Friday, August 28, 2009

Two fruits, one tree (or, why there is no such thing as a national artist)

photo from

Through our friendly exchange of comments on Sylvia Mayugas Facebook wall regarding the ongoing National Artist of the Philippines title award debacle, Lila Shahani, a doctoral candidate at Oxford University (London) working on her postcolonial literature in English degree and who used to work for the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the Gawad CCP committee, observed a “somewhat promiscuous and occasionally rather putrid need to constantly canonize in the Philippines.” She went on to propose a national art completed through a process “more natural, more organic, where the cultural minutiae comes alive on its own.” Still, the hanging question was, Why this eternal craze for “canonization” and official recognition by a nation?
     Well, apart from the lack of an audience for many artists which might require forcing such an audience by legal declaration, my other quick explanation to that hanging query is this: we are not a nation. We have never been, and we just might never be. You see, a long time ago a colonizer declared the people of this archipelago “of ours” as one nation of “Filipinos”; then that colonizer left and we were likewise left with the vague duty of continuing the realization of that declaration. However, there are many factors keeping us from realizing that mission—regional, regionalist and religious divisions are just some of these. But I would like to focus on two very important factors, two basic ones responsible for the constant and unflagging division in our nation and which I believe are at the root of such cultural issues as this surrounding the recent National Artist of the Philippines title debacle—viz., language and education. (Let’s lay aside for the moment the issue of politics governing National Artist selection, as I am more concerned in this essay with the masses’ unconcern).
     Okay. Now, some will say we are divided into two nations, the rich Filipinos’ nation and the poor Filipinos’ nation. That is also true. But that view can be tricky in the art of explaining the economics behind it, so I’d rather trace things to the more obvious dividing tool: language. (As I write this, for instance, I’m fully aware of my readership, and that readership does not include my neighbors in our barangay).
     In the Spanish era we were introduced to feudalism, and within that feudal system was entrenched a wedge that would forever keep the poor from reaching the landlord’s sons’ and daughters’ level. That tool was language. Spanish became the mode of instruction in the academies, and—since society operated under a feudal system—the academies would mostly be affordable only to the landed gentry or the merchant class, seldom to working class elements or the peasantry who could only rely on the charity of private or public scholarships. The learned from Spanish, therefore, could thus only become more learned by Spanish. Those denied access to the language from childhood might be able to keep up a bit, but only up to a point (the same way that what we now regard as OFW English can only function for certain functions but not in the alta sociedad ballroom functions, unless you are Manny Pacquiao’s mom).
     Now, when the Americans came and went, that systemic bent of wedging a divide between the poor (Tagalog-speakers) and the rich (now English-speakers) was not removed. Sure, there were efforts to come up with a language we could call our own, which my great grand-uncle Jaime de Veyra was party to. Declared as the national language, Tagalog (which would later be academicized to be known as Filipino) had a nationalist rationale-cum-agenda; but it did not seem to be aware of its potential in ultimately removing the poor-rich wedge tool, the language divide. The nationalists spoke Tagalog in public functions, but kept their snobbery by English’s way with the rest of the upper class in their daily exclusivist conversations concerning keeping up with the white Joneses. The national language mission was designed for nation-making, never for nation-uniting. And the problem with that was, the nation got to be made by the new landed gentry and the new merchant class who were being educated by Thomasite standards.
     Since language and education are like the left and right arms of every citizen that makes coping with daily life a whole lot easier, that wedge in Philippine society separating the left arm and the right arm to make life more difficult necessarily manifested itself in all facets of society’s operations, including that activity called the arts. And so the poor Filipino nation generally listened to radio soap operas and pop music and watched cinema entertainment in Tagalog, while the rich Filipino nation primarily listened to radio news and music in both Tagalog and English and watched English soap operas on TV and English movie-theater movies. Sure, rich entrepreneurs made Tagalog literary masterpieces for the masses, but that doesn’t mean they preferred these to their self-Americanization or self-Europeanization ideals.
     It was logical therefore to see a two-pronged development of the arts. The Tagalogeros’ arts included, among others, still life and Last Supper paintings on plywood or katsa (low-grade cotton canvas) made by maglalako painters (painter-vendors) who intended these for dining room display. Their art, similarly colonial as their upper-class masters’, also included American jet fighter jeepney sticker art, and such other manifestations of colonial idolatry. The Ingleseros’ arts, meanwhile, included—among others—painting inspired by the painting concerns of the moment in New York/Berlin/London/etc., emulations of Italian industrial design, and so on. The former became prisoners in their own country and were only able to do so much artistically, while the latter generally became prisoners of their old and continuing colonialist ideals—but that is a different issue.
     Thus, today, by virtue of that language divide that entrenched an educational divide that in turn created artistic divides, we continue to face the problem of addressing the concepts of what a national art is, who a national artist is, when a national art or artist is, and how national is a national artist.
     Politicians would find it easy to give out answers since their usual concern with the arts is political. Artists seem to have a more difficult time with it, since they would be more genuinely concerned with defining what is art and what is national.

