Saturday, April 3, 2021

THE VIRUS CALLED ASIAN HATE

The Second Wave of the Pandemic has turned my Facebook Timeline into a daily obituary.

This edition of the COVID19 virus, with all its glorious mutation, has harvested more lives than the numbers last year.  Just when we thought we were on our way to normalcy, this happens.  The recurrence of the virus ceases to be interesting because of its lethal quality.  It is far more deadly because of its ability to infect faster and generate more dangerous effects.

It is as if dealing with the pandemic is enough.  More than the endless fear for one's health and life is the mental torture of isolation, social distancing and the recalibration of the way you deal with your everyday existence.  It has now become apparent that one of the biggest scourges of the pandemic is that it has kept us apart.  Social distancing is a term we will never forget for the rest of this earthly existence.  Equally lethal is the safety measure to keep away from each other --- to guarantee greater chances for survival.

Yet there is another virus that is as terrifying and dangerous.  Like COVID19 that was spawned by the irresponsibility of man to push the card to the farthest end of nature's tolerance, this other virus is as toxic and life-threatening more so because it is man-made.  This is other side of the pandemic; it is called Asian Hate.

When the SARS virus crossed over from bat to humans, nobody is to blame but man himself.  Point to his sense of exoticism and certainly not a call for human survival.  It may sound innocent but it is not: it is sheer recklessness and carelessness added to ignorance and defiance.  But leave it at that.  The pandemic started from a wet market that sold exotic animals such as pangolins and turtles that have turned into culinary delicacies for a niche market. What spurned this worldwide catastrophe is recklessness.

But not racial prejudice. Yes, it may look reckless but it is deliberate.  Discrimination is deliberate. It is not natural. It is learned.  It is conditioned by the environment and triggered by socio-political and economic factors that are brought into culture. It is not within one's DNA to look down or hate others who are not the same in terms of color of skin, eyes or hair: this is something pre-conditioned by society or the immediate environment where a person or community exists.

The rise in Asian American and Pacific Islander Hatred in the United States is nothing new.  It has always been there.  As far back as one can recall, Asians have been tolerated in the U.S. because of their sense of utility and assumed personality of resourcefulness, resilience and ... most important, servitude.  There are so many pre-conceived notions about the character of Asians --- so much so --- that anyone who comes from that side of the world , whether you are from Mainland China or any of the countries or islands bordering the Pacific --- the assumption is that you are Chinese.

Moreover, there is this generalized view that all Asians are alike.

We all have chinky eyes.  We are all good in Math.  We are all hard workers.  In the American labor force, we will accept anything that can make us earn a living especially those jobs that Americans themselves do not even want to consider because they find such occupations demeaning.  They are the salesmen, the vendors, the convenience store owners, the small restaurant operator.

Asians are indeed hard workers.  The professionals earn big time because they are the doctors, the nurses, the medical technicians the engineers, the finance and marketing wizards. They are the slit-eyed geniuses who wear thick glasses as they pound on their computers doing miraculous programming.  

In other words, they are part of the machinery of American economy and they are successful because they do nothing but work, work, work --- and in the process depriving the white bread citizen of job opportunities.  

First the Asians were blamed for the economic imbalance of the better side of capitalism favoring the naturalized citizens or the immigrants.  Asians were blamed for depriving what others deem as the truly American of the jobs they should be savoring in the Land of the Brave and Free.  Such was never blamed to the Black Community: the discrimination against this sector is completely different and yet the same as with Asians.  Both are deemed not to belong to America, unworthy of sharing the same land and skies only meant for the fair of skin regardless of level of intelligence or caliber of dignity.

The pandemic changed the equations all together.

Whereas before there were all these mutant Barbie-like Karens or hee-haw Kens shouting curses at Asians and telling all of us to "Go back home to China", now the aggression has been amplified.

Simply put, that sector of the population, not necessarily whites alone and not limited to the United States, needed to blame someone for the Coronavirus --- and guess who is the most convenient scapegoat but the seemingly docile, invisible Asian who goes about his business quietly ... and perhaps spreading the virus to what they perceive as an uncomfortable Paradise.

Now amplified beyond verbal assault or a barrage of insulting words all summarized as "You don't belong here", the hatred has become physical.  The hatred has become violent because the Asian in a foreign land is now the pandemic personified.  

Out of a need to vent out anger and frustration, the quiet, hardworking, placid, invisible Asian has become the punching bag of the mentally disturbed, socially rattled and economically devastated.  Suddenly, in the eyes of those who have always felt that the Asians belong and should stay on their side of the planet, the insults have turned into punches and flying kicks.

Many have theorized that this was further affirmed by the not only tactless but malicious racist language of the former resident of that house in Pennsylvania Avenue. Calling the pandemic Kung Flu or the China virus fuelled the anger of those who invested their belief --- or even blind faith in him.  The power of words from those who occupy the uppermost echelons of authority trickle down into simplistic actions and reactions from their minions.

What nations and especially in the U.S. is experiencing now is a more blatant manifestation of what has already been in the undertow for years.  Racism has always been there --- except now, for that chosen some, it has become  not only permissible but acceptable and admirable.  First, it was in the inconsequential treatment of Black people but now it is the brutalization of Asians --- whether they are US born, naturalized citizens or immigrants.  

In a country that, for four years, condemned anyone who does not fit the mold of white bread or believed that America (or any nation) is blemished by the presence of blacks or threatened by the overruling of immigrants, proactive expressions of hatred became a norm and a rallying point as endorsed by the then President.

Efforts have been made to curb the rise of violence against Asians in America.  But it would take more than just legal action when the problem has a history as  long and as deep rooted such as this.  In the same manner that any noble intention to wipe out the violent attacks on Asians through a series of legislations may prove short of achieving its cause, the uncontrollable surge of violence costing lives mostly of women and the elderly will continue.  

The parade of reports in mainstream news and the net showing close circuit camera videos of elderly men and women being pushed, thrown to the ground or kicked in  the stomach then stomped on the head certain shock --- then numb the viewer of the extent of violence that inhumanity can concoct.  The fact that this can be done to helpless old people just because they are Asian shows something more than just --- mental disorder.  It is symptommatic of the cracks in a civilization.

Beneath all these is a personal fear: having relatives and close friends who have chosen to live across the Pacific triggers worries as much as the coronavirus.

These are people who have dreams for a better life believing in the promise of the Land of the Brave and Free ... and any other corner of the planet that can offer a brighter future for themselves and their children.  For most of their lives they have settled and grown roots in the Americas with a single awareness: the acceptance of the fact that racism shall be part of their way of life.  There are various coping mechanisms one can learn along the way.

( In the short years that I lived in the U.S. as a graduate student, I knew racism of various degrees.  Whether it is the shouts you hear from passing cars with windows drawn down  shouting, "Go home, you f--g Chink?" or "Go back to China!" or being deliberately ignored by salesladies in a department store then throwing you a look like you do not have the right to buy whatever it is they are selling, you just learn to grit your teeth and say: Yes, this land is your land. But I really do not give a flying f--k.

But there are other ways you encounter racism: what hurts even more are those moments of passive racism when the condescension and belittling come as a package.  That is when someone suddenly smiles at you and says, "For an Asian, you speak good English. Where did you learn that?" or "What part of China do you come from?" or worse, "Philippines? Is that part of China?" --- which you would like to quip back by saying something crisp and bitchy but opt not to do because you do not argue with morons. )

After watching all those YouTube accounts of Asian Hate, one wonders whether the real pandemic is not just the virus ... but what darker side of human nature emerged as a result of the worldwide tragedy.

Instead of compassion and seeking for healing, the dark side amongst some us emerged with a fury directed at specific people who are equally suffering and devastated by the virus.   

