Saturday, May 26, 2012


Everything said hereafter is after the fact.

Now that the dust has relatively settled and the emotions have abated, we can all talk about this like adults.  We can set aside all the personal or emotional investments, shift our nationalistic fire (Read: Pinoy pride) on second gear --- and start getting real.

After all, as one of my more level-headed (Read again: cynical) friends said: "You are letting an American reality show with Jennifer Lopez shaking her booty actually upset you?"  

But then again, I held onto my guns.  That friend of mine still plays Iron Butterfly and Black Sabbath and believes that Justin Bieber should be stoned to death.  So I do not and cannot take him seriously. 

Then again, there is still a grain of truth to what time-warped friend said.  The real deal is that:

(a) American Idol may be a high-rating (well, not that high in the ratings any more) American reality t.v. show but it has really got nothing to do with us on the other side of the third rock --- except providing us with excitement, escape and --- in certain episodes --- exorcism.
(b) Phillip Phillips (Georgia's answer to Bernardo Bernardo) IS the eleventh American Idol and there is nothing we can do about it --- not that we really have anything to do about it --- nor will any change happen if we should so decide to do something about it. We have better prospects in resolving that issue about the Scarborough Shoal with the Chinese.

(c) Jessica Sanchez is an American with Filipino ancestry much like all the other celebrities who are  famous enough to be featured in TMZ --- like Lou Diamond Phillips, Tia Carrera, Nicole I-can-never-really-spell-or-pronounce-her-family name of the Pussycat Dolls, and  a whole roster of others.  Let it also be known (as I have pointed out in an earlier entry) that Jessica of Chula Vista is as much a Mexican as she is a Filipina --- and we have to acknowledge and respect that. Although we insist that she is most embodiment of Pinoy Pride, she can very well be Mexico's poster kid as well ... and we can't argue about that.

And finally ...

(d) The eleventh season is over.  The twelfth will be rolling out its auditions this coming June. And life goes on and on and on.

Not that this is of any national concern, but I will confess that I did not entertain any appointments Thursday morning to be able to catch the announcement of the winner at the Nokia Theater.  I knew I was swept by this whole Idol fever at a pitch not quite like before because --- like so many Filipinos --- Jessica Sanchez was there and she had Pinoy blood so I felt that there was a part of me in the fight.

Like all other Pinoys, I wanted a rallying point. I thought it was good for my national ego to root for somebody who looks like one of my kind ... even if she does not speak a single one of the seventy languages in the country or she has never set foot on any of our seven thousand islands.

I was one with the people of Samal, Bataan, the ancestral town of her mother -- who, I found out, left the Philippines when she was only in her teens.  But whatever. Pinay pa rin siya, period. So there.

It was not enough that I was glued to the tube --- but I was also  squeezing the keyboard of my Blackberry, joining the deluge of tweets coming from all over --- including JM Rodriguez who was right there at the theater, privileged to witness the entire event in the flesh.  

As the show progressed, a fiery online exchange of ideas came as tweets cascaded an entire spectrum of observations and opinions.  This was more than half the fun of it: while watching the show, I was actually having a conversation with God knows how many people reacting to the same event.

But then we all get our adrenaline shots watching over-the-top season enders like the ritual of American Idol crowning its winner.  For one thing, singing stars and icons emerged from the netherworld to prove to the rest of us, the living, that they were still very much alive and still capable of doing things that they were doing about forty years ago.

I mean, the mere sight of Chaka Khan singing I'm Every Woman wearing that catsuit to match all that hair is indeed a vision to behold. It was like going through a Time Machine and realizing that indeed fashion in the 80s was just so bad that even bringing  that to the twenty first century is a far greater sin. But still!  

Then, of course, there was Neil Diamond (uh, ok)and the appearance of Fantasia Berrino whose sheer presence confirmed the definition of  doppelganger for the Wailing/Braying Joshua.

So we were all having particularly tacky fun --- and there is nothing wrong with that. From the very start, we knew we were not going through the hoity poity ritual of high art here. As Ryan Seacret would enunciate, "And this is ... American Idol!" and not "Kennedy Center presents ..."

I was prepared for anything. Well, I thought I did. 

When two Idol alumnae were called onstage to have a very public wedding proposal, I cringed. I literally cringed. No, I didn't cringe.  I had an acid re-flux.

( I have realized that I have committed one of the greatest sins in my life. I have always assumed that no one can do anything more cheesy, tacky, eeechy and baduy when we want to pander to cheap emotion than the Pinoys.  This moment in American Idol proved me wrong. The Kanos can do far worse.

I thought their ultimate yuuch moments came in episodes of The Bachelor, The Bachelorette or even The Real Wives of Wherever.  But this onstage, on camera in front of the world wedding proposal baked the multi-layered, diabetes-inducing cake. This was far worse than any pakulo or pakana of any edition of Pinoy Big Brother. 

Did they think anybody with an IQ slightly above normal would believe in a highly contrived, obviously scripted exercise in weird romance? If this happened, say, while skydiving without parachutes while singing a song chosen for them by Jimmy Lovine ... perhaps that would have been more convincing. And impressive.

But to fall on one's knees to mutter those all too predictable words, "Will you marry me?" elicited only one kind of reaction from people of my temperament. I thought it was going to rain frogs in Los Angeles.

But I should have heeded this segment as a warning. This sort of showbiz ploy is geared for pure titillation.  This is the sort of schmaltz that makes middle-aged women with hairs dyed in sky blue teary-eyed and regretting menopause. This is nothing more than entertainment and not a prelude to the London Olympics.

This is only a show. And it is a show meant for a specific audience.

American Idol is indeed targeted for Heartland America.)

