Monday, January 31, 2011


Can I be completely honest here?

The next time somebody throws an unsolicited comment that goes something like, "My goodness, you have grown fat ..." (or something synonymous in theme and context), let me remind said entity that:

a) It is impolite to call anyone "growing fat."  Such terminology is reserved for farm animals including some beasts of burden or other specimens associated with swine and cattle.

b) Such comments are usually given not out of concern for the corpulent person's health or welfare. Usually flaunting a statement about the alleged obesity of another individual is to emphasize that the commentator is svelte, better-looking and of better physical disposition.  Chances are this is not necessarily so. The critic is merely exercising his or her power to be cruel out of sheer tactlessness (which is a notch higher than stupidity but a point lower than cruelty) or social awkwardness.  Some even say it out of having nothing better to say ... which is the best justification for the importance of shutting your mouth when you are an idiot at small-talk.

c) Nobody ever asked anybody to give any comment or critique about waistlines, double chins, cellulite or even thighs so bloated that they rub on each other when one walks. It is nobody's business except that of the person accused of being bloated and gross in proportions. If a person is shaped like an avocado and happy about it, then it is nobody's business to remind him that he is a candidate for aneurysm, a stroke, a heart attack or a threat to elevators, escalators and even little children.

To put this more bluntly, I do not appreciate people going out of their way telling me that I am fat. 

Having spent so much time in the gym and practically going paranoid counting calories ("Is there a substantial difference between Coke Light and Coke Zero?", "How many calories does a slice of triple cheese pizza carry?", "Oh, no! Is it true that watermelons are the most calorie filled fruits in the whole wide universe?"), I am not exactly overjoyed when somebody (who is not even close to me, who does not even have my cell number and who I have not had sex with) tells me that I am f---g fat!

Let me not be so gentle about this: Screw You!

Maybe I can make references to Rembrandt or Botero or even certain cultures in the East (let us point to certain regions in India) where fat is beautiful.  

For one thing, fat signifies somebody well-fed. Well-fed does not necessarily mean he is well but chances are he is well-off, right?  And besides, it is more interesting to cling onto some extra pounds of flesh than to be deal with jutting bones and ribs in moments of passion.  How shall I put it?  That it can be more exciting to drown on a sea of flesh rather than to deal with skin and bones?

No, let me put it even more bluntly: it is nobody's business as to how fat one decides to get ... not unless you are competing in a reality show where losing weight means hitting the jackpot ... or you have long-range plans to be anorexic or bulimic.  I will get as thin as I want if and when I decide to do so and not because some self-righteous nincompoop accuses me of looking like a cantaloupe.

It is simply in the name of very bad taste to tell anyone he is fat ... especially when the speaker is not exactly a reinterpretation of Piolo Pascual or Anne Curtis or any specimen coming close to those physical ideals.

One of my favorite Tweeters is PinoyHeckler.  He came out with a listing of witty and vicious replies to people who feel entitled to call another fat. His list had me laughing and storing some of these precious retorts the next time another insensitive, self-righteous, feeling-beautiful rectum personified decides to pass judgment on waistline.

And maybe one day somebody will also develop an entire language of insulting thin people. "My goodness, are you on a diet or carcinogenic?"  Or "You haven't stopped your hunger strike?" Or "Is that South Beach or Diabetes?"  Oh, I wouldn't throw away the possibility that such forms of cruelty are still possible even in polite societies populating Bonifacio High Street and Serendra.

In the meantime, I know I look good. I have looked worse but now I look good and I am happy with it. And you can call me fat if you can learn to move quickly to avoid a flying kick aimed right at your mouth.

Enough said.



I wish it were simpler but it is not.  The idea is cruel but that is the way it is and will always be.

Growing old is a bitch.

Just this afternoon at the gym, a friend of mine (actually someone who dates as far back as high school) said hitting 50 was a pain. But hitting 55 was worse.  His was a case of hypertension.  He did not even know he had it until one of the trainers decided to check his BP.  So there.

Now he has to watch his diet because he is evidently overweight.  Now he has to take maintenance medicine to keep his blood pressure within a safe range. And his dreams of going back biking and taking the spinning classes would have to be placed on hold.

And to think that, like me, he has dedicated a substantial amount of his waking hours working out in the gym.  Unlike most of our contemporaries who have assumed the living pattern of slugs and sloths, we opted to fight age with the best antidote that exists: exercise.  

Although we could take great risks creating eternal damage to our spines with ceaseless crunches and leg raises, the truth of the matter remains.  When you hit your golden years, your metabolism gets all screwed up and everything moves in slow motion. Years ago, all it took was ... uhm, three days of watching your carbs and sweating it out ... and five pounds were immediately shed off as if you flushed out the fats. But now ... three weeks of intensive cardiovascular exercises matched by strict dieting (hooked on Phase 1 of the good ol' South Beach Diet) ... and you hop on the weighing scale to find out that you've lost a grand total of two kilos.  After all that misery, after all the sweat ... and you end with two kilos?  

But let's not even go there.  That's Mother Nature telling you that there is such a thing as a human time line. No amount of Sustagen, Ginseng, wheat grass or even Botox can reverse the evident changes brought by time.  No existing procedure: liposuction, thermage, Aptos surgery ...can truly disguise the inevitable onslaught of the years on natural human design. Regardless of what you stuff into or pump out of your body, aging is an irreversible process that cannot be avoided, denied ... much less disguised.

So it is no wonder that some of the more desperate attempts to insist on eternal use with the aid of science and cosmetology end up being the Greatest Living Disasters.  We do not need to enumerate a whole set of examples of men and women, who in their desire to remain forever young, ended up looking embalmed.  Like cosmetic zombies, those who have the money and resources to exhaust all possibilities of knives and chemicals interfering with their systems end up with waxen skin, lips like those of a trout and eyelids that seem incapable of any vertical motion. 