What does it take for a man to go to an old man quietly waiting for his train to go to work and slash his face with a box cutter?  Worse, what does it say about people when they simply look and do not help as this old man screams for assistance of any sort as his face is bathed with his own blood?

What does it say when a grandmother stands on a corner waiting to cross the street is approached by a man twice her size and punches her on the face for no reason aside from the fact that she did not look like him or the people around her? (NB: the granny beat the living daylights out of the motherf---r. He too had to be hospitalized ... for worse physical damage. Moral lesson: never underestimate a granny.)

What does it say about people when a sixty-five year old woman walking to church at mid day right at a busy part of New York City gets kicked in the stomach and stomped on the head by a man thrice her size and on parole for killing his own mother?  Worse, what does it say about man as a species when three people witness the event from inside the lobby of an adjacent building ... and nobody helped the woman but instead one of them closes the door?

What does it plainly say about these people?

And what do WE ASIANS do about it?

NB:  I found this interesting piece on YouTube which says so much so painfully about Asian racism.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S8_RMuTgjfY&t=4s









Wednesday, March 3, 2021

ONE YEAR OF ONLINE TEACHING: HOW A VIRUS RESHUFFLED OUR WORLD

 Five days from now, the College where I hold a post and the University where I teach will celebrate its first year of shutting down their campuses for students and faculty members.

Yesterday, I had my own anniversary.

It was my first year of teaching online --- and I have no other choice but to ACCEPT, ADJUST and ADAPT.  I keep repeating that mantra: I have to ACCEPT the fact that it is going to be LIKE THIS for quite some time. I have to ADJUST the way I teach and reach out to my kids ... but, hardest of all, I have to ADAPT to a world where I cannot see faces which are masked and shielded or diminished into little boxes of talking heads.

Truth: we were not prepared for this.

Although the online modality of teaching has been around for some time, it has never been a priority in terms of focus and development around this part of the planet for very simple reasons: economics and technology.  With what can be considered as subpar quality of internet connectivity, online education is only an option and not an ultimate alternative as it has become. 

Blame that unseen virus for fast tracking what should have taken years --- maybe decades in the Third World --- to be placed in full implementation.  But it is a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea.  Another truth: this virus is going to be around for quite some time and even with massive efforts of innoculation and availability of the vaccine, we are still going to be exposed to the virus --- and this shall be a threat to both kids and teachers alike.

Online teaching requires a frame of mind to change one's perception of how teaching can be done.

For the digital migrants like the Gen X-ers, the task may be tedious but tenable.  But for the Milennials and Gen Z brats, they are genetically wired to be digital --- so this is no strange animal that they have to reckon with.  However, the bane is left on the shoulders of the Boomers who have not completely embraced (although they may be aware of ) the tenets of the digital revolution.

The classical model of a teacher standing in front of the class with a black marker or even a laser pointer and a white board as background has become an image associated with nostalgia in a world dominated by educational interphases and Zoom sessions.

Accept. Adjust. Adapt.

Once you have accepted that you are most likely not going back to the classroom for the most part of this year ... and that you have to adjust to online teaching then adapt your teaching methodology to prepare Powerpoint Presentations for every lecture then voice them over and upload them to your own YouTube channel then upload this to the interphase to have accessibility to your students, then to use the joys of having separate Facebook pages for each class to have easy access to students in distributing information, create Google Drive folders for reading materials and submission of deliverables.  Oh, then there are the links you provide for various YouTube visuals and online references and ...

Truth: online teaching consumes three times more work for teachers than when they were enjoying the human and not the virtual encounter with their students. 

 Teachers spend more time preparing for their classes and even more time after their sessions maneuvering through the pile-ups of soft copies of submissions.  Well, yes --- we are sparing so many forests because of the newly practiced paper-less education but this is definitely more taxing to the eyes when you have to wrestle with students who do not believe that there are health reasons behind the requirement of 12 pt fonts in their submissions.

Plus there is that whole surreal quality about holding your classes and demanding ---yes, insisting --- that all video cameras remain open as you go into (hopefully not) a three hour soliloquy talking to a computer monitor.  And somehow seeing your students in their natural environment changes the perspective of everything.

There is never a shortage of anecdotes about the things you see, hear and feel watching the kids reacting ( or staring at you zombie-like) through their webcams.  Here is a partial least of the most memorable and perhaps significant human experience.

(a) Dress Code.  OK, I am not demanding that my students attend classes wearing blazers with the school crest emblazoned on their chests but I think what really sent me off orbit was when one male student popped up on screen wearing his sando and apparently (literally) pulled straight out of bed and into the session.  Why?  The sight of his unkempt bed, used clothes hanging all over the room not to mention that sort of man-cave ouvre somewhat terrified me.

(b) Multi-Tasking. Oh, you would know when the kid's camera is on but she is doing something else or watching another channel and that she has placed you on mute and even if you call out her name, there she is in her parallel universe doing whatever it is that she is doing while feigning her hologram presence in your world.

(c) Eating in Class.  There is no way you can tell your student not to eat while class is in session especially if you see him or her comfortably seated in the dining room or with a perfect view of the kitchen where the Nanay or Mommy is busy cooking lunch, dinner or the afternoon's supply of maruya.  But somehow there has to be a certain limit to what kind of food your student can consume while you are busy yakking your head off talking about the aesthetics of Bon Joon Ho or why Lav Diaz movies are four hours long.  What really literally shookt me was when somebody ate nilagang mais or consuming an entire bag of fish crackers as I was going into a state of ecstacy discussing films.  I can tolerate the occasional mamon or (kung sosyal) brownies or chocolate cookies.  But I really had to put my foot down when a kid was ramming down Reese Peanut Butter Cups or my all time favorite Chocnut bars, peeling them and popping them in his mouth and enjoying the sweets more than my lecture.

(d) Choice of Location. Although one cannot specifically dictate or demand specific locations where in the safety bubble of his residence can the nt can participate in his online classes, the choice of room or area is greatly determined by the strength of the internet connection.  As I said, I am all right with the living room, dining room, lanai or even bedroom (hopefully with a well kept bed and dirty clothes appropriately placed in the hamper) but there are dangers still lurking.  Case in point: when a student left his webcam operating, stood up from his study desk and proceeded to his bathroom to answer the beckoning of nature ( the sort that you cannot do in an upright position) and carelessly/unwittingly left the door open not realizing that whole class including the teacher (me) could see the miracles of addressing biological needs.  

(e) Mise En Scene  Students are required to mute their mics unless they are called by the teacher or turn on the "Raise Hand" icon to warrant the professor's attention. But there are times when a student has turned on his audio and is interacting with either the mentor or the peers.  How many times have you seen and heard the student scream, "Ma! Quiet ka nga ... nasa klase ako, no?" or better yet, "Patahimikin nyo nga yung aso!"or worse, hearing Mama shout back, "Tigilan mo nga ako ... Nagdo-DOTA ka lang, leche!"which triggers massive embarrassment and the possibilities of lifetime Cyberbullying.

Yet these are the givens we have to learn to accept.

The New Normal is anything but normal and I am even more afraid if we finally accept that this is the Ultimate Normal, completely giving up our hopes that we can go back to school and see each other again.

Nothing is sadder than the thought that you would have spent your entire college years ... sitting in front of a computer in your house clothes and never personally meeting your classmates ... even until graduation.

Nothing is more disheartening than never really seeing your students or meeting them beyond the two dimensional superficiality of a virtual gathering.

Accept. Adjust. Advance.  We carry on.



Friday, February 26, 2021

I'M IN THE ARMY NOW: Or Why BTS is One Way I Coped with Almost a Year of Quarantine

 In a week's time, my school will celebrate its first year of closing the doors of its campus to students and faculty as a result of the pandemic.  Between the time the first of the CQ's was announced by the government until this very day, work has been so badly diminished in my other work having gone on lock in shootings twice and realizing just how hard it is to accept, adjust and advance.

