On the lack of sense of the ridiculous and the absurd of artista searches in the Philipines

Starstruck 5

Our sense of the ridiculous and the absurd keeps us from embarrassing ourselves. These, along with the presence of conscience and the ability to make use of language to facilitate communication, differentiate us from other members of the animal kingdom and other organisms. Something that elevates us a few notches above lichens, sea cucumbers, house cats, penguins, Portuguese man o’ war, and baboons*.

I seemed to have suffered from short-term lock jaw (thank god the show lasted for only an hour) after watching in television the Mindanao leg of the artista search Starstruck of GMA7 held in the big cities of Cagayan de Oro and Davao. My jaw literally dropped. The shame these people have to undergo or to subject themselves to just to get the attention of the judges and the pathetic crowd was perplexing, dumbfounding, and need I say, bewildering.

The show is a potpourri of the hopefuls, the frustrated, the untalented, or simply the lunatics There was this guy in a coiffured metallic colored mane who spoke in the most heavily Visayan accented Tagalog I’ve heard but whose level of confidence is as stiff and as towering as his gelled hair do. I wondered what happened to him.

Most of these young people who auditioned for the show have a common narrative. Poverty. A woman forced by her parents to marry a 40-year old American, a poor transsexual from Misamis, a poor teenager whose both parents have to leave the country to work and send money back home. These stories, although real, have been repeatedly exploited by shows like Starstruck for ratings and profit. The truths in these stories sound hypocritical (I do not say that they are hypocritical). People will eventually cease to believe and start to mock these stories.

These shows patterned after the already dull, neuron deadening, and numbing American originals, are made even more absurd and ridiculous by the local color. This is after the addition of the all Filipino drama of poverty, family discord, personal search to prove one’s worth in this vast universe, and the supernatural enough to inspire Gabriel Garcia Marquez to write something that will rival his novels already written in the tradition of magic realism.

Somebody will cry foul after reading this article, and his argument, I believe, will run in the line of respecting man’s right to determine his fate and his inalienable right to pursue his happiness. But this is exactly the reason why I wrote this, to preserve our humanity, to keep that line that separates us from ticks, pubic crabs, sea gulls, and airborne microscopic organism intact. Please, let’s hold on to our sense of the absurd and the ridiculous.

*My apologies to those creatures mentioned.

The math of waiting



Let’s say, for instance, that we’re all able to experience an entire day, barring all other elements of magical realism or supernatural interventions from the insecure god or deities of whatever religion we practice, granting that we have 24 hours a day, and forget for a while the 23 hours, 46 minutes, and 56.06 seconds for Earth to complete its axis which corresponds to an Earth day they used to teach us in our elementary Science classes, and from this let us do a daunting task, I know, most of us have never tried before – computing for the time we spend waiting.

By the time you wake up, you wait for your estranged spirit, after an entire night of Dionysian odyssey, to return to your physical being. It can be through a morning prayer, a quiet contemplation, or simply having a blank state of mind. If you do not do the first two, then the third one is considered waiting time, which I believe is what most all of us do. (15 minutes).

You take a bath, and let’s be conservative this time, you read yesterday’s paper while doing away with the shit you accumulated from the previous day, you wait for the heater to warm the water to your desired temperature, and you wait for your hair to dry. (15 minutes.)

You stand outside waiting for the elevator that takes forever to arrive (of course it’s not forever because if it is, this essay will be nothing but a waste of time). (10 minutes. By the way, on my way to the ground floor this afternoon, I had to wait for 20 minutes [!] because only one out of four Otis elevators was functioning in the building where I live.)

You walk to the nearest MRT station, wait in line for the ticket (10 minutes, if the station is in Santolan; 45 minutes if it’s Cubao or Taft Ave). You will have to wait for another 15 minutes for the train to arrive. By the time you reach the station, on your way to the actual workplace you will ordinarily have to wait again for another 15-20 minutes inside a jeepney that waits to fill in all available seating space with passengers.

In your workplace, you wait in line for the use of photocopier or printer (5 minutes), to fill in you mug with coffee from a dispenser (2 minutes), for lunch at the cafeteria (7 minutes), a call on hold (10 minutes), for your prima donna boss to arrive at a meeting (15 minutes).

Then you do another reverse computation on your way home. Total: 3 hours and 42 minutes – the time we spend waiting. And if you’re thinking that this is just too much. Think of the people who do nothing but wait for the second coming.



The Village Idiots: a short story

This is a story of a far away land in an undisclosed location in the middle of northern Philippines where Filipino politics had not yet reached and where people’s lives had not succumbed as yet to the idiocy of politics.

In this community of ten thousand, everyone lived like an idiot. When somebody made a mistake, they would laugh at it throughout the day until they got exhausted and would prompt them to sleep soundly in the night. None of the people in this far away land had ever seen any human settlement other than their village. Some attempted to venture and seek, out of that human desire for adventure, other parts of the world, but they ended in vain. Either they died along the way or they never returned to tell the story of how it was to live outside the community. No one from the outside ever reached the village and documented the unique way of life the people of this unknown place had. Not until just recently.

The people of this village lived in complete peace and happiness. Being idiots, although it sometimes caused them to start planting rice during the climax of summer heat, which ended up, of course, to massive crop failure, or to feed their pigs and other farm animals with banana leaves, which of course made the animals bloated and sickly, they seldom experienced hardship because any problems cause by their stupidity was viewed as another opportunity for them to have merry-making and an entire afternoon of laughing spree.

