The Cultural Critique on Maggi Magic Sarap TV Commercial

I got an message on my facebook earlier today; it said that I got a 20/20 on my Genders final paper <3 So if can stand to read a long document, then here you go :D

P.S. This has Filipino language and Filipino culture; so it may be difficult for you to understand.

P.P.S. watch this video before reading the document

Isaiah Patrick V. Alix
GENDERS

The Cultural Critique on Maggi Magic Sarap TV Commercial

The TV audience of today has one aspect that I despise very much, and that is being completely oblivious to what the media is telling them. People just wait to get spoon-fed with information then complain a lot when media holds back information. Furthermore, we have no idea if the important information they may want to divulge is either true or false.

The case of former president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, has come to a point in where she has been restricted from flying to another country—to receive treatment—and arrested in St. Luke’s Medical Center’s presidential suite. As the conspiracy theorist that I am, I can’t help but acknowledge that this—her injury, flight restriction and arrest—must be a plan to get to get herself out of this problem. How is this possible? I wouldn’t know. We must take into account that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is an extremely intelligent person: She studied in Georgetown University for two years and achieved a consistent Dean’s list status. She graduated as a magna cum laude in Assumption College with a degree in BA-Economics (T.S., 2011).

Her achievements in academics does not stop there. Gloria Arroyo took her Master’s Degree in Economics in Ateneo de Manila University. She then studied for her Doctorate Degree in Economics in University of the Philippines – Diliman. She taught and held high positions in University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University and other various schools. After graduating from Assumption College as a magna cum laude, she went back and became the chairperson of the Economics Department (Office of the President, 2007). Add to that the many years of experience in political work; who’s not to say that all the events that are unravelling around her are not to her and her family’s doing.

Let us relate this to another entity that most of us can relate to—the ABS-CBN network. This company is owned by eight aristocratic families; this is the example of the perfect oligarchy in today’s setting. Anything that comes out of ABS-CBN is inspected by those eight aristocrats, and if they see it as a threat towards them or as something that they cannot benefit from, they change it—whether it be the news or their terrible prime-time shows and game shows.

With the advent of greed in most of these aristocrats and capitalists, they blast their customers with sugar-coated lies in order to gain more than what is expected. One good example—which I will talk shortly about—are the renovations of the McDonalds’ fast-food establishments. People forget the original purpose of fast-food, and that is to serve people who are in a rush so they can: buy food fast, get food fast and eat the food fast. The reason why fast-food was created was to accommodate the new fast-paced lifestyle. People who did not have time to sit down in a restaurant and wait for their food now had a choice, but McDonalds is breaking their original purpose to serve.

Let us look at the McDonalds right beside DLSU. They aesthetically changed it into a restaurant, and they fool people into thinking that it is a restaurant. They also weeded out the type of customers who would come in. From observation, those with deep pockets now take up more than three-fourths of their customer population. McDonalds knew that it was probably more profitable if more rich kids came in to buy a lot of food rather than middle to lower class kids coming in to buy their food for the day.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, ABS-CBN and McDonalds are not the pressing topics I want to discuss in my paper, in fact they are just an introduction. Two of the three topics mentioned are already worn out and as for the last one, well I do not have the resources to make an academic study on it. What I want to talk about is the local TV commercial: Maggi Magic Sarap’s “Mom Chef”. This is the one with Ai-Ai delas Alas and Judy Ann Santos.

Probably the most intensive critique I could give this is that they chose Judy Ann Santos to promote an all-in-one-seasoning. How is this a problem? Judy Ann Santos is a trained individual in culinary arts, and she did graduate from various culinary schools. Prior to giving my critique on that aspect of the TVC (TV commercial) I will dissect the commercial part by part into two categories: aesthetics and dialogue.

First, I will talk about the aesthetics of the commercial.

