Posts Tagged ‘pop goes the world’

pop goes the world: psst! hey, taxi! v. 2

I’ve been inundated with work the past couple of weeks and am struggling to surface from the depths, swimming upwards to the light and air while fending off sharks, straining seawater through my teeth to obtain plankton for nourishment, and beating deadlines.

For last week’s “Pop Goes the World” column (August 12), I revived an earlier blog post and added social commentary and analysis, as the earlier essay was merely descriptive.

Click here to read the piece at Manila Standard-Today Online.

I had this interesting conversation, apropos of nothing, with an assistant general manager at work yesterday. What makes it special is that I just met her last week:

AGM: “I liked your ‘Psst!”

Me: “Excuse me, whaaat?!”

AGM: (takes my hands) “Psssst!”

Me: (totally clueless) “Sorry, Ma’am, I don’t know what you mean.”

AGM: “Your ‘Psst! Taxi.”

Me: (bright light dawns) “Oh. You read my column? Thanks, that makes two of us!”

AGM: (smiles) “Oo naman.”

I love you, ma’am. <3

UPDATE, 7 Apr 2012: MST recently revamped their website and the link is lost. Here’s the column as it appeared in full in print:

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 12 August 2010, Thursday

Psst! Hey, Taxi!

Cabs are everywhere in Manila, except, of course, when you need them most—when you’re in a hurry, and when it’s raining.

Let’s say you find one. Slipping into it, you expect a swift, safe ride to your destination in air-conditioned comfort. But have you reckoned with your taxi driver? Over years of riding cabs, I’ve observed there are two kinds: the silent and the not.

A quiet cabbie is restful, soothing. You tell him where you want to be taken. “Escolta?” He nods, puts the car in gear, and drives. He knows the fastest and easiest way to get to your destination. The entire trip, not a word escapes his lips. You lean back on the seat, perhaps shut your eyes to rest them. You listen to the radio if it’s on. The silent types usually don’t have it on; if they do, it’s tuned to a soothing station that plays pop or ballads, the volume at a discreet level.

But what if you end up with the just-won’t-shut-up type? This is the kind I get 90 percent of the time. It seems I have the kind of face that cabbies like to talk to.

In my experience, loquacious cab taxi drivers fall into the following categories:

The Political Pundit—His radio is nailed to a talk show where the host spends hours swearing at corrupt politicians. The Political Pundit is well-informed on current events and discusses issues such as the global recession and the fuel price hikes, usually from his own point of view as a cabbie.“Those @##$ raised the price of gas, but not the taxi flagdown rate!”

The Missionary—His radio is tuned to a religious station with a preacher interpreting a Bible chapter in an excited tone, or he plays gospel music on his stereo. At first he is quiet, gauging you. Then he strikes. “Are you a Christian, sister? Are you saved?” He goes on to lecture his viewpoint while refusing to acknowledge your own. Debating is futile and only leads to a pounding headache.

The Lonely One Looking for Someone to Talk To—This one usually is heartbroken over a woman—could be girlfriend, wife, or mistress. Knowing he will most likely never see you again and that you’re a captive audience, he pours his heart out, venting his ire about the woman who has done him wrong, or to whom he has done wrong, and so is suffering a (momentary) twinge of remorse about.

The Guy Who Loves to Hear the Sound of His Own Voice—He will talk about anything with hardly a pause for breath. The weather, his oras ng garahe, the weather… At some point, to escape the endless and boring flow of words, you seriously contemplate jumping out of the cab, committing suicide, or strangling the driver.

The Sage—This is a philosopher who delivers words of wisdom, sometimes cryptic, sometimes straightforward. One told me, “Filipinos are hard-headed. Ayaw nating nadi-disiplina. Gusto natin tayo ang nasusunod.” He then outlined a plan to pen jaywalkers in a shed at road corners or dividers for a couple of hours “to teach them a lesson”.

The Man of the World—Over the years, he’s observed trends in human behavior and shifts in societal mores. One early morning, my cabbie pointed to a young woman in sunglasses, tank top, and miniskirt: “She’s a bar girl, on her way home from work. I’ve had a lot of them in my cab, often with their unemployed younger lovers. It’s a growing trend among women who work. Even professionals.” I asked him to tell me more about kept men. “I started noticing it in the ‘90s,” he said. “For men nowadays, ‘money talks’ na. Wala nang delicadeza.”

The Flirt—His spiel goes something like this: “How old are you, ma’am? You don’t look your age. You’re very beautiful. You have kids? You must have married young. How’s your husband doing? Oh, you’re hiwalay? May I have your cell phone number, then?” All this delivered with a cheesy grin and the honorific po liberally sprinkled like glitter, so as not to offend.

As an acculturated Filipino, in all cases my response is a stock repertoire of noncommittal phrases—“Uh huh.” “Ay, talaga po?” “Ganoon po ba?” “Kawawa naman.” “Tsk, tsk.” Friends of Western mentality scold me: “Say it’s none of their business! Or tell them you’re busy and you want to rest.”

So why do I even bother to reply? In Philippine culture, to ignore someone who has begun a conversation is rude. A person who does so would be deemed hindi marunong makipag-kapwa. Even a perfunctory response is expected as the minimum.

For the Filipino, the other’s—the kapwa’s—business is also their own. Kapwa has been translated as “togetherness”, a concept tied to a Filipino’s sense of self. To be inconsiderate to the kapwa who is hindi ibang tao is more than the height of discourtesy; it puts society itself in jeopardy. Early tribes needed to cooperate to survive; this holds true today. In the overseas Filipino workers experience, the first thing most Filipinos do when arriving in a foreign country is seek out kababayans to help with settling down and fitting in.

Whether you get a silent or a talkative cab driver, you get taken to where you want to go. Getting the gabby ones are a plus: annoying, maybe; irritating, perhaps; yet always interesting. You get off at your destination having learned something more about current events, Filipino culture, and—only if you are discerning and willing to learn from everyone you meet—the human condition.   *** 

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pop goes the world: a feminist manifesto, with popcorn v. 2

I was so swamped with work I wasn’t able to write a “Pop Goes…” column from scratch for the August 5 issue of Manila Standard-Today. Instead, I asked my editor to use a ‘reserve’ article I’d originally written for this blog, adding a few more paragraphs containing details not in the original.

Click here to read the piece at Manila Standard-Today Online.

