Our children’s TV idols

As a first-time grandfather, I read the results of the “National Survey on Children’s Current TV Preferences” conducted by the Southeast Asian Foundation for Children’s Television with great interest and urgency.  My granddaughter Julia is two-and-a-half-years old.  At her age, she watches an average of 4 hours of television per day.  This distresses me no end.

I have become familiar with the day programming of Philippine television because of her.  What I have seen over the past year has not been very encouraging.  Compared to about 20 years ago, when my own children were still kids, TV programming for Filipino children today is a desert.

Dubbed the “Anak TV Youth Vote”, the survey was essentially a popularity vote conducted nationwide among 334,078 randomlychosen Filipino youths (193,646 “kids” aged 6 to 12, and 140,432 “teens” aged 13-18). The votes were tabulated according to gender, age bracket, region, and even province. The kids came up with 578 names for their favorite male TV star, and 463 for their favorite female star, showing a rather broad range of choices.  But their top 5 preferences for male TV star were Jericho Rosales, Dingdong Dantes, Robin Padilla, John Pratts, and Aga Muhlach.  For favorite female star, the top picks were Kristine Hermosa, Claudine Barreto, Jolina Magdangal, Judy Ann Santos, and Tanya Garcia.

The study tallied only the votes for Filipino stars, programs, and TV ads.  I suppose there were a number of foreign choices too but these were not tabulated. This is an important datum because it could give us an idea of the comparative influence of foreign programs and commercials on our young viewers. This item assumes greater significance in view of the recent phenomenal reception given to “Meteor Garden,” the Taiwanese teenage telenovela that features the exploits and turbulent personal lives of rich spoiled kids.

The vote was conducted within a one-week period in October 2002. The results were released only the other day.  Eight months is a long time in the television industry.  The names we have here mirror the TV fare for a very specific period.  We cannot be certain if these top favorites are still valid today.  Nevertheless, what can we glean from these results?  It is quite obvious that Filipino kids are hooked on the so-called “teleseryes” and noontime shows that the rest of the family watches.

The top 3 favorite TV programs of Filipino kids nationwide are not meant for children:  Bituin, Sana ay Ikaw na Nga, and MTB (Masayang Tanghali Bayan). These programs routinely feature content not suitable to children. Two of the main hosts of MTB, a 2hour daily noontime show, were recently suspended for obscene language and behavior on camera. Wansapanataym and Sineskwela, the children’s programs, are a distant 4th and 5th.

The top 3 TV male idols of our children, ages 6-12, are Jericho Rosales, Dingdong Dantes, and Robin Padilla.  Not one of them appears in a children’s show.  Jericho and Dingdong both star in early evening telenovelas aimed at mature audiences, while Robin made a name for himself as a young toughie in the movies and in real life, a rebel without a cause.  No actor or character from any educational or children’s show appears in the top 10 list of favorite male TV stars.

The same thing is true for the top TV female idols.  Our children’s choices are:  Kristine Hermosa, Claudine Barreto, and Jolina Magdangal.  Again, the names of Kristine and Claudine are synonymous with Filipino teledrama.  Not one of the three is associated with children’s programs.

I wasn’t sure what to make of these choices because I do not watch their programs.  The study did not explore the reasons for these preferences.  Neither was any information gathered on the images that young respondents associated with them.  So I decided to hold a small discussion with the people in my house, including my daughters, the househelp, and the 10-year-old and 5-year-old children of one of our househelp.  Their pointed descriptions of the TV personalities most admired by our young people were startling in their unanimity.

The adjectives they used to refer to these idols – e.g., “wholesome,” “sosyal,” “inglisera,” “maputi,” “tisoy,” “guwapo,” “macho,” “cute,” “mahinhin,” “palatawa,” “mabait,” “palaban,” “sexy,” “good actress” – placed a high value on good looks (usually associated with fair skin), good physique, wealth, social skills, talent, sense of humor, and personal charisma. While I did not find any of these choices particularly disturbing from the standpoint of personal example, some may point to the choice of Robin Padilla as problematic on account of his jail record and early image as “barumbado.”  But I wonder how many of these stars stood out for the kids as icons of integrity, intelligence, personal discipline, and social responsibility.

My personal sense of the situation we face today tells me that the TV industry in our country has betrayed the interests of the Filipino child by packing those viewing hours that in other societies are reserved to children’s programs with a torrential supply of mindless shows and telenovelas meant for more mature audiences.  It has also violated these interests by a sin of omission – by failing to support the production of innovative children’s programs that purposely reflect the best values and traits of our culture.


Comments to <public.lives@gmail.com>