But that again is a personal choice.  No one is entitled to pass judgment on others who have opted to use available miracles to freeze time or whatever gets them through another day.  After all, what may be ridiculous in the eyes of others may be a thing of beauty to somebody ... or any body ... but hopefully the owner of the face or body who conjured the gods of science to perform such miracles.

Yes, any which way you look at it ... aging is a bitch.  And it can only get more miserable if you think of the years wasted or how indeed youth is unappreciated by the young.  But that is where the irony lies: youth passes all too quickly.  Even as the young condemn or laugh at anyone or anything old now (or haven't you realized that nowadays being called old is already tantamount to an insult?) they will be shocked one day when they find out that they too have outlived their collagen-rich days.

There is no other way to deal with growing old than by enjoying it.  Mortality is ... well, a very large and hard pill to swallow but something that no one (except mythical vampires and other creatures of the underworld) is exempted. So we deal with it and enjoy it.  Sure, beauty is a passing thing but who really cares about such temporary pleasures ... when, in the long run, what really matters is how you are remembered and not by how much you have accumulated through your earthly existence.

In my high school days, I was enthralled by an actress named Ali MacGraw.  Even before she appeared in Love Story in 1970, I already had a really bad high school crush on her when I saw photos of her first film entitled Goodbye, Columbus.  That was some time in 1968 or 1969.  Then came Love Story and all the embellishments which came with a phenomenal movie that ushered in the so-called Return to Romance in the middle of the Youth Revolution.  I remember that Ali MacGraw became the cover of Time Magazine.

And I have kept track of her through the years.  I was a fan who had clippings of her photos, played Francis Lai's theme from Love Story until my father threatened to smash the 33-1/3rpm album on our stereo. I could quote Erich Segal's wafer thin novel by heart. 

And some time in the late 80's, while I was in New York City with a friend, who should I bump into at Barney's but ... Ali MacGraw.  I remember standing in front of a bin of sweaters, looking absolutely touched as if some unreal moment between two parallel universes collided. I could not believe that standing a few feet away from me was Ali MacGraw.  

Why am I babbling about all this?  Because recently I saw an episode of Oprah where the stars of Love Story had a reunion: it has been forty years since the movie became a phenomenon. It has been four decades since Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal gave life to Jennifer Cavilleri and Oliver Barrett IV.

In those four decades, so many events have transpired to define the lives of the two young stars who brought back romance amidst the age of protest. Ali MacGraw has give up Hollywood (or the other way around, it did not matter to her) and lived a simple life in Santa Fe, New Mexico where she dedicated her time to civic and social causes while practicing yoga and living by herself in a simple adobe house.

Ali MacGraw is still beautiful.  And she proudly announced that she is 71 years old.

It was then that I realized that who cares about age. It is with what you do with your life, with what meaning you give to your days that define who you are now ... and now your numerical worth.  I remembered that my family dentist is in his late 80's and he is still practicing his profession: Dr. Roger Librojo has the most alert mind, keeps himself up to date with the recent developments in his field of specialization and is a proud music junkie.  He loves music to the extent that it has become the very soul and energy of his life.  My God, I said to myself: the man is nearing 90 years old and he is still a masterpiece of mankind.

That is why I feel good at 56.  That is why I have come to realize that ... well, I may not be 28 ... I may look a bit weird wearing skinny jeans but screw it.  Age only matters if that is all you make of life.  There is mortality but there is also humanity.

And that is what makes all of life worth living.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


Allow me to be sentimental.  I guess it comes with age. Or goes with it.  Nothing ... absolutely nothing ... is comparable to old friends.

It is easy to claim you have many friends. Blame social networks.  If I add up the grand total of all my friends in Facebook, Twitter, Friendster and MySpace, I guess I can be elected president of one small nation.  It is easy to say you have friends ... or claim that you are a friend of a certain whoever.  That is because the term has been used all too loosely ...even carelessly.

It is easy to get somebody's name, hand phone number, email address ... but not that simple to know anyone beyond what is obvious, apparent and provided as convenient information.  Friendship goes beyond swapping digits. Or even knowing one's favorite color or song or day of the week or sexual predilection. Friendship is far deeper than that.

That is why I am feeling extraordinarily sentimental.

Today was spent out of town to celebrate the birthday of one of my closest friends.  

We met when we were in the fifth grade. Now we are in our mid-fifties ... and we are still friends.  We have known each other most of our lives.  We have lived through the decades of the late sixties, the crazy seventies, the egocentric eighties, the numbing nineties ... down to the first ten years of the new millennium.  He has seen me grow thin and fat and thin then fat only to get thin again.  He has known me at the time I still had a hairline, could boogie all night and make a fool of myself under the influence of alcohol.

We have known each other at the best and worst of times. That is why I guess ... more than the years we have spent together ... we consider ourselves true friends.

Today was an extraordinarily wonderful day.  I, together with two other friends, traveled to San Pablo to join so many other old friends to celebrate a birthday. There are circumstances sad ... even trying ... for all of us to surrender our Sundays for an out of town get together but that does not really matter. Maybe that is all that matters. 

We know our friend is not well.

He makes no big deal out of it.  We have known about his condition for the past year and a half or so.  We have all dedicated so much prayer ... and thought ... and experienced so much agony knowing that we can only do so much for him.  Except wish for the best. Maybe ask God, the Universe, Whoever ... to be kind, gentle and compassionate to our friend.  

Among ourselves, we talk about his condition in whispers.  We never confront him to ask the real score, how he really is ... and what are the prospects.  We know he is undergoing stem cell treatment and chemotherapy. And we treasure each opportunity to be together ... taking into account the more than four decades we have spent together.