UPDATE, 7 Apr 2012: MST recently revamped their website and the link is lost. Here’s the column in full as it appeared in print:

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  5 August 2010, Thursday

A feminist manifesto, with popcorn

Some three years back, an engineer I knew sat me down at a small cafe at the place where I worked at the time, ordered popcorn, and told me he was going to give me an “important talk”. Advice of the unsolicited sort – actually, any kind of information – intrigues me.  So I sat and waited for the popcorn.

The engineer spoke in a sympathetic manner, like he really wanted to help, like he knew what was best. He was aware my ex had bailed years ago to be with someone fifteen years younger. “We need to find you someone else,” he said, “but men find you intimidating. That is why you have admirers but no serious suitors.”

“The popcorn needs salt,” I replied.

“We talked about you,” he said, “and we all agreed you’re smart, good at what you do, and pretty. You could even be a real stunner if you lost a few pounds and were a few inches taller.”

“Popcorn’s better with butter. Hey, alliteration!”

He moved the bowl of popcorn away from me. “You’re too intellectual. Everyone is afraid that they won’t be able to hold up their end of a conversation with you.”

As if I were going to deconstruct Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast or debate the merits of the Reproductive Health Bill on a first date. I do have some social skills; that kind of thing is appropriate only on the second date. (Heh.)

“Pay attention to this. You’re not getting any younger. And you have to lose weight,” he added. My fingers were curled around the edge of the popcorn bowl; he rapped them with a spoon.

I rubbed my knuckles and mused over what he said. What struck me most about our talk – other than that he kept taking away the popcorn and that the waiter never did come back with salt and butter – was his matter-of-fact assertion that because I was short, plump, of a certain age, and, worst of all, possessed of a functioning brain, no Filipino male would be attracted to me. It was the most absurd drivel I had ever heard.

Yet it was an honest thing he said. Because that is the reality in this society, and that is how many Filipino men perceive women – as sex objects for whom youth, big breasts, and a tiny waist are assets while maturity, a mind, and an independent attitude are liabilities.

Apparently, to gain the attention of a man, I have to lose weight, wear high heels, dumb down my conversation, and fake my age or turn back time.

Some from other cultures might think differently. An Australian male friend once asked why I remained unattached. With us was another friend, a Filipino male – a lawyer – who said bluntly, “Filipino males do not find her attractive. She’s over thirty and has two children.” The Aussie said, “But she’s smart and pretty! And her kids are wonderful!” The lawyer shrugged. “But she’s not young. It’s not her – it’s our culture. Her best bet would be to find a foreigner.”

He was telling the truth, though it did not speak well of his fellow Filipino males. A couple of years later I saw him one late night, holding the hand of a beautiful woman much younger than himself as they crossed the street.

I’ve asked many male friends of all ages and from all walks of life, why the Filipino male predilection for the young and intellectually immature. Their reply? “Take our word for it. Ganoon talaga.” That’s the way it is. The phenomenon is not confined to Filipino culture – how many elderly non-Filipinos have we seen around with giggling twenty-somethings on their arm?

What a sorry state this society is in when it comes to male-female relationships. It is this crooked mindset that causes cosmetic surgery clinics to thrive, marriages to crumble, and some women to feel demeaned, miserable, and used while others take advantage and do the using, digging what gold they can, all this further reinforcing a cruel cycle of gender dynamics based on economics, power, and lust.

It is sad that four hundred years of organized religion in this country has not made any headway into changing this state of things. Instead, it has been entrenched in the culture – a far cry from, say, the 16th century, when some Filipino tribes decreed monogamy and possible execution for adulterers of either sex.

Will Filipino men ever change the way they treat women? Will we Filipino women realize that we are partly to blame in the way that we raise our children with this same mindset?  When will we say, “Enough!” and realize that we deserve to be treated better? ‘Equal’ would do, for a start.

For my part, I will always rebel against the chauvinistic norm of this society and instead of forking over my money to a cosmetic surgeon for a liposuction, I will finish my graduate studies. I will grow my brain instead of my breasts, and shrink my ignorance rather than my waist. And if I have to walk this world alone, then joyfully will I make the journey, for I would rather be free than a slave.

But if someone wishes to make the trek with me, with complete acceptance of my children and who I am and all that I do, I might accept his company, for the road is long and it goes ever on.

He can bring popcorn and I butter and salt, and we will talk and he will not be intimidated by my references to obscure books and theories. He may be of any race or age, as long as his mind and heart are as free as mine. He will put the bowl of warm buttered salted popcorn in my arms, and feed himself and me as we walk in love and laughter till journey’s end. ***

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pop goes the world: a culture change is in the wind

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 8 July 2010, Thursday

A Culture Change Is In The Wind

Even before his proclamation, when it became clear that one Benigno Aquino III won the most votes in the recent national elections, a torrent of well-meaning advice and suggestions by way of mass media flooded him, most of them having to do with much-needed societal and governance reforms.

In the newspapers, on TV, and in the social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), the issue of government corruption tops the list of items that need to be addressed. Commenters unite in saying, “President Noynoy, crack down on the corrupt!” For changes to occur in the structure, the leader has to bring them about both by mandate and by example.

It is inspiring to see how P-Noy started with simple changes that had a personal impact – no wang-wang (sirens) and other traffic privileges for himself; no more presidential plane, he says he can fly commercial (in contrast to his unlamented predecessor who was prevented from buying a P1.2 billion executive jet by public outcry). He arrives early for appointments and beats traffic by leaving his house earlier than he’s used to.

It is appalling to see how the new vice-president, Jejomar Binay, was caught by news media blatantly ignoring traffic rules by running a red light and turning left on a “No Left Turn” street. His comment? “But I didn’t use wang-wang.” He also said that even if he left early, traffic would have been heavy anyway. Yeah, right. Seems to me someone just doesn’t want to give up the “privileges” he’s been used to. Ignoring the rules mandated for others sets you apart from the majority and makes you feel special and powerful. Insecure much?

Binay with Erap on the campaign trail in 2010. Image here.

P-Noy has been criticized for focusing on “insignificant” matters while bigger issues require solutions, now na! Come on, give the guy a break. It’s his first week on the job, yet already his actions have triggered a perceptible shift in the culture of privilege. Hope for fairness has lifted many hearts. Ordinary citizens are using digital technology to take pictures and videos of wang-wang and traffic violators and uploading them to the Internet. Perhaps public shaming will result in a change of behavior. For a test case, we’ll see if it has an effect on V-Nay.

