PGTW: The Gates of “Hell, No!”

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 30 May 2013, Thursday

The Gates of “Hell, No!”

Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chairman Francis Tolentino was so offended by novelist Dan Brown’s description of Manila as “the gates of hell” in his latest thriller that the good chairman went to the trouble of writing Brown an official letter on MMDA stationery.

“While we are aware that yours is a work of fiction,” Tolentino says, referring to Brown’s  “Inferno,” “we are greatly disappointed by your inaccurate portrayal of our beloved metropolis.”

This is not the first time Tolentino has disliked a work of Brown’s. Rappler.com says that in 2006 Tolentino “reportedly wrote” an article for the Manila Bulletin, panning Brown’s enormously popular book “The Da Vinci Code” and lobbying for the film to be banned in the Philippines.

Now where is it written that an author must forfend from disappointing?

Countless works depict places in a negative light, especially major cities from Los Angeles to Paris to Delhi. No one has complained like this, except us. Manila gets mentioned for once in a bestseller and it gets us riled?

It’s not even a work of literature. Dan Brown has been scored many times by critics for his clunky style. Here are some gems from Inferno:

“Their persistence has kept me underground…laboring beneath the earth like a chthonic monster.” “Chthonic” means “of or pertaining to the underworld”. Underground na, beneath the earth and chthonic pa.
“You know we have our methods. We can force you to tell us where it is.” We’ve heard this line in countless cartoons and bad movies.

“With a price tag of over 300 million U.S. dollars, the craft boasted all the usual amenities – spa, pool, cinema, personal submarine, and helicopter pad.” And, “…the incoming call was from a Swedish Sectra Tiger XS personal voice-encrypting phone…” Yes, thank you, Mr. Brown, all those details do advance the story.

“His mind felt alert but his heavily drugged body was slow to respond.” Don’t sedatives affect the entire system, both mind and body?

After a mysterious woman on a motorbike kills one of the protagonist Langdon’s doctors and pursues him and his companion with a gun, popping off shots, Langdon “…teeters on the brink of consciousness. Someone is trying to kill me?” Captain Obvious in the house.

A few passages later, “The sedative he’d been given in the hospital had left his mind as blurred as his vision. But just some pages before, “his mind felt alert…” What gives?

“Sienna, eez Danikova! Where you?! Eez terrible! Your friend Dr. Marconi, he dead! Hospital going craaazy!” I have never seen a question mark and exclamation point occur one after the other in print – until now. We’re not even talking about this horrible line of dialogue.

These examples are from the first few chapters. The rest of the book is more of the same cliché-studded writing Brown has employed (to great financial success) in the past.

How can anyone feel threatened by something like that? How can anyone even take anything Dan Brown writes seriously?

Relax. Just enjoy the frenetic action, obscure clues, and gripping suspense, and forget about it after you put down the book. Wait for the film, it’s sure to be a lot better.

Perhaps Chairman Tolentino has nothing else to do that he spends time on the clock reading novels and writing on official government letterhead missives like this which reflect his personal opinion and tastes and have nothing to do with MMDA.

Perhaps Chairman Tolentino has already solved the traffic problems of our major thoroughfares, cleaned up our streets of all garbage, ensured flood control measures in the entire city, developed housing to shelter informal settlers, and completed the myriad other tasks of the agency that anyone may see listed at their website, that he can turn his official attention to critiquing Dan Brown.

Look, we can’t expect to be exempted from things like this. We are part of the global community – we will indeed be mentioned by others, and not always in a favorable manner.

And the truth is that we do have horrendous traffic, shantytowns, petty criminals, poverty. Though Brown exaggerated, we need to face reality – and do something about it.

We waste our energy being prickly about little things, but what about the big things that matter, like the recent incidents with China and Taiwan and the US ship that tore up swaths of precious coral reef?

We are pushed around by our stronger neighbors and our response is an impotent buckling down, instead of standing up to bullies and saying, “Hell no, you can’t do this to us!”

But no, this is all we can do – whine that one of our cities was used as the location of a flashback scene in a work of fiction, when there are more pressing and important things we need to take care of.

Like growing up.  ***

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