And I am in awe. We are all in awe.  I have known him all my life yet when I see him now, when I experience how he is handling his most volatile situation, I realize that I barely know him at all.  Yet he is one of my closest friends.

He is fighting his battle with courage. More than that, he is going through this fight with a positive attitude. A sparkling positive attitude.  He is not about to wait and mope and feel sorry for himself. He is going there kicking and fighting ... while making himself useful for every day that is given to him, made even more precious and important.  We do not know the pain he goes through but he will not and will never thrive on that.  

He does not want us to feel sorry for him. He wants us to fight his battle by supporting him in his pursuits --- of doing things he has always wanted to do and to show to the world that such battles can be fought --- whether at a loss or with the sweetness of victory.

I never realized he was capable of such courage. I never saw that before mainly because time provides the tests that give us greater insight into those who fill our lives.

I have never seen him so determined to savor his life.  He once told me that all other problems seem trivial when compared to what he is going through. But one must not waste each day thinking of what could have been instead of fighting for what could yet be.  

My friends know me better than any single member of my family.  Maybe that is because I have trusted my friends to know me better than anyone with the coincidence of blood ties. And I do not feel any regret. I do not feel any sense of loss. I have my friends.

That is why I draw my strength from friends ... old friends who define my years and who I know will be there right to the very end.  It is beautiful to think of things like these, despite aberrations that can bring pain. It is beautiful to have Sundays out of town with old friends, reminiscing and yet cherishing each moment as if it were as fresh as the day that the memories were made.

Life is a string of moments.  And I have come to realize that the knots that bind the days together are the people called your friends who bring a sense of completeness to your days ... your weeks ... your months. Your years. Your life.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Since we are already at the topic of resuscitation and resurrection, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a Balikbayan friend who was home for the holidays.

For the record, my friend is not exactly one of those Filipinos in North America who foists his American accent as if he were trying out to be a customer service representative.  He is amusing in his brand of being makabayan and wary of what he calls the Filipinos' fashionable nationalism.  He does not think that wearing a shirt with the map of the Philippine embroidered and emblazoned for accent qualifies as somebody being truly proud of being born of the island republic.  More so, he is one of those who can be quite candid (and blunt) to say that mouthing Ninoy and Cory Aquino lines does not equip one to talk of Pinoy politics like a true history major.  I give him that space and respect.  

My balikbayan friend insists that his objective distance --- of living the American West Coast --- gives him a clearer picture what is happening back here without all the frills of emotions and media embellishments.  He makes it quite clear to his friends that he is not foisting moral or cultural superiority: he is the first to shudder at the sight, smell and sound of Pinoy Americans who think that their US citizenship or green cards qualify them to look down on the natives who have opted to slug it out in the seven thousand islands.

As a matter of fact, my balikbayan friend is very careful not to step on the toes of those who might presume that he has become overbearing or arrogant just because he flies back after every so many years to spend the holidays with his remaining relatives in Manila.  He has also been extraordinarily tactful when he talked to me about his observations regarding commercial television in the country, wary that I might take personal offense because I am still an active practitioner.

But his point was lucid and valid: why is commercial television obsessed with remakes or adaptation of materials from various media?  

At first he expressed his discomfort about various prime time soap operas (now known as teleseryes or telenovelas) being remakes of the series produced and shown in the seventies to the early nineties.  He was aghast at the thought that the substantial chunk of prime time television viewing has already been eaten up by shows that run half an hour for five times a week.  This leaves practically no room for programs of other genres to be savored during the height of viewing hours.

I explained to him that this was the kind of horizontal programming we eventually inherited from the Latin America and Korea.  There was Thalia in the original Marimar to blame for this --- most especially when such shows were lifted for early to late afternoon time slots and placed right smack into prime time (that usually runs from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM on weekdays). As a result of this move on the part of the major networks, other genres like the situation comedy and the variety shows have been shoved back to much later time slots (which led to their eventual deaths) or to weekends where the audience share can be described as far weaker and less stable.

He said that that his did not leave much room for variety considering that most of the telenovelas are adaptations as if network executives no longer trusted their pool of writers to come up with ingenious and original materials.  I could not argue with him regarding that. Indeed, networks have resorted to excavating the enormous baol of old movies, tweaking and stretching them so that the stories can be re-narrated in the form of the long and emotionally tedious soaps.

Worse, my Balikbayan friend noted, were the attempts to Filipinize Latin and Korean telenovelas into so-called local versions.  He said he found this insulting for it suggested that the platoons of tv writers and creative agents have resorted to merely using the popular template of a pre-sold material to throw into the market.  Did this mean that network executives no longer trusted the originality that can come from the imagination of their homegrown talents?  Did this imply that all we can do is merely copy under the license of adaptation because we have grown creatively bankrupt?

I explained to him that although this is what it seemed, he already provided the reasons behind management's decision to resort of adaptations. Yes, the shows are already pre-sold. There is already a sense of recall and familiarity on the part of the audience thereby facilitating its promotions.  Moreover, the public already knows the outcome of the series ---- so the imagination of the creative staff comes in while trying to make something fresh out of what may be a beaten path.

But my friend remained unimpressed. He said that this was an obvious cop-out.  In the same manner that old movies from Regal, Seiko and Viva are being pulled out of the vaults to be remodeled as television series, there is really nothing original that is airing on tv nowadays.  If they are not the melodramas that became extremely popular in the eighties and nineties, then these are the small screen reinterpretations of the works of Carlo Caparas, Pablo Gomez and other komiks writers who have also lent their works to movies before.  

Again I said there was nothing basically wrong with that --- considering that this gives an opportunity for the younger audiences to get to know the works of these giants of the komiks world who would have otherwise been buried through the overload of available entertainment in the internet.