University of the Philippines communication professor Dr. Joey Lacson calls this “a shift in the communication environment” – policies emanating from the top will trickle down and bring about changes in society, where new knowledge and awareness may lead to a change in attitude and practice.

Yet how effective as a catalyst for behavorial change can P-Noy’s example be? To return to the issue of endemic government corruption, will the way the president lives his life be enough to foster better behavior among unscrupulous government officials and employees?

My sister Aileen arrived for a vacation last week from Dubai, where she has been based the past 15 years or so as an overseas foreign worker. She went to the National Bureau of Investigation in Quezon City the other day to obtain a police clearance and was dismayed to see the shabby building, obsolete fingerprinting equipment, and long lines that snaked in three coils to another building. “On what does the NBI spend its annual budget?” she asked.

At Window 1, she was required to pay a fee for the clearance. At the next window, she was assessed another five pesos for “fingerprinting”. “The man taking the money,” she said, “had stacks of coins in front of him. And he wasn’t behind the counter. He did not issue a receipt. What was the extra five bucks really for and why is it not included in the amount I was charged at the first window?”

Fixers asked for P350 to enable her to jump the line and get her clearance faster. They swarmed around her and the other people in line as security guards and employees watched, obviously aware of the system. Since they do nothing to stop it, it leads one to assume that at least some of them are in on it too.

I rode a cab to school yesterday. The taxi driver, Virgilio T., complained that when he went to the Land Transportation Office at N. Domingo to renew his driver’s license, he was told to return after ninety days for the card. At the same time, he was approached by a fixer and told that for a fee, he could get his license in just two weeks. “If they can print the card in that short a time,” he said, “why do they make us wait three months? Why do they have to extort money from us for them to do their job?”

These are just two instances of how deeply embedded the culture of corruption is in government, at all levels from top to bottom, the difference being a matter of scale – the big fish take billions from government contracts, the small fry are content with the steady trickle of coins.

How do you tweak the communication environment in this situation to bring about a positive cultural change? For starters, P-Noy and his team need to craft clear policies that spell out the types of unethical behavior and their corresponding penalties, then strictly enforce them without fear or favor. Consistency in implementation is necessary for credibility.

Next, P-Noy needs to be true to his policies by living a squeaky-clean life and continuing to be a good example, to enable changes in organizations to occur via the trickle-down effect. It’s a tough act, but then who said being president was easy?

We as citizens can to do our part by not giving in to the desire for convenience by refusing to engage in graft and by exposing the corrupt. Like P-Noy, no more wang-wang, no more fixers, no more getting out of traffic violations by showing the card of this or that government official. Or showing the face of a government official – that means you, V-Nay.

“A change is gonna come,” sang Sam Cooke, and we can share that optimism, for we can already feel the winds of change blowing. How refreshing they are.    ***

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pop goes the world: signs of the times

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 1 July 2010, Thursday

Signs of the Times

With yesterday’s inauguration of the country’s new president, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, and vice-president, Jejomar Binay, a wave of hope washed through the nation, borne on tides of symbolism centered around Aquino.

This phenomenon made his presence ubiquitous and insinuated into the fabric of everyday life, whether or not you thought about it consciously.

The most obvious signs were on a direct level – his photographs plastered on the front pages of newspapers and the covers of magazines, which were filled with stories about his future plans for the government and anecdotes about his personal life. Television shows spent hours speculating on what his administration would accomplish. Billboards sprouted left and right, bearing congratulations to “Noy-Bi”. Merchandise bearing his face and that of his parents – former president Corazon Aquino and the late senator Benigno Aquino Jr. – were available at every price range, from cheap umbrellas and bandannas to pricey Parker and Lamy rollerball pens.

On a more abstract level, the signs also abounded.The color yellow, campaign motif of his mother, was everywhere. Publication editors carefully chose photographs and layouts awash in the color. Shop windows in malls displayed mannequins wearing yellow clothes.

At the Quirino grandstand yesterday, the sea of yellow-wearing spectators lapped to the fringes of the public park. While Noynoy himself chose to wear a traditional ecru barong tagalog, others close to him wore yellow – among them his sister, Kris Aquino, and significant other, Valenzuela councilor Shalani Soledad, who wore a simple yellow gown designed by Rajo Laurel.

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Laurel had asked Soledad if she wanted to wear another color, but she declined. In doing so, she, and others similarly clad, reinforced yellow as a symbol standing for Noynoy. By extension, to a deeper level of signification, yellow also serves as a sign for what he stands for and has promised – hope and change.

Apart from the existing signs to which society has attached meanings, new signs are being created. For one, the nickname “P-Noy” (President Noynoy), that he uses as a way of branding himself. Being informal in tone, it also makes him seem more approachable, “one of us”, and connotes trustworthiness and humility.

Meanings may be found not only in artifacts (things) but also in actions and behavior. P-Noy has time and again declared that he will not live in Malacañang Palace or the Arlegui mansion, where he resided with his siblings during the presidency of his mother. He says he will continue living at their small family home in Times Street, Quezon City.

P-Noy’s refusal to dwell in homes heavily associated with his unpopular predecessors – Ferdinand Marcos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – may be seen as a way of distancing himself from their negative actions, eschewing luxury and grandeur, and carving a fresh start for himself as he remains rooted in the tradition of family.

It is interesting to note how an entire system of signs has sprung up around P-Noy and the phenomenon of his rise to power – something that did not occur to this extent for Marcos or Arroyo, perhaps because of their unpopularity.

A society’s system of signs and symbols, which is constructed within its culture, performs an important role in social life. It impacts the way people communicate by providing another “language” through which ideas and concepts are exchanged, and actions and behavior influenced. This links to the concept proposed by some communication scholars that communication not only helps people navigate within reality, it also creates reality.

Communication scholars and those interested in semiotics may look forward to interesting times as the culture of P-Noy, his family, and his administration will certainly continue to provide fodder for study.

Yet the pressing concern for citizens is whether President Noynoy will live up to the virtues carried in these signs we’ve mentioned. In his inauguration speech, he promised to carry on the legacy of his parents (again using this reference as a sign pointing to the accomplishments of his parents, and associating himself with those). Again, another layer of meaning may be discerned, pointing to P-Noy as “the good son”, “the champion for change”.

