Dubsmash and its uses

The long-running local TV noontime show, “Eat Bulaga,” recently registered a phenomenal spike in its viewership after showcasing in one of its regular segments the immense talent of Maine Mendoza, a young woman whose Dubsmash video clips have become a YouTube sensation. By casting Maine in the role of a maid, “Yaya Dub,” to a materialistic señora, and by weaving a poignant love story around her supposed real-life crush on Alden Richards, one of the regular actors in the show, the producers have hit upon the ultimate formula for reality TV—where viewers are left guessing which is fiction and which is reality.

The encounter between Yaya Dub standing beside her sharp-tongued employer “Lola Nidora” at a remote site in one of Metro Manila’s barangays, and the young actor, Alden, seated at the studio, is conducted entirely through the medium of the dubbed audio clip. But in-between the lip-syncs, the two (who supposedly have never met) are shown on a split screen exchanging knowing glances made possible by camera tricks. Is the budding romance real? Was Yaya Dub’s fainting spell real? Or was it still part of the performance? We really don’t know—even as the poor girl was later shown from her hospital bed recovering from what seemed like a truly stressful day.

Only a few have heard “Dubsmash queen” Maine Mendoza’s own voice. There are YouTube clips purporting to show her singing in her “real” voice. But no one can be sure she is not just dubbing another person’s song or spiel. We see her, we hear her. We know she is performing, and we view her performance in relation to the character she is playing. But who is she when she is not lip-syncing?

Indeed, we may as well ask the same question of ourselves: Who are we when we are not performing? I think that if there is anything that Yaya Dub has shown us, it is the stereotypical and “mediatized” nature of our emotions and modes of expression. In that sense, we are performing all the time. What we think are spontaneous feelings that we communicate from the depth of our beings are really nothing but ready-made emoticons that other people have deployed in various other contexts.

The shock of that recognition, I am certain, is what sustains the fascination with Yaya Dub. She gets behind all of us, and lip-syncs the standard texts of our private selves—our insecurities, anger, celebratory moments, and frustrations. Beneath the performance is parody of the highest type.

What Dubsmash the app has done is to place at the disposal of practically anyone with a smartphone a technology that used to be available only to those who have access to complicated and expensive editing machines. But, more than this, by allowing users to upload audio clips into, and download the same from a constantly growing archive of iconic and/or silly lines from politicians, movie actors, and celebrities, Dubsmash has made it possible for the ordinary person to try his/her hand at acting or singing while retaining the voice of the original performer.

The technology is certainly nothing new. When we began showing American movies dubbed in Filipino, the juxtaposition of voice and image sourced from different cultural settings was initially jarring. We found it funny, for example, to hear James Bond speak in Tagalog. Then we got used to it, marveling at the talent of those behind the voices. Dubsmash is the reverse of that. The app lends us the voices, and we record the video clip that is superimposed on the audio.

More than the old dubbing machine, however, it is the user-friendly Dubsmash that has brought to the popular consciousness the postmodern meme that Roland Barthes memorably referred to as “the death of the author.” This simply says: “a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination.” Rather than seek the meaning of a text in the life of the author who produced it—as though the two were a mirror of one another—we now begin to see that the meaning of a text resides not in its origin but in the context in which a reader uses it.

As I write this, Yaya Dub is about to get married to “Frankie A. Arinolli,” to whom Lola Nidora has virtually sold her. It’s a laboriously stretched-out scene that is filled with Pinoy humor and melodrama. But, I can’t help noting that the script, instead of being allowed to take a life of its own, is being pulled back to the familiar track of noontime slapstick, forsaking in the process the postmodern sensibility that had given its earlier episodes their contingent novelty.

I can see the birth of another movie pairing here, where Maine Mendoza’s versatility as the Filipino Dubsmash queen will be on full display. But I am not sure if her producers are in any position to ignore the low-hanging fruit of shallow melodrama and crude humor, as she takes the path of parody that the art of lip-syncing has opened up for her. Still, I will be closely watching this lovely and talented young lady, who, using every part of her face, seems to know how to breathe life into the most trivial audio clip.

Maine creates new texts with every video clip she uploads on Instagram and YouTube. In so doing, whether she is conscious of it or not, she also shows the “possibilities and the rules” for the production of other texts. It looks to me that the natural habitat of such texts is not television but the Internet.

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