssessed and saturatedad ad nauseum with celebrities, their marriages, infidelities, separations, annulments and new found loves. And shows like Eat Bulaga, Happy Yipee Yehey, or the Manny-something show - they're all made-for-masa shows, fighting for the hearts and souls of the masa, not to uplift and educate, but for the commerce in it.
And in the end, it's an indictment of the medium. One that panders to the masa for commerce, rather than to uplift, inform, or educate. But that's another something to write about.
What drew me to the show? The dancing girls? The other shows have them too, just as pretty, and humping and grinding as much. The games - inane fun, and it gets boring fast. Willie Revillame? Well, for what he does, he's good, perhaps top of the genre. Witty. Funny. Entertaining. Some je ne sais quoi that endears him to to masa, that lets him get away with what he gets away with. And frankly, I'm fascinated by how he put together a true masa show where the audience, in the studio and at home, is as much part of the show as the constestants, delivering daily doses of ephemeral joy.
The masa. I do not use it with derogation. I live among them in rural Tiaong. I am so familiar with their stories. How they live. How they survive their marginalized lives. Their faith in their God. Their OFW stories. Their dancing and their singing. How they celebrate their occasional good fortunes. How they suffer their endless needs. And watching Wil Time Big Time, I see them there, in a two-hour microcosm of their world, sharing some sad details of their lives, talking about their hopes, laughing or crying, dancing and singing, delighting in their few moments of joy, basking in their few minutes of fame.
If you're coming back after being away for so long, watch the show for a month and get a crash course update in masa culture. If you're a foreigner in need of a speedy study on Pinoy culture, get an interpreter while you feast on the visuals of a nightly masa 101.
Mr Revillame? For now, he rules. But it's a glass throne he sits on. There are Willie Haters and Willie Slayers constantly watching and prowling about, ready to pounce down on his next transgression. For now he rules. Until they find a clone who can draw the masa faithful away from his iglesya. Until they figure out his show, to dissect, copy, borrow from, and reformulate. (Good luck.) Until the guardians of Moral Society find the uplifting, informative, and educational to trounce these purveyors of lowly entertainment with.
For now, Mr. Willie is probably laughing and clicking his heels in the air all the way to the bank. Or perhaps not. Maybe he means it when he says: Kaya kami nandito, para makapagbigay sa inyo ng kaligayahan. Well, actually, there's nothing wrong making money while doing that.
by Godofredo U. Stuart Jr. Last Updated March 2012