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The Capitalist Myth of Opportunity and Culture Industry in Pepito Manaloto

A neo-Marxist Analysis of Rags to Riches Trope in Popular Culture

Dubbed as a reality situational-comedy show, Pepito Manaloto represents the commercialized rags-
to-riches fantasy of the middle and lower class Filipinos generated through popular media. Now on its 5th
season and 8th year on-air since March 2010, Pepito Manaloto has proven itself as one of GMA
Network’s highest-grossing shows of all-time. The Sunday sitcom features the life of the titular character
Pepito, with his family, whose disadvantaged life significantly changes when he becomes the lone winner
of ₱700 million in a state-run national lottery. Through neo-Marxist lens, the popular show reveals itself
to be an ideological tool that sustains the pervasive capitalist idea of success, culture industry, and workers
and peasants’ mythical opportunity to transcend their social class through a lucky one in a hundred
million lottery ticket.

Due to public demand and its unparalleled ratings, it is difficult to deny that the sitcom Pepito
Manaloto is pervasively popular as it exploits the good-time-feel-good escapist entertainment the working
class has been culturally fed with. This Filipino TV series revolves around the idea that Pepito, a good,
uneducated man and his family, once poor as a mouse and unaccustomed to privileged life, suddenly rises
to power as he lives the refined and favorable life in a mansion after winning the lottery. For fun and
comedic value, families watch this together on a Sunday night, unconsciously instilling in them the
commercial cultural values of the Capitalist era. Pepito is widely-loved because he is an ordinary and
average man who finally lived the waking dream of a Filipino peasant, a worker with a meager pay,
allocating his money every day to take chances in the government-run lotteries. On the surface level, with
Pepito, what is positively seen morally good and worth-emulating is the cultural notion of a smiling
Filipino, a passive clever clown amidst crisis. All this, purely ideological, are constructed in the minds of
Filipinos through culture industry and mainstream media.

As the Frankfurt School of neo-Marxist thinkers Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer call it,
the Capitalist "culture industry" (69) put forth mass consumption (like the sitcom Pepito Manaloto) that
is commercial, highly accessible, pleasant, homogenous, and easily predictable, which promises a fun time,
an escape, a ‘false consciousness’ to make the exploited mass think that they are essentially happy about
their situation. As they watch their fantasies realize behind a TV screen, the workers’ free time are
dominated and soothed with thoughts of love, romance, family, humor, and entertainment, keeping their
senses dulled. This ingrained all-positive thinking establishes a sense of conformity and an imagined
comfortable environment where social authority is upheld (like in family, government, and school) and
the masses are discouraged, even barred from thinking outside of their current confines (69). Mainly, the
culture industry wires the brain to foster obedience and curtail independent thought among the masses.
As Adorno and Horkheimer writes:
The escape from everyday drudgery which the whole culture industry promises . . . [is a] paradise
. . . [of] the same old drudgery . . .escape . . . [is] predesigned to lead back to the starting point.
Pleasure promotes the resignation which it ought to help to forget.’ (69).

What makes Pepito Manaloto an effective ideological pawn of Capitalism to perpetuate the status
quo is the ability of the common mass to recognize and see themselves in him, in his humble beginnings
and imperfect life. On every episode, the Manaloto family struggles. But in each situational problem, lies
the direct promotional material object or event that the sitcom endorses as a paid advertisement. Every
product featured on the sitcom is used as a solution to the familial problem or a reward, an infective
desire seen on TV – sky diving, designer bags, new massage chair, or a trip to a new waterpark adventure.
And the Filipino viewers lose themselves in this fantasy, enslaving themselves in the capitalist workforce,
in the pursuit of wealth to spend more money on products, caught up in this never-ending cycle of
impulsive consumption.

In the context of capitalist Philippine society, the Italian neo-Marxist Antonio Gramsci’s idea of
cultural hegemony still holds true as the multi-awarded TV series sitcom Pepito Manalo reaches its height
of success garnering fame for best original comedy in various award-giving bodies for eight consecutive
years. Pepito, viewed as a virtuous, rewarded family man and common mass hero best exemplifies
Gramsci’s cultural hegemony of the capitalists, exhibiting their power to wield the economic reality
through perceived culture on media (86). Other than the democratic façade of media in giving the people
the illusion of their power and freedom to think and perceive the reality, the institutionalized gambling
through national lottery also pushes the capitalist agenda – the myth of opportunity and social equality.

In Pepito Manaloto, the lottery exemplifies how modern capitalist society deludes people into
thinking that a wealthy lifestyle is "easily" within one's grasp, and available to all people. It gives the
Filipinos ‘false freedom,’ their rags to riches fantasy, ripping the poorest and most desperate people in the
country. When in the materialistic reality, it is not their luck, perseverance, or goodness that will
determines how well will they end up with a fortune, but rather privilege that their social class engenders
them. In effect, one would not wonder why a contractual worker feels apathetic towards a wage-increase
rally that directly affects him. One could simply imagine how after the worker comes home to his family,
after he had already waged his bet in his one in a 500 million chance of hitting the lotto jackpot for the
day, he would watch Pepito Manaloto on screen and imagine that if he would just endure, persevere in his
meager-paying job, he could be just like him. Here, the oppressed worker exalts the capitalist rag to riches
dream as a hopeful chance, never even acting on his socio-economic reality. Here, Pepito Manalo
becomes an ideological tool that constitutes the illusion of transcending social class simply because he is
one of the worthy, lucky, and chosen few.
Works Cited

Storey, John. 2006. Cultural theory and popular culture: an introduction. Athens: University of Georgia Press.