Let's face it: Filipinos love to be victims.
Perhaps that should be put in more specific terms. Blame it on our cultural history. Blame it on our warped sense of romantic agony. Blame it on mass media. Blame it on our mothers and fathers --- and maybe our grandmothers and grandfathers. Blame it on our love for suffering --- thinking that it is good. Blame it on anybody --- on whoever ... But we have to admit that to a certain extent we Pinoys are really --- screwed.
For one thing, we take great pride in cheering for the underdog. Nothing wrong with that. It somehow ennobles a whole bunch of us to clap, hoot and root for the Rocky Balboas of the World. It somehow humanizes us because we feel so good in showing the world we are so good. But what gets really messed us is when we start obsessing in being underdogs ourselves!
We begin to believe that the suffering justifies --- nay, affirms --- the sufferer. We have actually convinced ourselves that the only way to redemption --- any form of salvation --- is to wallow in suffering, enjoy the pain of the journey and celebrate the anguish. We call it persevering, persistence and endurance. We brand it as pagsasakripisiyo and pagtitiis. From an outsider's point of view, it is called textbook masochism. Cultural masochism.
Not only do we enjoy suffering --- we love to talk about it. We love to venerate our pain. We see ourselves as the suffering Christ, nailed on the cross --- and who, on the third day, shall rise from the dead. We bow our heads to the images of Mater Dolorosa. We equate godliness with an act of purgation --- completely forgetting that living a full and filling life is as important as a preoccupation for the rewards of the afterlife. Better yet, it is what you do with your life in the here and now is the measure to your final destination when you croak.
But no! A great number of Filipinos seem to have completely forgotten the true mission in one's life perhaps because of all the social and cultural reinforcements that blur their priorities.
With brains marinated in nightly overdose of fantasy shows and lachrymal soap operas, promises of hope and a sparkling future by winning reality shows and talent searches, it couldn't be helped that Filipinos yearn to be victims, to endure suffering --- and to go in front of a camera to tell the whole world how much of a downer of a life he is leading.
Now is that really good?
Does it help to go on public confessionals, weeping in front of millions of people to announce how much God has been throwing so many obstacle courses along one's way? Everyone seems to be trying to outdo everyone else in narrating the saddest story ever told and consider this as a ticket to that proverbial fifteen minutes of fame. In a crowded market where everyone wants to nudge out everybody else, the demand for celebrated victimization has become so sensational --- that it has reached the level of the perverse. The more kahabaghabag you present yourself, the greater your chances for reaching Nirvana. And that state of bliss is a few thousand pesos plus groceries that can last you a week from the friendly sponsors.
If we were to believe what some observers have declared, then perhaps we are in a much deeper rut than we can possibly surmise.
Is it possible that media has so critically warped the values of the Filipino audience that who is rewarded is he who presents himself to be the bigger victim?
For instance, in a recent talent search on tv, someone observed that the winner was not necessarily the one with the most impressive talent --- but the contestant whose kuwento was most heartbreaking (read: high on the sympathy level of the audiences). And because of this obsession for the plight of the victim, the obligatory kurot sa puso has already become a katok sa utak. It is not how good you are or how much potential you have ... but how much of a loser you present yourself to the world.
Now isn't that just great? It's the whole wallowing in self-pity syndrome except that the Filipino seems to enjoy doing backstrokes while swimming on a quicksand of tears.
So does it still surprise many of us why the indigent will literally line up outside tv studios for hours under sun, wind and rain to be able to grab a chance to go before studio cameras and tell their sad stories?
And do we not see how such forms of emotional manipulation send the worst kind of signals to the larger population --- equating victimization with a sense of obligation on the part of the haves to give alms to the have-nots?
Does it not repel the sensibilities of the thinking sector that the poor (whose only remaining treasure is the dignity in their humanity, their rights as citizens of the Republic) will be made to narrate their tales of woe before they belt out songs, do breakdancing routines or even perform ridiculous acts much to the amusement of the hysterical audience?
How is this any different from the entertainment value found in gladiators smashing each other's brains out with the cheering multitude shouting for reality show death? How is this any less perverse than a coliseum full of people finding pleasure watching Christians being eaten by the lions? Perhaps that is a gross exaggeration --- or even an unfair comparison. But indeed man has such perverse pleasures in seeing the suffering of others, ridiculing them --- and turning the entire process into a ritual of liberation and salvation.
For cash prizes and the chance to win more, more, more ... entertainment has stripped the poor and the needy of their dignity, diminishing their stature to nothing more than canines jumping through hoops while the rich and the privileged watch with smug amusement. What is worse than this form of public degradation is the reinforcement if not the affirmation of the culture of mendicancy.
Oh, but many have already bemoaned that sad observation. In this endless over-indulgence in romanticizing agony, the final gesture is the handing over of crisp peso bills to the awaiting palms of the poor. And this charity comes as a form of reward --- if not payment or obligatory gesture --- because the poor have to be helped. We make fools out of them, we make them cry a river --- then we hand them peso bills to reassure ourselves that we are scoring points for the glory of God and country. Yeah, right.
Media unwittingly (or maybe deliberately and maliciously ---who knows?) assures the less fortunate that it is good to be poor. And help does not come with providing concrete options and opportunities to improve their station in life. Instead, what is given is that temporary reward --- that momentary euphoria of holding a few thousands pesos --- even a million or two --- after being made as a subject of equally fleeting interest.
The promise of the reward can be so blinding --- so that for those who will line up for hours to get into a studio to audition or be part of a game show, nothing is important beyond winning a prize or getting any form of reward.
Sadder is the fact that those who challenge programs capitalizing on helping the needy or offering promises of superficial if not such temporary hope are branded as anti-poor. The most common accusation is that those who condemn such shows are the snooty intellegentsia, the apathetic middle class, the condescending elite who do not understand the meaning of suffering or the plight of the indigent because they were born lucky enough to possess options and claim opportunities.
Everything is diminished to simplistic class struggle --- a battle between sila and tayo: "Sila" refers to the arrogant middle class --- while "tayo" points to the so-called defenders of the poor and the struggling stratum of the population blinded by bread and circuses.
So where will all this go? Where will all this endearing fatalism bring the country ... as well as the substantial portion of the national population belonging to the impoverished class? How does media play up to poverty --- and encourage that mentality that the needy have to be helped by dole-outs and not to enlighten if not strengthen them with better fighting chances for sustainable livelihood?
Does this mean that all the young people will continue to give up or turn their backs on education, hoping that they will be discovered to become big time artistas with the usual reasoning that gusto nilang tulungan ang kanilang mga pamilya? Do we really find any semblance of social justice watching people bawl their eyes out while narrating their sad tales of misery and poverty ... and believe that indeed we have started solving problems by handing them token cash and loot bags?
In a culture that venerates victims and only provides placebos as hope, everyone ends up being a loser in the long run. And that is certainly what is happening today in our country.