When the winner was finally announced --- after what I felt was a real lackluster, anemic duet featuring Jessica Sanchez and Philip Times Two, I was --- well, yes --- crushed and disappointed.

But I shouldn't be.

At the back of my mind, I knew this was going to happen and I am not even going to use the Racist Card to trump my deal.  Even midway through the Top 12, I somewhat doubted if the voting segment of America who constituted the bulk of Idol's diehard viewership would ever allow an Asian/Latina be called their idol.  

This brings me back to the four realizations I mentioned earlier.

(a) American Idol was mounted, designed and sold for Americans. Kaya nga tinawag na American Idol! It never made any pretenses or claims that it is all about talent. Rather, it is all about votes.  Regardless of how many times Randy Jackson shouts "Dog!" or Jennifer Lopez sputters, "This is craaaazy!", it is still not about talent --- but it is about popularity. 

For the record, there is nothing wrong with that.

The moment you hand the power of selection ... the right to beatification ... to the public out there armed with their texting power, then you have divested the true measure of talent, authenticity or even validity from the game.

Remember that there is indeed a thin line between democracy in action from good old mob rule.

This show is all about audience appeal --- or how to provide adequate fantasies for tween girls who will rip off pages from magazines to make wallpaper out of those tear sheets carrying the photograph of their idol-for-the-moment.  It is all about the number of screaming fans --- whose collective voice can drown out whatever authentic singing that might take place in any of the performances.

It is all about the voting ... and not the singing.  And the voting is for America.  

Kasi nga ... this is ... American Idol! (Insert theme music here.)

(b) When the judges gave Phillip Phillips a standing ovation during the performance night and hailed him a true artist, I knew that the fight was over.  To use a local expression, tapos na ang boxing.

It was not that his rendition of his supposed first single was any bad. On the contrary, it was good for the genre that the material represented.

Most unfortunately (or coincidentally), the world and especially the three judges agreed that the song they gave Jessica was not only mediocre: it was on the eve of dumb.  

Not only was it devoid of any challenge to highlight the talent of the singer --- rather, it was mediocre. It wasn't bad ... it was worse: a bad song you can remember ... but a forgettable one drips down your back.

I surmised that the battle was over when the judges started rendering their lip service to Ms. Sanchez, commending the way she tried to get the most out of the song given to her.  But they all agreed that the material sucked.  So what was needed was a miracle to squeeze blood out of a sample rock.  All their compliments for whatever the girl did had all the sincerity of the words from a greeting card.

( My whole take on this was not how they reacted but rather what they were reacting to: after all, the show was not a songwriting competition. So why bash the song that the contest assigned to the competitor, right?  Of course, she could have said NO to that song ... but then the fact that she did what she was told was not good enough a reason for all the dissing.  Ah, but let that go.

I am nitpicking.  No, I am still whining because I thought the situation was quite unfair. And it made me feel a bit suspicious.)

The choice of Phillip should not come as any surprise because of all the contestants --- it was only he of the redundant name who never reached the Bottom 3.  He was never threatened with elimination.

As attested by all those who have suddenly made scientific market studies about the results of the show, Phillip should win because he complied with all the demographic requirements that have been ruling the choice of winners for the past so many years. After 2007, the predominant female teen-age crowd became the most rabid AI followers who would religiously dedicate a part of their human existence sending text votes to protect their Tributes from being decimated. 

Moreover, Phillip Phillips sang the right kind of songs that catered to --- well, the larger part of the audience in America. Again, this is in line with the trend that prevailed in the choice of winners for the past four and now five years. The phenomenon of the WGWG --- the White Guy with a Guitar.  

But, despite the success of David Cook and little Scotty --- the success of the WGWGs did not and still could not match the mega status of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. Even if the template of the string-strumming stud puppy has become seemingly irreversible and irreplaceable, not a single one of the winners for the past four years yielded better careers than some of their runners-up. 

The fact that Adam Lambert was flamboyant and wore eyeliner automatically struck him out from the voters' choice. But his career has outraced Cutie Pie Kris Allen by so many solar systems. So there. Lambert performed in one of the shows this season. Kris Allen wasn't even invited to the Finale. Ah, life. There are limitations to being cute.

(c) Jessica Sanchez is the closest thing Filipinos could identify with in the uphill battle for supremacy.

We should have known better.  We all thought we really had a fighting chance. But, as Nestor Torre pointed out in his PDI article, she was up against not only a tradition. She was riding against a trend.

Even if she is not a Filipina but an American with Filipino blood, the support and love given by the Fil-Am communities as well as the Pinoys back home were overwhelming.  If you are not a Filipino, you will find it hard to understand why a Third World country would suddenly drop everything on a Thursday morning to await the results of a singing contest.

It really goes much farther than that.

Aside from the Filipinos' love for the underdog, the success of someone adopted as one of us became our own personal journey to success. We of the telenovela mentality would like to live our lives vicariously in the shoes of others.  This time, we also anointed this sixteen year old Americanita to embody us --- all of us --- who fantasize our big dreams.  

Jessica Sanchez became the wish-fulfillment of all the karaoke/videoke/Magic Mic addicts who sing Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey songs in the cubbyholes, cubicles or even literally hole-in-the-wall establishments where vocal chords are exercised with uncontrolled frenzy.  

In a nation obsessed with singing --- even to the point of turning the act of rendering a song as a defense mechanism or a method of escape from all the banes and burdens of Philippine existence, Jessica Sanchez is literally --- a dream come true.

Right before our very eyes, this little girl is becoming a star --- not in a contest held at a plaza, not even in local television --- but in a reality show watched by millions all over the world.  She just had to be ours.


(d) The next season auditions was announced some time middle of next month with the Top Twelve going on a nationwide tour. 

