Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Kamera Kafe: A Textual Analysis on the Portrayal of Filipinos in Camera Café

Sample clip from Camera Cafe

Authors: Abdula, Allan Yasser Z.; Onate, Jojit Aero


This study aims to explore how Filipinos are portrayed in the comedy program Camera Café. Guided by the Social Construction of Reality, this study is purely qualitative. The researchers employed textual analysis to study the messages in the said program, and to acquire information on the representations and values presented in the program. Results show that Camera Café. The researchers have found remarkable situations in the episodes that reflect society. Furthermore, the representations of the characters suggest Filipino character and identity. Camera Café portrayed values, expressed a sense of national pride and culture and raised societal issues.

Background of the Study

Filipinos have been so used to comedy programs making fun of other people, using dirty and slapstick jokes, and sometimes politically overtoned. We cannot deny that we get entertained from all of these craziness, but at the end of the day remains one question and that is weather our viewing activity has given us much to think about. Or have we been so passive that we do not seek learning from programs that we watch but just sit in front of the boob tube and get some sheer entertainment?

It is truly high time that programs evolve into a more socially relevant entertainment avenues. After all, media still have the responsibility of educating and informing, and not just entertaining. This paper attempts to delve into one of the season's hip and contemporary comedy program, Camera Café. How has this program actually mirrored the social condition of the Philippines?

Set in an office, everything is seen through a coffee vendo machine and everyone with unique personalities crowd and talk about anything. However, their discussions at surface level are simple but when you look at them closely, there are touches of cultural factors present. In many episodes of the comedy show, different kinds of Filipino values are presented and as an audience you woud not help saying “Yes, that's how Filipinos do it.” What is more interesting is that we get to scrutinize our culture in a more distant way where there is room for objectivity. It is from here that we see how different values has either helped or hampered the development of our country. This paper will attempt to surface these portrayals of Filipino values and how these portrayals have contributed to the image of the Filipinos.

Review of Related Literature

Camera Café, a snack entertainment

“‘Camera Café’ is a French-born concept of comedy television series exported around the world. The show revolves around a dysfunctional office. Its originality stems from the fact that, within the fiction, the camera is fixed into the automated coffee machine of the office space” (“Camera Café,” n.d.).

In the Philippine version of “Camera Café,” Pinoy humor is evident in the dialogue. The series takes place in an office, made more colorful by its unique characters. It has been adapted in more than 20 countries all over Europe, North America, South America and, most recently, Asia (Arevalo, 2007).

The show features office workers who gab away in front of a coffee vendo machine equipped with a hidden camera. They are unaware that they are being filmed so they talk candidly about almost anything from sex to love life, etc. The original French production had 15 characters but the Philippine version added two – a balikbayan and a manang. According to the director of the show, Mark Meily, in almost every office there is a manang who delivers food. (“Franchise of French sitcom on QTV,” 2007).

Although Philippine made, the show had to follow the original production to the letter, as is with franchised shows. This five-minute show, as compared to long hour comedy shows gives audiences something new to follow. In a sense, we can call this program a “snack entertainment click” (“Franchise of French sitcom on QTV,” 2007).

Filipino Values 

It is perhaps one of the most important components of a given culture – values. According to Andres (2002), “values are standards on the basis of which people evaluate what are good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate, just or unjust, in their everyday affairs. A value system is a configuration of culture, the dominant motivations and basic principles of people’s behavior, the cultural ethos that binds people together, their views and propositions about the nature of things” (Andres, 2002).

He enumerated some positive values in the Tagalog region. They are: strong family ties, bayanihan/batarisan, pakikisama, paggalang, pag-iimpok, pagmamay-ari, pagdadamayan, hospitality, palabra de honor, delicadeza, God-fearing and hardworking.


Social Construction of Reality 

“The social construction of reality has its earliest roots in Marx’s theory of change and in the German culture. In the wake of Hitler’s defeat, much attention was turned to Karl Mannheim’s attempt at solving the crisis of culture that enveloped post-World War II Germany” (Simonds, 1978 in Jackson, et. al., 1999). Mannheim's theory gained acceptance in the sociological world of North America, “because of similar problems that plagued both the German and American societies. As with many ideas, the theory’s basic tenets were somewhat changed and Americanized with reception into U.S. culture” (Stehr and Meja, 1984 in Jackson, et. al., 1999). “The notion that everything is explained in reference to social existence evolved to dictate that human ideas serve as the foundation of human actions and human existence” (McCarthy, 1996 in Jackson, 1999).


Since the researchers aim to elicit representations and values from “Camera Café,” it is only appropriate to analyze the texts in its episodes. The researchers opted to analyze the dialogues in the episodes. Selection of episodes was based on the researchers’ discretion, with their objective to acquire more appropriate and relevant data. These episodes, in general, have unique Filipino situations and themes, which the researchers deem would be more representative for the textual analysis and would have a greater bearing on the results and analysis. The sample consisted of ten five-minuter episodes, including Company Photo Shoot, Manang Gourmet, Award, Binyag, Outing Ba ‘To?, Ang Lagay, Entrepreneur, Tiangge, Nabarang, and Guys and Dolls. These were acquired and viewed through and on the Internet. Data were gathered by repeatedly viewing the episodes so that the researchers can absorb the messages, along with transcribing the dialogues. These dialogues and the observations taken note by the researchers on the behavior, physical appearance and stereotypes of the actors, and the dominant texts and themes would be the reference points for the study.


 Sample Episode: Company Photo Shoot

For this episode, issues on buying second hand clothes, superiority, and uniqueness were touched. First, perhaps the Filipinos’ inherent frugality makes them think of ingenious ways to lessen expenses. Thus, we have an ukay-ukay concept. Ukay-ukay is a market for second hand clothes.

Filipinos certainly make sure that they get more with what little money they have; that’s why more and more ukay-ukay stores are opening. The sad thing is that this culture makes the country even more dependent from external countries. The reason being is that most of these clothings come from countries which do not have any use of their old rummages. The Philippine market does not see any reason to produce more since the competition is truly killing them.

Issue on superiority is another value in Filipino society. We put high regard to people who are higher than us. However, this high regard to people with high status does not translate into respect and admiration.

In government offices for example, people tend to get awed by politicians but the moment they turn their back, Filipinos are quick to throw mud on that politician. In community levels, people who are socially higher might solicit occasional sneers from neighbors.

Sample Episode: Manang Gourmet 

The Filipinos penchant for imported things is undeniable, but when it comes to food, Filipinos cannot turn their back from their native delicacies. Nothing can replace the fondness of the Filipinos to their own way of cooking no matter how grand a food name would sound.

Recommendations and Implications 

Camera Café as first and foremost, a television program seen by millions of people in the Philippines surely creates waves. However, most Filipino values portrayed in the program are negative. It would be helpful if more positive values will be shown as this can uplift the spirit of the Filipinos. Mixed with comedy, this kind of program can be very effective in changing the current moral decay in our society.

Talking about moral decay and loss of values, according to Gorospe (1988) the problem with the Filipino attitude and values has been characterized as a conflict between individual and social morality. It has also been described as a conflict between home values and school values and/or school values and community values (Bulatao, 1965).

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