But will he uphold democracy and deliver change and reforms as promised? Or will promises again be broken, and the meaning of the signs be rendered naught or shifted to the negative? Will P-Noy be able to create an improved reality for Filipinos? The whole nation anticipates that the signs of the times will point to a brighter and better future for all. ***

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pop goes the world: ignorance is not bliss

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 24 June 2010, Thursday

Ignorance is Not Bliss

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and other Roman Catholic church and conservative groups recently launched a high-profile campaign against the United Nations-backed sex education courses to be taught in elementary and high school this month.

Moro Islamic Liberation Fund Da’wah Committee head Sheik Muhammad Muntassir also issued a protest, saying “This is like preparing the child to be competitive for the next world of sex.” (sic)

They believe the Adolescent Reproductive Health program, implemented by the Department of Education, will promote promiscuity among the youth and erode religion-based moral codes.

Let’s take a look at recent demographic statistics. The country’s population is at 96 million and rising at roughly 2% yearly; 7 out of 10 new mothers are teenagers; an estimated 64,000 abortions are performed on teenagers yearly; and the incidence of HIV/AIDS cases spread through sexual contact have risen sharply the past two years.

Proponents of the sex education course say that ignorance and lack of knowledge  contributed to sex-related problems such as the population explosion, high rate of teenage pregnancy and abortions, and increasing number of AIDS cases.

Opponents say the course will teach teens to be promiscuous. (Given these numbers, aren’t they already?) They argue further that giving young people access to this kind of information will encourage them to engage in sexual behavior. According to Human Life International executive director Dr. Ligaya Acosta, “(This) is actually a course in systematic behavior modification, designed to change the child’s entire belief system.” She claimed that “researches around the world substantiate the fact that the more contraceptive programs are aimed at the young, the more pregnancies, abortions, promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases, and cancer of the cervix results.”

In other words, one may argue both ways about knowledge – that it both deters and promotes a certain behavior. A paradox if I ever saw one.

Meanwhile, in cities across the country, mayors, other local government officials, and health-care workers are doing their part to provide solutions. When lawmakers failed to pass the Reproductive Health Bill during the last session, the mayor of a large Metro Manila city remarked, “I don’t wait anymore for Congress and the Senate to act. I see the problems first-hand, so I help directly and immediately by handing out condoms and contraceptives.” What was the reaction, I asked, of the clergy in his area? “Wala,” said the mayor. “None.”

Perhaps the Church officials in that city are turning a blind eye because they see for themselves the pressing need for such steps to alleviate these social problems, which are seen as contributing to the problem of poverty.

Something needs to be done. The question dividing society now is, will the sex ed course help or harm?

The conservative and religious crusaders say matters such as family planning and sex are best taught by parents at home. But not all children have parents – how about the families of overseas foreign workers? Not all children have parents who are knowledgeable about the science, facts, and theories behind sex education and gender issues. We wouldn’t have these problems to begin with if they were, now would we? Also, parents who do have the knowledge may not be comfortable discussing sex with their children, and vice versa.

In a classroom setting, where gender and sex matters will be discussed by a trained teacher in a clinical manner, young people would be more likely to learn more and freely participate in the discourse and exchange of information. Ideally, from a communication viewpoint, this awareness and knowledge should translate into a change in attitude and practice.

The DepEd has offered to show the course modules to the public for feedback. In this way, those concerned may have a hand in shaping these sensitive and necessary lessons and ensure that our children will receive the information they need to conduct their future sexual behavior along safe and responsible lines.

If there were no such course taught, where would the curious adolescents go for the information? To each other? That’s like the blind leading the blind. To the Internet? Now that, according to one study, is made up of 34% porn, though that may be exaggerated.

Isn’t it best then, that trained instructors be given the task of enriching our children’s knowledge, rather than let them grope along unaided, finding out for themselves in the back seats of cars and in the delivery rooms of hospitals?

CBCP Legal Office executive secretary Atty. Jo Imbong and 30 other parents filed a suit against DepEd to halt the program, saying it was the “first step to reclaim our culture,” against “the forces that are reshaping the hearts and minds of our children.”

But sex ed courses were started only last year. How can it be a force that “reshapes hearts and minds”? If sex ed courses do contribute to promiscuity, teen pregnancies, more abortions, and so on, as Dr. Acosta asserted, then why do we now have such high figures all across the board for these without having had sex education? Therefore such courses cannot be blamed for the increased sexualization of our youth.

It is a growing phenomenon around the world. Where is it coming from? May I direct your attention to the glowing screens in your house – the television and the Internet. Mass media and advertising for the past several years have shown a pattern of sexualization of girls at younger ages; males, to a lesser degree but still at a marked rate compared to before.

I’d say it started with Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time” video in 1999. From then on, the clothes got shorter and the moves more obscene. Today artists such as Beyonce, Lady Gaga, and Shakira writhe across the stage, semi-clad. We have our own versions of sexy dancers gyrating half-naked on the daily variety shows, with unequivocal names like “Sex Bomb”.

The Sex Bomb Dancers in 2008. Photo by Ben de Leon here.

The cultural sexualization of the youth is a global trend. It is alarming, true. But because of rapid advances in communication technology, these types of media are easy to access and consume. This is now our culture, whether you like it or not. Unless you are North Korea or an Islamic country, there is no way no control this trend without taking away people’s basic rights to information and freedom of expression.

Why not fight information with information? Foes of the Adolescent Reproductive Health program are doing a disservice to the UN and DepEd efforts to equip our youth with what may be their best weapon against unwanted pregnancies, HIV, and sex-related issues. Ignorance is never a good thing.     ***

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pop goes the world: we are family

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 10 June 2010, Thursday

We Are Family

If the Philippines had a theme song, it would be Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family”.

Taking yesterday’s proclamation of senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III as president –elect and of Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay as vice-president-elect at the Batasan Pambansa from a semiotic viewpoint, the theme of ‘family’ emerged as one of the dominant signs.

Present were children and babies held by nannies or parents, because it is part of Filipino traditional culture that significant celebrations be held with family.

Also in the hall were members from the several dozen ruling dynasties of the country. Some were incoming, others outgoing, elected or appointed public officials. Their faces and genders and credentials may change, but the names stay the same, election year after election year. We might as well be a monarchy with a hierarchy of nobility and aristocracy.