Between February of last year until today, so much has changed around me ... and in me.  

Aside from discovering the joys of Lazada and Shopee and Facebook Market and Grab Food and Mr. Speedy and Lala Moves, I have learned the tranquil pleasures of gardening. I can now distinguish over thirty kinds of hybrid hibiscus ("Gumamela yan!") , mayanas and caladiums. I walk around the garden anticipating the growth of my monstera and realized that I have turned more into the Batman nemesis Poison Ivy than your regular textbook quarantined Plantito.

Yes, we have all found ways of coping with the Year of Self-Imposed Hibernation.  

It has become a matter of life or death.  Or face masks and face shields.  Some of us have gained weight (because of the sheer volume and variety of food being sold online by your neighbors) or lost pounds (because of those who turned into backyard gym bunnies) or completely lost their minds (when you start talking about the vaccine as the Mark of the Devil heralding the coming of the Anti-Christ). O siya.

But if there is anything that helped me survive this year of domestic confinement, then it must be Hallyu.

I will confess that I did not give much time or attention to this whole Korean Thing until I had all the time in the world and no place to go.  

The threat of virus to someone over sixty years of age is (supposedly, allegedly) double the risk than somebody in his thirties.  And I am not going take a gamble on that assumption.  Whereas before you counted the hours by the number of deadlines and appointments you had to deal with each day, the past year has been the adventure of more of the same, day in and day out.

Blame it on Netflix and Crash Landing On You that came at the right time and the right place --- when the Unconvinced (like me) was finally enticed to watch a KDrama about a rich girl literally caught by a whirlwind and brought to another world divided by national borders. All of a sudden, what you only heard about was beginning to make sense.  Yes, reading subtitles was a matter of getting used to and gaping at the Korean complexion makes you realize that it is not their whiteness that matters: it is the fact that they look like they are genetically poreless.  

And just as I was recovering from the euphoria of BONG JOON HO clasping his Oscar trophy for Best Director --- and his movie bagging Best Film, I thought this whole Hallyu thing was maxxing out on me.  

Yes, I am a late bloomer when it comes to being so with it and in it because I was never a KPop Fan (Yes, Boomer! ) nor did I understand how the young can literally swoon and sing along songs in a language that they did not understand ... much less ever learn to speak.  That is until I heard that song "Dynamite."

OK, OK ... it was released on the 21st of August the year before and I am really way behind of the groove since my ears went on full radar mode six months later.  Now why?  

So many of my musically accomplished friends ( Grand Dame Lea Salonga included ) were already exclaiming about the outstanding musicality and showmanship of this KPop group.  Years after the Backstreet Boys, NSync , One Direction and Boyz II Men ... and yes, include the Jonas Brothers and even Hanson ...  you think you had seen and heard everything.  

And there was KPop always at the back burner of mainstream music lovers ... until the perfect storm took place.

When we are forced to sit still and literally absorb everything happening around us, the years of hard work in the programming of an Asian popular culture final bore worldwide fruition. Hallyu embraced us at a time we needed both escape and anesthesia,

I have spoken about the impact of KDrama and how Netflix and Viu have fuelled not only its popularity but its inevitability in the New Normal's streaming alternative.  

When a major television network was forced to shut down, the interest veered towards the promise of varied and most important --- newer kinds of content --- in streaming platforms.  Similarly, whereas before only the kids down to the X-ers  were already glued to YouTube, now even the Boomers were spending more and more time streaming content or opting for internet-based entertainment.  Why?  Because my generation who were not exactly computer savvy nor internet wired learned that there was so much more variety available there than the more-of-the-same usual diet you get from commercial tv.

Since we are all forced to stay at home and find some kind of amusement and entertainment, the search for options because more urgent.  Now you are not watching TV or streaming just after work when you get home. You are now working at home to work and there is all that spare hours where you have to occupy your mind to flush out the frustration, misery and paranoia.  

Suddenly information across the generations was no longer limited to mainstream media --- but to internet based platforms where an eighty year old grandmother now has a Twitter account and even government officials attempt at being charming by doing TikToks. Whatever.  The survival via confinement further ignited the discovery or rediscovery of Hallyu reaching unbelievable heights of popularity and massive consumption.

This is why the crowning of BTS  as  Time Magazine's Entertainer of the Year catapulted the whole Hallyu phenomenon. Nobody ... but absolutely nobody ... ever imagined that a Korean Boy Band can possibly achieve this level of worldwide success.

And for those who have been faithful followers of the careers of these seven young men, their success was not a fluke. It was and will forever be a deserving affirmation of so many years of hard work, underlined by determination, discipline ... and undeniable talent.

                                                                * * *

When music enthusiasts compared the importance of BTS  to (Oh, my God!) ... the Beatles because of their mindblowing achievement in the Billboard international chart, you realize that something more than extraordinary is happening here.  

But, hey, it is not like these seven young men are overnight sensations.  

Far from it.  Theirs was an uphill climb from obscurity to megawatt popularity.  Better yet, these are not just another bunch of pretty boys lip syncing songs and making a career out of being popular: an examination of the musical range and death defying variation of genres of the songs they compose, produce and record prove that they should be taken seriously. And that they are making history.

I am not just talking about the billions of dollars they are funneling into the South Korean economy.  Their contribution to their country's gross income is enough for the government to recognize their significance and delay their obligatory military service. 

I am talking about the fact that you have Asians blowing off the roof and displacing the Bieber and the Sheeran from the charts and staying there, only to return again and again.

I am talking about how they continuously stun --- I repeat, stun --- even their most diehard fans by the surprising choices they make of the songs they compose and sing --- or the manner that they execute their production numbers.

What is more important is their cultural significance in terms of musical contribution and the very narrative of their existence --- as individuals, as a group and as a representation of the global fusion of popular culture.  

At this point in their career, that hard climb from 2012 to the present is not a Cinderella story.  It is a tale of evolution --- it is a story of diversity and individuality.  It is proof of the triumph of talent over mere novelty or celebrity. It is about getting there through the uphill journey because the flash in the pan sensations have career spans of nanoseconds.  

What is equally interesting is dissecting what is it about them to gain even greater momentum at a time when people were locked in their personal spaces, unable to congregate for concerts and even ringing the death knells for live entertainment.  

The answer is again --- simple as it is complicated: it is the perfect storm.  BTS has gotten this far because they are of the here and now.

Why is that? Let me offer my take on their phenomenal rise.

(1) Whereas other performers had to claw their way to maintain visibility and the interest of their audiences (and therefore their fans), BTS has always been social media-based.  A great amount of their popularity is pegged on their YouTube uploads and multi-platform accounts each and everyone orchestrated by their management.

Even before the pandemic, Big Hit Entertainment --- the management company that handles the group --- has made it a point to create maximum visibility for the fans. In other words, what was being sold was not just the music itself but the premium of the seven members who constituted the band,  Through shows like Run BTS or even YouTube videos uploaded by fans and fan club sites, the seven members of BTS are known not as a single unit but as individuals.

Social media has become the language of communication and connection even before the pandemic but more so when we are forced to stay away from each other.  

Unlike other groups who came before who were MTV-based ( think of the rise and sustainability of Madonna ) and did not have the immediacy or even the currency of interacting with their fans, social media has played a prominent role in shaping the stature of the Bang Tan Boys ... and that is without doubt or question.

Even at the height of the pandemic when people are kept apart, social media kept the boys close to their admirers with consistency of updates and images.  They never went away. As a matter of fact, with so much time in their hands they became closer and developed an even larger fan base during this restrictive period.

(2) The members of BTS have created an ironic relationship with their Army.