In the meantime, the murmurings continue. It is perhaps unfair to Phillip Phillips that the whole WGWG-Syndrome is now being blamed as the principal reason why the viewership of American Idol has dropped by 30% from its previous record. The Season 11's Finale of 21 million viewers goes down in history as the lowest ever garnered by the show.

Uh-oh. The cracks are showing.

Everyone from the judges --- down to the production assistant who serves coffee to Randy Jackson --- is being blamed for the downhill course of what was once the ultimate barometer of Cultura Americana. 

Unfortunately, after eleven seasons, the show has already run its course.  As pointed out by media observers, there are too many shows of the same format that have sprouted in competitive channels --- and, let's face it, Adam Levine is far much more pleasing and exciting to watch than either of the men who sandwich Jenny from the Block.

Not everyone is happy about Phillip2 being crowned this year's winner --- but then that is not his fault either.  Blame it on the demographics. Or, as someone pointed out, more of the same for the past five years simply means something has gone wrong --- very, very wrong.

The saddest (or is it?) part of the Announcement Show was the fact that Phillip was not at the peak of health.  His performance in that final show was ... uh, just there. He was sick, for crying out loud.  He seemed like he was being tortured to go through the motions because he was in pain. But one must commend him as a pro.  He was going to stick it out to the very end so that everyone would be proud.

But nobody remembers what he did throughout the entire show until he was crowned winner and made to sing that song all over again --- and he cried. Yes, that was how he will be remembered for the final night. He proved to the world he was a sweet boy and no mean machine with the appetite of a GW (Great White) rather than being a WG (With Guitar).

However ...

Whether it was a gross miscalculation or an unconscious move to prove a point, the inclusion of a duet between Broadway legend Jennifer Holiday and Jessica Sanchez right near the final production number of the show would prove to be fatal to who eventually emerged as the winner.

To pit a sixteen year old girl with a singer whose pipes could cause tectonic movement by sheer volume was ...either an invitation for a disaster or the ultimate testimony as to who's got it ... and who ain't.  When the little girl from Chula Vista crossed the stage to meet Jennifer Holiday to sing the most memorable song from the musical Dreamgirls, Jessica Sanchez did not need to win the title of American Idol. She won so much more.

She awed the world.

For how many singers can dare do a duet with Jennifer Holiday? Not many.  That woman makes the word fierce sound like a sissy.  But Jessica got her wish: a duet with a legend.  When Mario Lopez interviewed Sanchez in Extra, she said that after that duet with Ms. Holiday, she was ready to give the title to Phillip.  She had what she came for.

Yes, Jessica, you were right.  America got Phillip.  The world claimed you.

In the meantime, while the next WGWG is busy strumming his guitar and honing his vocal chords to deliver his next country ballad, we will all move on.

I, for one, realize that the thrill of watching American Idol has so greatly diminished. It is no more fun to know what it takes to be its winner. Moreover, there is truth indeed: it is only for a specific kind of audience.  

I have no problems about this show being a popularity contest and not one searching for real talent --- but then, apparently it honors only one kind of music.  Unfortunately, it is not the kind I choose to listen. 

So I guess I am sticking to The Voice instead.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Four teenagers, aged 14 to 18, died early last Saturday morning in a senseless car crash inside the posh and secure village where they all resided.  They were all boys --- scions of upper middle class families, students of exclusive schools and bearers of such great promise for the years to come.  Two of them were brothers.

In an instant --- in some strange design of fate, destiny --- or whatever you choose to call it --- their young lives came to a violent end.  

When news about the accident spread in the suburbs south of Manila, there were questions asked.  Aside from the curiosity as to why these kids were driving around at 4am  (Did their parents know they were out this time of the night even if it were a summer weekend?  Who owned the car and who was driving it? How fast were they running to elicit such an effect --- leaving the vehicle a total wreck after it rammed against an electric post and then a concrete wall?), the bigger question remains.

Why do things like these happen?

Of course we can name a whole list of reasons.  We can try to rationalize, re-create what transpired --- then shake our heads and say, "There is a lesson to learn from all this."  That is easy for us to say.
We are still appalled by this tragedy --- but the four boys remain as names. We fear that these things may or can happen to people we love.  And we embrace our relief that it has not.

Amid all the conclusions, hasty or otherwise, there are the parents of these young boys who never thought that all it took was a split second for them to lose the lives of young people who were so much a part of their existence.

I remember what my late father said as I stood beside him the day we buried my eldest brother: "This should not be. This cannot be. It should be the other way around. There is no pain greater than this." That was the only time in my life I saw my father cry.  For indeed, there is no pain greater than a parent burying his child.

I am not a parent but I understood my Dad.  I understand what that pain could be and is.

I cannot imagine how a mother and a father could look at the body of the life they created, cared for ... and loved ... stolen from them by some predicament or circumstance.  I cannot even dare estimate the degree of anguish that stirs in the hearts of parents when they see the lifeless form that was once their child. 

They never thought that this was possible. But it is. 

I still remember the cries of anguish as I held Gerry Perez, father of the young actor AJ, the day I went to the wake. His was one of the most beautiful young men I have had the chance to know and work with.  Perhaps it is because of his goodness that he was taken away from us all too early.

But how do you console a man who was right there when his son breathed his last?

Those are the rare moments when you realize that no amount of words ... or reasons concocted for the sake of easing the pain ... can diminish the brutality of the wounds left on the heart. You just watch the father in his pain knowing that he has to go through this.

You wish it never occurred.  

But it happened. These things happen.

Parents bury their children.  And you wonder how much faith is needed, how much love for God there could be in order to accept and understand events ... more so, to accept the fact that they have to move on.  They have to live the rest of their days --- individually and together --- minus their child. It happens.

