POP GOES THE WORLD, By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 7 October 2010, Thursday
Where resides a nation’s heart and soul?
This was the question that several university professors, media professionals, and I discussed the other night during a PhD class at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication. It stemmed from College of St. Benilde professor Rod Rivera’s report on theaters in Manila that screen films bordering on the pornographic. There are those, he said, that claim that such theaters in Quiapo and Recto are a front for male prostitution.
From there, Dr. Jose Lacson segued to commercialism in television and film. Advertising executive Chitchat Diangson said that much of television content in dictated by what producers believe will sell, leading to the creation of mind-numbing programs like “Wowowee”. Professor Bea Lapa deplored the entertainment media’s unwillingness to raise the programming bar in standards and taste, while writer Nina Villena brought up the issue of media gatekeeping. Women’s development professor and staunch feminist Julienne Baldo decried the media’s reinforcement of negative stereotypes of gender and class, perpetuating cruel cycles of prejudice and bias that further retard national social development.
Which brings us back to our question and its possible answer. It is in art where commercialism does not hold absolute sway and the discourse on social issues may be expanded without the taint of capitalism and the imperative of profit. There are those of us who write, paint, make music, and sculpt not for money, but because we need to express the meanings and concepts that burn within us and cry to be expressed and physically manifested in forms that may be shared with others.
These forms – books, songs, paintings, theater plays – often do not translate into income for their creators, but that was not the point of their creation anyway. It is in a nation’s art that current social events and issues are poked, cut up into bits, and licked to find out what they taste like. What’s important to people? That is what floats up in the content being made nowadays, and is disseminated over channels such as the Internet.
Dulaang UP scored one such intellectually-shaking triumph with their recent hit production “Shock Value”, written by Floy Quintos and directed by Alexander Cortez. It’s been given a positive review by MST opinion editor Adelle Chua, who focused her piece on the play’s theme of the commercialization of television, and how producers of celebrity shows of mass attraction artificially manufacture the scandals and intrigues that make up its content.
Among its stars in its cast are John Lapus, Mylene Dizon, Andoy Ranay, Christian Alvarado, and the awesomely talented Sabina Santiago. As “Little Tweety Girl”, Santiago’s hilarious on-stage simulation of an orgasm, eyes rolling back in her head, demotes Meg Ryan’s performance in “When Harry Met Sally” to amateur status.
Dulaang UP’s next offering is “Isang Panaginip na Fili”, “an edgy, dreamlike interpretation” of the Jose Rizal novel El Filibusterismo by writer/director Quintos, which will run from November 24 to December 12 at UP Diliman’s Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater. Call (02)926-1349 or (02)433-7840 for tickets.
“Isang Panaginip na Fili” publicity still, courtesy of Dulaang UP.
A fresh take on heartbreak, loss, and recovery comes from writer Carljoe Javier by way of his non-fiction book The Kobayashi Maru of Love, with artwork and design by Adam David of the Youth and Beauty Brigade. It’s available at avalon.ph.
Says Carljoe: “I wrote The Kobayashi Maru of Love because, first, I was trying to understand (a recent) breakup, and I was trying to work through my feelings about it. Like any breakup, there are nasty emotions that follow, and I was going through all that. But I thought that if I was forced to apply aesthetic distance, if I was forced to try and be funny about it, that I would be able to cope better. And as I got back into the dating game, well, things were just funny and had to be written about.”
The book is indeed funny, but beyond that, it dwells on themes that nearly everyone who reads it can relate to. “I think that I’m talking about something universal,” says Carljoe, “and that’s loss. Pretty much everyone has gone through a heartbreak or a heartache. I guess that I was just trying to connect to that, to make the book not just about my own personal heartbreak, but to make it for everyone who’s ever been through it. Our individual experiences are different, but the hurt is the same. So I wanted to write a book that talked about that.”
Carljoe’s next book, Geek Tragedies, will be published by UP Press next year. “I have a number of projects in the works,” he says, “among them a book I hope to write about the Filipino diaspora and the effect that having parents abroad have on kids; a book about me, a fat man trying to get healthy; and a novel.” A freelance writer and editor of the Philippine Online Chronicles, he is also taking his MA Creative Writing at UP’s College of Arts and Letters.
Art in this country is alive and well and a thriving part of our culture, a part that is not a slave to commercialism but is free to speak out on social matters, the human condition, and what lives inside the Filipino heart and soul. ***
Photo above, L-R: (front) writer Bambi Harper, UP professor emeritus Dr. Cristina Hidalgo. (back) writers Waldo Petralba, Jeena Marquez, and Carljoe Javier.