Besides, I pointed out to my friend, television makes no pretenses about being nothing more than a business.  Everything boils down to the dog-eat-dog world of grabbing as much audience share as possible. In a highly competitive field, it is the numbers that dictate the rules of the game and not the lofty intentions --- that include uplifting the taste of the audience.

And this was when my friend became a tad too vicious: he agreed that there is indeed nothing wrong with business calling the shots. But there must be something very wrong when, after so many decades, commercial television in this country has not grown in terms of its approach and content and even in its world view.  He cited the addiction to soap operas which he deplored as a cure-all for national frustration, a manner of reinforcing to the masses that suffering is good because it ennobles and that life will eventually even itself out because the righteous will always prevail. "And you know that isn't true," he said.

He went on by saying that after all these years it is the same stories told over and over again.  I argued with him saying that throughout the world the same stories are told and retold in a manner that befits the social and political climate of the time. Then that was when he hit me with the question: "Why? Has there been any change in the way stories are told in this countries in the 1980s from the way they are being narrated now? Obviously, more money is spent, there is greater technical savvy but it is the same-old same-old said in the same-old same-old way all over again."

Then as a final wallop, he said, "Judy Ann Santos and Gladys Reyes are still very much alive and kicking and they are already doing a remake of Mara Clara only making it look like Gossip Girl. OK, convince me that we have evolved and improved, Joey Reyes."

I did not want to argue any further.  I would like to think that since he did not belong to the industry, that he did not know the real score about the way things are done here ... and, worse, he has ceased from having his heart and ear on the ground to know the pulse of the Filipino audiences today.  Yes, he is right: there are so many talented young writers just waiting for the opportunity to bring to life their original works. Some may be even suffering adapting materials that they do not believe in ... but they have their bills to pay.  And, as the saying goes, if the kitchen gets too hot for you, the door is always wide open for you to step out and ... do what?  

I found it pointless to tell my friend that soap operas continue to persist and subsist because this is what the audiences want: networks only respond to the dictates of market trends.  But then again, I know that he will harp on that age-old argument that those who are in a position to uplift the taste and educate the masa have betrayed their responsibilities and opted to for the easy way out.  He would insist that there is a seeming atrophy in the quality and variety of television programs because the powers that be have used and abused the imperative of business at the expense of social responsibility.

In a way, he is right. But that is the ideal world. That is the perfect world.  And whether we gravitate around the magic of the world of media, life ... and the world itself ... was never meant to be perfect.

Friday, January 21, 2011


I will confess: it is not really one of my favorite shows. 

As a matter of fact, I still couldn't figure out why and how ... despite all the so-called complex and convoluted procedures before a television program is approved by the executives who live atop Rapunzel's Tower ... did this afternoon program get the green light at all.  Unashamedly, it is a reproduction (nay, I stand corrected: it is a reinterpretation or an update) of German Moreno's now iconic That's Entertainment. I would have understood why a show like that existed in the eighties and nineties of the past century, but ... wait a minute: it's 2011, right?  I just wanted to confirm my fears.

The trouble with being a gym addict is that every late afternoon, I find myself either on a stepper or a treadmill.  That means I am literally plugged to a machine, watching tv shows on an assortment of monitors suspended above the plethora of exercise equipment in front of me. And that is why I end up watching this show.  Well, this or a sappy Korean telenovela on another channel ... or maybe the love story of baboons on NatGeo.  

And this is why out of having nothing better to do, I end up watching an entire tribe of young actors and actresses all hyped up and behaving as if they were all overdosing on Gatorade while prancing all over the stage.  Admitted, some of them can sing. Some of them can dance. Most of them are ...uh, there. This makes it all quite an ordeal to watch spared of the fact that some of the female hosts have been trained to speak on camera following the Valerie Concepcion school of "Scream your lungs out to express your enthusiasm"-school of Wowowowee hosting.

Youthful energy is supposed to be infectious: nothing is more delightful than to exposed to the electricity of young minds and hearts savoring their love for life.  But why is it that in this case, the energy seems to induced and choreographed?  

Watching these kids can be quite an ordeal especially when, after a while, you realize that not only do they all look alike ... but they talk alike, act alike and seemed to have been spawned from some assembly line of a clone-making machine. You cannot distinguish one dude or dudette from the other --- which was probably why those who have been anointed to have speaking lines or do hosting chores have microphones with their name tags literally attached to them.  This was meant to avoid that inevitable problem of the audience peering into the boob tube and asking, "Sino siya?"

Everybody in that show seems to be having a good time.  The viewer, especially of my age group, feels like a disturbed parents peering into a window where a bunch of tweens and teens having one of those weekend parties without the guidance of adults but with full access to all available benefits.  So what you have is this tribe of freshly scrubbed beautiful faces singing, dancing, screaming and cajoling the public to have fun. There is also a live television audience mainly composed to females of the same age range, carrying the proverbial banners and posters (professing their specific choice of crushes or obsessions) while drooling, screaming and manifesting behavior that would make Charles Darwin very happy about his proposed theory.

This is when I realized that although we live in the age of cellular phones that can practically do everything except microwave a slab of beef, the audiences of such shows have not changed at all.  The hysterical fans of the age of Elvis are still the epileptic-looking diehards who fill the audiences of television studios dedicated to making themselves look like fools all in the name of proud adulation.

I have grown accustomed to the show since this is the only form of entertainment I have while plodding on the treadmill.  

But yesterday --- I was completely shocked by the twist that they were threatening to announce even as early on with the program's teasers. While the entire cast of sweet beautiful teens were gathered on the stage, the Business Unit Head of the show together with one of the Top Honchos of the Network announced to the kids that they were being given one month to shape up or the show will be canceled.