The first thing I noticed was their hair. For some reason they wanted to make this into a shampoo and conditioner commercial as well because their hair was extremely smooth and tidy; not a single strand of hair was out of place. I have seen plenty of mothers cooking, and their hair was totally unkempt. Ai-Ai’s hair had no bangs making her look like she that does “hard work”. I always associate tied hair without bangs to working; it is logical because who would want to have their bangs all over their eyes when they work? Judy’s hair had bangs, mainly because she is the opposite persona of Ai-Ai. Despite that, chefs with long hair and/or bangs so not have their hair and/or bangs covering their eyes, so why does Judy have bangs? I doubt even chefs would care about their hair’s appearance in the kitchen; as long as their hair and/or bangs is/are not on their eyes and it does not prohibit to meet the demands of their customers, it could stay as shaggy as an Afro under their hairnets.

The second thing I noticed was the glimmering of jewellery and accessories. At the start of the commercial, they wore earrings, necklaces and rings, and I was fine with that because they look like they have been out the whole day. What I found bothersome was that they did not take off their “bling-bling” when they magically changed into their respective outfits for their spontaneous cooking contest. Everyone knows that anything small that can be put one can also be taken off by accident. When that happens, people would be discovering that their fish had eaten a ring before it was fated as their first-course meal. I know it looks aesthetically pleasing, but it isn’t practical.

The third thing I noticed were their outfits. I’m not sure if I could call it stereotyping, but it certainly does bother me. Ai-Ai wears a one piece dress with an apron, something that looks like a mother-at-home would be if she were cooking, but just because a dress has laces and frills on it does not mean that it should be the stereotype mother outfit, whatever that means. Judy wears her traditional chef’s uniform complete with a toque, which is actually not “allowed” in a sense. Because as far as I know, only professional chefs are allowed to wear it. I may be wrong.

The fourth thing I noticed was their makeup. I will not say much about their silky-smooth-flawless-skin because that is what is expected from TV personalities. Through the extent of my own knowledge, don’t people take off their makeup when they get home? I may be over-reacting but people do not put on makeup because they want to cook something in the comfort and confines of their own house. But what if your kitchen is outdoors? Well I still do not understand putting on makeup just to cook.

The last thing I noticed were the large amounts of food that was made in the cooking competition. They cooked food enough for ten people, and in contrary only two people were eating it. They lay out a grand feast for two people while the entire village stands back and watches the youngest child eat one spoon of whatever-food-Judy-made. However, at the end of the commercial we can see the village join in the feast; why didn’t they just let them join, instead of just two children? Surely having more opinions is much more beneficial. On another note, just because Maggi Magic Sarap is quite a big package, does not mean that one has to finish the whole pack in one cooking.

Secondly, I will talk about the dialogue or the lines.

The first thing I noticed was the “Practical Mom” and “Chef Mom” comparison. The narrator then says “Kaninong luto ang mas-magical?”. I do not understand why they would even have to compare a person who has no technical training in culinary arts to a person who has. Even without the food-taste-enhancer-thing, Chef Mom would win, hands down.

The second thing that I noticed was the manner how the daughters called their mother. Ai-Ai’s daughter, Sophia, says “Kaya mo yan, Ma!”, and Judy’s daughter, Yohan, says “Go, Mom!”. This is already a stereotype of class culture: the daughter of an at-home-mom speaks mainly in Filipino or Taglish and the daughter of an educated mother speaks in English. This is extremely evident at the last part of the commercial where Sophia says “Pareho naman magical, eh”, followed by Yohan saying “Why is it so delicious, Tita Ai?” and before Ai-Ai could answers Judy interrupts by saying to Ai-Ai “In English, please.”–in reference to Yohan’s question.

The last thing that I noticed was how Judy and Ai-Ai spoke. Throughout the entire commercial, Ai-Ai spoke in an intense modulation. This is sort of okay with me because Ai-Ai is known as a stand-up comedian, so it is probably her habit to speak like that when she performs. Judy’s manner of speaking is the one that bothers me. She talks in a smooth and slightly seductive way. Not only that, Judy makes it a point that she sounds like she is being eloquent, an attribute that most people without a proper education cannot achieve. It is mostly true that people who received prestigious education speak more eloquently than those who did not receive such an education. Nevertheless, the commercial is showing a division between social classes, and that should never happen even if it is evident in reality.