The Aquino family members received much on-camera exposure during the television coverage of the event. Noynoy’s sisters Ballsy, Viel, Pinky, and Kris were seated in a row, clad in black, showbiz celebrity Kris in a glamorous off-shoulder number, her older sisters dressed more conservatively. Apart from showing the difference in their personalities and fashion taste, the clothes were a sign of two things: that the customary one-year mourning period for their mother, the late president Corazon Aquino, is not over; and of just who their mother was, and her place in history.

President-elect Aquino, Enrile, and Nograles are joined by Aquino’s sisters and brothers-in-law. (Photo by Voltaire Domingo/NPPA).

By extension, their dark garb was also a reminder of the other family member they lost – their father, former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., whose assassination may be said to have set this wave of events in motion, bringing an entire country to this point, where his only son holds the highest office in the land, borne to power on the crest of public sentiment for his parents.

This image references Kris’s hosting of game show “Deal Or No Deal”, which ended 2009.

Seated near the Aquino sisters was Shalani Soledad, Noynoy’s significant other, speaking to singer Ogie Alcasid. The showbiz family of Kris Aquino was well-represented too. It is from their ranks that the incoming president considers recruiting heads of government agencies – Boy Abunda for Tourism, Dingdong Dantes for the National Youth Commission, and Grace Poe for the MTRCB are some of the names he mentioned. Of course he makes these choices based on their qualifications, because it can’t be out of gratitude, can it, for their help in his campaign?

Shalani Soledad being interviewed by a radio news reporter. (Photo by Voltaire Domingo/NPPA)

In behalf of yet another prominent family, Senate President pro tempore Jinggoy Estrada read a message from his father Joseph. The senator extended his father’s “humble” acceptance of his defeat to Noynoy in the elections, and wished him well. From there the speech degenerated into a rant, citing the “failures” of Comelec and Smartmatic, stating again, as if we didn’t know, that the elder Estrada once served as president, and warning the Filipino people to guard against the corruption in government which he was unable to stem during his own administration.

There too at the Batasan were the Binays of Makati City. With son Junjun taking over from his father as Makati mayor, and daughter Abby the new congresswoman of the second district, they carry on decades of Binay administration in one of the country’s richest cities. The same goes for the Belmontes of Quezon City – father Sonny moves up from mayor to Congress while his daughter Joy steps in as vice-mayor to Herbert Bautista, who for years has held that same position.

We could go on and on.

But what about the families of the millions of people who gave the reins of government to these people via their votes? Who thinks of them?

As a citizen of this republic and the head of a family of my own, I lay this solemn charge upon the incoming set of political leaders – remember the families.

Think of the overseas contract workers who endure separation for years from their loved ones to toil in foreign lands to ensure the survival of their children in a country that cannot provide jobs and better life opportunities for them and their parents, while the government brags of a high GNP pumped by the billions of dollars they remit, ignoring the social cost and its consequences.

Seek to improve the lot of the widowed and children of those murdered in the Ampatuan massacre; those who die fighting on both sides of the insurgents’ war; those who live in hovels mired in abject poverty in sight of your grand mansions; those who cannot continue their education because of financial constraints.

Rescue those who are victims of abuse by the military and private armies and by those who because of the inflated condition of their pockets and egos assert their power over those who have little or none, since they thrive unpunished in a culture of impunity.

Filipino culture values family above all, even above God and country. The way we address each other reflects this – kuya or manong security guard, ate or manang food vendor, nanaytatay this or the other. And how often have we heard someone say, “Gagawin ko ang lahat para sa pamilya”? A Filipino will do, endure, and sacrifice all, for the sake of family.

To our new leaders, do not forget you are Filipinos, imbued with this land’s culture and norms. Accept that you are members of a larger family – the nation. Perform your mandated tasks, bearing in mind that you have our trust, because we have nowhere else to put it.

Remember the Filipino families – not only your own.   ***

“My Brother’s Keeper” by Ronnie T. Tres Reyes. Top Five finalist, 2008 Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office “Isang Pitik sa Charity” photo contest. Reyes describes his photo: “Taken one chilly night outside a McDonald’s along Mindanao Avenue in Quezon City. For over a year, this five year old boy has been taking care of his baby brother every night on the steps of the restaurant. Sometimes he lies on the concrete and allows himself to be the baby’s bed and source of warmth.”

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pop goes the world: do we need another hero?

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 3 June 2010, Thursday

Do We Need Another Hero?

President-elect Noynoy Aquino has come under public scrutiny lately for not wanting to quit smoking and for short-listing television talk-show host Boy Abunda for a high government position.

Stop laughing, this is serious. The smoking thing started when Aquino was asked if he would quit for World ‘No Tobacco’ Day on May 31. Obviously uncomfortable with the question, he said he is not inclined to give up the habit as it would pressure him more – and forget about the promise he made to quit smoking if he wins the elections.

Aquino steps outside Carmel church for a smoke. Image here.

In a recent speech, United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki Moon called tobacco use “ugly and deadly” and urged “all governments to address this deadly threat.” The World Health Organization says tobacco-related diseases are the second-highest cause of death globally after hypertension, killing one in 10 adults. It is an epidemic that is “preventable” with the strong support of government.

For this reason, Department of Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral and several non-government organizations have urged Aquino to kick the vice, citing “leadership by example” and the difference he could make in the lives of the country’s smokers via his example. However, Cabral acknowledges that it’s Aquino’s choice to continue, “as long as he does not smoke in front of others or harm them with his smoking.”

Come on, he’s not going to light up in the bathroom or closet. He’s the president and he’ll smoke where he pretty darn pleases.

Cabral perceives Aquino as having influence as a role model, which is a symbolic function. A role model is a person whose way of life serves as a source of inspiration for others to transform themselves for the better. He becomes a sign for what is good and worthy of emulation.

Why is he seen as such? As a public figure, he lives his life in the media, his behavior and actions subject to everyone’s observation, deconstruction, speculation, and outright fabrication. That comes with the territory. Don’t complain. You can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Yet Aquino remains cool and unflappable. He makes decisions as he deems fit. For one, he mused on tapping Abunda’s media and marketing expertise for the government, also citing his stature as an “icon” and his effectivity in communicating ideas to his audience. Noynoy has said he wants to offer Abunda a position as undersecretary or assistant secretary – pretty high up the food chain for someone who is not career government.

