Recently the Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development expressed her dismay over prime time television. She commented against the carelessness of telenovelas in misinforming the public about certain procedures followed by the government regarding legal adoption. Apparently there have been some really shabby writing for tv that completely muddled information about how to go about adopting kids in our country.
There indeed has been a lot of misinformation going around.
Secretary Dinky Sulliman should go beyond the Standard Operating Procedures that go hand in hand with bureaucracy. She, together with the rest of the government officials who really care about the welfare of the public must also see what commercial television is capable of doing if not already practicing.
Yes, right. It is not good to confuse the mind of the television viewer in believing that it is that easy to go to an orphanage and take home a kid like a bag of burger and French fries from a drive-through. But more than that, maybe even greater scrutiny and care should be focused beyond the surface level of what these shows illustrate --- or how they tend to abuse that all too esoteric term called "artistic license." As far as any book on aesthetics is concerned, the term "artistic license" was never used as a euphemism for blatant stupidity.
Well, I will not judge the quality of writing at this point out of sheer ethics. But I will be adamant about the lack of if not shady research exercised by some writers. Many of them tend to confuse what is solid fact and what is purely a fragment of their imagination. Or some even indulge in the realm of pseudo-scientific for the sake of the dramatic. Oh, come on!
When left unverified, the audience may be all that gullible to take everything thrown to them hook, line and sinker.
For instance, let it be said that:
(a) Children suffering from Aspergers Syndrome cannot be cured by a certain dosage of electrical current ... much less by being hit by lightning.
(b) Those who are mentally challenged may never achieve the degree of normalcy found in others --- and that what is more important is that they become useful to society with whatever is deemed as their maximum potential.
(c) There are no fantasy creatures spewed by volcanoes or coming from wishing wells, fountains or even magic mirrors that can solve the loneliness of children, fulfill wishes of the deprived, etc. They are such cute creatures to sell as stuffed toys for the sake of merchandising but the problem is that we have seen them so many years before (think of the young Phoebe Cates in Gremlins and you realize that we are seeing Yesterday Once More).
(d) Just for the record, not all rich people are evil, scheming, overdressed and, worse, over made-up to look like transvestites with exceptionally bad taste. There are many good people who just happen to be rich and do not get their kicks literally kicking poor people in the face. More so, not all rich people arm themselves with enough gold plated or gold tone jewelry enough to create havoc in the environment.
(e) Not all gays wear blue eye shadow, addicted to jeggings and fulfill the role of the village buffoon or idiot if only to find worthiness in society. More so, not all gay people dress weird. Some wear suits and are more macho than the most macho among the straights.
(f) Despite the percentage of missing persons, not all families have lost children that they are seeking for because of the careless of switching in the hospital nursery or brought about by tragic accidents like cars falling off cliffs, exploding buses or even all too quaint fires in the neighborhood. If so, then this must be the best argument for the passage of the RH Bill. If Filipinos tend to lose their kids like they lose puppies, then we should really tell PNoy that it is urgent that we have zero population growth by the end of the year. (Let us instead be a nation of eunuchs.)
(g) Although we all have a thing or two hide, life can be complete without a mind-boggling secret kept in diaries, lockets or buried in a box somewhere in the backyard together with a bunch of corpses.
Oh, and another thing ... according to the latest health statistics, amnesia is not anywhere close to heart attacks, tuberculosis or cancer as diseases or ailments most evident in Philippine society. There are more people suffering from bleeding ulcers, dyspepsia or even halitosis than there are inflicted by memory loss.
Now having said that, we must also accept certain facts about other things that television tends to say but we never really get to talk about.
Since we are so amused, addicted and even anesthetized by what tv feeds us, we never get to really to think of whatever statements or implications, values or insights into life that these programs have to offer. The audience chooses to see itself as a passive recipient, armed with a remote control and conditioned to absorb whatever is being broadcast ... or made to react and express judgment through text votes.
And that includes young people. No, that requires further clarification. Television has the greatest effect on young people because what they see on tv has become the surrogate teacher which they believe equips them with the survival tactics to get through daily life. This cannot be helped. School provides so much ... but media is more encompassing. The moment you allow sounds and images to enter the sanctity of your home --- whether it is your living room and especially the bedroom --- what is said and reinforced becomes part of daily life and teaching.
So maybe even worse than all the over-the-top burnt-out plots and characters we are fed with 24/7 in commercial television are the implied values that are ingrained in the minds of the youth. The Motion Picture and Television Ratings and Classification Board (MTRCB) is trying its damn best to exercise as much of its authority in regulating and monitoring television shows within the acceptable parameter. That is, the MTRCB can only do so much (lest it earns the ire of the Freedom of Expression advocates who will simply refuse to be gagged or muted in their various forms of idealistic elocution). Yet everyone --- including the most liberal flibbertigibbet among us ---that monitoring movies is really quite different from being damn stricter when it comes to television.
Easily said, you do not need to dress up, spend for transportation and snacks then pay P200 to watch a television show. Commercial television is free and accessible and omnipresent. Even the poorest of the poor can get a hold of a tv set for their amusement. TV is still the cheapest form of entertainment ...perhaps next to videoke marathons staged in garages or wakes.
