Sunday, August 21, 2011

THE WAY WE WERE: Or How Facebook Brought About This Fever for Nostalgia and the Songs from the 70s and 80s

The site dedicated to the alumni of UP Diliman must have started this. In a week's time, a page was dedicated to a closed group in Facebook exclusively for the graduates of La Salle Greenhills Class of 1972.  Then before we hit that desired 200 members mark, another exclusive page went up in the same social network --- this time exclusively for all the graduates of La Salle Greenhills ever since it became the primary source of all the consumers of Tropical Hut Hamburgers on Ortigas Avenue.

Let me try to go through all this and decipher what is happening --- or why (out of the blue) my schoolmates/batchmates of almost forty years ago started sprouting out of the remotest corners of the cyberuniverse.  There is great joy in that.  Really. 

It feels great to see old friends --- even those who you still remember made hell out of your high school years. You remember your best friends, the kinder ones ... but more so the junior hoodlums and hooligans who made you wish that you suddenly had telekinetic powers to get even with them just like what the legendary Carrie White did at her prom.

Worse is when you see their names ... their faces today ... and you still do not and cannot remember.  You start scraping the deep ends of your memory jar trying to figure out if the name and face really belonged to that whole set of remembrances of years past.  And you end up with nada.  You feel worst for them.  The ones you love and hate the most are the ones you hold fondest and worst memories.  Everyone else who falls in the great middle are relegated to, "Sino siya?" or something close to that. (You just wish that they had good lives, that's all.  Because chances are ... if they had become so ultra-successful, ultra-rich or ultra-important, then you would have remembered said homo sapien from the past earlier than his Facebook page resurrection, right?)

But whichever way you look at it ...there is such thrill in rediscovery.  There is even fun in reminiscing as that is what such Facebook pages are dedicated into doing --- invading the memory boxes of the past and literally turning them upside down to revive old photos and anecdotes to bring back what everyone calls the best of the years.  But more important is what you find out about yourself by rediscovering your old classmates. The following self-realizations immediately surface.

a) Everyone has aged.  

That is an inevitable part of the journey called life.  You cannot imagine that the cutest guys in your batch --- the Lotharios and Adonises who sent shivers to the Maryknollers (yes, they were still called that --- not Miriam-ers), Scholasticans, Paulinians, Theresians, Assumptionistas and the yellow army of Poveda --- have suddenly turned middle age with paunches/beer bellies, receding hairlines or complete skinheads without the aid of razors --- and worse, resembling grandfathers because they are grandfathers.

(You make cross references to the Facebook picture taken in 2011 and the high school yearbook where he still sports shoulder-length hair fashionable in the very early pre-Martial Law 1972.  That's when you scream and say, "Panginoon kong Lord ... what happened?" Well, I certainly know the answer to that question and it is nothing mind-boggling or confidential --- forty years have passed since the high school graduation photo.  Everything in Don Juan's body just ... gave way.

I remember going through the Facebook pages of people I do remember from high school and I gasp.  I said, oh, yes ... forty years have taken their toll.  Some aged gracefully ... while others, well, just aged. And who would have thought that they would look like that at 50+ when they stood out so differently in those long crazy nights at Where Else?)

b) Everyone is still acting like a high school boy on the Facebook page.

What is so amusing is how much of high school is remembered --- especially the female teachers who have certainly become part of the post-puberty fantasies of young men who have now graduated into the stature of inherent senior citizens.  It is amusing to sift through what specific memories each holds sacred --- and how these have been kept with such fondness through all these years.

You cannot forget the teachers you abused in your puberty fantasies ... as well as the ones you categorically hated for the rest of your life.
Now I wonder if the children of my batchmates truly realize what stuff their fathers are made of.  It makes me laugh at the thought that after forty years my classmates still fantasize about gorgeous English teachers who must now be in their seventies ... or tyrant high school instructors who made their lives miserable through various forms of disciplinary torture.

c) Everybody has a favorite anecdote about high school.

That cannot be helped.  Even to this day, I find myself laughing aloud when I remember all the insanity that took place during my high school years.  Remember that these were the drug crazed early 70s when we all sported long hair (because we all still had hair) while wearing our flare pants, Bang Bang jeans, Nicnic shirts smelling of Brut or Jovan Musk Oil or Paco Rabanne.