I sometimes listen to my friends' talk about their children.

I tell them they worry too much ... although I understand how and why they do.  

They tell me that you have to embrace your child as often as you can ...while you can. One day they will not want you to do so.  When they are toddlers, they will tell you they love you.  But they reach a certain age when you have to understand the ways they tell you how much they care.  There are children who are generous with hugs and kisses.

There are also children who grow into adults who think that how much love shared within the family is assumed and not necessarily demonstrated. As you grow older, it becomes more difficult to tell your parents you love them without sounding childish or even stupid. That is all part of the package.  That all depends on how the parents geared them up for emotions ... whether to show or hide, display or disguise.

One time, a friend of mine was in near tears as she discussed her problems with her teenage son.  She kept blaming herself for what has happened to her seventeen year old --- pointing out all her vulnerabilities as well as her so-called sins for being an irresponsible mother because she too had to work and did not have time take care of her offspring.  She went on and on as I listened --- even though I knew that her other two kids were doing just fine.

But, of course, it is the assumption of failure that stares at you right on your face --- and not the reasons to celebrate your achievements. 

At a certain point, I told her to stop.

I told her it was not her fault.

But she insisted, "It's all my fault ... he is like that because of the way I brought him up."

I said not necessarily so.

My explanation was quite simple: children have their own lives.  

Yes. You take care of them. You protect them. You want nothing but the best that you can afford for them. You pamper them. You want to make sure they are safe, strong, healthy, happy.  You make plans for them. You want to design their lives because you know better ... and because you are a parent.  

No parent --- at least the ones with sane mind and possessing a decent soul --- would want his or her child to be unhappy.

But unfortunately, no parent can define much less dictate what should or could make their children happy.  That is the sad part.  And children cannot and should not live by their parents' definition of happiness if it is not their own as well.

I told my friend that she cannot be with her son 24/7.  What you teach your child at home is the foundation of the building that should be his persona and character. But it is he --- not the mother, not the father --- who should put together who he is and what he wants to be.  Despite all safeguards and parachutes and early warning devices --- the child will still lead the life he chooses --- if the parent sincerely wants his child to be happy. And fulfilled.

Similarly, he will make mistakes because he has to.  The errors may be fatal ... but that is all right. They are necessary. And they are not also the parents' fault all the time. Or at all.

I assured my friend that what they say about children is true.  They have to go some time or the other. You spend time with them ... but when it is time to go, you just let go.  That is the way it should be. And if you leave things as they should be, parents have no choice.

It is the parents' responsibility to take care of their kids because they did not choose to be born.  Parents gave them life and they are answerable for them.  But it does not work the other way around.  These kids are answerable to their families and it is their choice to be responsible for their parents. Children who truly love their parents will hold them close to their hearts not out of a sense of obligation ... but because love is not a requirement but a choice.  As much as parents love their children, so they will love them back. Simple as that.

I remember my Dad and I talking about showbiz kids who stop schooling in order to be breadwinners for their families.  My Dad shook his head and told me, "Children are not investments for the security of parents."

That is why, I surmise, that there is so much pain when parents bury their children.  It is not only for the loss --- but for the end of promises. It is for possibilities cut short and years meant to be shared suddenly stolen.

There is no greater joy for a parent than to see his child genuinely happy. Not successful (because that is relative) but full, filled and happy.  And death ends that joy.

I cannot imagine the pain felt right this very moment by the parents of the four boys who died on the road inside their exclusive village.  But life will go on. And there is love far greater than what us mortals can give or share.

That is the only kind of love that explains why senseless things like these happen.  For a purpose.  We may not necessarily understand it. But there is a purpose.

There is, after all the tears have dried, a lesson to be learned.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


I don't get it ... yet I get it.

I don't get the fact that there is much ado about a two-night performance of one of the world's most eccentric musical artists. I don't get it because the mere mention of the name Lady Gaga already spells over-the-top production and tantamount to shock value.

So why is anybody still shocked and scandalized?

People know that --- not unless, of course, you are of the belief that music stopped evolving after Petula Clark (who was here a number of months ago to sing Downtown and Don't Sleep in the Subway), then you have not heard or even read about musical artists who literally push their acts to the edge.  You see, the point is that you do NOT expect someone like Lady Gaga to sing songs that could be used in Catholic ceremonies --- not unless you have the gumption to play Born This Way as your wedding march. Lady Gaga --- much like many who came before her --- like Grace Jones, Alice Cooper, Kiss and that whole generation of rockers literally set fire to the stage to mark their concerts.

Uh, I am not trying to figure out where all these protesters claiming that Lady Gaga has violated their sensibilities have been hiding all these years.  I have come to a hasty conclusion that they are operating on the principle of blind faith --- or are actually alien abductees whose last taste of music included Do You Know the Way to San Jose by Dionne Warwick.

Ah, but let's put that aside first. After all, we are talking about a lady who prefers to call herself Gaga.

You see, Lady Gaga is all about busting your guts out and wearing raw meat as an evening gown.

Lady Gaga is about wearing those ridiculously unwearable armadillo shoes, outrageous costumes and passing them off as dresses that make Grace Jones look like Maria Von Trapp.  Lady Gaga is all about getting noticed, making hardcore statements and to the point of over-emphasizing that "I am an artist --- so if you can't handle this, then f--k you!"

Let me clarify: I am not a Lady Gaga fan. I will not pay fifteen thousand bucks to watch her concert.

I can listen to her music but I am not going to exactly shed tears listening to Poker Face or Paparazzi even in their diluted acoustic versions.  I like her music well enough --- but, just for the sake of joining the fray and enjoying the argument, I still prefer Madonna.  Maybe it is because I am a child of the 80's so I would still choose Express Yourself over Born This Way.

