We Filipinos live in a collectivistic culture. Be it a birthday, a work event, or funerals, these interactions always turn into an elaborate social gathering when placed in a Philippine context. Such is our investment in collective assemblies that it is hardly surprising how our media’s focus is almost always on the basest unit of society: the family.
When it comes to Filipino soap operas, it’s no exception. There are your arcs of siblings and/or rivals separated at birth, infidelities and mistresses and children out of wedlock, and the standard unattainable love interests. ABS-CBN’s 2010 suspense drama soap Magkaribal (in English, Rivals) follows the story of two sisters, Anna and Angela (with the pseudonyms Victoria and Gelai, respectively), who are separated as children and later find themselves rivals in the fashion industry without knowledge of their familial connection.
Post-structuralism as a theory brings into focus the problematic aspects of the reliability and stability of meaning, and generally draws our attention to the “essentially unstable nature of signification.” Analyzing a text—in this case, Magkaribal—using this theory would be acknowledging a fragmented and culture-bound reality that exists within it, as well as the fact that language evolves and changes meaning.
An interesting concept of post-structuralism is its claim that language is ideological. This manifests itself in Magkaribal by the language the two lead characters use and how the construction of their sentences changes over the course of time. Gelai and Victoria started out in a middle-class family until their father’s infidelity and their mother’s death forces them to the street as beggars, and during this point in time their choice of words are very colloquial and fit towards their environment of the gritty, dangerous streets of Manila—rough, careless, seemingly uneducated-sounding. Here, the language—and consequently, the ideologies—they have imbibed, whether consciously or not, is an indication of the culture and time and space of their personal experiences and socio-economic standing.
Similarly, when we get a glimpse of the siblings some twenty years after their separation, during which time Victoria had lived in Paris after being adopted by a rich foster father and Gelai had been trying to break into the fashion industry as a designer, their speech is crisp and peppered with English phrases which, as we are aware of as Filipinos, are connoted to be an indication of wealth and education. This type of characterization and dialogue pushes forward the idea that identity is indeed culture- and time-bound.
We can look at Magkaribal from another facet of post-structuralism by employing a guide question by Tyson (2006), which asks, “What ideology does the text seem to promote—what is its main theme and how does conflicting evidence in the text show limitations of that ideology?” From my point of view, the biggest irony in the text, as well as multiple other Filipino soap operas, is the high regard with which it holds blood ties (whose father is whom, whose sister is whose) and yet flagrantly dismantles it by the intense competition and revenge conspiracies between Gelai and Victoria that begin as business rivalry and eventually evolves into something more personal.
On a similar note, Victoria’s relationship with her adoptive father is seen as something harmonious and beautiful, but she still resents and plots revenge towards the “other woman” who caused her parents’ marriage to crumble into pieces. Filipinos as a whole still revere the sanctity of marriage but Magkaribal throws the idea away by painting the phenomenon of infidelities and third parties as something normal. And not to mention the one hundred-eighty degree turn of events that two children who simply wanted to have a steady, stable family again end up growing into women whose desire for money, revenge, and power end up nearly crushing each other to dust.
It is fascinating to note the contradictions and ironies of texts because it makes us reconsider the meanings that we thought we already understood at first glance. Furthermore, analysis using post-structuralist frameworks dismantles the messages and ideologies utilized by the text and pieces them back together in a wholly different way—a way that isn’t any less true or any less false than what we previously thought.
Abeleda, G. (2014). Postmodernism and Post-Structuralism [Report]. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Diliman.
ABS-CBN (2010). Magkaribal [Television series]. Manila: ABS-CBN.
Tyson, L. (2006). Critical Theory Today, 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.