Now, I forget who it was who wrote in the 80s, in the American magazine The Saturday Review, something like this: “every time I see an I Love New York sticker, I know New York is in decline.” Something like that. Well, every time I see a symbol of canonization, like a National Artist award for someone, I know its ultimately a symbol of desperation.
     Desperation, I say, because we (consciously or subconsciously) know we have not yet realized the old proposal to be a nation and have thus remained constantly divided—not just regionally but regionalistically, religiously, linguistically, economically. The compounded result of which is finding ourselves eternally crazy about such exercises of false nationhood as following a rigid performance of the national anthem (as against the US allowing much leeway in the performance of its own). We have acquired thus a hunger for perfect symbols: a national hero, a national flower, a national fruit, a national fist, a national pasalubong, a national book store, whatever national else. Subconsciously, we know that we really dont represent anything collectively. Culturally, Sudan’s infighters seem better off, for they know they are fighting for specific ethnic rights and also ownership of specific oil territories. We, on the other hand, celebrate our symbols the way we celebrate our religious days and icons—blindly most of the time, wishfully at best. Rizal the fighter for autonomy or independence is loved on Rizal Day even as we continue to embrace the dictates of the economists of foreign creditors, which is the same behavior we display every time we congratulate ourselves for a nice mass (on a Sunday or Saturday), even as weve come to love the things Jesus of Nazareth used to hate.
     Blindly, therefore, unfazed do we march forwardalbeit in a haze—toward what could bring us true nationhood. Nationalizing anything and everything has become our desperate and self-assuring habit. I find it easy to say that by simply trying to be a nation and trying blindly, we will never attain our objective. For nationhood, you see, cannot be constructed by imposing wishful thinking on a people within a territory via momentary spurts of sloganeering and songs of “magkaisa tayong mga Pilipino” every time there’s a news-friendly event requiring commonality, or every time we come up with a utopia of obedience under the rubric of a “Strong Republic.” Nationhood takes a lot more effort than that. Some even had to build a nation through a war cause. Or a peace cause. There was always a uniform direction within the internal divide.
     But that’s on the one hand. On the other hand, there is the Karl Popperian idea of a democratic society that proposes to create a nation by constant democratic exchanges, internal economic exchanges, and pluralism. What these exchanges demand is the achievement not of uniformity for the sake of nation-building but plurality and variety for the sake of “free society”-building. This demands an atmosphere akin to a town fair with competing booths, the thesis being that unifying by way of unifying breaks a nation, while enhancing differences under the parameters of opinionated aggression as well as the “acceptance of one’s obsolescence” (Popper) creates the necessary physical human unity consisting precisely of more exchanges and the consequent nurturing of a continuing mutual respect. We do not have that in our idea of democracy. Our idea of democracy remains: to have the freedom to speak and not to own the responsibility to listen—but this, too, is another issue.
      Suffice to say that our nation is not made up of a demos of a people, which should be one and the same thing; instead we have educated lords lording it over the demos, creating two peoples. Thus we continue to nationalize anything and everything to embark on this subconscious mission to hide the truth; it has become our reflex action and attitude towards every frustrating event that occurs in our midst. Instead of decentralizing culture to create that town fair atmosphere, we announce on the speakers that everyone in the town fair should wear blue and red shirts and jeans. We do not just crave for a nation, we try to design a nation, and we take it upon ourselves to act on that duty. The problem is, even with an obedient people we cannot acknowledge the fact that we cannot even give them orders if they are speaking a different language.
     The process of elitist nation-making can be quite funny, too—it shows us how nation-shapers can become parodies of themselves. And that is not just in our archipelago where things are not even funny anymore. The American Grammy Awards, for instance, has a system wherein peers can nominate only those artists who have reached a certain number of sales in the market; this is similar to the Hall of Fame awards system wherein mayors and governors and sports investors take the ritual photo op on the day of conferment, not realizing they actually waited decades before they could say, “oh okay, he's still not forgotten, maybe we can give him the award now.” Who the hell needs that conferment in the first place when the people already gave it to the man/woman centuries ago? What the hell is a Grammy nod all about if what is required is a market nod first? Now, of course there are honors that really honor, and these are usually the awards that do not pretend to derive from somewhere else. But the rest are crap, and these are usually the awards that pretend to have been conferred by an Academy when in fact it had indirectly been conferred by the people firstly, or these are the ones that pretend to have been conferred by the nation, or by the city, or by the barangay, when in fact an institution took it upon itself to speak for the nation/city/barangay. The National Artist title award is that latter type of carabao dung. And the sad part of it is it not only pretends to be an award by the nation for an “artist of the nation,” sans a definition of who a nation is composed of, it even wastes the peoples tax money—the only thing truly of the people and by the people in that award. And from now on, the filmmakers of our land will pay their cultural taxes to pay for C-movie filmmaker Carlo Caparas’ monthly stipend, the new controversial awardee.
     Consider, however, that Carlo Caparas—a product of profit-based movie marketing for the masses created by rich movie producers—is not an “academic” artist, and perhaps also why a lot of arts people were astounded by the conferment. Now, Caparas may be a bad artist, but that says something else again: the world of academic artists and the world of an educated politician like Gloria Arroyo cannot seem to meet on the same plain. Why is this? Perhaps Gloria Arroyo does not really believe Caparas to be worthy of the award; she has been so wily a politician, as many of us have been wont to say. If so, then it would make perfect sense that Gloria Arroyo chose to confer the award on somebody who in her opinion might be her people’s champ able to go against the elite artists’ preferred refined champ.

“What is this constant need to deify, whether its the Gawad CCP or National Artist award?” asked Lila Shahani.
     Apart from the Gawad CCP and National Artist awards, which are national efforts, let me digress to the Palanca Awards, which is a private effort. Some would aver that it would be unfair of me to touch this last as it is not of the same bunch—but they are of the same bunch. First, though, the disclaimer. Palanca’s sin is not a grave one, for it only pretends to be an “award” even as it is really a contest prize for contest applicants with three judges sitting for each category instead of a committee like, say, the Swedish Academy for the conferment of one award. It only pretends to be like the National Critics Circle awards (an honor honest about its being a circle’s honoring someone) even as it is actually the American Idol of Philippine literature. And Philippine writers play along—for the money, or for the credentials (since the literati have already attached themselves to it as an institution). A writer-friend says some of these Palanca-participating writers would even adjust their writing styles for whoever is going to sit as a major judge in a year’s contest (it’s a small community, you can’t keep a secret), but that’s another matter and I cannot name names.
     But at least the Palanca doesn’t pretend very much to be of and for a nation. It acknowledges that it is of and for writers and is only an opportunity medium for . . . actually I think for the propagation of the easy transfer of styles of patronage.
     I do not, however, think the Palanca to be entirely useless. I would only rather that it was a publishing and distribution grant so readers can access/check its winners. In short, so it can be a part of a potential literary market and potentially of the nation.
     Let me discourse further on Palancas role in my arguments here later. First, Lila Shahani points out that international publishers like Random House seem more interested in ethnic voices than in national voices, in an Australian aborigine writer than in an Australian writer, at least presently. And that is really because book publishers are moved by the forces of market tastes and market availability and marketability and market niches. They are moved by such principles as positioning, product image, product identity. They know what they are looking for.
     If you want to make it in the Philippine market, Ms. Shahani opines from experience to provide a contrast, it is useful to celebrate some aspect of our national identity. So would a Filipino version of Aravind Adiga’s White Tiger make it back home [Shahani is writing from India], with all its criticisms of India? Unlikely. Instead, even if one is not necessarily formally gifted, as long as one celebrates the pastoral, the indigenous or the national, one is bound to be awarded eventually. Isn’t this as dubious as the criteria for multicultural writing internationally? In my two earlier blog essays here under the National Artist label, this was what I referred to as a propensity to institutionalize—through the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the CCP—safe art.
     And this is precisely how Filipino movements for idealizations operate, however various the approaches are by the different NCCA directors or CCP chairmen. And if we are to go back to the Palanca, which is governed more by the standards of its sitting judges from a previous or newly-established generation of writers than by any government interest, it sadly still turns out to be another form of convention propagation, or conventional innovation, and all because judges would not be inclined to interest a market, or a people, or a readership. Its judges would be mostly concerned with their aesthetic idealizations for an imagined market, an imagined people, and the small readership who may or may not love those idealizations since the judges and writers would have no way of knowing since Philippine literature is often for free. Almost nobody in my barangay has probably even read a poem or story by a Palanca winner. And if you say not all barangays are like my barangay, I would bet you my whole year’s salary if you can give me a barangay with even at least 20% of its population having read a book by a Filipino creative writer apart from the required Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo in college. I know this is not Czechoslovakia, and I know that neither is this Russia with taxi drivers reading Russian novels in Russian by Russian writers.
     So, what am I saying? Am I preaching nation-making by proposing a mono-lingual utopia?