It is virtual and yet intimate.  There is truth in the accessibility of RM, Jimin, Jin, V and Jungkook or Suga and J Hope because of the proliferation of videos that show them not as performers but as regular people who go about their daily routines and revealing their behind-the-scene existence.

In other words, there is a reality show mindset you gather when you see all these clips of the boys being themselves or goofing around or being playful in their pajamas.  They are shown eating, sleeping, doing podcasts, rehearsing --- interacting with one another like family and drawing us into their personal universe.

More important, they are distinguished from one another because of their personalities which eventually become their selling points.  

Nobody can resist the tattooed most junior member of the group because he is the kid the group raised ---- the Jungkook who  spent his high school life growing up with his hyungs who took care of him.  

And everybody is just floored by Taehyung's narrative: the son of farmers, raised by his grandmother who died while he was performing in the Philippines and who happens to be an actor ( in the historical series Hwarang with Park Soo Joon ) and who has the sassiest moves in his Gucci clothes. OK, enough.

Of course there is Jimin --- the spitfire member of the troupe who was an outstanding  modern  dance student before turning into this performing monster with unparallelled precision in both choreography and vocals.  

Or what about Suga and JHope ... both rappers who have evolved from the early days into precision performers. 

Or Seokjin, the hyung of the boys, being the eldest and well, aside from that silver voice has branded himself as Worldwide Handsome (attested by a European group by saying he has the most perfectly formed male face ever supplied by Mother Nature. What-the-...!!!) 

Then there is RM, who made a choice whether to continue as an underground rapper or to become a pop star. Apparently, he did well in his decision-making.

And here's another point for the record: as most of the Army members know, RM learned English from watching the American TV series Friends and has an IQ of 148.  OK. I am floored.  But this still leads me to another important point.

(3) The strongest charm of this group is the narrative of their selves.

Coming from diverse backgrounds, they have been handpicked and have been living together for almost a decade,  (I will go back to the significance of that in a bit.) Yet they have evolved from this edgy hip hop group of their early career into this world class band that has defied cultural barriers and could fill up ninety thousand stadiums all over the world.  Whereas others would like to look at this as magic or a miracle, it is not.  It is a long-drawn process --- mostly planned but still spontaneous --- that yielded this perfect storm.

Because each of the group members have distinct personalities and well-rooted stories, theirs is an appeal of utmost relatability, accessibility --- and, yes, what they have always promoted in terms of their persona: empathy. 

Unlike other boy bands who have evaporated into oblivion because of predictable harmonization, lollipops and roses themes and lame stage presence that eventually graduated into predictability, the brains behind and within BTS surpassed all that.

Of course there will be love songs that would sell and warrant audience applause --- but the band has been given  by Big Hits Entertainment Chief Executive Officer Bang Si Hyuk the freedom to find their voice and make their own music.  They were encouraged not to be templated but to experiment, innovate and discover what is true to themselves.

Yes, they are pre-fab group clustered together not in an organic manner (like the Beatles but more like the Western Boy Bands resulting from auditions and training) but professionally contrived --- yet their uniqueness is that they made their music their own and were given the liberty to find their voice.

It is this liberty that has made them not only survive but soar.  

They spoke to a generation --- their generation --- not to just make sales but to provide a channel from which their millions of fans can find their voices too.  The songs of BTS expressed the angst and anger of the moment --- of mental health issues, of meaninglessness , of existential existence --- of the dilemmas faced by the youth.  

Their songs were very lucid with their message: Love Yourself, Speak Yourself.  Amidst the turmoils faced by the young in a world that has gone completely confused and amoral, BTS tells them "It's going to be OK as long as you accept yourself to be no other person but your self."

More than ever,  while the world felt the helplessness and despair brought by the pandemic, they come out with their first all-English song, Dynamite which literally leap frogged all other entries in the Billboard 100 because of the happiness and positivity with lyrics like "....Shining through the city with a little funk and soul ... Light it up like dynamite."

No, BTS is not just another group selling cute. They are smart. Their music carries intelligence because it knows its audience in terms and wants and needs. They know exactly what buttons to press not only with their overwhelming stage and video presence or charms.  They know how to address the world, making each moment the here and now.

(4) Ten years together have seen the boys grow with one another.  Ten years of training, of singing, of dancing and creating: is it still a surprise that they sing and move like THAT?!

The precision in their choreography is nothing short of stunning.  Because they have been living together for almost a decade, they already have become ONE. They move the same moves, they breathe the same breath. When they dance, the synchronization is not a product of rehearsals but transcending exactitude and more of solidarity.

They may not have been any natural selection here but one that has been designed to suit needs for constituting an effective troupe but the ten years of togetherness has made this more than just organic: it has become metabolic.   The way they move their moves, the way they voice their voices --- this is not a product of rehearsals.  It is more of the result of being.

(5) But being is not enough.  It is all about professionalism, discipline, dedication to what they have chosen to do ... or made to do.

If you have seen the KDrama entitled Sky Castle then you will know exactly how Korean youngsters are used to very, very hard work.  School and training are of supreme importance to them in their priorities.  Kids are focused to achieve their goals because parents are expected to expect much from their offsprings.  BTS is a classic example of how all that hard work finally created a mindset of world class professionals.

The boys of BTS are like Olympic athletes.  They have been moulded into performers who will offer nothing less than approximations of perfection in every performance.

When you see the backstage videos of their concerts showing how these boys literally collapse with exhaustion ... or how they practically stifle screams of pain because their bodies are giving in to the pressure and fatigue or even the time that Jungkook damaged his heels while performing and still insisted in going on with the show despite the obvious pain that he was going through... that is when you realize that age old adage which people from the outside never seem to comprehend. That it is never that easy.  That the long hard climb to the top is the fun part: it is when you get there that the difficulties really begin.

In a business like entertainment, there will always be someone newer, younger and fresher who will steal away the interest and favors of the audiences.  To remain relevant and important require painstaking effort at reinventing and having your fans rediscover a side of you  that they had not expected nor seen before.  But with the musicality of BTS, that has never been a problem because they, like their audiences,  grow with the changes brought by the times.  When they are onstage, there is that total commitment to discipline and professionalism that yielded this unparallelled recognition.

(6) Relevance can achieve may definitions and shapes.  But with the Bang Tan Boys it is not merely about maintaining the status of celebrity or being branded as the Number 1 Entertainers of the World. Not South Korea, not Asia --- but of the world.  They embraced this honor with a sense of commitment to social responsibility as they did with their art and craft.

No, it is not just about the million dollar donation that they gave to the Black Lives Matter and how they rallied their fans to also give to such socially-oriented causes.  It is about their commitment that goes beyond words or lip service but in the songs they create and share with their audience.  Their relationship with their fans is their relationship to a much larger world that goes beyond pop music: it is about creating their art that is important for the world to hear, see and feel.

When asked why they released their biggest song Dynamite at the height of the pandemic, their reason was simple: they wanted to give a sense of happiness and hope to the world --- not only to their fans --- but to a planet that has spun out of orbit and now seeking any form of consolation and refuge. A song with such a catchy tune sung by an all-Korean boy band in English ... celebrating the energy of life and its brilliance.  Like a ray of hope.  Like someone patting your back saying, "It is going to be all right."

That is the moment you realize that you cannot help but love them. And their music. And their story. But more so who they are.

A few days ago, BTS appeared in MTV Unplugged.  Yes, they sang Dynamite in a different mode much like the way they performed the song in Good Morning America and the NPR Tiny Desk Concert.  Yet when they did the cover of Coldplay's Fix You --- that song that has always hit me right in the heart for years --- and rendered with the vocals of the Bang Tan Boys --- I was stupefied. In disbelief. And in tears. I was in a moment.