These were the years when the common ritual of La Salle Green Hill archers was to walk from the campus to nearby Unimart and steal puffs of smoke while traipsing down Ortigas Avenue or hiding behind the St Benilde gym.

These were the years when somebody (identity held out of respect for all the years of agreed-upon silence) placed powerful firecrackers from Bocaue, Bulacan on the toilet right outside the walkway to the gym.  Or the time somebody gave a classmate a pad of Diatabs telling him that this was a hallucinogen called Black Sabbath, guaranteeing a memorable trip. (Addendum: Said student did not have any hallucination but was absent for two days because of a severe case of massive constipation.  Same schoolmate was also the much-talked about legendary victim of a major high school Neanderthal showdown which ended with Diatab Prince's face pushed down a toilet full of piss.)

d) Everybody is posting his favorite song that brings back the most recollections and memory flashbacks of the period.

Oh, that was the age of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young ("Our House" is a very, very fine house ...), Iron Butterfly, Carole King ("It's Too Late"), James Taylor.  Everybody is posting YouTube videos and captures of Stairway to Heaven ... and here I am crooning the Graduation Song that was played during our Baccalaureate Mass, "Fill the World With Love" from the film Goodbye, Mr. Chips.  Sigh.

OK. It cannot be helped. We all get nostalgic. We all revert to the good old days because they will be better than the really awful ones that seem to constitute the here and now.  But what is funny is that there will be an entire generation who will look back at 2011 and consider these years as their good old days.  I guess that process never ends inasmuch as I remember my parents talk about pre-war years and call them their good old days.

But I blame Facebook for all this.  I blame social networks for not only making the world so much smaller ... but also folding the long and winding roads of time into cute ribbons and knots, bringing back so much of yesterday in sporadic instances of today.  

I am not a fan of class reunions.  I feel awkward when I go to such a get-together and find out I am not dressed up like my batchmates but garbed in the fashion worn by their ... uh, children.  Only few people my age can still dare to wear skinny jeans. I don't think any of my classmates do ... or if anyone of them can sing a Katy Perry song by heart. But I still enjoy seeing them ... and knowing that the years have been kind to most of us.

But I am thankful for Facebook inasmuch as I am dismayed by such nostalgia attacks.  The here and now may be more complicated and testing ... but memories are always better.  Yesterdays are always the good old days.  And they can only be made better if there is a today.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


I do not want to be misinterpreted or misunderstood. I have nothing against the cult of the celebrity.  I am merely amused.

I am amused by the all-too-much brouhaha given when a world famous celebrity visits our sacred shores and reaches the front pages of most broadsheets.  If these were tabloids or other periodicals sincerely and ultimately dedicated to the kind of news swapped over wet market stalls, then I would understand.   But to juxtapose the arrival of a celebrity with the frenzy of European stocks because of the troubles of the US Dollars or the most scandalous reports on newly discovered cases of local graft and corruption --- or, God forbid, investigations of a car bomb that killed officials in the southern island --- uh, that tends to be a bit surreal.

Is any celebrity who represents or embodies nothing political, artistic, social or even philosophical in significance worth the front page? 

Then one asks, "What the hell makes anybody famous nowadays?"  

In a world so crowded and bombarded with every available opportunity for media, fame has become an ambition in itself.  You don't have to do anything of real importance for mankind or even the trapped kitten on top of a tree to be famous. What is important is to be famous. Period.

Thus dissolves that thin line between admiration and infamy.  

More often than not, negative popularity is still considered media marketability: how does that statement go? Worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Some people would rather die than be ignored.
After all, nowadays ... it is fame (and not necessarily success although fame can be mistaken for success) that has become the international aphrodisiac.

OK, here and abroad, there are people who have made a career out of being talked about ... and would find every possible opportunity to be the object of attention of the public.  It seems that the planet has grown so small because of the accessibility of information that what is more important is to be in the consciousness of the public rather than the reason why people are thinking or talking about you. And to be the focus of media attention is hastily equated with adoration. Adoration nowadays spells business, money and all the trappings that may not save your soul but would make you look good on close-up.

Public admiration/attention leads to endorsements which spell business opportunities necessarily equated with money, money, money.  All you need is to have a recognizable name and you can plaster that on top of anything from washing machines to industrial strength vibrators ... and you got your millions ... just for being you.  Well, no wonder.

No wonder people want to be famous at the price of surrendering all that was once held as elements of dignity in a private life.