But since I have chosen Madonna, it does not necessarily mean that I should hate Lady Gaga.  

Considering the spectrum of available music nowadays, you just listen to whatever you choose to hear.  You absorb everything and filter what you want --- and who you choose to appreciate or even adore.

For the record, it does not mean that just because these are my choices that everybody else is wrong.

Let me reiterate: everybody has his or her own opinion about personalities, issues and dilemmas. That is guaranteed by our constitution.  And when we choose to express what we think or feel, we also must respect the varied kind of reactions we are bound to elicit because we chose to make our presence known. Democracy assures that we have a choice. Or choices.

Yet what is most disturbing nowadays is that the debate is no longer a question of having choices. It is about moralizing the act of choosing.

Wait. Wait.  We are now getting to the nitty gritty of all this.

Lady Gaga has already been castigated in certain countries because of strong religious codes that forbid her brand of live stage performances.  Fine.  I completely understand that.  I acknowledge and respect the tenets of the Muslim religion that forbids raunchy performances especially delivered by a female artists.  That is not merely embedded or even implied but declared by the religious practice.

But when the issue involves Christian audiences that suddenly become all too antsy about Lady Gaga's concerts because she is branded as the devil's disciple for singing a song called Judas and having a video that is misinterpreted as a homage to the man who deceived the Christ while cavorting with the devil, we know that we are in deep trouble somewhere.

The protesters insist that an artist who is capable of writing and performing such songs are purveyors of perversion and apostles of evil. Yeah, right?  

It is completely ridiculous to explain to these demagogic creatures what the song means. It will either fly over their heads or they will refuse to understand. And why so? Because members of such a rabid population will only listen to what they choose to hear ... and look at what they want to see.

If you listen closely, what Judas has to say is nothing particularly new --- as it is also the theme of Webber and Rice's Jesus Christ Superstar that purports that Judas was part of a much larger plan for God's blueprint for redemption.

Let me put that in much simpler terms: right from the start, Judas Iscariot was part of the divine scheme for the Savior to be condemned so that he may die, resurrect and eventually ascend to Heaven.  End of explanation.  This is tantamount to saying that without Judas' betrayal ... the Divine Plan for Salvation would not have taken place and that the Iscariot's role should be understood with greater compassion.

Now what is the big deal about that?!

Or could it be because Lady Gaga's videos include images that range from titillation to chaos all for the sake of shock value? The use of religious iconography --- as well as its visual play --- did not start with Gaga's videos.  

Remember how Madonna got herself into trouble with Pepsi because of her Like a Prayer video showing burning crosses and a black saint coming to life as a choir sings the Gospel-like chorus of the song? Uhm, that was like the early 90s --- and we have moved on and assumed that people have matured enough to understand the harmlessness of such images.

In films, the same kind of Christian over-sensitivity leading to gross overreaction came with films like Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ or even Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ.  Google those movies and you will find their own levels of uproar because there is a tendency to over-read and nitpick on elements that would qualify as sacrilege.

Religion is indeed a sensitive subject for discussion --- and the determination of what is proper from improper follows certain standards set by somewhat ambiguous norms.  To insist on what is black from white is to resort to fundamentalism.  Some people  think that this is being smart but actually suggesting textbook fanaticism --- or being an uptight moron.

Besides, if it will appease those who scream their heads off wanting to stop Lady Gaga from polluting the virginal brains of the Filipino audience, they should consider the cost of the concert tickets.  

Those who will be exposed to the radiation of Gaga-esque Satanism should be able to dole out P2500 to see the iconoclastic performer from a distance.  That ticket pricing excluded approximately 99.9% of the local population.

And --- more important --- amid all this screaming, foot stomping and cute marches down Roxas Boulevard wearing anti-Lady Gaga t-shirts, don't you think we have other more important issues to tackle than a two night concert? 

We can enumerate a whole shopping list of national and international concerns that affect the country so much more than -- uh --- someone singing Edge of Glory wearing a gown made of authentic Kapampangan tocino. 

Where were all these moral guardians who are so concerned about the country when these issues were being discussed?  I guess these creatures were ... born that way.




Yes, there is reason enough for celebration.

When Filipino-Mexican-American Jessica Sanchez was the first to be announced as the two remaining contenders to go head-on for the finale of one of the most successful talent/reality shows in prime television, not only did her North American fans scream in ultimate euphoria.  A substantial number populating the seven thousand islands halfway across the globe were also glued on the internet, watching the livestream of the proceedings of the show --- and ultimately celebrating the most critical round survived by their bet.  They were all shouting: Proud to be a Filipino!

After almost ninety million votes, Jessica Sanchez is now just a step away from being the next American Idol.

But wait.  There should be something to be understood here.  The title of the show is American Idol, right?  

The youngest contender --- sixteen year old Jessica --- is born of a Filipina mother (from Bataan) and a Mexican father.  For the record, she is a full-fledged American citizen.  She was born, raised and now honored in Chula Vista in San Diego, California.  Although she can sing Filipino songs (as attested by her array of YouTube videos), little Jessica does not speak any of the Filipinos' native languages --- nor has she ever visited Orani, Bataan where her maternal relatives reside.

Clarifications are indeed in order.

Some netizens are already reacting: is it really wrong for Filipinos to claim Jessica Sanchez as their own?  

Considering that we have this talented young woman competing at an early age on a stage opened for Americans for the world to see --- is it not presumptuous on the part of Filipinos to say that this little girl is theirs? Is it not out of order to evade the fact that she is not even a naturalized American citizen ... and that the Mexicans and other Latinos have equal rights in saying that she is theirs as well?