Pundits criticize this choice, saying there are many other candidates better suited for the position. Abunda himself has defused the situation by saying that he wants a “simple life”, and that he is still under contract to the ABS-CBN network. A successful businessman, he certainly earns more in entertainment and through his other entrepreneurial activities.

Boy Abunda: celebrity icon. Image here.

Apart from the connection via friendship (Abunda is very close to Noynoy’s sister, talk show host Kris Aquino, and was also the family spokesperson upon the death of Kris and Noynoy’s mother, former president Corazon Aquino), the president-elect is showing just how powerful the influence of popular culture is. Because Abunda, by dint of his engaging performance on air, has become wildly popular among his viewers, he is seen as an “effective communicator”. For running a successful talent management company, he is deemed to have marketing and business skills of the caliber to run a government agency.

What does that say about the Filipino, when the incoming head of state – his image also largely a product of popular culture – relies upon the icons of media to help with the “marketing” of a country?

It says that the power of popular culture should not be underestimated, and that those who wield it have immense responsibility, for they can use their influence for good – or evil.

Looking at Aquino’s choice of Abunda from another angle, it is the acquisition of the talents of people from showbiz (and other private industries) for the public good, or “privatization”. In the US, a comedian wants Steve Jobs to become president and reverse the economic meltdown. He did it for Apple – two million iPads have been sold since it was launched two months ago, and its market capitalization has surpassed Microsoft’s, for years the giant in the IT world. The idea is, if it works there, it’ll also work here. But that’s not necessarily so. Private success does not always translate into public effectivity.

To sum up, Aquino is not a “good role model” for refusing to ditch cancer sticks and for being swayed by popular culture and personal agenda when making some decisions that have national repercussions.

But we didn’t elect him to be the national role model or hero. That’s Jose Rizal. We voted Aquino in as president. His job is to make the right choices, set the right priorities, and do what needs to be done. Government corruption, poverty elimination, culture of impunity – the list of issues that need reforms is inexhaustible.

The National Hero’s image on a banknote.

Good governance is the toughest job of all – harder even than quitting smoking. And if the president struggles, we all struggle – the political equivalent of inhaling second-hand smoke.

A Wise Guy friend says, “Stop looking for messiahs. Wala sa Wowowee at Star Talk ang pag-asa. It’s not the president’s job to create co-dependents; dapat lang maiahon niya ang bayan sa kahirapan.” And it is our job as citizens and members of media to keep him on track, give him feedback from the grassroots, and tell him whether or not he’s doing the job we elected him for. ***

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pop goes the world: “wawa we”

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 27 May 2010, Thursday

“Wawa We”

“Wow” is an apt prefix for the title of a show whose huge popularity spans the globe. “Wawa” (a contraction of the Tagalog word for ‘pitiful’) now describes the condition of the show’s host whose antics rocketed the program to the peak of the ratings charts.

Few local television programs have enjoyed the phenomenal success of ABS-CBN’s noontime variety show “Wowowee”. Over two hours long, the show features the usual song and dance production numbers, games, and other staples of Philippine TV. But it broke the mold by giving away more money and products than others and encouraging audience participation with atypical games and other gimmicks.

The cash handouts and scantily-clad dancing girls attracted immense viewership. Since it is carried by The Filipino Channel which broadcasts the network’s shows in the US, Middle East, and other countries, it has even gained foreign fans.

According to a Taylor Nelson Sofres Media Research Philippines report, on May 14, the show posted ratings of 18.1%, well above the 12.2% charted by rival “Eat Bulaga”, the long-running noontime program on GMA Network.

Much of the show’s popularity in its early days may be credited to its host Willy Revillame’s high-energy, down-to-earth performance. The show is said to rake in many millions a day for the network, with Revillame’s compensation at P1 million a day as he himself has said elsewhere. This wallet-busting figure does not include the millions more in fees that he earns from product endorsements.

Willy Revillame. (Image here.)

Sadly, one can’t buy manners or morals. When ABS-CBN’s dzMM radio host Jobert Sucaldito criticized Wowowee for creating a game played by students with low grades, saying in effect that this was fostering mediocrity, Revillame erupted. He called upon network management to fire Sucaldito, citing the big bucks his show was pulling in all due to his efforts. “Either he goes, or I go”, was the gist of what he said.

Jobert Sucaldito, host of dzMM’s “Showbiz Mismo”. (Image here.)

The staggering arrogance of that declaration hits you right in the sternum and cuts off the stream of oxygen to your lungs.

Revillame has been suspended several times from Wowowee and “Magandang Tanghali Bayan”, another show he used to host, for cussing on air. The potty-mouthed celebrity also earned public ire for his ungracious manners when he bawled out his own network’s traffic department – on air – for putting an inset of the live coverage of the late Philippine president Corazon Aquino’s funeral during a Wowowee episode.

Wowowee’s format has also been severely lambasted for fostering a culture of mendicancy. Many of its games revolve around making people do embarrassing things for money. It pains me to see game participants humiliated and taking it all, at a cost to their self-respect and dignity, because times are hard.

And the gyrating nearly-naked Kembot (shimmy) Girls? They are pretty and talented, and the show has made them popular and famous while dancing in scraps of fabric and heavy makeup. What message does this send to young girls? Never mind getting that college degree, anak, just be a Kembot Girl when you grow up? What signal does this send to men? That women are all about the curves and booty-shaking? Where’s the respect?

During the recent election campaign, Revillame, who endorsed Nacionalista Party presidential candidate Manny Villar, sent the Kembot Girls to the campaign rallies. Pro-women senatorial candidates Liza Maza and Pia Cayetano, dismayed at the skimpiness of the dancers’ costumes, asked them to dress more appropriately. Maza and Cayetano were running under the NP banner. Like the song says, “Isn’t it ironic?”

The Kembot Girls with Revillame (center) at a Manny Villar campaign rally. Screenshot of an ABS-CBN ‘TV Patrol’ report on the Maza-Cayetano complaint.

Does Wowowee have any redeeming social value whatsoever? Does it uplift attitudes, promote good morals, encourage excellence and self-sufficiency? Revillame claims his show “helps” people. Perhaps, in the way you give a man a fish for a day – and make him do tricks for it first – instead of teaching him how to fish. Does that benefit society in the long term?

