The social media-savvy fans of the love team AlDub, who are responsible for getting AlDub to make Twitter world history, are not at the height of puberty, spewing acne and hormones. They don’t hold club meetings in small tree houses with a slum book. They are, in fact, saner than your imagination would like to conjure up.
I meet some of them in a cafe one afternoon, after a random Twitter invite asking them to give me a peek into their world in order to help me understand why they do what they do. I tap the @mainealden16 fans. They have almost half a million followers, and I later find out, about 3,000 official members. But do a quick search on Twitter and you’ll find about 30-40 active AldDub-devoted accounts, every one claiming to be better than the rest. The girls I meet come from various professions: one is a medicine student, the other an HR associate; one is a freelance writer, and one a strategic planner. They are female, in their mid-20s, not at all frightening or obsessive in nature. Some of them are meeting each other for the first time, but they converse like high school amigas reuniting after years. They try not to overwhelm me with their fascination — but sometimes it shows. One will scroll through their phones and discover the latest photo of Alden and Maine taken just hours before our meet-up. “Ay ang cute talaga nila,” one fan will comment. They’ll converse using in-depth AlDub jargon. After our interview, they are going to make rounds of all the bookstores to get copies of the magazines with the love team on the cover.
Today, celebrity fan clubs are based online. For AlDub, the presence is strongest on Twitter. Each account is spearheaded by a group of administrators, and supported by staff members who are loosely clumped into teams. For example, there is a multimedia team, in charge of making Photoshopped paraphernalia to share online, or a Team Sugod, in charge of attending events, tapings or shoots with offerings of gifts or food. There are chapters of fan clubs determined by geography in the provinces and abroad: a group in Canada, the United States, Singapore, Australia, and Macau. They meet up and share photos of their gatherings. Sometimes, OFW fans will send money and sponsor fans from the Philippines to enable them to attend shows, in place of those who live halfway across the world and cannot.
There exists a group who call themselves the Official Trendsetters, and they have authority over what the official hashtag of the day will be. This is disseminated daily, promptly at 12 midnight. “For unity,” the AlDub fans will say. This is also the reason why AlDub is always trending — because there is a group of people who ensure it is so. Kat, or Mommy Kat (@katya0121) as she is lovingly called, is a part of the Official Trendsetters, and takes (a lot of) time outside of her BPO day job to unify the AlDub Nation. When she isn’t assisting fans who line up on Broadway at 2 a.m., she helps manage the Official Trendsetters group, and marshals the behavior of people in the AlDub Nation. (I didn’t even think fans clubs had a behavioral obligation.) She gives advice to other fans and builds rapport between them. Kat tells me that being a part of this craze has allowed her to interact with many people. She’s so involved in it. She sees for herself the effects it has on families who are not close, on the demeanor of sick people, on OFWs who can’t return home. “This thing,” she tells me over the phone, “it’s real.”
Online, there is a fans club solely for lawyers and doctors. There is a fan who is a statistician (@ineffable88) and can read Twitter data for breakfast. He uses his free time to publish and read Twitter analytics for AlDub. (You know the stuff companies pay market researchers millions for? This guy does it for fun). The fans know every detail about the couple, they’ll joke they are certified PhDs at the topic — they know how the pabebe wave started, when tension first sparked, and which episode was the weakest. They can spot inconsistencies in magazine articles, they enjoy analyzing Alden and Maine’s non-verbal mannerisms, they know the color of Maine’s nails at each photo shoot, and can name all their commercial sponsors (and the creative executions associated to it).
None of the girls I talk to had ever joined a fan club prior to this. They were not particularly Eat Bulaga fanatics, or steeped in showbiz. So again I ask why, unsatisfied with their answer that “There’s just something different about Alden and Maine that is so raw.” I’m a skeptic, so I probe: “What is your objective? What’s in it for you? Is it to get more followers? Is it a marketing tactic?” But the fans, they just shrug at the idea that all this could simply be a marketing goldmine. They’re smart enough to know that this, too, is a possibility. But they are fans because they believe the values of the show align with theirs. Some of them just love the kilig factor. The rest will admit that it’s just a nice venue to invest their free time. But, unlike me, they’re not desperate to find out “the truth.” They don’t really care. Is it real? They don’t know. The question of whether it is “real” and “forever” at this point to them doesn’t really matter. Just as it is when we fall in love, and we never know right away if it will be “real” or “forever,” but we are in love nonetheless, and hopeful.
So I’m left with no real answers about the roots behind the craze. Except I’m left with something else equally tangible: this AlDub craze is making transformations among thousands, perhaps millions of people. They are reshaping our current pop culture, affecting language and behavior. Businesses skewed their Christmas campaigns to cater to the love team. Pass by EDSA and there is proof enough of this. The man beside me on an eight-hour plane ride has AlDub clips saved on his phone. The policemen at a City Hall precinct watch it on TV over lunch (don’t ask me how I know). My 50-plus-year-old dad buries his head in his iPad before showering every morning, during supper at the dinner table, and before bed at midnight, watching reruns of Eat Bulaga on YouTube. Everyone is talking about it. Is the love between Alden and Maine real? We don’t know. But look beyond that and see how these strangers have moved the nation. Now, that is real.