Out of all the excitement generated by her climb up to the Finale, Filipinos may have overstepped the presumption that she is ...well, exclusively Asian.  

We can forgive ourselves for that. We were just too happy for her and we wanted part of that happiness.  We wanted a slice of the cake called success.  We wanted to join her ride.

Maybe Filipinos have a tendency to go overboard by announcing to the world that Jessica is the pride of Filipinos.  

This is tantamount to saying that the Mexicans have no part of her --- and that we forget that her ancestry is as much Latino as it is Asian.  Upon seeing videos and pictures of Jessica's parents, we do agree that as much as her mother is Pinay na Pinay, her father is undoubtedly a Mexican. Add the fact that she was born in Southern California and holds a US Passport.

So maybe we should be a little sensitive about that. In a competition when you literally need all the votes you can get, we do not want to alienate that enormous Mexican market who should be as proud of Jessica as we are of her.  

But regardless of her exact place of birth or whatever government legally recognizes her as one of their citizenry, Jessica possesses both Filipino and Mexican blood. That much is quite evident and beyond debates.

That was where the magic was created: Jessica got the musical chops that seems to be genetically programmed for Filipinos.  At the same time, she also inherited the Latino passion that comes from the heart and soul of her father's race.

Why shouldn't Pinoys feel that they can make their claims on Jessica when we all know that --- my God! --- Filipinos sing at the slightest provocation. If only for her capacity to hit those high notes and render vocal gymnastics ... then there is the Orani blood in her. Jessica is a Filipina because she is obsessed with singing.

Even if there is no excuse or reason, we know that Filipinos sing and sing and sing.  The world is astounded not only by our resiliency and capacity for the ridiculous --- but also our inherent instinct to just open our mouths and sing till Kingdom Come. We sometimes give the impression that if and when the Apocalypse takes place, the event in the Philippines will be different. We will be found not panicking --- our end will come and we will still be singing.

(A sidebar: I was with a prominent singer who also had the opportunity of performing onstage for an international audience. She commented that the Americans were so awed by Jessica's renditions of two of the most difficult songs any singer would dare bring to a contest.  These were Whitney Houston's "And I Will Always Love You" and Jennifer Holliday's ultimate showstopper from the musical Dreamgirls, "And I am Telling You (I Am Not Going)".

To use Randy Jackson's term, Jessica "nailed" the songs with her panabog-baga, pangwawak-lalamunan and panglagot-litid performance. They were indeed showstoppers that seemed to scream, "Ok, top that, Philip!" 

But then ... if you are from the Philippines, think about just how many biriteras in our country actually perform those two songs every time there is a karaoke challenge or a singing competition at the makeshift stage on the basketball court of a plaza somewhere in the hearts of the boondocks? 

We are a nation of biriteras who do not merely sing in a competition. We KILL!)

Remember, the Filipinos hold the distinction of including song in every available opportunity.  

Every street corner in the metropolis --- also include the provinces --- down to the level of the sitios and baranggays --- must have a videoke/karaoke venue.  This has become the new social hall, where friends, relatives and even strangers gather together and sing songs hoping to duplicate the vocal skills of Martin Nievera, Gary Valenciano, Regine Velasquez and Sara Geronimo.  Also throw in Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and Whitney Houston.  Whether gulping bottles of Red Horse Extra Song Beer while munching on sitsarong bulaklak, adobong mani or fish crackers, the Pinoy can be found laughing and belting his lungs out singing his favorite songs.

Oh, we also sing in birthdays, weddings, funerals, baptismal parties, graduation parties, despedida parties, bienvenida parties --- including national rebellions and revolutions.   

That was how we charmed the world back in 1986: at the threat of death and being carpet bombed at EDSA, people were singing and dancing to the tune of Rico Mambo or clenching their fists in the air, teary-eyed rendering their very personal interpretations of Bayan Ko.  The world was awestruck: while tanks were rolling down the stretch of EDSA to squelch the rebels armed with rosaries and flowers, the Filipinos were --- uh --- singing.

Sonofagun! What kind of people are these? Answer: Pinoys.

Jessica apparently has lots of that blood. Just review her entire video history in YouTube when at the age of five she renders that trademark growl that has so impressed the AI audience. Look at how she tended to gravitate around fellow Filipino/American youngsters whose heart are also into music.  She is a good friend of last year's half-Filipino pambato, Thia Megia.  

Right now, together with Ana Maria Perez de Tagle (granddaughter of the legendary Sylvia La Torre), Jessica perhaps is one of the most famous Asian Americans who has succeeded in etching her name in mainstream American popular culture.  If only for that, we can claim her as our own. Or so we would love to do so.

This current obsession for Jessica Sanchez says so much more than the popularity of the reality show she joined.  Moreover, the involvement of Filipinos especially when one of their kababayans is in the spotlight also says so much more not only about the object of their adulation --- but about us --- as a people.  

Remember that recent history has proven that crime rate drops to nearly zero each time Manny Pacquiao has a fight, televised via satellite and aired all over the country.  Remember how Sundays literally freeze whenever the PacMan enters the ring to beat the living daylights out of his opponents while literally cloaked with the Philippine flag?  

The country enters a time warp in the minutes that Pacquiao's supremacy is put to the test.  As he proudly claims that the victory is not his alone but for his entire country, Filipinos do not only cheer.  They make him into a god.  They turn him into a living and breathing national hero --- forgiving him for his trespasses (because he has many) and applauds the lifestyle he has flaunted, complete with the hundreds of millions of US Dollars that he earns each time he gets an opponent all bloodied-up and beaten to a pulp.

Filipinos are so fixated on Manny Pacquiao's powers and as a national icon that they have even elected him into office. Now that says a lot.