ABS-CBN management, to its credit, ignored Revillame’s tantrums and refused to fire Sucaldito. Revillame stormed off for a vacation, leaving the show to co-host Pokwang, whose comic antics now account for much of the show’s drawing power, as Revillame descends into the maelstrom of believing his own spin. On May 15, action star Robin Padilla was given a chance to host; his stint ends Friday. The day he began, ratings shot up to 20.1%, proving that it’s not only Revillame who can steer the show and pull in viewers.

With public opinion against him, it’s significant that Revillame went on leave, asked ABS-CBN to release him from his contract, and apologized for his actions. After a meeting, the network announced that the host will not be released from his contract, which ends next year. Meanwhile, he is on indefinite leave from the show.

It’s painful to watch a person climb from ground zero to the summit of his ambitions, only for him to fall into the yawning crevasse of public contempt, toppled by his own ill-considered actions. It’s too bad that Revillame wasted his chance to make a genuine difference in people’s lives and institute positive values and attitudes.

Someone should take away the happy juice Revillame’s been drinking, before he hurts himself more. ***

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pop goes the world: folk vs. pop culture

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  20 May 2010, Thursday

Folk Against Pop Culture

Carabao turds are greenish-gray-brown in color and mushy when you step in them. Kiping is edible – first deep-fry or microwave. Buntal hats and fans make interesting decorations.

You learn something interesting every day, as we found out when we attended the Pahiyas festival in Lucban, Quezon, last May 15. The fiesta honors the town’s patron saint, San Isidro Labrador, and celebrates the agricultural harvest. The bounty of the land –vegetables, fruits, rice husks, bamboo -  is used to decorate homes along the procession route. Kiping is the signature decorative element: these are leaf-shaped ornaments of rice flour, cooked to stiffness, tinted with food coloring to traffic-stopping hues. The procession route is changed yearly to give the residents of different streets a chance to showcase their creativity in adorning their houses.

It’s a small town. You can walk around the main parts in a couple of hours. Most of the houses are decorated for the fiesta. The most eye-catching was a large, multi-story house, well-built of expensive materials, imposing next to its humbler neighbors.

From ground to roof, sunflowers crafted of colored kiping and pamaypay (fans) and decorative circles of bamboo sections and vegetables – eggplants, stringbeans – covered the façade so completely that the original paint color could not be discerned.

A large model of Lucban church with models of miniature people was displayed on a table in front of the door; before it, smiling teenagers in salakot, barong, and baro’t saya posed for photographers.

One wall of a house across the way was festooned with yards of fabric of scarlet, emerald, turquoise, and magenta, glowing in patterns embroidered in gold and silver thread. The sheer audacity of the sumptuous cloth nonchalantly stapled to the house’s window frames was breathtaking.

After that, a kaleidoscope of details: dense crowds of people, posing and taking pictures. Sun-yellow, leaf-green, and orange kiping strung into ornaments like chandeliers. Fringes of rice husks. Farm implements, vegetables, and hay used to create tableaus.

Suddenly, amidst the jumble of visuals and sounds, a jarring note. Banners of products passed by, borne by parade participants, advertising snacks. Juice. A daily newspaper. A telco. Erika Alcasid, an 11-year-old visitor from Manila, was disappointed. “With the decorations and all, it looked like I imagined fiestas would be,” she said. “Then I saw the flags with the ads. The specialness was gone.”

Pahiyas began as a religious festival in honor of a Roman Catholic saint, whose intercession merited the townspeople’s thanksgiving for blessings and bountiful harvests.  Today’s Pahiyas is the collision of folk culture and popular culture. Popular culture is mass media-based, commercial in nature, and oriented to the individualistic, new, and trendy, constantly changing. Folk culture is rooted in the traditional, rural, religious, conservative, transmitted interpersonally within the community; change happens slowly and infrequently; individualism is subordinate to traditional community standards.

Commercialization is not a feature of folk culture, though some of its elements may be co-opted or copied by pop culture. The inclusion of advertising in Pahiyas points to the increasing commercialization of festivals; religiosity seems an afterthought, rather than the primary purpose. The commodification of the event, once an occasion celebrated with joy and solemn ritual, shows how heavy and far-reaching the impact of market forces are upon practically all aspects of society.

Yet some would argue that sponsors’ resources are needed to ensure the event’s “success”, more so in during the current hard times brought about by the global economic recession. Yet the people of Lucban did fine before using simple farm tools and produce to decorate. Do they really need those vinyl advertising banners?

India, with its myriad of religious and folk rituals, is looking for answers to the same question. Gayatri Sankar comments, “The impacts of commercialization and consumerism have polluted the true religious meanings and traditional customs…People tend to celebrate festivals not only as a customary practice but also as a means to exercise their spending power…festivals are no longer simple religious practices but are ways when producers make their fortunes.”

A study done by Ajit Abhimeshi et al, concluded that “The commercialization of the festivals (is) mainly driven by markets and the nexus between the local leadership, (and) companies who want to market their products.”

An opposing view from Rita Putatunda derides the “sanctimonious nay-sayers who talk piously about the so-called ‘terrible commercialization’ of the festival…” Speaking about Diwali, a “unique festival about light, noise, joy, ebullience, and mirth…rooted in the ancient culture of this land,” Putatunda says any commercialization is adapted into the celebration. “Indians being Indians, we will just go ahead and send off another salvo of colorfully noisy rockets into the Diwali sky.”

And that is what Filipinos do as well. We assess, absorb, adapt, and embrace all that is useful and functional into that which needs to be carried on.  We have no problem merging pop with folk because it not a matter of folk “versus” pop, rather it is folk “plus” pop.

Just as Pahiyas celebrates the survival of farmers in an often harsh environment, so too does the present-day adaptation of commerce and pop culture into existing traditions represent the effort to sustain the staging of traditional events at the appointed time. Filipinos have roots in the past and hopes for future, yet always live in the present, celebrating life in all ways and with all means that may come.

And Erika’s disappointment was forgotten after she saw a black carabao whose back was adorned with painted leaves in rainbow colors.

Munching on the town’s specialties of meringue and apas cookies, sipping from a can of Sprite and listening to Korean boy band music on her iPod, she epitomized the merging and blending of cultural elements, even as she was one with the annual ritual of gratitude for the land, the water, and the plentiful harvests. ***

All photos by Jenny Ortuoste.