Anyone who still doubts that RM, Suga, Jin, Jungkook, Jimin, JHope and V do not have talent and are just products of hype, marketing and the euphoria of a trend --- think again, listen again.  Individually and as a group, they are armed with such musical gifts that it is not surprising that they are making history.

Discipline. Dedication. Professionalism.  Gratitude. Empathy. Love for their audience. Growth.  I am stupefied.

A senior citizen. A Boomer in tears experiencing such a high in music that I have never felt for the longest time. That was when I decided to write this blog. That when I realized that regardless of Boomer, Gen X, Y or Z ... the heart of true music knows no age, no nationality and no language. 


I am now a full-fledged member of the Army.





Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020: THE YEAR OF LIVING CAREFULLY Part 3

 It's official.  

In three hours, 2020 will be all over and we have pinned all our hopes that 2021 will treat us more kindly.  As I have written before, I am not of the belief that the moment the clock strikes twelve that all our challenges and agonies embodied by 2020 will be wiped clean like a Magic Slate. 

Nope.  As Elsa said in that Ricky Lee classic filmed by the great Ishmael Bernal, " Walang himala!"   Tomorrow we will wake up to realize that 2021 is but a sequel to 2o2o but (again hopefully) with a better narrative that is less interesting but more compassionate.

As part of my personal superstition I made it a point that all pending jobs and bills have been fulfilled and paid before the year is over.  I have made it a personal mission to make sure that all my work for 2020 is duly accomplished and that the utility bills have been paid --- insuring that there is enough stock of rice, salt and sugar in the pantry.  Such are the beliefs I inherited from my mother.  You do not want anything of 2020 to stick to you as you cross the border of the following year.

Then there is this thing about New Year's Resolutions.  I mean --- do people still make these "To Do"-lists in the name of self-improvement as a year comes to a close and the prospects of another twelve months mark a new beginning?  I do think the Gen Z-ers are even into that considering their Weltenschauung is all about "Whatever!"  But then again it is interesting to list down all the areas that require improvement as far as personal assessments are concerned.  Y0u do not need a New Year revelry to pinpoint where you can improve your life.  

Maybe it is because the internalization is far better when you are philosophizing after consuming half a bottle of red wine or maybe seven straight shots of Jose Cuervo.  

So as a final word to mark the end of The Year of Living Carefully, let me list my so-called resolutions for the Year of the Ox.  The Year of Mickey Mouse wasn't too good or entertaining --- so let's see if we can dance around the Year of the Bull.

(1) I shall be more concerned about my health than my waistline. 

When you reach that certain age, you will come to accept that no one is going to love you because of your body.

No one in his or her right mind would want to ravage your body with his or her love.

No amount of hours working out, Keto diet and visits to your favorite heaven-sent cosmetic medico can ever reverse what the Law of Nature dictated involving aging, metabolism and the passage of time.

So if I spend a good hour to an hour and a half doing my cardio, it is not because I am aspiring to regain my 32 inch waistline when I was not even half my present age.  I shall be content with the use of moisturizers and sweating it out to get rid of the toxins but I am not going to delude myself into thinking that I can impersonate any of the Bench Body models.

Love me as a cream puff ... or leave me.  If you cannot handle my love handles, then you do not deserve my love. Naks!

(2) I am not giving an flying f--k about opinions of people who I know do not also give a flying f--k about me.

I think if you have lived for more than six decades you gain the license to choose to think the way you want to think as long as you do not go around deliberately hurting anybody --- most especially yourself.

When I was twenty, I learned that half of success is getting along with others.

When I was thirty, I found out that success involves choosing the right people to be with.

When I was forty, I realized that success is not fulfillment and you need to charter your course with the right advice from people around you.

But when I turned fifty I came to the point of accepting that the world cannot be defined by your needs alone ... and that there is no one else like you so deal with it.

And now that I am sixty plus, I have decided that since I cannot please everybody ... then I should stop trying to do so and only define my happiness by giving joy to those who really give a s--t about me. 

Regardless of how good a human you are or how evil you have become, someone will always find a reason to give you the finger.  So if somebody tells you to f--k off, give the creature a head to toe look and ask, " And who you? "


(3) Affirmation in life is not like Facebook: it is not based on your number of friends and likes you receive in a day. So I will give more appreciation to the people in my life rather than the acquisitions to define my environment.

The best people in my life (aside from my nephews and nieces) are those I have known more than half my present human existence.

There may be some additions here and there but I realized that each time I host my Christmas dinners, even the so-called new friends have been around for nothing short than a decade.

I would like to keep it that way.  As Stephen Sondheim said in one of his songs in Merrily We Roll Along, old friends are the true treasures because they are there not for keeps but hopefully forever.   There are some people who are like those who pass through the revolving doors of your life but others stay.  And those who stay are your true treasures --- and not the temporal material things which you sometimes mistake as the ultimate gauge of how lucky you are.

Some possessions appreciate through time but they can never give you the love and comfort that true friends can yield ... especially at times when you need them the most.

I do not think you can find any sort of credible consolation hugging your Benz when you feel all alone in the world. And if you do, get the f--k out of my sight.


(4) I will choose to say "no" when I want to say "no" and not feel guilty about it.

Tama na, sobra na, abuso na.

I am sometimes surprised how I can still be bamboozled by emotional blackmail.  Or this Filipino sense of obligation, utang na loob and all that sort of cultural diversionary tactics.  It makes refusal seem so heartless, morbid or even ... uncivilized.

But it is not.

Again,  I find myself trying to please everybody at the expense of myself because I want to save face or look good and,  in the process, practicing civilized hypocrisy. There are moments when you feel you have to give in to requests because you would feel like a rectum personified if you said no.  As I said, more often than not, you fall into the same old trap over and over again because you do not want to come across as arrogant, snobbish ... or at worst, entitled.  More often than not, you succumb to your own personal paranoia AGAIN about what other people might say ... think ... feel or even conclude.

OK.  Enough of that.  If I feel it doesn't fit into what I want, then I will say NO and will not require myself to apologize ... or even be demanded an explanation. It is a privilege that comes with age and not stature.

There is just no more time for that sort of bullshit.

And finally...


(5) You have to make time for what you want as much as what you need.

Enough of the pressure of deadlines, requirements and expectations.

There is such a thing as creative selfishness and it has got nothing to do with this seeming obligation to hug the world and sing Kumbaya.  It is all about centering on your own wants while being aware of your needs. It is about self-love which is as important as all claims of altruism or wanting to save the world.

I must go back to that practice of reading a book every ten days.

I must go back to sketching ... which I gave up so many years ago for a variety of reasons.

I must really cut down on television binging because it has become an addiction that subtracts time for me to do other things.

Although I respect deadlines, I will not allow myself to be terrorized by unmanageable scheduling.

Most important, I will cease from endless trying to prove that I am still relevant because in the larger scheme of things, who really give a f--k?


In short, regardless of challenges and obstacles, I will try my damn best to make 2021 more than fulfilling.

I shall choose to be happy.


















Wednesday, December 30, 2020

2020: THE YEAR OF LIVING CAREFULLY PART 2

As I write this, there is just a day more to go before choruses will burst into "Auld Lang Syne" not with nostalgic sadness but a sense of relief.  More so, a near-desperate sense of hope. Time Magazine said it best with their cover: the year 2020 with an enormous X ... not marking the spot but simply cancelling.

It was not even a roller coaster year: just one that demanded extraordinary care and attention.  2020 shall be the year best remembered when people had to hide their smiles behind face masks --- and, in the case of our country, walked around like cast members of The Mandalorian in an assortment of not only masks but also face shields.  The scenario was close to dystopian.  Whereas the previous year we entertained ourselves with a proliferation of zombies,  now we have turned into parodies of space men with the very air we breathe becoming the source of ultimate danger.