In the early post-Marcos decades, there have been efforts to democratize the elite arts. The CCP even toured ballet performances to the provinces in the late 80s through its outreach program. It was the institution’s way of hoping that if you bring a thing to the people, the people would eat that thing. If you give them caviar, they’d go “ooh.” Well, that seemed to be the prayer, at least. The CCP’s nationalizers were understandably offended when they didn’t get those bravos, or got offended more when they got a “mas masarap pa ang bagoong dyan e” sort of response to their West-inspired art.
     But, get this. This approach was not exclusive to the elitist in the arts who thought like Imelda Marcos in saying, the way to erase an elite is to make an elite element out of everyone. No, even the Marxists in the academic world did come up with their own designs for nation-making. They said people should have access to our books, and so our writers should start writing in the people’s language, Filipino. The problem was, and still is, this: language doesn’t seem to operate merely through words, it also takes its personality from the education it got (and the jobs and wages that this education got it), and from the access to a bookstore that went along with its being able to find that meager job thanks to the meager education it got. Sure you can tell a people and their language, “hey, pare, mare, hindi ito sonnet, ito ay isang soneto,” but that, ladies and gentleman, would not change the politics around the art commodity—coining a new local word for an alien object would not readily assimilate that object into the accepted culture of the larger society nor guarantee its acceptance after having been understood. In short, you may change the politics within an art, the language and its contents, but that would not change the elitist aura of all Philippine art that do not derive from the barangays or the people themselves and their education (the education afforded them by a poorly-accorded privilege).
     Ms. Shahani also shared this observation: the ones we seem to idealize (in this context I have more experience with Gawad CCP) are the ones with fairly obvious and identifiable nationalist references.” That would be emulating or aping the Pulitzer, but at least the Pulitzer is clear on that in all its press releases, and the Pulitzer had had material that involved American characters in foreign lands (Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King almost won). Still and all, nationalism as a rationale for a Gawad is still merely tinkering with the content of the message, not fixing the real root of the absence of a nation-audience. “Unless you’re in awe of the greats, you’re in trouble, it seems,” Lila adds, and to me that’s a signal frustration with our collective fear for the “nationalist greats,” nationalist greats who are however unperturbed by the threat of the nationally uneducated (or unperturbed at least by our money-wasting in all this arts funding).
     So, in the end, what am I preaching? Well, if I am to preach here at all, I shall do it by referencing my admiration for what the novelist and short story writer Jose Dalisay wrote somewhere, sometime ago, to the effect of confessing that he is a bourgeois writer writing in a bourgeois way on non-bourgeois themes for a bourgeois audience. He didn’t put it that way, really; I did. But that’s basically what he was saying and basically what he has been doing. Now, if only the national arts committees of this god-forsaken nation could muster the same boldness to acknowledge its standing in the nation and stop pretending to be of the nation, then maybe we can begin the job of really making this nation one.
     Until that time comes, I will continue to refuse to call any Filipino artist—including myself—a national artist or an artist of the nation. There can be no such animal in this jungle. [END]


After reading the above blog essay, Sylvia Mayuga emailed me an article that shall be a part of her new anthology to be published by the Ateneo de Manila University Press. The article is actually a review of the book A Country of Our Own by California-based Cebuano writer David Martinez, a poet who---it turns out---seems to carry the same belief as mine concerning the mythology of our nationhood, though he develops his piece in a more researched though perhaps less sanguine way to produce his "tour de force" on the issue (Ms. Mayuga's phrase). Mabuhay sab ka, bay.
     But it gets better. Sylvia wrote "New Morning for Inang Bayan," extolling the positive coming off a negative event, including this blog---along with an interview with Ms. Shahani---in the limelight of her prose as she rose to her finale. That was quite embarrassing and an honor.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The economics of vanity

butt vanity photo borrowed

It is not as exclusive as many think it is. And I'm referring to what many assail as the vanity of tummy tucks, butt implants, liposuction, and what-not. For steep as the price of any of these operations may be, vanity is universal, and its many aesthetic variants would betray just as many pricing levels in the market. In fact, vanity is the market.
     I write this as my way of recording my recent debate with my neighbor's aunt at her diner in front of our barangay market when I went there this morning to buy a rare cup of barako coffee and enviable thick Visayan latik on suman for breakfast. My mother-in-law wakes up so early in the morning and I wake up so late and my wife leaves for the office for the usual rush hour along with the kids, so I'm left with the delightful experience of having special suman with latik syrup for breakfast. But this morning, a debate with my neighbor's aunt ensued when she started to scream all over the place over the issue of a lady on her TV screen, a lady who was saying Vicki Belo's clinic botched her buttock augmentation which endangered her life at a later stage when the silicone started to decay and harbor all sorts of microbial pirates inside her ass of a colony, or something to that effect. But, oh no, my neighbor's aunt was not concerned with the legalese favoring the butt-reshape customer and "victim," nor was she fuming at those who "do not follow the doctor's post-operation instructions," as some of my other neighbors in the diner cockily put it. My neighbor's aunt was merely feeling victorious, or---all right---simply glad, that an apostle of vanity had been punished by the anti-aesthetics god(s) of modesty that she says she devoutly worships.
     Reader, note that it is not my wont to argue with my neighbor's aunt, modest and behaved boy that I am. However, I have to confess I could not contain myself in my coffee cup meditation this morning and went outside my private circle in an outburst of fecund wordplay in defense of vanity itself. Not because I felt I was one of those whose vain pain she might later mock, I was still in my cheap flip-flops and am pretty past my high school days of wearing a look-at-me KISS-band makeup, but because I felt my economic philosophy was being trampled on, my belief and aesthetic religion insulted to the edge of the moon.
     How vanity is't in her, mesaid, when livest it yet in all---I said, in mock archaic English. "Ha? Ano yun?" she asked. "Unsa'y imong ingon, dodong? (What are you saying, kid?)" went she further, my neighbor's aunt from the modest island of Bohol.
     And, to my surprise, she listened. She listened, shocked perhaps that this good son-in-law of her neighbor mahjong mate who had up till now only listened and listened well to all her rantings against everything pro-labor, this boy who seemed to agree (if she only knew) with everything she said in defense of Gloria (Arroyo) not the U2 song, this son-in-law of her friend who would just say nothing but flash a series of smiles towards her articulateness, . . . shocking that he would now turn the tables and do the podium work in defense of his, his . . . "philosophy"---but she listened. "Philosophy gradweyt diay ka, dong? Unsa man, nganong wa kag mag-law? (You're a philosophy graduate, then, kid? Then why didn't you take up law?)"
     And though I forgot if I told her "no, I was never officially a philosophy student, I don't even finish the books I read," I remember that this was what I told her, to the amusement of my other neighbors in the diner (the butcher, the baker, and the candy stick vendor):