It is this same fixation we have for national representatives that give more premium than necessary to beauty queens.  Oh, let us not be such party poopers for, as the saying goes, kung saan ka masaya --- eh, di lumigaya ka!  So even if in reality beauty queens do not and cannot change the fate of national economy nor provide political clout to solve important problems like the territorial claim of Scarborough Shoal, cheering for Venus Raj and Shamcey Supsup is still a good thing.

The success of any kababayan is the success of the people because we are in dire need of heroes who can define us as a race.

Think about it again.

Considering all that has transpired in our history and politics, we have completely lost the accessibility or availability of role models, images of heroes of various degrees --- who can be mirrors of personas we want to become.  Filipinos are starved for that as we cannot find our saviors not in politicos (who end up as major disappointments because of their predilection for the usual graft and corruption) and movie stars (who are the object of rumors, scandals and perversions).

Filipinos will cling onto anything to boost their sense of pride --- because we need this as part of our cultural ritual to give us a sense of community. 

And that is what Jessica Sanchez is doing right now.  She in the midst of a big fight --- a classic scenario: tiny and fragile Asian American with a big voice versus a matinee idol cutie who seems to be the personification of Middle America down to the t-shirt and plaid shirt over jeans and the scruffy look that goes so well with a guitar.  The more vicious the battle, the more that we will root because Filipinos see Jessica as the underdog --- and as a race, we love being underdogs.

We venerate our sense of victory because we fight against the odds.  This is what Jessica is doing.  This was what Pacquiao did before --- and now he is a living legend. This is what Ninoy Aquino achieved when he won the elections because of the power of mythology that the Filipinos created about his family.

We, as a people, are obsessed with the belief that there will always be a happy ending.  We may know how to get there ... but we will get there somehow, someday.

So even if Jessica Sanchez is not a hundred percent Pinay, we still claim her because for the Filipinos --- her battle to reach the top is the journey of the nation in its hopes to find reward after centuries of obstacles and struggles.  That way, Jessica's songs becomes ours.

Come to think of it, how will we define Jessica Sanchez?

Is she an American or a Mexican or a Filipina?  In this day and age, can somebody still provide the ultimate definition of what is American? Or Filipino for that matter?

Although the title of the show is American Idol ... the competition is about singing. It is about music.  

Music knows no nationalities.  And talent goes beyond the boundaries of legalities and territories of nations.  That is the promise of Jessica and that is why Filipinos love her.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


If there is one big lesson to be learned from the recent influx of high profile scandals, then it is all about the dangers of new media.

Of course the world has changed as it will always be changing.  One who is not abreast with the shifting ground and the direction of technological progress will be left so far behind with threats of extinction. Yes, that is right --- extinction. Either that or atrophy.  It is like being caught with a whole box of cassette tapes to play your music ... or not knowing what to do with shelves and drawers full of Betamax and VHS tapes as well as your laser discs.  That is the way the world works.

You take a nap for too long and you turn out to be Rip Van Winkle.  The world does not and will not wait for you.  And it is still within very fresh memory when we used to lug around cellular phones as big as shoe boxes.  For who would think that in twenty years, the hand phone can do almost anything (record music and voices, play music, serve as a home for video games, show movies ... and, if our guess is right, defrost steak and bake pizzas in a matter of a few years) that was beyond anyone's imagination.

Together with all that fast-paced progress are new dangers.

Although used for a variety of purposes ranging from business to amusement or even taken for granted, we never fully realize the volatile quality of technology on hand unless it backfires on us --- or when its novelty becomes the subject of misuse or even abuse.  We never really think about how vicious it can get when until someone (especially of high visibility or familiarity) bungles things up ... and becomes either careless or downright malicious.

There is no need to give a lengthy lecture about the dangers of the internet. Inasmuch as it has literally made the world much, much smaller --- intertwining channels of knowledge through accessibility and availability --- the click of a mouse can and will make a world of difference.  

The internet has changed all the limitations of our knowledge: it has made volumes of encyclopedias housed on bookshelves extinct because the word Google has become a verb.  The internet has enabled us not only to speak but also view people who live half a world away, defying time zones and causing the death to expensive long distance phone calls.  The internet has created an entirely different realm of human contact and socialization.

It all started with Friendster when the term "friend" was completely redefined.  

No longer was being a "friend" a personal and exclusive involvement but merely a tangential interaction of two computer-literate humans who come across each other in a common site. 

But after all the permutations and innovations brought into a technological invention supposedly binding people together for the sake of introductions or rediscovery, it was the phenomenon of Facebook that made all the difference.

Suddenly the global village became more of a reality as "friends" both old, new, resurrected or discovered came together to not only find each other but to share their lives in ways that exposed private lives to literally the rest of the world.  Not only are messages exchanged but images in the form of photographs and videos --- as well as thoughts through brief but sometimes all too powerful and very revealing shoutouts used as profile headlines warrant attention or to even send signals to all friends and acquaintances in the cyberworld one's state of mind and disposition.

Shouting out became the template for the equally successful Twitter in which one has to exercise the ultimate creativity and resourcefulness to design a message using 140 characters. But then Twitter created a much more intimate setting for cyber-dependents who have seemingly decided that they need to record and share every detail of their thoughts and actions with everyone in their network --- now constituting their world.

Facebooking has also become a verb like Googling --- but Tweeting has become a practice ... or even an addiction. Endless entries reveal a timeline of what one is doing, thinking, feeling or even eating and drinking so as to provide a blueprint of a life being lived diminished to a series of 140-character sentences or messages.  There is an entire psychology to tweeting or even oversharing but let us not go into that now for that is a discussion that is all together separate and different.

