The Legal Wife and the attraction of tragedy

INFIDELITY happens everywhere. Photo from Hufftington Post
INFIDELITY happens everywhere. Photo from Hufftington Post

Given a choice between a book and a soap opera, the book wins every time. Not that I’m above swooning over some hunk or smouldering anti-hero. But even House — or Tyrion Lannister — won’t make me a captive audience, the kind that drops tasks and cancel meetings for the privilege of muttering and cursing at assorted fictional characters.

Angel Locsin and Jericho Rosales, the main stars of ABS-CBN’s “The Legal Wife,” are among my favourite actors. I may not always follow their shows and movies. But these days their top-rating soap opera means a nightly break from round-the-clock news monitoring, to give our Mai-mai free rein to scream and stomp and mutter dark threats. (Her husband, Marlon, smiles and sometimes rolls his eyes.)

The Legal Wife is trending daily on social media. Coffee breaks are devoted to the newest outrage — and comeuppance.

I get the draw. And even critical friends have acknowledged there have been some gems in certain episodes.

Infidelity and betrayal hits the primal psyche. We know it can happen everywhere and to anyone. I don’t know anyone who’s never had to comfort kin or friend when partners stray. The scars can take years and years to heal. And we’re not even talking yet of the physical abuse that often accompanies confrontations and/or appeals.

Infidelity wallops at a person’s self-esteem, mainly because betrayers will often find a way to turn the tables and blame the victims.

A psychologist, on radio, said that if a husband strays, it’s because something’s missing from a marriage. Some talk show hosts quip about wives needing to prettify and re-learn the moves that can get hubby to hyperventilate again. But a Rutgers Univeristy study, cited by Women’s Day, notes:

56 percent of men who have affairs claim to be happy in their marriages. They’re largely satisfied with all they have and aren’t looking for a way out, yet they still find themselves in bed with other women—and in hot water with their wives.

So, you top the ratings, you have some bragging rights. I get that, too. But my friends at ABS-CBN will understand this appeal for some moderation. Sure, report the ratings and the Twittter trends and maybe, some funny/tragic things that happen when people invest so much of themselves in a teleserye.

But a teleserye’s every twist and turn should not swamp other important news. (I’m sure GMA and TV5 have heard similar plaints, too.) Nor do you have to drag out a news report or analysis and simper and gasp and declaim. This hasn’t happened on TV yet but it sure does on dzmmTeleradyo. 

And most of all, if you are going to interview experts on the wages of infidelity and the fallout from betrayals of relationships, can you ask serious questions AND LISTEN, instead of interrupting these experts to insert plot turns every minute?  


The cast of 'The Legal Wife'. From left, Angel Locsin, Jericho Rosales and Maja Salvador
The cast of ‘The Legal Wife’. From left, Angel Locsin, Jericho Rosales and Maja Salvador

It’s such a pity because there are important things one could share with women who’re wondering whether to bolt  and face financial uncertainties, or those folk who really feel they’re at the end of the road and just want to make things bearable for other family members. (Blogger Ana Santos gives great tips.)

God knows the main audience of ABS-CBN’s teleseryes are people who would really benefit from an exchange of knowledge and a sober discussion of an issue that can sometimes end up as a tabloid crime report. 

A friend and motivational speaker, Richard Brundage, once explained the allure of tragedy. It taps deep into our survival urge. We are horrified but can’t look away because these terrible events trigger alarm bells in the mind. We look because we want to get some lessons — why things happen, what we should do when these happen to us. We don’t always get the right lessons but we sure don’t stop trying because it’s a way to wrest some control over life’s chaos.

The breakdown of families is no laughing matter in this country without divorce. A 2013 report quotes the Office of the Solicitor General as saying that annulment cases doubled in the last decade. That doesn’t even include people who decide to separate sans legal niceties.

There’s a lot of lessons to plumb in tales of marital infidelity. I don’t think awkward themes should be kept out of popular media. But if we’re going to milk profits from these productions, let’s ensure we leave the audience with something more than anger or self-pity. At the least, let’s gift women — and men — seeking to move on with the tools they’ll need in cleaning up the mess.


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