But not everything about 2020 can be all that bad.  It was not great but just think of it as ...it could have been worse.  That is the best position you can take in order to look back with any semblance of positivity.  Why? Because it was bad.  And it takes extraordinary effort to smile and philosophize while watching the world you knew and lived through all your life crumble then rearrange under the heading, The New Normal.

So that makes the Old Normal as the The New Abormal.  And that is depressing. Why?  Because I still want to have a bowl of steaming hot ramen together with my nephews in our favorite restaurants in Osaka ... I still yearn for the laughter and stories exchanged over dinners with my closest friends in our favorite digs here in Manila. I want to see my students in the classroom and not in little boxes as I spend hours in front of a computer monitor talking to an illuminated slab. I want to go back to the gym ... I want the hubbub and cacophony of malls ... I want ... I want. But it cannot be anything like that any more. 

And it seems like it will take more than just passing time before we can get to anything close to that.

So we say instead: it could have been worse.  Some people had it bad.  Others had it at its worst.  And here we are finally bidding adieu to the year we have decided to hate with hopes that when the clock strikes midnight, the pumpkin will turn into a golden carriage again.

But still we learned our lessons.  We realized that without seeing the good in all the things we have gone through, we will only live in utmost misery soaking on the tub of the bad.  So let me take this time to mark the final hours of 2020 by actually thanking the year for what these challenging twelve months have taught me.

(1) Clothes do not make a man when you are stuck at home and working in front of a computer. Now if I can only keep my fingers from pressing the ADD TO CART button in each and every online store that pops up on my timeline in Facebook and Instagram, I could claim to have achieved the wisdom of the Yoda.   Not the Baby Yoda but the crinkled green pea with ears version.  

Even at the start, I realized that I have too many clothes (Kasi naman, when you see the SCREAMING FOUR LETTERS IN RED that spells SALE, nawawala ako sa aking sarili) and too many shoes.  But unlike one of my nephews who believes he is a centipede with the number of sneakers he has purchased since he crossed puberty, I am just your regular boomer still trying to dress Millennial until I realized that ... wait, a minute.  I have all these rags and footwear and absolutely no wear to go.

When your major event for the week is a quick run to S&R to buy your groceries --- or that your idea of outdoor life is the GCQ-approved thirty minute walk around your gated village, you realize that there is really very limited opportunities for you to dress to the nines and impress people with your sartorial taste.

Your oversized t-shirts and housewear shorts purchased from Lazada can and should serve the purpose.


(2) Now is the chance to be that somebody you always wanted to be but never had the time to do so.  

I always (quietly, covertly) complained that there are so many things that I had to do so much so that there was no time left for me to do what I really wanted to do.

This did not only include screenplays and stories that I really, really wanted to write but had to give way to projects that I had to fulfill to keep the wheels of commerce rolling. But this also involves things I had to give up because of the erratic work hours I keep, sometimes shoving aside plans just to be able to beat deadlines and attend to matters in both school and filmmaking.

I remember last February when I sighed to one of my friends and said, "All I am asking is maybe three days of down time ... just three days when I can focus on what I really have been yearning to do for years and never found the window in my calendar to address."  Well, guess what?  Careful the wish you make.  The three days turned out to be ten months and going on indefinitely.

And I still do not have enough time to do everything that I have always wanted to fill my time.

There are the boxes of books that I want to read: there is a Japanese term for that. Tsundoku. And now it a choice between reading that book that has been sitting on your shelf or night table or watching the latest Korean Drama warranting buzz from friends who are equally addicted to this form of entertainment.

In short ... when you try to be that somebody you always wanted to become --- you find yourself still not having enough time after ten months of self-exile and isolation.


(3) Regardless of age, there is always something to discover and/or rediscover about yourself.

Confinement can either bring the best or the worse in people.

When you do not consider your home a sanctuary where you can be who you want to be for this is your exclusive space on the Third Rock,  then you are looking at the past ten months as incarceration.

But if you see the limitation of space as an opportunity to savor your "sanctuary" which is your home then you get to realize all the wonders that you can discover or rediscover about yourself.

I never appreciated my garden until I was forced to look at it since the spinning bicycle I had to acquire in the absence of the gym made me stay in the patio and glare at the pants while I am huffing and pumping away.

I never knew my neighborhood until I was compelled to do my other form of cardio exercise which meant walking around the village for at least thirty minutes four to five times a week.  I literally go around the streets, amusing myself with the variation of discovering more nooks and crannies of my community, looking at the houses and familiarizing myself with my corner of the world.  And to think that I have been living here for thirty-two years and I have never seen my surroundings in as detailed a fashion as I have nowadays.

And yes, it feels good to say good morning to a neighbor ... or a jogger, or a cyclist or anyone for that matter who is immerself himself/herself in the pleasures of sunlight and Vitamin D.


(4) Again ... regardless of how many decades you have celebrated in this present earthly existence, no one can ever tell you that you're too old to like, love or learn something.

There is this thing about acting your age, behaving according to the chronological order of the years you have been consuming oxygen from this atmosphere ... or leaving carbon footprints.  And you reach a certain point when you say that you are too old to wear skinny jeans or oversized shirts you can buy at H&M or those Korean style clothes purchasable online. Well, one thing I realized is that you really shouldn't give a flying f--k about what other people expect from you.

The quarantine has taught me to accept the fact that I got this far (so I must be lucky) and that the next few steps are uncertain (well, more ambiguous than the usual) and that life is so unpredictable, unchartable and unplannable.  What will happen will happen so I am going to make myself happen without having to worry what people think because I am doing things which are not expected from me.

Yes, I am a Boomer and proud of it --- because I am only praying to the heavens above that all these Millies and Gen Z-ers with their basta attitude will get to live as long for I plan to be around for another thirty years.  And having lived through the Beatles all the way to BTS, I know I have every right to appreciate and dance to I Saw Her Standing There all the way through Dynamite.

It feels great when you reach my age even in these times of great uncertainty because you already have the perspective (and hopefully the wisdom) to look at things from a far wider point of view.  Yes, I love K-Dramas ( I think Start Up and It's OK not to be OK are just terrific) in the same vein that I love Amazon Prime's The Boys or Netflix's Black Mirror and The Queen's Gambit. I no longer care about opinions about me especially those who make a living out of opinions or worse ... those who have opinions in order to make themselves feel better.

Despite the restrictions of quarantine, there is so much out there readily available and yours for the asking ... if you know where to look and know how to ask.

Being obsessed with what other people think of you is a condition worse than any Enhanced Community Quarantine.  That is because you weld your own prison bars and define yourself from the eyes of others.

And finally, to cap off 2020, I shall crown this blog with a cliche.

(5) I learned the value of gratitude. I learned to stop looking for what I do not have and gave importance to what has already been given to me.  My definition of ambition has been rebooted: it is no longer about how far I could go or how high I can climb.  It is all about valuing the here and now because life does not owe you anything: you owe the world something --- and that is to be appreciative of life.

Goodbye, 2020.  Believe it or not, I will say thank you.

Thank you for keeping me safe.  Thank you for keeping my most loved ones safe --- both friends and family.

Thank you for keeping my students safe.

Thank you for teaching us through the most humbling experience to make us all realize that --- well, mankind, you ain't such a big deal after all.


 





Tuesday, December 29, 2020

2020: THE YEAR OF LIVING CAREFULLY Part 1

Two more days to go.

Everyone is praying, hoping, wishing, demanding that the new year will be different and that everything so wrong about 2020 will go away the moment the clock strikes twelve and the firecrackers light the skies with enough noise to ward off the evil spirits.  

We wish it were as simple as that but it isn't.  It is not meant to be.  

We realize that when 2021 comes in we still be very much in the same state as we are in now, hoping that we are taking one step forward but not after two steps behind.

