It’s difficult to imagine childhood without Dolphy, even when all he was to me was the image of a father on television, even as who I identified with was Maricel Soriano or Claudine Barretto playing his daughters in two different sitcoms, across two different generations. At some point this father image became interwoven with that of Enteng Kabisote, father to Aiza.
The images are real to me, the characterization of fatherhood that was protective but had difficulty providing, that was faced with the rich mother-in-law who disapproved, that struggled financially but had a posse who depended on him, underground as the economy was that they all created and fueled.
And then I grew up, became more interested in shows other than sitcoms, if not the globalized culture that cable TV suddenly provided.
As we speak now, it’s easy to think the Pinoy sitcom dead. Because doesn’t it feel like exactly that, if our notions of its success happened last with “Home Along da Riles,” “Okidokidok,” “Ok Ka Fairy Ko”?
Many other things have died in popular culture since John Puruntong.
John is dead. John lives.
Or does he.
Who killed the pop culture star?
In current times, the answer is simple: popular culture as controlled by capital and global taste and spectatorship for sure. Because it has to be said that along with the death of the sitcom, there was the rise of the reality show; alongside the death of comedy, the rise of the romantic-comedy. Suffice it to say when John Puruntong and Enteng Kabisote died, replaced they were by <insert name of current matinee idol here>.
No characters, just names.
If not just people, which is what the reality show industry, this landscape of celebrity and the business of show has made of entertainment in current times. There was a time when we didn’t care so much about the personal lives of our celebrities, a time when there was a clear line drawn between the personal and the public persona, a time when the roles actors played in movies and on TV were far far from who they were in real life.
This was the time when John Puruntong was part of our real universe, even when he was fictional. A time when we knew Dolphy could only be distinct from the characters he played, and therein would lie the power of portrayal: if you’re playing something you aren’t, you so aren’t, and you do it successfully, is that not more difficult, if not more skillful, than say the matinee idol making us all swoon and bringing on the giddy with a ka-loveteam?
Dolphy was actor, and the measure of how good he was at it wasn’t so much that we laughed, but that we have concrete images of him in character. And that we are remembering these characters now, in Dolphy’s death, must mean something, yes?