But the point is that social media has provided a way of expressing and ventilating to the world one's state of mind at any given time ... as long as there is access to the internet.  And, most certainly, the smart phones have made that even all the more handy and easy.  It is now so easy to put into words what one is feeling --- so that tweeting to the world what one thinks becomes a kind of short cut process of catharsis.

Then, of course, there is YouTube.  

With the simple act of uploading videos, everyone equipped with a camera (or a smart phone) can create a visual documentary that is available for the world to see.  It is not enough that words are used to identify, define or describe. With moving pictures, the images become the stories themselves and information is disseminated at a speed as fast as the power of any internet server.  The world has not only become small: it has become compact.  

YouTube has created celebrities.  It has also made monsters. It could make and unmake personalities, provide not only recordings but interpretations of events. It has turned history into present progressive --- because it is capable of tracking events --- then gathering feedback and opinions via its commentaries --- thereby attaching biases and knee jerk judgments to what is made available.

Now comes the rub.

For how many people have blundered big time because they failed to see the dangers of new media.... especially social media.

There are so many laughable stories about truth being discovered and unraveled just because of messages sent on Facebook or posted on time lines.  Worse, because of the magic of tagging photos, associations of people ... in terms of time and place ... are revealed with more verifiable proof. 

(Word of Warning: Why has it not entered the immediate knowledge of people that the moment you tag a person in a photo, everyone he has allowed access to his profile gets to see this photograph in all its sweetness or even clandestine glory?)

If shoutouts can be all to revealing, what about tweeting?

Shall we do a headcount of all the celebrities who have warranted unnecessary attention because:

(a) they have fed false information via tweeting --- like the claim that the President of the Republic was seen holding hands with his Kimchi darling in one of the malls of the metropolis during the height of a workday? WRONG! 

(b) certain high profile people are capable of such major blunders that involve issuing politically incorrect statements that alienate entire communities or marginal groups --- maybe for the sake of asserting so-called principles or maybe just to make clear a personal stand. 

(Word of advice: If you want to diss, make sure you can handle the piss.  If you make sweeping statements that says f--k you to an entire community, then be ready to also be f--ked back ... big time! Somebody just recently learned that ... and is still suffering from the consequences.)

(Another word of advice: If you kick a beehive, don't expect flowers.  And the next time you tweet a sweeping statement, make sure you are not the one swept away by the reactions ... and retaliations.)

(c) those addicted to tweeting and facebooking have a tendency to record every millisecond and broadcasting details of their lives to the rest of the cyberworld --- then get shocked when people feel entitled to pry into their lives and intrude into their affairs. 

Let it be known that the moment you start (1) announcing to the world every bout with bacteria or virus your metabolism encounters by the day,  (2) take photographs of the food that you are cooking or eating or in the process of digesting  or (3) catch a glimpse of the entire gamut of your emotions ranging from elation to frustration even to the crevices of sexual deviation --- then don't be surprised if they think they have the right to pilfer with your life. Or be judgmental about who you are and what you have become.

(d) there are those who use social networks as their platforms for catfights, brawls and exhibiting levels of crassness and love of mayhem.  Undeniably, it can be shocking at first --- to actually read exchange of messages that literally excavate the lower depths of human nature to concoct insults --- but then after a while it becomes amusing --- until it inevitably becomes just disgusting ... graduating to the boring.

There are just so many ways you can entertain people with your capacity for vulgarity. 

(e) those who are attached to social networks realize that there will always be haters.  You do not have to be a big shot celebrity to have a hater.  The moment you make your presence felt, express an opinion or even show the world that you exist --- there will be someone somewhere out there who will hate you for a variety of reasons.

And you need not find out why you are hated.  That is because it must be as much a part of human nature to dislike someone as it is a need to love and be loved.  Celebrities are more prone to haters for an eternal list of reasons --- one of which dictates: for the sake of hating. 

Acknowledging the existence of haters (who can also choose NOT to identify themselves and have the courage to say such evil things about you because they hide in anonymity) is only the prelude.  What is really worse is when you are one of ...

(f) those people who react to haters --- and in the process have emotional meltdowns trying to defend one's self, retaliate or try to outdo the legions who come attacking like the entire military force of China.

(Yet another word of advice: In Twitter as in Facebook, there is a function called BLOCK.  Facebook even has UNFRIEND.  These are the only ways to react ... because, to reiterate what has been mentioned at an earlier item: When you kick a beehive, you don't expect flowers.

Acknowledge the existence of haters ... and you are the star of the B-Movie entitled Attack of the Trolls.  Just like a game of Plants Versus Zombies, the monsters will keep on charging regardless of how much artillery you carry --- or how much energy you have reserved for defense.

There is an entire mindset for people to deliberately go out of their way to make somebody miserable.

It has got something to do with leading a half-life. Or no life at all. And they suffer from a common malady called, "Existence-envy" which is worse than your traditional hatred for somebody having a larger penis than you.)

Now the fact that somebody can  a) take your picture without your permission and when you least expect it  and b) grab a video of you in your most unflattering moments --- either of mischief or misbehavior and then upload these in the net should be warning enough for anybody (not only celebrities) to watch out.  Be most cautious because George Orwell and Aldous Huxley were both right: part of the evolution of civilization is omnipresence.

It is called omnipresence because there will always be somebody looking at you ... and worse, judging you for everything you do ... because you think nobody is looking.  The fact that words and images can be so easily broadcast to the entire universe is appalling because 140 characters and a video upload do not give you much room to explain and defend.

People will always judge you for the words you said and the images they see ... and not how you are going to be soul and context to what you have said or done at a given point in your life.

The fact that you shared any part of your life in the internet makes you vulnerable as any celebrity. And don't blame anyone for it. Face it: you, too, wanted to be public property ... so deal with it.