For all that we have gone through in 2020, we know that it is a year that we will always remember yet we shall choose to forget.   

But all that we have experienced ... all we have endured  would be useless, wasted --- if we did not learn our lessons.  

And even as early as last January we knew that there was something extraordinary about the year that matched the digits to point to clear, unfaltering vision.  20/20 was supposed to suggest that what is in front us is made lucid, perfectly clear because  our eyes are equipped with the right sharpness and perspective.  Yet this was what the year offered.

It would be senseless to list down the names of all the people we knew or loved and lost this year without reliving the varying shades of grief.  

Some of those who left us we have known only by name --- others have come and gone through those revolving doors of our lives while a few who really mattered in the sense that they were a part of who we are and what we have become.  The pain of their departure was emphasized by the fact that many of them had to die alone, isolated from their loved ones because of the threat of infection.

The cruelty of the situation was not only the panic brought by the pandemic --- or the paranoia.  The real punishment was in the distance: social distance meant to protect us from one another by keeping us away from each other.

We who may have taken each other for so much for granted are now punished with estrangement.  We are confined in our homes and made to feel like prisoners of our own sanctuaries. We are kept away from people we loved --- as proof of how much we loved them. We have become the carriers of the virus that can end the life of people who come near us unwittingly or with urgency.

As a result of all this, wee have consciously and unconsciously changed.  

Yes, we tried out everything to surive. But we also had to find ways to keep our sanity, to be able to endure the predictability and mediocrity of going through the monotony of days not to mention domestic claustrophobia.

Thus, we sought for diversions. We took up hobbies. We grew and appreciated plants. We baked bread and cookies. We glued our eyes on other people's lives in social media --- and spent days and nights watching Netflix and YouTube.  

Even if others were already addicted to K-Dramas years before, Crash Landing On You came at that perfect time when people were desperately trying to fight the Stockholm Syndrome during the first weeks of the quarantine.   

Suddenly people (like me) discovered the richness and complexity of these Asian dramas.   Yes, the quarantine has multiplied K-Drama fans by the thousands --- aggravated by the sad fact that a major commercial network was forced to close down.

Suddenly the ecosystem of entertainment changed. What used to fill our spare hours and our down time changed drastically because of social distancing.

Movie houses were shut down. People have migrated to the digital platforms not only in Netflix or IFlix or IWant or Amazon Prime ... but watching films and features in Facebook and especially YouTube.  The diversion of interest from commercial television was evident among those who could afford subscription to these streaming sites or have enough money to purchase data.  Yet, for some reason, the madlang people also diversified their interests and sought for other forms of entertainment. 

Even the most anticipated film festivals of both the film buffs or the sambayanan suddenly had to go completely online and the results were --- to say the least --- disheartening.  

The dissolution of cinema viewing as a community experience through highly personalized small screen viewing lost a substantial amount of appeal. There are films meant to be seen on the big screen and not on the miniscule limits of one's tablet or worse --- cell phone. But there was no choice and it was as simple as that.

In short, it will still take time and rethinking for films being streamed in platforms (and sometimes simultaneously with cinemas in certain parts of the country where they are allowed to operate) to provide a concrete model wherein the producers can make money or even stand an iota of a chance to recover investments.  

As of now, the prospects of investing millions in film production is near suicidal. Without cinema houses and commercial release and pinning hopes on revenue from streaming or the purchase of content by streaming platforms, return of investment has become close to nil ... not unless the producer has the patience to wait for years to make their money back through varied ancilliaries.

The bane of keeping industries alive is not exclusive to entertainment although it is one of the most badly hit by the pandemic.  Think of tourism, the airline and hotel industries. Think of what has happened.

Oh, 2020 changed us so drastically in a matter of ten months.

Out of need, those with access changed their purchasing habits online.  We never imagined malls to turn into caverns where only about forty to sixty percent of stores remained open.   It was (really) heartbreaking to see those familiar stores one used to frequent suddenly closed for good.  

Restaurants did not offer dine-in services for months and only accepted take-outs and deliveries, Thus a great percentage of their work force were laid off  and replaced by those dashing men and women in their motorbikes of courier services.  And because people have learned to eat at home with kitchen-prepared meals, socializing via restaurants has diminished drastically. Small restaurants closed down --- unable to deal with the extended challenge of rentals and practically zero sales.

Retail has plunged since we have stopped buying new clothes ( because there is really no real need to dress to the nines in a work-from-home situation) and downsized our lives because of our equally downsized income.

So what does this all say about the year 2020? 

That we must learn.  That we must accept what we cannot change but can be part of helping create that needed change.  That we cannot insist on going back to our lives prior to February 2020 because that is no longer possible at the moment.

More than coping, we must learn to move on and open our eyes to the options left in front of us.  2021 will not provide magic spells that could simply wipe away all the challenges we have gone through this year.  Rather it will offer even more challenges because the virus is still here, the vaccine is on its way (although we do not know when and where we will get it or just how much of it will be made available to us) and yet life must go on.

2021 will not be a walk in the park --- definitely.  But even as this year is about to end, we must work hard in making the next few months a bridge for adjustment --- and acceptance.  We have to stop all illusions and delusions of entitlement that we are exempted from the scourge of this ever mutating virus.  We are now suffering the consequences brought about by years of carelessness, abuse and irresponsibility --- and Mother Nature just reminded us of how insignificant we are as mankind in the larger scheme of things.

So what were the lessons learned?  They were actually very simple --- as they were quite apparent right from the start but we just never got around to admitting these morsels of truth in our reality.

(1) We are not omnipotent.  We may have evolved enough technology to put a building full of information in a microchip smaller than a scrap of one's fingernail but we are still fallible.  We can build our own Tower of Babel but as in the Biblical, reference, that did not raise us to the level of gods but only became a vessel for confusion.  Which is exactly what we are going through right now.

(2) Uncertainty like change ... is certain.  We can do all the math in the world, swim in our pool of statistics and data analysis but that is no assurance that things will go the way that we want it.  What will happen is what is bound to happen --- and this pandemic was something we already knew was bound to happen some time or another yet we never took it seriously. We were never fully prepared for it despite the fact that pandemics happen every one hundred years or so.  And when it finally happens, the sky caves in.

(3) What we considered important has proven ... unimportant.  All the material trappings we used as medals of self-affirmation have become irrelevant or all-so-insignificant.  At a time when the whole world goes on a freeze mode, when businesses are collapsing as other industries are paralyzed, who cares about what car you drive or ride?  Who cares about what you are going to wear tomorrow ... in your zoom meeting?  All the digits that comprise your bank account may still serve as a security blanket but when the entire system of the world changes,  for just how long can you cling onto what was before?

(4) Endurance must be matched by empathy. And compassion.  Now that it has almost been a year we have been told to stay home, stay put and keep away from one another, we have come to realize how important it is to have one another. Now that we have time in our hands and literally no place to go except the immediate periphery of what we define as our safe spaces, we realize how much we took our freedom for granted, how we abused one another by sheer intolerance or even evasiveness.  So hopefully we learned our lesson well: that we do not merely fight to survive this but emerge from the experience with greater wisdom and humanity.

(5) Embrace the change and deal with it.  What may feel like a curse should be treated as a challenge. Otherwise, it would be pointless to wake up each morning feeling miserable because the ultimate solution is still not within reach.  We have to stop counting the days before this is over but instead deal with each day at a time and making the most out of it by improvising, innovating and advancing.  Yes, there is the promise of that vaccine but what does one do before the time comes when one  is armed with protection? Hibernate and marinate in misery? If that be the case, then it is not the virus from Wuhan that will be the cause of death: it is self destruction ... or worse, atrophy.