"'Nang (Mother)," I said, "all of us, all of us, without exception, plot our lives in the name of vanity. Perhaps not all in the nurture of their facial beauty, perhaps not all in the maintenance of youthful hubris, but all in the service of vanity, nonetheless.
     "You, for one," I said. "As much as I. We all, sinners that we all are as our parish pastor's wont to say, we all are children of vanity as we are of god [I believe she read god with a capital G]. Me, embarrassingly fortyish, I yet sport my long greying hair as if to spite the regal Romanness of Rome in favor of the long-haired Druids, old as I am who should be saluting the conventions of the short-haired and conventional now. And you, you in your modest 'duster' (sundress), you also take pride in such modesty and allow the arrogance of conventionality to dictate on those who sway from the barangay's ways, don't you, Aling Britney? And your name, your name itself is an identity which you subconsciously wear like a logo, don't you?"
     "Aba, aba, aba, ang galing mo palang magsalita a, dapat pala tumakbo ka sa susunod na barangay eleksyon, no. Sus, ninduta uy; hayaan mo, kakausapin ko si Kapitan, baka puwede kang . . ."
     I said I'd be back to my telework now, presently, and will just bring back her coffee mug later, and she said all right but I should consider really running for the barangay council.
     So, what was it I really wanted to say?---
     Well, I wanted to enumerate as many aesthetic variations of vanity. Sure, there are the usual vanities of art, of architecture, of cookery, of musical taste, of car and garage design, of lawns, of cycling jerseys, of religion, of politics, of engineering, of science, of a language and its poetry. . . . But there are also the more latent aesthetic vanities, aside from the vanity of modesty (simplicity's arrogant utopia against rococo tastes) and the vain righteousness of village mob wisdom. For one, there's the vanity of the view that our lives are what we make them. There's even the classic vanity of those who have long loved the status of wearing the stamp of poverty on their shoulders, with nary an absence of pride, wearing poverty like a unionist's tag on one's branded social-realist shirt. And being one of those who have concluded that, in this country, where there's smoke there's fire's one of the stupidest things you'd ever hear, I sat content with the Thoreau-bred thought that where there's a society there shall always be vanity.

And so, what now? How do we escape it, then? If we cannot escape it, must we then just embrace it, make a religion out of it, in Moses' absence?
     I thought about this question and, vainly, came up with this conclusion:
     Our problem with vanity now should not be so much with the difficulty (nay, the impossibility) of escaping it. Our problem with vanity has always been that we have constantly been told to escape it. The problem is we have been told it is bad to be vain. And yet those very same people who say so have the vanity to dictate on us what is vain and what is not. To get a liposuction is vain. But him getting a gas-guzzler of a gigantic truck for to pick his daughter from school is not, because anyway he just drives in his Jockey-branded undershirt.
     It's about time we chuck all this bullshit about what's vain and what's not. In the end, it all boils down to the same old Marxist issue of powers who label and non-powers who get labeled (and by powers I do not mean just the rich, for the stupid mob is just as much a force to reckon with as any landlord's army of goons). But lest I be mistaken again for a Communist (predisposed as everyone is in this country to do so) by my adherence to Marxist critical views, allow me once again the vanity of aggression in saying this: the examination of who said something and to whom it was said benefits not just a party, not any one party, including a Communist party, but an entire market of sellers and buyers!
     Telling our people that it is okay to be vain will do nothing less than get us moving forward. Telling our people that they should not apologize for their way of life will move nothing less than money that should be moved to stimulate an economy. It'll move our rotting butts off to the marketplace to make us buy lunch break lipo, a gourmet doughnut over a vainly simple glazed one, a sports car perhaps or a medium-sized Anton del Castillo more expensive than a Pajero, or a new fancy church in a new fancy spot. What is wrong with that, as long as it's your money? Here's my big what-is-wrong-with-that? If to do one of those is to do wrong, then everything in life is wrong. If doing one of those is bad, then everything in life is bad.
     (Sure, there's the argument that too much consumption is bad for the environment, but even that presupposes the vanity of humankind [anthropocentrism] thinking itself superior to dinosaurs and must therefore not go.)
     I finished my coffee. Having sat in front of my computer monitor for so long and said to myself all that I needed to say to deflate my chest, I vainly walked over to my neighbor's aunt and asked her, in quirky Cebuano, "Manang, you take pride in your coffee, right" She nodded, puzzled. I said, with syllabic emphases, "you're so vain kaayo, uy, but I'm so proud of you." I handed her the empty cup.

The marketplace in front of the diner went on its busy and merry way, exchanging money and judgments and all sorts of harassment in that mini-divine comedy of a day. But divine---however you put it---in celebration of selves' lives, all in the name of pure vanity.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Willie Revillame, the usual suspect

photo of Revillame from

SO MANY people are once again lambasting entertainment TV host Willie Revillame for carrying on with his fun-for-the-masses crappy noontime show Wowowee, not because they now finally agree with the band Itchyworms’ series of songs satirizing such profitable variety show shit; no, they are finally coming out to curse all of Revillame’s expensive houses because, horrors, he, Revillame, carried on with his noontime fun while Corazon Aquino’s funeral cortège (updates from which were intermittently being broadcast on TV) was on its way to an eternal memorialization in the planet’s history books as one of the most visited and watched cortège curious inhabitants of this planet ever saw. Revillame has already apologized, and the Aquino family has accepted the apology, him and TV host Kris Aquino being channel-mates and all, but—alas!—Revillame’s critics won’t have any of it. They want Revillame’s head on a plate, they want ABS-CBN to remove his name from its payroll, they want the authorities to run after his expensive cars and homes, minimize his mini-mall, they want to see him impoverished and finally slighted by his alleged “Guest Relations Officers” (“girlfriends regularly overlapping,” one envious/righteous wit of a gossip, whose name escapes me presently, once said).
     All the above mass anger is understandable anger if we’ve loved Corazon Aquino or the cause she had represented and represented us in. But, you see, this is also understandable behavior among those who merely want to exploit the anger and use Revillame’s (deservedly) maligned image as a scapegoat for their own guilt.
     I dare defend Willie Revillame the entertainer, though I have nothing but deep hatred for TV shows that kowtow to the poor’s beggary principles, feeding on their feudal patronage of TV hosts as well as mayors and presidents who throw away crumbs as the version of socialization self-righteously deemed better than real socialization itself. Hate those shows, I do, those TV shows and those political ones, for their alibi that it’s better to throw crumbs to a few lucky ones while the government or management behind them awaits the coming of a comprehensive miraculous change in their souls. Somehow I liken it all to a charity foundation built for the possibility of hefty tax rebates, or to carrying runny-nosed homeless babies for political photo ops to upgrade an image. The end for all those is always huge but latent profits. . . . But now, for fear of being labeled a communist (as is our wont), I’ll say I hate it/those not because I hate profit itself but because I smell dishonesty in the concept, see a faked desire to help a beggar with a 1,000 pesos while seeing a reluctance in its ability to donate to a cancer ward with a 1,000,000 of the same currency.
     But this is not where I would like to waste my blog space and my readers’ time on. It is somewhere else I would want to pooh-pooh convention. I would rather piss my reader off with my defense of Mr. Revillame than incense or bore him/her with my corny dialectics on the virtues of true Christianity or real (moderate) socialism.