I almost fell off the treadmill upon hearing this mind-boggling development. They were announcing the pending cancellation of a television show as PART of the program! Well, this is definitely new. This is definitely so innovative especially when close-up shots of the kids reacting to the possibility that they can be jobless in four weeks.

Suddenly this teenage bacchanalia was transformed into a brutal reality show where the vestal virgins were literally humiliated and the Prince Charmings were nothing short of castrated.  Viewers' feedback sent via email or Twitter or homing pigeons were read by the Business Unit head naming particular performers as they were mercilessly bashed, dissed and close to pulverized by the vile comments of the non-fans. 

Before the eyes of the public --- or whatever percentage of audience share the show possessed --- the young actors and actresses were humiliated to tears. One of the main hosts was brutally demoted to being one of the chorus.  A promising young male singer was mocked and accused of requiring singing lessons. And so on and so forth.

I did not know how to react to this strategy of pumping excitement to the development of the program.

The announcement of management is clear: shape up or ship out. The twist was implemented for the good of the young actors who were not delivering to the audience (and apparently not yielding the ratings required). As in any case, it is the performers who get the brunt and the blame --- and not anyone behind the camera who may have concocted this whole form of entertainment revival. After all, it is the kids being sold ... or trained ... or programmed ... for a better future in the business.

If they do not deliver the ratings or the quality of performance, they they are not cut out to occupy broadcast time.  And the network wants the whole world to know that they have a bunch on duds on their hands.

When I go back to the gym on Monday, my eyes will be tacked on what will transpire in this show.

Do I think that management is justified to threaten the kids with cancellation? Well, that is their call.  That is their business option. But so many careers (whether real or imagined) will take a windfall or a redirection if and when the studio admits that it has miscalculated the saleability of their future young stars.

Worse yet is the thought that amidst all the hoopla, all the singing and the dancing ... and all these young fans behaving like they need exorcists to shake them back to reality, the awful truth is that there is no next generation to inherit the mantle or even the thrones of the demigods and demi-goddesses of media.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


I am not quite sure if the real purpose is to help.

Oh, yes: it can be quite an impressive spectacle to do an Oprah.  Nowadays it has become quite fashionable for celebrities to manifest omnipotence.  And a measure of insurmountable power is the ability to hand out everything from groceries to cars, from trinkets to house and lots.  

Nowadays television has become the new religion or even the ultimate opium. The power of celebrity has become toxic.  The public is encouraged to fulfill their fantasies or even live their lives vicariously through the tabloid existence of their favorite media stars. Moreover, the seeming bottomless and unfathomable generosity of media personalities have turned them into 21st century Messiahs. Together with their high visibility is their wealth --- not merely material acquisitions but mind-boggling hoards of treasures proving once and for all that they are blessed by the heavens to be considered demigods.

Is it not surprising that magazines and tv shows dedicate entire issues and episodes cataloging the treasure trove of stars?  Isn't the lifestyle of the rich and famous the sort of sedative you give to the hungry masses to provide some Dreamworld where they can endure the pain of every day by imagining the fantastic lives of their showbiz idols?  

Thus celebrity does not only come with the special privileges that accompany popularity.  Celebrity also means the ability to foist what you have to prove who you are.  A high-profile celeb can be discreet enough not to namedrop brands but certainly flashing your Hermes or riding your Lamborghini can give you exceptional clout over and above the rest.

From this blatant display of wealth comes the power over the 
fantasy-starved masses. 

When you have an eloquent and emotion-squeezing barker flashing money, offering cash and prizes as instant solutions to what seems like lifelong problems, you have is an epic hero who is creating his own form of mythology.

He who possesses such altruism and selflessness must be blessed by the gods. For who can pull thousands of pesos and just casually hand them to the needy without fuss but overflowing with conviction.  And tv (with all its canned applause and spectacle) can easily deify any creature, regardless of reputation or disposition, just as long as there is an audience ready, willing and able to gobble such fantasies.

The most powerful of all fantasies is the promise of a better tomorrow.  

No, we need not go as far as that.  Anything better than the here and now will do ... as long as it is instantenous and requires minimum effort aside from fervent prayers with a dash of luck.

As long as money and prizes seem to fall from heaven right into the outstretched arms and awaiting hands of the poor and the needy, the mythology remains alive, the Media Messiah is adored and television succeeds in its function to feed its audience the fantasies required. 

And I am not sure if this is really helping anybody else aside from those who make a business out of the misfortune or needs of others.

I do not even want to go into that whole "teach them how to fish rather than merely give them fishes."  Everybody foists that in so many versions for too many times before.  But apparently that sort of moralizing napplies if you are not in dire need of fish so much so that you don't have time to go fishing.  Everybody should know (or at least we assume that this is so) that mendicancy or encouraging the art of creative begging does not, can not and will never help anybody. But whoever said that it is the beggars who are actually helping themselves here,

As long as the money keeps rolling out, the sponsors will also keep the money rolling in as well. 

Lest anyone forget: television is a business --- and its principal function (like all legitimate businesses) is to make profit and not necessarily promote efforts at equality among social classes or even work on a viable distribution of wealth among the population. 

So that is why when networks go into a social conscience frame of mind, one should always see the more practical side of such promotional strategies.  That is all part of image-building, of profile posturing or even grandstanding. Networks exist to sell  shows for ratings purposes and not because of any real sense of social or moral responsibility. It is not how much they can change lives ... but how the staged acts of financial redemption entice a much larger audience to believe that lives are actually changed when the dole outs are handed with much applause and fanfare.

But then I understand how this all works ... and why this had to happen.