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pop goes the world: the invasion of the jejemons

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  6 May 2010, Thursday

The Invasion of the Jejemons

“mUzta nA pOw u. jEjEm0n aQ, kAy0w?”

Much has been made in the news media recently about the “jejemon” phenomenon – a style of spelling mobile phone text messages that leaves many people confused at best or angry at worst.

(Image from wheniprattletattle.tumblr.com)

There are many origin stories, one being that Jejemonese was developed to save on texting costs. The word “jejemon” comes from “jeje”, the Spanish spelling of “hehe”, denoting laughter; and “Pokemon”, the ‘90s Japanese anime featuring cuddly monsters. Perceived to be used mostly by teens and young adults of the lower socio-demographics, the current ubiquitousness of the trend has language purists and snobs up in arms, spawning “We hate jejemons!” groups on social media networks and other Internet forums.

Why are jejemons so disliked? Among the comments against them are that they are maarte, making things complicated rather than simplifying them; their messages are difficult to interpret, “which wastes time”; that they highlight mediocrity and incompetence in the use of language. Other remarks are more judgmental – “baduy, stupid, cheap” – casting aspersions on jejemons’ taste, intelligence, and economic power.

Snow Belarmino, a 21-year old female bartender, explains why she became a jejemon. “I’m an ‘addict texter’,” she said. “Jejemon is just a style of writing your text messages. It’s cute to text by adding symbols and changing the spelling of words. Nakakagana, sikat, cool, astig. I like doing it this way because it reflects my personality.”

How does she feel about the haters? Snow is calm; it doesn’t bother her. “Other people just don’t understand the format. Some people ask me to spell the normal way – my mother, a cousin. I adjust, depending on the person I’m texting to.” She estimates that among the people she knows, around 85% of teens are jejemons.

Is Jejemonese really so hard to understand? Its language base is Tagalog and it follows certain internal rules. Spelling is transformed. For instance, the first-person pronoun ako (“I”) may be rendered “aQ”, “aKoH”, “Ak0w”, and so on. Snow says this is “style”. There is heavy use of intercapitals, some doing it for every other letter; unusual symbols such as exclamation points and the rarely-used letters x, q, and z are sprinkled here and there, again for style; and symbols are substituted for others (the numeral zero instead of the letter O). Apart from style, one notices the almost excessive use of the honorific po in jejemon messages.

The difficulty of interpretation is present at the beginning, but I’ve noticed that over time, one picks up on the peculiarities of jejemon spelling quirks, which are fairly consistent for each individual. There is certainly a learning curve, which I don’t mind, as a communication scholar with a special interest in jargons of subcultures.

But others are not as patient or as curious. Facebook, to name just one social media network on the Internet, harbors many anti-jejemon groups. “I hate jejemon!” has 4,411”fans” (or “likers”, now that Facebook has done away with the “Become a fan” button); “Anti-jeje”, 4,869; “I hate jejemon ka pa jan! Ganyan ka nga dati eh!” 2,269; “Weh? Anti-Jejemon ka? If I know jejemon ka rin dati!” 1,325; “STOP using irritating language such as the JEJEMON language!” 459; “Jejemon Haters”, 24,713. By far one of the largest groups is named “GOTTA KILL ‘EM ALL JEJEMON!” with 167,587 – the population of a small city. Now that is scary.

(Image from facebook.com)

Jejemons, on the whole, remain unperturbed. One commented at a hater’s group: “Does this mean war? Not that I’m interfering, but aren’t you being rather harsh to jejemons? What’s objectionable with their words? It’s just spelling, isn’t it? They still use Tagalog. Aren’t you being bitter?” Of course, it was written in elegant Jejemonese.

Another jejemon set up a tongue-in-cheek Facebook group called “Jejemon Evolves to… Wakekemon!” with 1,994 members. “We are evolving – be afraid!” “Wakeke” is ‘90s hacker-speak and denotes laughter, just as “jeje” does.

Language has always been used primarily as a means of communication, but it is also a tool for self-expression.  Jejemonese has been likened to the American “leet speak” of gamers (which uses alpha-numeric symbols to save data ) but is not its exact counterpart. Leet is acknowledged to be more “intellectual” and used primarily by geekdom. American jejemonese is like this: “!f yUh t!yP3 Lyk3 DihS Don’t talk to me!” (It’s the title of a Facebook group with 824,267 fans), and is used mostly by non-geeks, non-techies, and Justin Bieber fangirls.

Dean Rolando Tolentino of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication says the rise of the jejemons is a symptom of the partitioning of society into sub-classes. For linguist Alex Maximo, the phenomenon is linked to hegemony: who has power, who doesn’t, and how the conflicts that arise from the concomitant societal stresses are expressed.

For writer Sarah Grutas, it’s a matter of exclusivity. “It’s like gay speak. (Jejemon) is a form of exclusive language – if you don’t understand it, you don’t belong to the group.” She scoffs at claims of jejemons being poorly educated. “They aren’t stupid, because they had to know the original spelling before they can transform it into jeje. In fact it requires more creativity to type that way. I won’t use jeje language myself, the same way I do not use gay speak. I therefore belong to the out-group.”

I agree with Sarah – jejemons are not dumb. In fact, I have less patience with those who voice their irritation of jejemons and claim to be better educated and more adept at using language, yet use words like kalurkey, a variant of kaloka. What’s with that?

Jejemonese may be considered by some to be the jargon of a sub-culture, but I don’t see jejemons as a true sub-culture. A sub-culture would be horseracing fans, for instance, with their salitang karera, or otaku anime fans. The meanings of their codes – jargons and gestures, the secret words and handshakes – are agreed-upon by in-group members in the pursuit of their activities and are understood only by them.

But jejemons come from many walks of life. Their spelling style that has grammar nazis on the warpath is just a fad. We’ve seen them come and go, from beatnik to hippie to jeprox. Then there was punk and chong and jolog. Now we have jejemons and their evolved forms the wakekemon. People will, in time, get tired of this and move on to the next “cute” fashion.

So chill, people. Next time you get a message like “mUzTah nA yEw poh?”, reflect, instead, on the fact that your jejemon friend is concerned about you and is asking politely how you are. Yes, the medium is the message. But let’s focus on the meaning behind the message, which is the primary reason we use language in the first place. aY0wZ p0w bAh? ***

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