I DARE defend Mr. Revillame for the simple reason that on that very day the nation saw him as verily crass and unprincipled, I saw nothing but honesty and integrity. While hundreds of Aquino-the-oppositionist haters displayed tears on TV as if to exploit the cameras for the nursing of their profiles as human souls, I saw Revillame as the one—the only one—devoid of hypocrisy.
     I do not mean to infer that in truth and in fact Revillame has not a gram of sympathy for Corazon Aquino as a person and as a cause, or has none of that for her family, or—worse, as others would have it—no sympathy for any dead person, oh no. I only mean that Revillame struck me that day as the very personality that he has always been, one who has no qualms about being a selfish child forever while also one who finds it not so hard to apologize like a self-conserving child an hour or day or week later, one—in fact—who would repeatedly preach about the virtue of childishness himself (correct me if my memory serves me wrong). Revillame did not change himself for the occasion, and the reason is simple: he does not know how to. Or, to be even more generous to the man, he probably by nature prefers not to.
     Many say Revillame is evil. I would beg you to pardon my disagreement, for I’d say you likely fail to see that his goodness lies in his honesty, inclusive though that may be of his honesty about his dishonesties. He constantly confesses his crassness, his business motives, his women, and so on and so forth, even his recurring evil. It’s a virtue so rare among us who delight in our own latent daily crassness and unfair price hikes who would later face the mirror to convince our own shaved masks that “you’re good.”
     Contrast Revillame now, then, with those who sent flowers to Aquino’s vigil, wore black or white (or beige) or yellow to chat with those at the vigil, and made offered sound bites for TV or radio microphones extolling Aquino’s virtue, doing thus while deep down were thanking the god Mammon for extracting yet another leader of street rallies, or—days or hours or minutes later—would go back to the very acts and thoughts against which Aquino could only want to live more to fight, armed with words of defiance and dedication her enemies had hitherto been giggling at.

I SEE not much of a political person in Willie Revillame. When he talked to the TV host Cito Beltran on the latter’s now-defunct talk show on ABS-CBN News Channel when the former had his falling out with ABS-CBN bosses before Wowowee was realized, he (Revillame) did not hide his selfish profit motives, almost bragging about how much of a business genius and conceptualizer he was and is. On that show, I saw Revillame as a guest on Bloomberg Television serious about making money, not someone pretending to be a “man of the masses” on Fox News. The man is a hungry businessman, no lying about that. If he is a deceptive persona, I’d say he is no more a liar than the bulk of advertising produced for TV.
     Revillame is a child. A grandchild at his grandpa’s wake might be missing his grandpa, but he would still be harassing his sister playing jacks in front of the funerary band playing grandpa’s favorite Glenn Miller marches, still be carousing with his kid gang-mates even as his grandpa’s cadaver parches. But that child, that child is not ever going to be a falsity. Nor a fakery. Nor a visiting figure of hypocrisy. A child cannot falsify his child-ness, cannot fake his childishness, can’t pretend to be a child. Often a child pretends to be an old man, and what we do is laugh at him and he laughs back in response to our giggling. Stupid, yes, but the child knows. He knows he is not an old man. He knows, too, that he’s bad at faking. Often he finds out he’s not good at lying.
     In contrast, again, the hypocrite and the fake will—during a night at a wake or during the duration of a funeral parade—believe, while the wake or parade or funeral ceremony lasts, that he/she has loved the dead. And he/she wouldn’t want to believe—or wouldn’t want people to believe—that he/she hadn’t.

THE ANGER against Willie Revillame (while curiously forgiving ABS-CBN itself, as always) continues. This is understandable if we had loved Corazon Aquino or one of the causes she passionately represented us in. But, you see, this is also understandable behavior for those who merely want to exploit the anger and use Revillame’s image as a stand-in for their own momentary shame. [END]

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How a P1 million dinner can be an example of reform itself (or, a worry-free Presidency for a worry-free nation)

e must neither dismiss nor undervalue the statements of the President’s lawyer, Atty. Romulo Macalintal, as mere gibberish for momentary profitable news. His words (read the ABS-CBN News report titled “Arroyos lawyer turns tables on immoral media”) betray what may actually be the hidden ideology of the Arroyo regime, which seems to be an interestingly syncretic one, an innovation upon the political philosophies of time that may just be appropriate for our days of worries. What comes out is an astounding combine that mixes the values of Fascism, Communism, Reaganomics, Krugman-omics, and the vaunted path to how leaders should address Climate Change.

Atty. Macalintal is basically saying we ought not to criticize a P1 million dinner if we ourselves fail to deplore the crassness of TV networks who receive millions from all sorts of political voices who have budgets for political advertising, or if we are reporters who receive our salaries from such evil. And Atty. Macalintal is right.
     How short are our memories that fail to remember, time and again, that the President is royalty, or should be so in the way the Prince of Monaco or the Queen of Britain is, free from the ignominious bargain ingredients crammed into our supermarkets and to whom it would be unbecoming to be found eating Philippine cuisine kamayan on a non-campaign period. Our leader is our Il Duce, of the same stature as Benito Mussolini in his time, and must therefore be allowed the privilege of a ruling party’s monopoly on haute glamour and high culinary traditions. Many times we forget to thank our Mussolini whose generosity and generosity alone allows our TV and radio networks to operate privately when they could have been nationalized a long time ago. Macalintal points out the evils of a profit motive in operating expensive networks, and he points it out well. After all, all channels—if he could only be allowed to serve as our DOTC Secretary—ought to be operating like the state-owned National Broadcasting Network, devoid of advertising support and free of the noise that only solicits contention and disharmony. The government-controlled channels 4, 9, and 13 have been explicit in demonstrating this wondrous utopia for a long time now that I am astonished to see why our citizens continue to reject its example. The morning program called One Morning Cafe (simultaneously shown on all three channels) is a great example of a Macalintalese improvement on McLuhan’s tetrad, a great design we fail to notice. The incredible utopia of this idea is of us—in harmony, a Strong Republic singing as one, devoid of profit, happy as a simple Juan—becoming a people rejoicing under the blessing of our Queen who, in her glorious privilege, can only deserve to be treated by Kokoy Romualdez’ (Imelda Marcos’ brother’s) son to experience some of these closed-door sumptuous royal fun, at least every now and then, oh nay often! I say, to hell with Cory Aquino’s utopia of austerity and leadership and . . . she’s dead, all right, people? She’s dead. And her utopia must now be buried with her. A new utopia has been in force.