After all, performers are all just doing their jobs. And networks are just trying to earn money. And there is nothing illegal about that.  But what has become more disturbing are the signals that this sort of entertainment sends to the larger population. There is indeed nothing wrong with making a display of generosity ... but how does this translate in terms of values to those who seek this form of escape?  Are people entertained by such program content or has this become a national placebo for a country's real and deep-rooted grief?

In emphasizing the extent of deprivation as well as the anguish brought about by poverty, tv shows that promise instant solutions have tendencies to be downright exploitative. Exploitation her comes by being merciless to the sensibilities and sensitivities of the poor.  

As each contestant is made to narrate their lives' trials and difficulties, the viewer gets the feeling that this is a contest preliminarily judged as to who has the most miserable and anguished existence.  The more tormented your life, the more deserving you are of help because of the extent you elicited public sympathy.  The whole Kawawa Naman Ako syndrome is not only reinforced but celebrated, affirmed and validated.  The whole process of self-pity does not encourage the search for solutions but a constant tinkering and magnification of the problem blown to extra dramatic proportions.

Anguish and agony become part of the act.  Being poor is a state of existence: acting poor and agonizing become a talent.

You, as part of the audience, can only take so many sad stories --- as each contestant tends to outdo each other in raising their thresholds of pain so as to prove that they deserve the prizes being wagged in front of their faces. 

The name of the game is to "out-misery" each other, weeping and bemoaning one's fate in front of a sobbing live studio audience while provoking television viewers to shake their heads and mutter, "Kawawa naman siya..." or "Ano ba yan???"

More appalling is what takes place after the masturbatory bathos. After a tearful enumeration of tragedies and pain, fun and games follow.  From suffering tragic figures, contestants break into song and dance, perform amateur acrobatic acts or flash their toothless smiles to an audience that easily transformers from emotionally touched to extremely amused or even hysterically laughing.  

All these are part of a ritual to be rewarded so many thousands of pesos ... all these are in the name of charity, generosity and for love of the less fortunate.

Someone, in utter disgust, called this form of entertainment as poverty porn. Of course he was indulging in such hasty generalization by saying that this form of enjoyment deprives the poor of what is the only treasure they have left of their existence --- that of their dignity.

I am not quite sure if I will go so far to say that there is indeed malicious intent in undermining the needs of the needy or exploiting the cash-strapped to leap into hoops or even foist their sad stories for the sake of ratings.  What I do realize that this is a hybrid of reality television with the addiction for melodrama, the dependence on tearjerkers to provoke any semblance of catharsis. We have reached that point in which we can no longer nor do we care distinguish real life from the imaginary twists and turns of fate in soap opera plots.

This is Third World entertainment where poverty is not only a reality but has already become the fodder for fantasies.


Saturday, January 15, 2011


I would just like to make it simple.

Here are five things I do not understand. They are nothing extraordinary.  They do not even come close to phenomenal.  Maybe others may find it strange that I cannot seem to comprehend the whys and hows of these seemingly normal elements of twenty-first century civilized behavior.

But I don't.  And that is why I make no big deal about saying that I do not understand why they are there or why they happen.

1.  I do not understand why parents bring their little children to malls --- or worse --- open-air markets with make-shift stalls and about ten zillion people crowding an available space for commerce.

Could it be because Mommy and Daddy are actually training their two to three year old kids about the joys of retail therapy?  Or perhaps Daddy is trying to explain to his kids about the law of supply and demand ... and how central air conditioning certainly feels much better than the open air of a playground or a park? 

I frankly do not understand this phenomenon most especially during the holiday rush ... or even on an ordinary Sunday afternoon when the Information Counter of a department store or mall lobby is populated by all these bawling kids who got left behind by their parents.

I detest the presence of these munchkins in very crowded alley ways and corridors of tiangges in Greenhills or God knows wherever ... because some idiotic mother has decided that this is good enough an open space for her child to learn how to walk, run or perhaps dodge a kidnapper.

Somebody berated me for being quite vocal about this aversion and said that I should at least try to understand the socio-economic implications of this practice.  These parents do not have the resources to hire somebody to take care of their babies while they have to confront their daily duties and responsibilities.

This includes doing the groceries, I guess. Like buying cooking oil and toilet paper.  So that's why they deposit their little buggers on their supermarket carts right beside the rolls of three-ply toilet paper and cans of tuna in brine?  I mean ... if they cannot multi-task properly and take the risk of bringing their vulnerable little coo-coo babies to the germs-and-bacteria-infested world of the commercial space, then why did they even procreate at all?

Oh, yes ... that should be another entry to the list of things that I do not understand.  Why do people carelessly bring children to this world just because they are addressing specific biological needs at some reckless moment of personal history?  Uhm. Not too good to ask that.

2. I do not understand why some people have this compulsion-dash-compunction to report everything they are doing, 24/7 to Twitter. 

Oh, yes, it happens. And there are people who have grown this strange addiction to tell the world EVERYTHING. Literally everything.

I shall be blunt. It disturbs me when someone actually thinks that the whole cyberworld cares if he had two poached eggs for breakfast or if her husband's stubble left itch marks on her neck because they are trying to break the world record for average quota of copulation per week.  It completely freaks me out when somebody tweets about the grumblings of his stomach or how her menstrual cycle is actually affecting her driving down EDSA.  

Worse: it baffles me when people endlessly give updates about other people who they come across, think they see or imagine they are seeing in some obscure corner of the planet.  Not unless you are an entertainment reporters with a direct line to or the source of all the blind items sputtered by the denizens of Juicy, then there is absolutely no reason why you should out-CNN ... uh, CNN.

Is it actually megalomania at work when you begin to think that people are that interested in the details of your life? Don't you have any other life aside from the virtual universe you have turned into a comfort zone each time you log on to the net?