There can only be too many ways in explaining the phenomena of Reality Television.  We have all become voyeurs, right?  

The very nature of television as medium lends itself to voyeurism, prying into the most private images and conversations of people because the tv set has become an eye that is allowed to penetrate through the most sacred and secret sanctuaries of our lives.  We have tv sets in our living rooms, study rooms, bedrooms, cars and even our telephones.  We watch inasmuch as we are watched.  Reality television has converted the instrument to monitor into the camera that captures us watching inasmuch as we are also being watched. 

And nowadays we can't go on living unless we are watching or being watched. 

Oh, yes: be afraid ... be very afraid.

Be very afraid that not only have we accepted the intrusion of media into the most protected spaces of our lives --- but we have also considered the invasion of privacy of other people's lives as entertainment. The whole Big Brother syndrome of omniscience and even omnipotence gives a feeling of utmost superiority --- making real human situations laughable and even the anguish of others as enjoyable. 

Somewhere along the way, we have blurred the dividing line between fact from fiction, between the actual and the merely mounted. We have made the Everyman a celebrity, worthy of interest and attention ... or even undeserved admiration and celebration.  Life has become entertainment ... in a not-so-positive way. Life has become a commercial investment.

Thus there are so-called celebrities who are infamous for being famous.

There are others who are merely famous for being famous.  

There are even much more whose fame has the lifespan of a mayfly: they are has-beens and forgotten even before anyone remembers their names.  Because media depends on being current and works at a speed that is almost as fast as light, people --- including celebrities --- have been diminished to images and sound bytes that can be changed, displaced and replaced for whatever reason there might be.

Point to ponder: nobody lasts.  Yes, it is a given fact that nothing --- no one lasts forever --- but nowadays forever has been diminished to very, very short amount of time.  Unless one manages to find a way to sustain public interest or even curiosity, that popularity index will dip and eventually fade because there is always somebody fresher, younger ... and cheaper who is waiting in the sidelines ready for you to put down your guard so that he/she/it can displace you right there where the spotlight is aimed.

Thus comes this preponderance and preoccupation to always warrant public attention --- regardless of means. The end justifies after all.  To sustain market value, one must always tickle the curiosity of the audience that suffers from attention deficit ... and as time passes, the celebrity must raise the ante, invest more to grab the headlines --- either with vicious quotable quotes, picking the right fights with fellow celebrities or wannabes, getting themselves fertilized at the perfectly wrong time --- or just doing inane things to make people either applaud, gape or barf.

So when there is so much ado about a celebrity who seems to be reason enough for public attention, one can always ask, "What is this person famous for?  What is it about him or her to celebrate ... to be called a celebrity?"  And nowadays, more often than not, one ends up thinking twice or thrice before coming up with an answer that goes, "Ano nga ba?"
This is followed by an even more disturbing footnote: "Then why is there such hoopla?"

Yes, this is indeed the age when one can be famous ... for being famous.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


Funny how in a single week two definitions of defilement came into focus amid the frenzy of overcrowded news.

There was this whole brouhaha about the works of a visual artist in an  exhibit at the Main Gallery of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Then there was the euphoria of the Philippine Dragon Boat team bringing home five gold medals and a couple of silvers --- suddenly doused with such insensitive, downer comments from an official of the Philippine Olympic Committee.

Whereas the accusations of desecration and blasphemy sent the Legion of Holy Warriors and the Army of the Morally Upright into their own version of a jihad against Mideo Cruz and everyone at the CCP who has got anything to do with the Kulo exhibit, the artistic community also banged their drums --- reacting to what was institutional pressure being exerted.  

Then came that phone call from the highest of the executive offices in that palace by Pasig River --- which, of course, ended all arguments.  The exhibit was shut down days ahead of its appointed deadline for supposedly reasons of security or perhaps just to make everybody shut up once and for all.

But that wasn't the case.  Days later, the officers of the CCP found themselves as respondents to criminal charges against specific Republic Acts in cases filed by religious group in the Office of the Ombudsman.

This did not fair well with the artistic community that felt betrayed because: a) this felt like another case which should have required dialogue between the artists and the protesters rather than to use institutional bullying especially from the Church and its cohorts, b) this was a violation of the independence of the CCP from censorship and c) this was curtailing the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution. 