Atty. Macalintal also attempts to show to us, unfortunately only a bit articulately by merely implying it, the virtue of Soviet-style communism that we can use to our advantage, a virtue wherein the State owns all channels but yet allows various parties to advertise on this channel, for free, with the approval of course of a Commission on Elections or candidates’ union that would validate the validity of political candidacies, thus filtering out the troublemaker from the genuine friends of the proletariat’s elections.
     The Arroyo administration has been a friend of the proletariat, you see, and NBN has been showing us that from 7 AM to 11 PM all these years, why do we stupid people fail to notice that? Advertising abound in this channel, Channel 4, regarding the President’s record on the GDP growth, the “pangtawid cards,” and all such blessings from the handbooks of Stalinism, why can’t we rejoice in all the good news through that free advertising from a real leader of the people who has brought to our doors the ready hand of various creditors, including the People’s Republic of Mao Zeddong’s China who wanted to help us create a cultural revolution of government personnel taking advantage of free NBN-ZTE broadband internet games and Facebook friendships?
     This should even be enough reason for the New People’s Army to surrender already, don’t you think? After all, what has Jose Maria Sison done to show his commitment to our people and their reeducation? The Arroyo administration has already been showing us how private networks can be harassed, as at the Manila Peninsula rebellion, so they can be liberated from their misguided hunger for bourgeois democracy and crass capitalism. Reporters should resign from their networks and collectively join the mission and vision of NBN’s hymn to people’s progress. “May bagong silang, may bago nang buhay,” as that hymn of the old Kilusang Bagong Lipunan used to sing, care of the prime communist recruiter in our history, our beloved late premier Ferdinand Marcos, may the dialectical gods bless his materialist soul.

But Atty. Macalintal does not explain why the government is still not bringing itself to nationalize the networks now, or why not yet, even if it wants to and could. Maybe it’s because he knows the simple explanation is really all that simple, because it is able to explain itself. It’s there, after all: Freedom.
     The reason why the President had to sneak in at Cory Aquino’s wake was because she and Corazon Aquino had one thing in common, a love for freedom and democracy. Their only difference is that while Aquino wanted freedom for everyone, Arroyo seems to want to promote the new outtake on democracy started by Marcos’ crony capitalism. She has transformed it into a more positive and more pragmatic freedom system for our people, who have all the freedom to imagine a can of mackerel as a roasted calf.
     This utopia is even better than any for Harry Potter. The formula for this kind of economics is not new, of course, it was started by Reagan. How is it done? Well, you simply set aside the negatives, tell the people these were beyond your control, and hype on the positives, tell the people they all happened thanks to you. That is really smart economics and the kind that frees people from their worries and is the sort of stimulus Obama should be emulating. This is what is called free-for-all market economics for crony companies, and though it brought us to the current crisis it also united us as a people, taught us all to be frugal and not buy too many Dior bags, even taught us to be content with our P100 family dinners. Besides, such free market positivism can bring you good luck, as the feng shui masters of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry would tell you, and damn if you’re not going to be on your way to being “one lucky bitch” if you just try this positivist formula in your own friggin’ kitchen for once.

One other feature of Atty. Macalintal’s voiced essay is only subliminally stated, however. It fails a bit on eloquence upon the Arroyo administration’s appropriation of certain Krugmanian values. Whereas free-market economists breathe fire at the Nobel Economics Prize for championing the present-day stalwart of New Keynesian economics, Paul Krugman, the Arroyo administration actually found a way to sneak his ideology into its positive mix of fascism, communism, and Reaganomics. Regulation, that’s the Krugmanian magic word. Regulation is fundamental to protect the people and the industries and the economy from the abuses of electricity distribution companies, uhm, oil companies (oops, no, no, not that one, says Secretary of Energy Angelo Reyes), uh, Ayala Corporation companies, oh yes, TV networks. TV networks should be regulated and that’s basically where Reaganomics should be set aside because we really need to regulate our TV reporting in this country, as amply demonstrated by the initial arrest of solely ABS-CBN people at the Manila Peninsula siege. We must know who to regulate and who not to touch. That’s being smarter than Krugman, that’s being “wa-is” (wise).

Atty. Macalintal, being a lawyer with very good credentials as a lawyer, is understandably not too keen on environmental values. Maybe he is, but we have yet to hear from him on that subject. So, let me speak for him speaking for Malacañang.
     The Arroyo administration’s proclivity for expensive dinners, you see, you enemies of our Strong Republic who are trying to weaken it everyday, what President Arroyo’s P1 million dinner really achieves for our people is this: it actually serves now as an example of how we, as a people, should live our lives in the midst of all these threats of climate change and global warming. Omar Khayyam wrote in his classic oeuvre, quite an unforgettable book, “Let us wine and dine, for tomorrow we die” or something to that effect. By dining thus, “not once but twice,” . . . to me, that is already a perfect example of good leadership.
     Because if you want your people to be free from worries, don’t just give them lip service. Show it by example. [END]

(P.S. My congratulations to the people of my home province of Leyte. In voting Kokoy Romualdez’ son to his post, you, my people, have shown to the entire country your good taste. I believe Le Cirque should open a branch in depressing Tacloban to finally get rid of that perennial binagol.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

How A P1Million Dinner Triggered A New Religious War In Our Barangay

It doesn’t make any difference that our country’s president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and her entourage recently dined at the expensive Le Cirque in New York City on the night of the Manila Cathedral vigil for Corazon Aquino, “pushing the dinner tabas the New York Post put itto $20,000 (close to P1 million). It wouldn’t make any difference because we are a religious people.

     It makes a lot of difference for now, because the media have been knocked for six and will—for a time—find it profitable news. But thats just it: the media are for-profit organizations, not public universities, and one day the news will cease to be news because the people won’t care about it anymore. There’s your vicious cycle, as the cliché goes, with the opposition’s hopes pinned on the possibility of a similar but newer future exposé. And the Palace? Oh, the Palace was quick to defend its president, as a matter of course, saying it was all a lie, though for now the media-watchers would not have any of that explanation, temporarily agog the latter are over the gustatory menu (and the $$$ that ordered for it). For now, many in the media and the media-consuming public are angry.
     But, in the end, it wouldn’t make any difference, because this is really what we’re all about: we are a religious people.