3.  I do not understand the unbridled curiosity about other people's lives.

Let us start with the cult of the celebrity.  Nowadays, it cannot be denied that some people make a career out of being celebrities rather than being anything else.  Some have made millions ... and maneuvered their careers as long as cameras are clicking or rolling and recording every itsy-bitsy detail of their most colorful and convoluted lives.

But that is what celebrities are for, right? They are celebrated but not necessarily talented.  And there are others who make it a point to always find themselves in front of the cameras and the fodder for tongues wagging because that is where the future (and the money) lies.  There is no more distinction between mere popularity and vicious notoriety. Celebrity has been diminished to amorality.  Worse than being talked about ... is to become yesterday's news.

And because media whores are busy maneuvering print and television so that they can perpetuate themselves and accumulate more of their millions, people are endlessly being held by the throat and nose into that insane and mindless corner of debauchery.  What is even more disgusting is that this is interpreted as being honest and truthful.  Oh, and the over enthusiastic audience loves that.

So everybody is asking: who is boinking who? is You-Know-Who really gay? who is his partner/lover?  is it true about this story involving the vaginal lock? who is this new boy toy of a powerful television executive? And the questions go on and on and on.

It is as if answering these mysteries of the universe can actually assure us of a better Gross National Product for the coming year.

4. I do not understand why certain people cannot get their hands off the keyboards of their cellphones just because they have opted to have unlimited text privileges.

Yes, I completely comprehend telecommunication companies providing special offers that open the whole floodgates for non-stop texting.  Considering that this country takes great pride in being the texting capital of the Milky Way, it should not surprise anybody that the two major cellphone companies should offer such a bait to win more subscribers to their kingdom.

But then ... granted that this is so, please tell me if it is anything close to decent to send text messages to everybody in your address book (which may include your grandfather's embalmer, your neighborhood meth dealer or even your favorite Muslim brother who sells you clear copies of pirated DVDs) a common message that reads: Musta ka? at about seven o clock in the frigging morning?

Let it be said that I find it vulgar to be one of the recipients of a group text message because that has all the sincerity of a politician's handshake.  Even when I get Christmas or New Year's wishes from an apparently pre-fabricated group text, my eyebrows go into an automatic angle.  As I said, if you want to do something extraordinarily nice, you don't send it by text.  It is like getting a wedding proposal via Fax.

Another unforgivable permutation of this hideous practice is when you get invitations for loans for cars, house repairs and even just plain old cash via text.  You seethe at the thought that your number has been accessed by some anonymous idiot trying to market his bank instruments to creatures out there holding cellphones close to their hearts.  Could these be a result of random punching of keyboards? Not.  According to some very reliable sources, these offers are sent to cellphone owners with good credit histories --- which could only come from your bank OR your credit card companies.

So does that mean that these commercial institutions are furnishing other businesses with access to your data?  

Ah, but that leads me to the final point.

5.  I don't understand why we are such suckers for the underdog.

Oh, we all love a sob story. Maybe it makes us feel better. It makes us feel far more superior.  We love seeing people more miserable than us because we can look up to heaven and mutter, "Thank you, Lord, that it ain't me." Then it also equips us with enough reasons to prove that we are capable of charity.

Thus arises this whole culture of fatalism --- this addiction to soap operas where every commercial gap must be punctuated by enough tears to suggest that these fictional characters are paying for a helluva lot of karma.  Oh, but then we can swallow that much when it comes to all these never-ending tearjerkers because they have been around even before television.

But then when you have real people making spectacles of themselves trying to outdo each other on who has a more miserable life or who has the bigger problem, you simply sit, stare and turn completely shell-shocked.  What is worse is that real lives no longer carry any distinction from fictional stories --- as television (specifically that powerful medium that invades the privacy of our homes down to the innermost sanctuary of our bedrooms) erases the distinction between mere narrative from actual oral history.

Well, because of our predilection for underdogs --- we also create our own demigods in terms of those media personalities who assume the role of Modern Day Messiahs.  Unfortunately, salvation has got nothing to do with the soul ...or even the redemption of the most precious possession of the poor ... that of their dignity.  The messiahs carry not the keys to heaven but pouches overflowing with cash and goodies ... as if these material dole-outs are the ultimate panaceas to all the problems of mankind.

Unfortunately, it is not. It only makes good entertainment. At the expense of those who are supposedly saved.


"Careful the things you say
Children will listen ..."
CHILDREN WILL LISTEN by Stephen Sondheim

Last weekend I posted a shoutout on my Facebook account that read:

JOEY REYES quotes a friend talking to a workaholic complaining of exhaustion: "OH, BUT THAT'S ALL RIGHT. MY GOD, I AM SURE YOU WILL HAVE SUCH A BEAUTIFUL AND EXPENSIVE COFFIN.

Numerous friends responded and reacted.  Others gave comments.  One of them was somebody who I considered more than a friend or a co-worker.  I have known her for the past six years when she joined a writing workshop sponsored by a broadcast studio.  Since then we have grown a very special attachment together with certain members of the said group especially after we worked together in about three shows where she was part of the writing staff.

But it was only most recently that her work as a television writer blossomed.  She was most overwhelmed when she became part of one of the best business units in the studio then eventually asked to be a contract writer for the station.  This usually means that the corporation values the writer tremendously so as to tie her up for the next three years so that competitive companies can no longer entice her to change loyalties with heftier take-home pay and benefits. 

Not that this would tempt my friend to move networks: her loyalty to what she considered her mother company was the subject of so many jokes I used to hurl at her. I am not sure how she responded to my cynicism but I knew she would still smile although I sometimes upset her by my warnings.  Like so many who have literally spent decades plodding down the halls of show business empires, we know how the system works.  