So what are they trying to say? Could they be leading people into buying shampoos and conditioners (even though Nestlé only deals with food products), into buying jewellery and accessories, into buying outfits that fit their surroundings and personal background and into buying glutathione? Or is it probably nothing because it just looks aesthetically pleasing. Then again, this is show bussiness we are talking about. It does not matter to Nestlé if people buy ten boxes of shampoo, gems, clothes and glutathione; as long as the commercial entices people to buy Maggi Magic Sarap, they could care less about the sales of other competitors who are not in the food industry.

How about their their way of talking, what are they trying to say there? People that stay at home most of the time only speak Filipino or Taglish while people who work and received upper-class education speak English? Even if it were true, showing inequality should not make good television. I say should not because apparently it is working, to my own disbelief.

There are other things that I noticed in the commercial. They are more of representations and ideas than aesthetics and dialogue.

Firstly, I do think that this commercial is sexist because both of the main characters are female. The first oppressive idea that came to mind was “women must stay in the kitchen”. Why couldn’t they find a Chef Dad instead of a Chef Mom? It would have made more sense if the commercial’s intentions were to show a comparison and contrast between the two female actors. Add to the fact that Ai-Ai used her daughter and not her two sons in the commercial. Judy has only one child so it is understandable why Yohan is there.

Secondly, the actual foods that both female actors cooked. I watched the commercial more times than I have watched a Spongebob Squarepants in a single week, and I finally saw the difference in the foods that they cooked. Ai-Ai cooked a simple deep-fried fish and that was her only dish (which was strange because I counted seven dishes at the end of the commercial), and Judy cooked something within the realms of Chinese cuisine: fried rice, beef stew, something that looks like chop suey and a roast chicken dish. That in itself says something about financial and social status. So it is easy to say that the producers, writers and directors presumed that the target market is more likely to cook what Ai-Ai made (if she actually did make that) than what Judy made. They presumed that the target market would never be able to attain the skills to cook something as grand as an International Culinary chef.

Thirdly, their last line at the end of the commercial. At the end of the commercial, Ai-Ai and Judy go “Nasa kamay natin ang tunay na magic”. This is probably the most in-your-face-“oppressive”-line in the entire commercial. How is that possible? Maggi Magic Sarap implicitly—to an extent—prohibits the target market to actually learn how to cook well. Maggi Magic Sarap suggests that the target market should buy their product to make the food they cook taste good. They know that if everyone cooked well, then nobody would buy their product. So in order to get their target market to buy their product, they implicitly say “We will do half of the cooking for you, just buy our all-in-one-seasoning and your food will taste like it has been cooked by a trained chef”, and as Judy said in the commercial “Nagiging lutong chef ang sarap”. Which leads me to my fourth and second to the last point.

Ai-Ai delas Alas and Judy Ann Santos are two popular TV personalities. Furthermore, famous TV personalities are loaded with cash, and when people are loaded with cash, their standards are set pretty high. I doubt that people of their calibre would actually use this product. These two female actors know what Maggi Magic Sarap is made of, and it is not an all-in-one-natural-seasoning. We know that this is something artificial and that this is made in a laboratory, and in all honesty, I highly suspect that Ai-Ai and Judy would feed their kids with something that came out of test-tubes.

Lastly, I find it ridiculous that a future professional chef who has studied abroad and who has studied in exclusive culinary schools would use something as low as a taste enhancer. Her first known education in culinary arts was in Ching Mai, Thailand where she took a crash course in International Cuisine. She then studied under Chef Gene Gonazalez in Center for Asian Culinary Arts Studies and graduated with distinction (Puyo, 2008). She has her own restaurant in Quezon City called Kaffe Carabana (Parel, 2008). Judy Ann Santos is obviously a well educated chef, so it would be logical to get her for a commercial that involves cooking food, right? Well I say that is wrong. Any respectable chef would not be caught dead using an all-in-one-seasoning, MSG or Ajinomoto. Food is meant to be something borrowed from nature that nourishes our body, or in the case of a chef—a work of art. As I said, I would come back to the first point that I made after I scrutinized everything else.

In order for commercials such as these to avoid criticism, they should steer clear and change certain things.

First off, I would say that they should make the actors look as real to life as possible. Nobody comes out of the kitchen—after cooking a feast for 10 people—pristine as a baby after his/her bath. They should in fact, look as horrible as a newly born baby.