The community had no established form of formal government, or any kind of hierarchy based on power. However, this did not mean that their society was free from any form of stratification. There was, in fact. The more dimwitted a member was, the higher was his place in the society’s echelon. But being the most idiotic of the idiots was not an elected post as it is in mainstream Philippine society today. In this community, whose name was already forgotten, it is determined by the level of idiocy one has committed. The grander was the task, the more far-reaching the effect, the more stupid it looked, the higher was the member’s position in the society’s caste.

And so they continued to live at peace with each other. Each member felt secured with the fact that as long as they remained idiots nothing would harm them, and that being an idiot would keep them from harming themselves as well as other idiot members of the community.

They were occasionally plagued with pestilence, famine, and disease but nature had been good to them, generally. This continued for several centuries. Until one day.

It was an ordinary day; somebody’s house was burning because instead of cleaning the house using water and detergent, one housewife, lured by the addicting pungent odor of paint thinner, poured some on the bamboo slats she was trying to clean. Accidentally, the burning wood she was using to cook rice fell on the bamboo slat and started the fire. The fire consumed her hut in half an hour. She was teary-eyed, laughing at the ashen remain of her house. The village people gathered around her and asked her to buy them tuba, a local alcoholic beverage, to which she replied that all the monies she tucked between her bamboo walls burned with the house. Everyone burst laughing. Because of this, she was elevated to the third rank idiot position.

During that day, from nowhere, according to some accounts it was from the sky, a newspaper appeared right in the middle of the remains of the burned hut. It was a newspaper published in Manila. The people got curious and started reading the paper.

Although they were dumb, they were not illiterate. They found out that the right reaction whenever they see a burning house is to cry and to blame the owner of the house for negligence, or the fire department for the very slow response, or the government for not strictly implementing building codes. They stoned the careless housewife to death, a punishment she deserved according to the village code of conduct.

They found out that their village leaders must be duly-elected leader and not selected based of the level of idiocy.

In the agriculture and farm section of the newspaper, they discovered that banana leaves are the worst things to feed to their animals.

And so a village-wide riot occurred. Reading in the newspaper that war is a natural consequence of misunderstanding, the men took their farm implements and whacked the heads of the first person they saw. The women, opting for a less violent means, called on the village witch to cast a spell to other women whom they think are shrewder than anyone of them. The village witch had a busy day that day. It was also her last day to see daylight.

For after that, the village vanished and nothing was heard about what happened to them.

Last week, however, archeologist from the National Museum discovered skeletons of pigs in northern Philippines. And according to the tests they conducted on the remains of the pigs, the stomach of the animal, which miraculously remained intact, contain bananaine, an enzyme found only in banana leaves which confirmed the story that sometime in the distant past, a village of idiots existed whose members were believed to have fed their pigs with banana leaves.

A conversation with Gabo (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

“Truth when written becomes fiction”

-the ugly, little, five-year-old boy

I remember I was five years old then; I was walking on my way to school and the most unexpected thing happened. I met Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

He was holding a dictionary and told me that he reads several pages of the book every day of his life. It was my first time to see a dictionary, and for a five-year old the word dictionary was not yet a part of my vocabulary then.

“Here you can see fancy words, mostly,” he said, and added “only two hundred or so are useful.”

“The two hundred or so are enough to tell human history.”

“Why read them then?” I asked for my logic that time was already rather developed although I was not sure if I’d be able to comprehend the answer of Gabo (he insisted that I call him Gabo because according to him space and time are not absolute and that they merge to create meanings to the seemingly strange world so our age difference is not anymore material, or was it Einstein who said that (I’m not sure anymore)).

“Because,” he looked at a beautiful woman who walked in front of us wearing a space suit, “in case man is not satisfied, as he always is, he can use the remaining fancy words,” he said while coughing slightly to catch the attention of the astronaut. The woman went on, not noticing Gabo.

“I don’t know my parents aren’t satisfied,” I said looking at his unbuttoned shirt and dirty collar, “they seem to be very happy all the time.” (By the way, the word satisified, according to him was also unnecessary.)

“Because they are lost in their own world that revolves around a five-year-old ugly boy,” he said.

He never gave me an opportunity to retort his statement, and before I could say anything he looked at my faux army bag my mother bought from the community market for less than 50 pesosm and then to me “And eventually they will use fancier words to describe what they would feel if that ugly little boy leaves them someday for faraway lands.”

“What a pitiable couple,” he said and looked at me blankly then attempted to go back to the book he was reading, paused for a while, then looked back at me, “Do you have anything to say boy?”

“I am flabbergasted with what you just said Gabo!” I said.

“You have all the right to be little boy.” He said yawning. “You see, what’s your name again?”

“John.” I said with anger in my voice.

“You see little John, poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable,” he said while scratching his greying moustache.

He stood up, and turned his back on me. “I must go, that woman is irresistable.”

“I do not understand you at all.” I shouted

So he went after that astronaut and together they flew to space and I never saw him again after that. For the past seventeen years after meeting Gabo, I’ve been looking forward to meeting him again and challenge him to write the entire of mankind’s history using 200 words.