Gloria Arroyo is a religious icon. Those opposing her presence in the world oppose the religion of those who believe she’s a good leader, a good person, a model for all those who love Jose Rizal’s archipelago.
     Just this morning I was at my neighbor’s aunt’s diner and she (the aunt) was all over the TV screen, delivering her sermon in defense of her saint. “She was only a guest of the Leyte representative who picked up the $20,000 tab, what’s the matter with you people!”—she asked. Cerge Remonde, the Palace’s press secretary, who may or may not know that people picked to become press secretaries are often those perceived to have mastered the art of lying, had successfully spread that very line. Later, there were addenda-cum-emendations to the line—one being that it was just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill dinner with a Diet Coke and Le Cirque’s cheap wine. My neighbor’s aunt said the same thing. It was just an ordinary supper, what’s the matter with you people!—she said, some omelet dropping from her lips onto the TV remote control. One congressman was saying on the TV screen, It was not much of a restaurant, really, no more glamorous than a hotel resto, and my neighbor’s aunt was about to tell me a tale about how her husband proposed to her at Ma Mon Luk in 1957.

     Don’t get my neighbor’s aunt wrong. She was a Benigno Aquino supporter and loves Corazon Aquino very much. She will love to have Cory beatified. She hated the Marcoses and Fabian Ver. Then, in the early 2000s, she wanted to parade with the young to have the arguably immodest Joseph Estrada ousted from the Office of the President, if only her arthritis allowed it. She had an enemy lady fish vendor at the marketplace of our barangay that she hadn’t seen eye to eye with for years, and when that fish vendor embraced Estrada’s police buddy Panfilo Lacson during a senatorial campaign round at our place, embraced him so to wax him with fish stink, . . . then my neighbor’s aunt decided to end the decades-long silence between her and the fish vendor, and for the first time since The Beatles visited Manila bought two kilos of galunggong (mackerel scad) from the lady.
     My neighbor’s aunt still had an overflow of Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) issues and an abundance of ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC)-watching time during the period of the Estrada administration, so that she had embedded in her soul enough of her hatred for Estrada, and—perhaps thanks to her guilt over the decades-long feud with the lady fish vendor—a later deeper hatred for Panfilo Lacson in her guts. She talked lengthily about the Bubby Dacer/Emmanuel Corbito double-murder case as being one definitely more worthy of a book than the Marcos-era Escalante massacre.
     That hatred for Estrada-Lacson got so embedded in her early, as we said, that when the time for Gloria Arroyo to replace Estrada came around, she decided she would from then on label every Arroyo-critical report that came out on the PDI or ANC, especially the Senate inquiries, as mere Lacsonian propaganda (Lacson did win a senator’s seat, surviving the efforts of the lady fish vendor). Every one of those reports were to my neighbor’s aunt to be known as Lacson’s propaganda, as if Lacson would have the PR guru’s imaginative wherewithal to manipulate all the media’s news editors.
     To my neighbor’s aunt, Gloria Arroyo—the enemy of Estrada and Lacson—has been simply amazing. She delivers her State of the Nation Address without reading from a sheet of paper, ooh who could ever do that among the former presidents? Don’t tell my neighbor’s aunt anything about a teleprompter, because she’d quickly grip her TV remote control as if on the verge of a heart attack and stare at you as though you were Panfilo Lacson himself. Oh, she still buys a lot of PDIs but is more of a National Broadcasting Network (NBN) channel fan now, with a ready answer for anything the PDI editorials have to say, thanks to lines she can cull from Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and that NBN editorialist from San Miguel, Bulacan, parading in front of her new faith like they were her new Pope’s encyclicals.

You’d say I’m making fun of an old lady. You’d ask me to go look for fairer game. And, well, yeah. In fact she’s not alone.
     Just last May I was watching a handful of anti-Gloria rallyists on their way to a Labor Day event, and a group of young lasses behind me, mobilized as a bargain-soap door-to-door sales team jumping off a loudly-“bargain soap!”-crying jeepney (and were earlier nudging me to buy bargain soap), were now saying some lines out of Remonde and Palace Secretary Ermita: “why do they put the blame for everything on Gloria? Why don’t they get real work instead?”
     So you see, Reader, although the polls say Gloria’s rating is low among survey respondents all over the country, I still believe that her party’s candidate would win in the elections if elections were held now. Why?
     Because a lot of Filipinos are like my neighbor’s aunt and a lot of elements of the working class are into bargain soap selling.
     How come? What makes them so blind?—you ask, almost irritated at my reality picture.
     I say: religion. Religion makes them blind. And we are a religious people.
     By a religious people I do not mean that we are a bunch of ignoramuses who have no access to sources of truth and can only lean on nothing but faith. Even affordable tabloids can be sources of truth. Even the New York Post tabloid is respected as a source of truth, the reason why there is seldom one who would dare sue it for libel.
     But truth is nothing compared to religion. Apart from that, a people who have been trained to lean on religion and their faith will always damn any evidence contrary to their faith’s own version of truth. My neighbors hate me for insisting—through a BBC Four docu—that Moses crossed a mangrove swamp called the “sea of reeds” (now part of the Suez Canal) mistranslated from the Greek into a “red sea.” They hate me for telling them that going to the Red Sea from Pi-Ramesses to reach Israel would be like flying from Manila to Legazpi City in order to get to Lucena City. Nobody can topple faith, and we are a people trained to abide by faith.
     Faith can be great. But since faith usually recruits followers using the language of the heart, inclusive of its adorations and hate-crusades, so faith also becomes the tool of liars and manipulators. And, often, once the lying has been passed, we become our own liars to ourselves. Every bit of evidence that drops on our lair we topple with the logic of our unforgiving faith. Social psychologists, should we care about their scientistic opinion, call this attitude or sickness confirmation bias.
     So, Gloria Arroyo has become a religion. As Erap is a religion. As Marcos once was a strong religion. And no amount of reporting on Arroyo in the US from American tabloids can topple the faith of our majority—our neighbors and their aunts and the bargain soap salesgirls who frequent our streets—, no one can topple their faith, or simply the benefits of their doubt, to favor the ignominy brought by paltry evidences.