Worse is the fact that there is really no way that families can completely monitor everything that their kids watch in their own private territories. Well, let's face it: not all parents are like Carmina Villarroel and Zoren Legaspi (and about seventy-five percent cannot look as good as them) who would cuddle up with their kids to explain why they cannot watch certain tv show.
To think that we are not even talking about what the kids are watching or reading or doing with the internet, huh?
The point is that whether we are aware of it or not ... television does not merely entertain. It conditions. And whether they like to admit it or not, television has a social responsibility for it has become the beacon not only of popular culture but the medium that shapes and reshapes traditions. More than motion picture, print media or radio, television has become the compass where young people find their sense of direction, validation and even ambition.
If Bruno Bettelheim talked about the uses of enchantment in fairy tales, then maybe all these television programs --- consumed with addictive gusto --- have replaced all the fables and morality anecdotes. These narratives serve as guides to what is acceptable in a culture ... and what is not.
So the more a material embraces the values of other cultures in the desire of media to keep up with the rest of the world, then the looser the cultural boundaries have become. The more simplistic (or even idiotic) the approach to the narrative, then the more disastrous the messages conveyed on all levels.
A discussion on the repercussions of irresponsible television can go on forever but then let us limit the talk to what we decided to deal with: how the medium has screwed up the kids. There are indeed very apparent manifestations of television culture creating a completely different set of values and priorities among the young.
Let us count some of the ways:
(a) Firstly, entertainment in television does not give adequate premium to education. This does not include advocacy shows which are precisely espousing the cannons of EdTV (Educational Television) and appreciation must be adequately given to networks who allocate time for using the medium to give basic instructions to kids at home.
Ventures such as these have more positive effects on kids than say ... watching two women outspit and outcurse each other in Face to Face.
What is meant here is that young characters played out in telenovelas never underline the importance of school because they are too preoccupied in addressing their growing hormonal problems.
Sure, we can dress them up in the most adorable school uniforms (whether they look like misplaced English boarding school masters and misses ... or Korean school children) but no one seems to be reading a book, dealing with his or her assignment or even researching using the 3G installed on their iPads. Instead they are goo-gooing each other to death, swapping sweet nothings at each other ... or trying newer (and more upsetting ways) to find a historic level of cuteness.
Of course all these twists and turns ends up in heartbreaks (as we hear the recorded background music of an acoustic artist singing about ... uh, young love, sweet love) and a chance to cry in a manner that is touching but still cute.
So where does school fit in? Of course school is important: that is where you bond with your BFF and swap updates about his latest text message, her latest Facebook shoutout, what he tweeted ... or worse, what she did on the webcam last night out of a dare. (Thought bubble: WHAAAAAAAAAAAT??!!!)
(b) They may dress in school uniforms, appear to be in classrooms (where all teachers are more than mentors but either tormentors or simply transient homo sapiens) or carrying books and notebooks in those endless corridors that constitute "depicting school life on tv" --- but nobody really gives a hoot about studying. And why?
Simple. Because who needs to study when tv makes all kids want to be ON tv.
Perhaps even more than the option to make a career out of nursing, culinary arts, HRM or being a graphic artist, computer engineer or medical technician, the dream of a substantial number of kids the moment they hit puberty is to be an artista.
Proof of this passion ("Gusto ko po kasing makatulong sa aking pamilya ...", "Dream ko po talaga ang maging artista ..." , "Idol ko po talaga sina Gerald at Kim ...", "Magaling po akong umiyak ...") is the long lines for reality search auditions ... or reality searches promising fame and prospects of fortune. And it cannot be helped.
Think of it as an extension of the fantasies provided by television --- where even the common and the ordinary can be transformed into a prince and princess just by sheer luck --- which, in this case, happens to be a tv camera pointed right at their faces. In a matter of a few years, the ordinary boy or girl can be transformed into a popular matinee idol, made rich by his or her showbiz career ... and made even richer by a barrage of commercial endorsements.
One no longer wonders whether the passion or preoccupation of young people is for the art of being an actor or the art of being popular --- and hopefully very, very rich complete with perks. These are two worlds apart: the good actor ... and the fame whore. But then considering the equations that operate nowadays --- who needs to be a good actor to be rich? It is more practical to be just your run-of-the-mill media slut.
So what does this say about young people who want to be artistas because they feel that this is indeed the destiny designed for them by the Universe? Perhaps it is the fantasy of wearing designer clothes or being photographed as magazine covers and features ... or performing all over the world not necessarily with talent but with just sheer physical presence ( a smile and a wave would do ... or they can sing lip sync) and a lot of guts.
For all you know, the little media princess will have her house and cabinet featured in a popular entertainment magazine where she can prove once and for all to the world that ... she did it all para matulungan ang kanyang mga magulang.
With all these mind ... who really needs education? With all these myths and promises that we are fed literally with the tube --- can you blame kids for their misconception that fame and fortune can only be achieved by being beautiful, looked at and admired ... without the aid of proper education or even respect for learning? I think not.
For the feeding of illusions and the warping of values are indeed far more dangerous and long-lasting.