Secondly, some proper research on outfits and costumes must be done, because attention to little details can go a long way.

Thirdly, they should be sensitive to their market audience when showing large amounts of food. Showing large amounts of food does not make one want to buy more, it makes them jealous; for people who don’t have the money to buy even the simplest of food, showing large amounts of food is a slap across their face.

Fourthly, the dialogue between two groups of social class shouldn’t be so evidently diverse; we should erase the fact that the Philippines is very classist.

Fifthly, the producer should find people that would actually use Maggi Magic Sarap or people who actually represent their target market to promote the product.

Sixthly, if I were the producer, I would not let Ai-Ai have a one-on-one cook-off with Judy because it would be an unfair for Ai-Ai. I would have each villager make one dish to compete against Judy. If they can’t beat Judy in terms of quality, quantity is where they will be able to make a difference. Not only that, but it the sight of more people in a production is actually more aesthetically appealing. The idiom “less is more” does not always apply. When Akira Kurosawa said “I want 1000 fully-armoured samurai on 1000 fully-armoured horses”, he knew that it would look better than just a couple hundred.

Lastly, I think the best recommendation I can give is: stop selling Maggi Magic Sarap. The best way to prevent something from happening is it to cut it off, just like the plot in the movie Minority Report (they arrest people for future murders, thus stopping the murder entirely). These are just my recommendations for the commercial, but I can go beyond that.

The main culprits are not the product, the female actors or even—to the extent—Nestlé. I think that main culprit here is capitalism. One thing that I have learned in DLSU is that capitalism is not all about liberalism; it is in fact very oppressive, and it is the largest oppressor in the Philippine setting. What makes it worse is that most people are completely oblivious to what it is doing to them. Capitalism entices people—especially those with limited proper education—into purchasing products that they (the market) think are necessary. My TREDTWO professor lectured us about capitalism, and he said “People use to invent things because they were necessary, but today people just invent necessities.”; this could not be any truer.

Capitalists influence people into thinking that their products can actually reduce one’s workload in life. This may be true for some people, but capitalists always make sure that their target market goes beyond the boundary of their actually target. Let us look at one example: the iPhone. Apple says that it is the only handheld device that you will ever need because it functions as a device that connects people, that plays music, movies and games, that has apps to make life easier (like maps and GPS navigation), that has a camera and a video cam etc. Apple makes sure that the market feels that they need everything that-that phone has, or they make it a point to convince the market that, if ever they do buy one (or more), the extra things they initially did not need would become a necessity in the coming future.

That sense of necessity applies to Maggi Magic Sarap. The company persuades the market that Maggi Magic Sarap is a necessity in any kitchen because it saves the workload of actually preparing food traditionally. People buy it not because it takes too much time to cook with natural ingredients, but because it is just too much of a hassle. It is too much of a hassle to pick up many ingredients, when in fact you could just pick up one packet of Maggi Magic Sarap. It is too much of a hassle to prepare the ingredients, when in fact the ingredients have already been primed into tiny white chemically prepared dust particles that look nothing like its natural counterpart. It is too much of a hassle because more ingredients mean more actual work has to be put in when cooking, when in fact the tiny white chemically prepared dust particles are much easier to stir. Why spend so much on ingredients when I can actually buy its less nourishing and artificial counterpart for a fraction of a price of one natural ingredient?

We forget our old sayings, “’Pag may tiyaga, may nilaga”, and this is true both figuratively and literally.

Reference:

Office of the President. (2007). Biography :: President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Retrieved from: http://web.archive.org/web/20070524214413/http://www.op.gov.
ph/biography.asp

Parel, H. (2008). Judy Ann Santos: The Sweet Taste of Success. philSTAR.com.
Retrieved from http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=55424

Puyo, H. L. (2008). Judy Ann Santos-Agoncillo: Making the right choice. FilAmStar.net. Retrieved from http://filamstar.net/index.php?id=727

T.S. (2005). #4 Gloria Arroyo. Forbes. Retrieved from
http://www.forbes.com/lists/2005/11/1YDI.html

Creative Commons Licence
The Cultural Critique on Maggi Magic Sarap TV Commercial by Isaiah Patrick V. Alix is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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