We are a religious people. And we are presently divided into two religions: those who have faith in Gloria Arroyo’s goodness and do not want your evidences, and those who believe that she ought to be burned at the stake.
     Corazon Aquino was a sort of Queen Elizabeth of the Elizabethan era to us, even a Joan of Arc to our hundred-years-war with ourselves. Though already out of office, she was still uniting those who could not be united to rally against the Spanish mestizo-type malas leches habitually screaming puñetas!in the presidential Palace. But now—like Queen Elizabeth—she’s dead. And some of those who mourned with us Aquino's passing (including my neighbor's aunt) are back to their faith that Gloria Arroyo is more of a saint than Corazon Aquino in the pragmatic front.
     But what about that P1 million dinner? My neighbor’s aunt has a new rejoinder, one the swiftness of which you could only hear from a person devoted to her faith: “she was only invited! Don’t you people see that it’s only the people around her who are devils? But she . . . she is a good woman. She is an angel who only has the recurring misfortune of being surrounded by devils!”
     Those on the opposite faith will remember my neighbors aunt for this, and in their turn may embed upon their own souls an eternal flame of anger at her person. And when the time comes for them to celebrate a victory, should it come, whenever that may be, their angers might carry the same flame of faith towards their new saint, blinding themselves in their turn from all the new evidences against their own whenever that hero commits errors in judgment, the same way my neighbor’s aunt lights her blind torch for her heroine. And as for them that would then be the surely new opposition, including my neighbors aunt, they shall carry on the consistently contrarian role thats expected of them, snubbing everything positive in the new regime. Not because national politics is just a game no different from a student council seat contest, but precisely because its a totally higher contest—where the prize is neither student fame nor academic glory but millions of pesos worth of perpetual dinners within the royalist vision of ce circle dans le cirque. Who wouldnt end up unbiased faced with that elevated temptation, and seek any sort of confirmation concerning their positioncorrectness? And those among the masses who can relate to this royalism and ambition will expand the confirmation bias, waking thus their defeated blind faith to be born again and be resurrected. [END]

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Politicians’ Artists of the Philippines vs. Artists’ Artists of the Philippines

Yesterday at the rally at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts office protesting the National Artist of the Philippines title awards given to C-movie filmmaker Carlo Caparas and theater organizer Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, National Artists and sundry joined Imee Marcos and Irene Marcos-Araneta in condemning the “presidential prerogative” exercised by the Malacañang Palace in picking this year’s awardees.
     Somehow I thought something was wrong here. F. Sionil Jose and Bienvenido Lumbera, among others, voiced concern over the sacrilege. The award was now tainted, they said. It was not honorable anymore. Their argument was simple: the Palace shouldn’t be deciding on things like these, that was the consensus, if only because the Palace was wrong in picking two artists the protesters thought didn’t even deserve to be called artists.
     Here’s what I thought. I thought this has already happened before and will happen again. What happened before was a not-too-loud controversy over then-President Joseph Estradas conferring the same title on the songwriter Ernani Cuenco for the year 2000. Artists wrote emails to each other to solicit protestations against this award for Cuenco, an Estrada friend.
     I remember writing a post on this subject at Flips, a mailing list for mainly Filipino-American writers. And what I wrote was basically the same opinion I carry now (see this mailing list post, which I uploaded as a blog post here in 2000, with the necessary adaptation and updates).

And so it happens again. And it will happen again. All because we can never agree on who should be declared a National Artist and why, in the same way that professors in a multicultural university in the United States find it hard to agree on which authors can be featured in their school’s curriculum. In our case, artists as a supra-collective will have their standards, politicians (ruling and not) their own. The worldly will have their opinions, the lumpen majority their searched words. The fine arts student will be very articulate, debating a take by a bus-driver fan of a popular art’s hyped-up stalwart.
     Kumukulo na ba ang dugo niyo? Sige, mag-Tagalog na tayo.
     Ang National Artist of the Philippines title award na tinayo ni Ferdinand Marcos noong 1972 ay isa lamang sa ilang manipestasyon ng pag-na-nationalize ng anumang gobyerno at ng mga authorized” na tao sa sining. Tulad ng NCCA at Cultural Center of the Philippines, ito ay nag-iimpluwensya sa sining mismo na gumawa ng safe art, ng sipsip (sucking-up) art, at di paggawa ng mga Orapronobis (Fight for Us) o anumang hindi magugustuhan ng nasa kapangyarihan. Ang rehimen ng ruling class na nag-iimpluwensiya sa ruling party ay mag-iimbita ng mga protest art kung ito ay laban lamang sa mga nakalipas na rehimen o di kaya'y pumoprotesta sa mga kalaban niya ngayon.

photo from

     Oo, mga paret mare, ang pagtalaga ng national art taliwas sa tunay na sining ng mga tao (na ayaw nating amining di natin nabibigyan ng sapat na edukasyon at tayo lamang sa mga maririwasang pamilya ang nakakaintindi sa mga National Artists na ito), at ang mismong pag-nationalize ng art, ay maihahalintulad natin sa pag-nationalize ng isang TV station. Paano kaya kung sabihin ni Gloria Arroyo na mula ngayon ay kakaibiganin na niya ang mga may-ari ng ABS-CBN at gagawaran niya ang ABS-CBN News Channel ng official tag na National Channel of the Philippines? . . .
     Bakit ba gustong-gusto nating magkaroon ng National Artists gayung meron naman tayo, o at least kaming mga karaniwang tao sa barangay? Meron tayong/kaming sariling national artists, di ba? Bakit ba gusto nating bumalik sa mga siglong ang artist ay nangangailangan ng patron na nasa kapangyarihan? Oo, kung tayo sa barangay ang hahayaang pumili ng taong ipagtatayo natin ng bantayog bilang simbolo ng ating sining, oo siguro at malamang si Caparas pa rin ang pipiliin natin. Ngunit kung yun man ang mangyari, tayo ang pumili. Walang magsasabing hindi iyon ang repleksyon ng ating kaalaman. . . .
     Unless mag-agree naman ang mga nagbabasa nito na mula ngayon ay mga artists na lang dapat ang boboto kung sino ang dapat maging National Artist. Wow. Kung iyon nga ang mangyari, ako naman ang tatayo at mag-ra-rally at magpapapadyak sa pagsabing: Alisin niyo ang salitang National. Palitan niyo ng Artists para maging Artists’ Artist of the Philippines. At mag-contribution na lang ang mga artists para sa perpetual stipend ng mga National Artists na ito at nang hindi na manggaling pa ang gastusin sa coffers ng republika, ng nasyon.
     Itoy hanggang matanggap natin ang katotohanan na, kung susuriin, ang karamihan sa mga itinuring nating National Artists ng ating bayan ay sa totooy Artists of the State (or of the Regime). At walang masama rito kung bibigyan ng angkop na titulong gayon. Dahil magkaiba po ang Estado at ang Nasyon, lalo na sa kulturang inukit ng representative democracy. At bagamat ang isang Estado sa ilalim ng isang representative democracy ay gawa at inatasan ng kanyang Nasyon na magpasya para sa lahat, malimit ding ang isang Nasyon sa loob ng isang Estadong ganito ay may kulturang di maintindihan ng kanyang elitistang Estado (na pinapatakbo ng mga elite) na paulit-ulit na ibinoto ng naloloko niyang walang-kamalay-malay na iba-ang-kulturang Nasyon. [END]