Yes, we are all hoping for a much better year in a matter of days.  Yes, we can brainwash ourselves with positive thoughts, wear the coat of optimism.  We can all sing Happy Days Are Here Again but we must never lose sight of the fact that the battle is still raging and we are still plying that long unchartered road from the damage done in 2020.  We need to keep our wits about ... but most important, we must keep our eye on the maps that we design along the way.

We are being taught a great lesson about the insignificance of mankind in the larger design of the Universe.  We are made aware that single virus that crossed over from a bat to a human being has already caused the collapse of the world as we knew it.

But more important, we are being made aware of the importance of being better than we were ... and not depending on anybody: not the politicians and their endless tug of wars for power, not even the grandstanding prophets with their variations on eternal salvation. 

All we need is to learn the lessons ... and move on to the next step. Carefully, cautiously in the most human fashion possible.

And, yes, congratulations: we survived 2020.





Monday, August 31, 2020

TALES FROM THE DAYS OF QUARANTINE 4: THE DAY THEY CLOSE THE LIGHTS AND DOORS OF ABS-CBN

I am not going to discuss the impact the non-renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise has on the general public.  What more can be said about that that has not already been said.

I am not even going through the pain of knowing that so many of my friends have packed their belongings and left their work stations at the Eugenio Lopez Jr. Building as the network officially shuts down its commercial TV operations.  

Not only that: all the other ancillary business of the Lopez network have also ceased operations as the drastic streamlining of operations would only be limited to those necessary for the remaining production units to function.  That means Sagip-Pelikula (the ABS-CBN Film Restoration Program), various units of production and, yes, even Bantay Bata in the regional branches have been shut down together with the News and Current Affairs.

I will not even dare estimate a head count of how many people have lost their jobs today.

I am not only talking about the regular employees of the network.  I am also referring to the freelancers who also make a living on contractual jobs whether acting, doing production work for regular or special projects, background talents ( it is politically incorrect to call them extras in the 21st century), caterers, vehicle rentals, etcetera, etcetera.  Someone outside show business will never realize how many people make a living out of a single operational movie or TV set for all they see are the actors and maybe the director .  They do not realize that a single unit of taping can give jobs to over a hundred people in a single day.

Multiply that by the number of shows that are on the pipeline and you can estimate how many entertainment industry workers earn their daily bread from productions.

Those exclusively or regularly affiliated with ABS-CBN have no more jobs --- some by tomorrow, more even earlier when the franchise was officially turned down by Congress.

But the implications of this shutdown goes far beyond just the executives who were grilled in the august halls of Congress as kind of public purging to eventually justify the decision of seventy members of the Lower House.  The closure of ABS-CBN is not only about ABS-CBN but an entire industry --- and again their ancillary businesses.

Bluntly put, the shutdown has affected the advertising industry as well.  It does not necessarily mean that just because ABS-CBN closed down that all the commercials which used to be fielded in that station would necessarily go to its closest competitor.  That is downright simplistic thinking and GMA7 knows that as well.  In the age of the worldwide web, the so-called era of digital content has come even before the politics of shutting down tv stations came into being.

In other words, even before the non-renewal of franchise, commercials have slowly but consistently --- and now exponentially --- been moving towards alternative platforms for their product placements, announcements and events.  That is, it is far cheaper to put up commercials in the digital platform than commercial/free tv which reached up to more than half a million pesos for thirty seconds on a high prime time show.  Consider how much it is to rent a billboard or maybe plaster a humongous poster at the back of a bus (which has more audience exposure during the height of traffic) or even flash videos in LED monitors lining up EDSA.  Even before 31 August 2020, advertisers have already been moving to the cheaper and more accessible alternative.

This, in turn, has also affected the cost of productions of commercials as well. 

The branding pang-digital naman simply means the client plonking in far less the amount than what would be spent if it were for commercial TV or even as an attachment prior to the screening of a movie.

Maybe worse is the fact that the closure of ABS-CBN had to happen now.  Now means the present progressive of 2020 --- when, as I have said, the world is at the doorstep of a possible economic meltdown brought about by the pandemic.  Now is perhaps the worst of times for people to lose jobs ... not only the so many thousands cited by the network but the other businesses as well that depend on the productions.  The number of people yanked out of jobs is saddening but then this is not the be all and end all of the arguments.  Great numbers of businesses are closing down ... and that means adding to the cracking spine of the national economy trying to survive this worldwide catastrophe.

So what does that mean?

The funny part is that people do not understand that it is all about the economy.  Sure, we are so used to (and even excited about) the battle of networks for ratings --- as to who is really Numero Uno.  But at this point that has become immaterial --- since the playing field has been left to a Significant One and an Aspiring Second.  With the closure of one of the two major networks, that often overplayed battle between the Kapamilyas and the Kapusos has become somewhat irrelevant at this point.  The playing field is no longer even.

As a further result of that, network branding of actors and actresses may also cease to have any significance.  That is already being revealed by the rise of narrative series via streaming platforms where popularity is no longer based on network marketing and branding but by novelty and association with content.  For instance, the popular BL (Boy Love) Series possessing substantial audience interest features non-stars who gain their popularity because of the shows they can be found --- and not the other way around.  

In the digital world, the impressive stature of a star in mainstream media does not bear that much importance if at all --- because the digital audience is more concerned about the impact of content (in short term entertainment) rather than the value of highly paid and marketed celebrity.

Admittedly, the stars of the past three decades were products of network discovery, development and boosting.  But now with the kind of multi-platform exposure received by the digital celebrities --- whether they are the influencers famous for being famous --- or the celebrity professionals ( the chefs, beauty experts, comedians --- populating the solar system of vloggers, podcasters and YouTube /Instagram Tik Tok sensations), pop stardom is gradually being redefined.

Considering the cost of production, highly paid stars are no longer viable for digital productions which carry budgets barely half the price of regular mainstream products.  Again, we are plagued with the pang digital stigma --- which means much lower budgets and with reason: there is still no solid business model that can define how you can make money out of these materials not unless they are sold outright or for a period of time to a platform after a much wider release.

To reiterate, it is all about the economy.  And we wish we can remain hopeful as we see the kind of collapse and closures of businesses all over ... not only in our country but all over the world.  To make a headcount of the number of business enterprises --- some almost iconic because of their years of existence --- that declared bankruptcy is more heartbreaking than dismaying. Considering the way things are going, it is going to get worse before it gets any better.

What does this all mean? Why is today so significant in the landscape of Philippine media?  

Because of the short and long term repercussions of the closure of a major network in our country as the economy is taking a major beating.  Because of the consequences brought about by seventy congressmen who voted against the franchise because of  a citation of violations by the management of the network insisting on its moral high ground setting aside the backlash to the economy ... more so, adding to the already growing number joining the ranks of the unemployed at the start of an economic dystopia.

But again, I am looking at the other possibilities.  With ABS-CBN literally arm twisted to migrate to digital platform alternatives, could all these be a blessing in disguise?  Could the move of the network to find digital avenues actually usher in what has been long predicted as the scenario for by-demand, portable and non-structured short term entertainment ?  Could this fast track the growth of streaming venues --- with Filipino creatives challenged to redefine their narratives to a completely different mindset and for an evolving audience?

Could this also mark the start of the decline of free TV as less and less money is funneled into commercials which is the life blood of any commercial network ?  I mean, you can boast of highest ratings but if you do not have sufficient advertisers to prop up your expenses of running a network then ... all those sparkling digits suggesting audience share mean nothing. It is still and will always be about the money and not how many are glued to the TV screen.

The seventy congressmen did not see that ... nor did they foresee how a single legislative decision can and may transform the entire landscape of entertainment of the Filipino people.

As I said in my Facebook shoutout: we are living in the most interesting times. 

Abangan ang susunod na kabanata.