Arguments and debates can go on and on and on ... and it is as if this was the very first time that the freedom to say what one feels and thinks in a manner the artist wants to say it and make others feel it went into a head-on collision with the ultra-rightists, the conservatives, and the fundamentalists.  

Now even those indulging legalese are saying that the Cultural Center is meant to celebrate the best in Philippine culture --- and has no room for so-called artists who make collages out of posters, tear sheets from magazines and images of Jesus Christ mixed with condoms and penis wood carvings. The legal eagles are saying that whatever is housed at the CCP should reflect the philosophy of the government and therefore should reflect appropriate discrimination.  We certainly hope that is not tantamount to saying that the only exhibits and performances allowed in that sacred venue are those that celebrate the good, the true and the beautiful. Ooops! Are we back in that era again?

Then came that whole mess about a certain Mr. Tamayo of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) literally belittling the Philippine Dragonboat Team after the group returned from Florida with a trunk full of gold and silver medals and euphoric honor to the country.

Let us paint the objective picture: a) the Dragonboat team is no longer a recognized official Philippine team ... which meant that it did not get government support and had to scrounge funds to participate in the world competition, b) upon their return, the POC still refused to recognize the team ... much less, the honor they brought home to the country, c) instead, Mr Tamayo belittled the victory of the group saying that the group won all those medals because they were overqualified to join that contest and their participation was already questionable if not unfair and d) Mr. Tamayo also pointed out that the Dragonboat team members were all old and comparable to brittle ampaw and needed to retire to give way to the next generation of paddlers.  

Uhm, that's a Filipino appointed to the Philippine Olympic Committee?  That official is supposed to encourage and foster Philippine athletes to achieve world class caliber and to bring their level of performance to exemplary sportsmanship?  That is an official who is supposed to embody a sense of pride in being a Filipino ... and to push one's self to the limits to show the greatness in our race?  Something is very, very wrong here.  The words muttered in a television interview did not only reverberate condescension: it was downright defilement, desecration ... and worse, a celebration of bitter crab mentality at its best.

Perhaps like Mr. Tamayo was very much like Mideo Cruz: he was exercising his freedom of expression.  He was verbalizing his opinion, despite shortness of thought and definitely a glaring lack of sensitivity.  Yes, we agree that in a democracy --- you can say whatever you want as long as you are responsible and accountable for it.  And if Mr. Tamayo feels that he has done far greater accomplishments than the Dragonboat team, then that is his prerogative.

It is also the choice and prerogative of people to react to his statements, to condemn him for his lack of appreciation for what others consider as heroic accomplishments of these men and women --- and, worse, to question his credibility to be part of the Olympic Committee considering his disposition, attitude or simple lack of verbal competence.

Unlike Mideo Cruz who violated the sensibilities and sensitivities of the Roman Catholics, Tamayo was not making any real statement --- except carping against athletes that he should have honored and acknowledged for their unique accomplishments.  It was Mr. Tamayo's job to encourage --- and not to defile or belittle.  It was his mandate to inspire --- and not cackle just because the POC had absolutely nothing to do with the acquisition of those medals.

Mideo Cruz' installations were meant to shock ... and shock he did.  It was also his freedom to put together those images to create some sensory frenzy to anyone who viewed the mind boggling juxtaposition of images of the sacred and what others consider profane.  But the fact that he did it was because he had a distinct purpose.  And together with that purpose is the accountability and responsibility to stand by what he has created.  That is the measure of his caliber and dignity as an artist.

I am not a fan of Mideo Cruz' works and I was also stunned by his visuals BUT that does not give me any right to deprive others to admire, feel revolted, argue or even experience his work. If anyone cannot stand what Mideo Cruz has to say, he or she has the option to look away and argue about the validity of his work as art. Feeling violated does not mean you should protect others from such an encounter by shutting down the possibilities of the experience.

Moreover, Mideo Cruz is only one of thirty-two artists --- all graduates of the Catholic University of the Philippines (University of Santo Tomas)--- who participated in Kulo. Politeismo is only one piece ... so why should all the other participants receive a collective condemnation by shunning their works from the public?

Mideo Cruz was out to shock with his thoughts of the sacred and the scandalous --- and he got public flogging for this. Mr. Tamayo was out to explain his concept honor and sportsmanship --- and earned the collective ire of so many Filipinos for manifesting one of the reasons why we have remained such losers.

Now one asks: who has done a much greater act of defilement?