Nobody is shocked by mercenary practices of the system.  Nobody complains about what others can condemn as near inhuman working conditions considering the long stretch of hours, the amount of compensation given and even the security given in terms of health benefits.  Everything is made clear from the start: either you want it or you don't. 

Either you take the terms of working for a profession that knows no legal holidays, respects no working hours and offers no real sense of professional security, or you go back to the nine-to-five world where you can be an SSS Member and have the complete comfort of Medicare.

I knew from the very start that my friend wanted this.

Even when we were starting to know each other --- I, the teacher and she, the student --- she always had this wide-eyed view of the creative world in television writing.  She started out as a fan, talking about the movies in my filmography and when she saw them in cinema houses, the memorable lines and all the trappings of fan-dom.  But after the workshops are over and you sit across tables designing story concepts or working on narrative treatments, you graduate into a closer relationship. Like the rest of the very special participants in that training session, she became a daughter.

And we were all so happy for her.  Of all who joined that workshop, it was only she who landed as the most active writer for a string of soap operas and episodic shows.  Before we knew it, she was completely absorbed by the system, mouthing lines that spell loyalty vows to the network.  I used to kid her about that. I used to tell her what my best friend always used to say: "You are never loyal to corporations. You are only loyal to individuals. Corporations just want profit.  Individuals possess greater dignity."

I knew she was working on two shows for the network late last year. She has an ongoing telenovela showing in the early afternoon.

Last 11 January at about noontime I received a text message from one of my friends from the studio asking for prayers because my friend has been rushed to the hospital earlier that day. The message read that she was unconscious.

I called up the sender of the text message to confirm that indeed, my friend was brought to a nearby hospital by one of her neighbors --- actually her headwriter for the telenovela where she was a part of the pool.  I wanted to gather more details about what happened so I called up the headwriter who also attested that at about 4:00 AM, my friend asked for his help to be rushed to the hospital because she felt nauseous and had a splitting headache.

By around 9:00AM, she was already diagnosed with multiple aneurysm.  Before lunch time she was unconscious and at the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital.

I was stunned.  I was trying to figure out how this could have happened but I should not have been surprised.  It was only later that I discovered that my friend already had a history of hypertension and that she was sometimes rushed to the emergency rooms of hospitals because of so-called palpitations and migraine headaches.  

She thought that these headaches and nausea were only results of her long hours of writing, sometimes stretching until dawn in order to beat deadlines for revisions and suggestions of scripts to be taped that very next day. This was, after all, a standard practice in the industry.  You work until your work is done.  You have no definite working hours.  You are always waiting for instructions before you can finalize scripts. Your laptop or notebook has become an appendage to your person: you sometimes bring your writing machines to the toilet and email scripts from the latrine.

All sorts of stories floated about her ... and everyone felt sorry.  Everyone had a foreboding story to tell about negligence, about not watching out for your health ... about not acknowledging the symptoms.  Everyone had the answer --- but my friend (who was now strapped to her bed in the ICU) did not even know that there were questions.

The next day I visited her at the hospital.

I could not help but cry when I saw her with all the machines attached to her person.  The good news was that she still gained consciousness and supposedly responded to instructions and to the people around her.  The bad news was that another vein was threatening to erupt and that her brain was already swollen because of the pressure created by the hemorrhagic discharge mixed with the spinal fluids. 

When I got there, my friend was being prepared for a procedure to drain her brain from the fluids and to undergo a process called "coiling".  The doctor explained this to me but then just how much medical info can one take at a moment like that?

I asked the doctor what was the extent of her brain damage. He said it was still too early to detect that. Their principal concern was to save her life. Another raptured vein will be fatal.  Then I asked if she should survive, what were the chances that she could be back to normal or even close to it.  The doctor gave a roundabout answer.  He said it would require time. Perhaps it involved more operations but definitely a tremendous amount of therapy.

The only note of assurance the doctor yielded was that she was still relatively young so chances for her recovery would be greater compared to someone already in her fifties.

They carted my friend away to be brought to the operating room.

A few hours later I found out from her head writer that there were some difficulties with the "coiling"-procedure. I do not know exactly what other procedures would follow.  One thing is for sure: she will be in that hospital for the longest time.  She is bound to spend at least two to three million pesos. And there is no assurance that she will be the same person that we all knew.

Days have passed and I am still stunned.

I have always told the younger generation of media workers that indeed there should be love for one's work.  What is the point of being in a profession if you do not love what you are doing?  But there are limitations.  There are parameters.  There are constraints as well as restraints.

You cannot have a living at the cost of your life.

Yes, you can spend days and weeks and months on end working eighteen to twenty-seven hours straight in order to prove to the bosses how dedicated you are to your job ... or the pursuit of excellence.  Yes, you can be at the beck and call of the gods whose functions in a corporation is to give orders and have the worker ants execute the jobs.  That is the system.  And, as I said, if you choose to work in that world take the system for what it is worth.

But the choice is still yours.  I kept telling that to my friend.  There is the system ... and there is YOUR choice. There is what has been established as the norm.  Good or bad, whether you want it or not ... is your choice.

I do not know if my friend listened to the words I told her in jest or in utmost seriousness. I am disturbed by stories of people working until they practically hit the floor out of sheer fatigue. But you don't think about things like that when you are young. You think of your career and the opportunities to impress. You think you are made of superhero stuff.

So as I write this, my friend is still in the ICU unconscious.  

There are no more news about her.  There are no more text messages providing updates.  Life has continued. People have moved on. And we will only get snippets of precious information when they happen. It will take a long time before she gets back into the groove of things. But, in the meantime, everybody has gone back to routine.

My friend suffered from multiple aneurysm because she wanted to prove that she was dedicated and professional.  Because she loved her work. And now I have great fear that she will end up being a vegetable.

And she is only 35 years old.