Sparing the details: on media restraint

Ted Failon, host of Failon Ngayon


News and current affairs programs nowadays have apparently lost all restraint in depicting heinous crimes. This is regardless whether their time slot is in the late evening or five in the afternoon when children are glued in front of their television sets. The most recent Failon Ngayon episode sounded like a television version of the popular tabloid column Xerex in the 90s.

I urge you don’t misinterpret my intention in writing this; my sympathy goes to the victim of the gang rape.

In an interview with her, the woman recounted how she was repeatedly abused; her three abductors ravaged her while a gun was pointed at her. She was crying, anger was clearly sensed in every word she dropped while giving an account of what happened that evening.

Right from her work as a guest relation officer in an establishment on East Avenue in Quezon City, while waiting with her sister for a jeepney ride home, three men forcibly pulled her inside a van, brought her to an unknown location and gang raped her. Except for some extreme close up of the victim’s un-rouged lips or teary eyes, otherwise the camera focused the entire time on Ted Failon, the program host, as he listened intently, like any responsible program anchor, to the story of the raped woman.

She is married and has children. Her children, according to her, are her reasons for holding dearly to her life, the reasons why she did anything the rapists told her to do if only to keep herself alive.

But what struck me as strange was how Failon Ngayon failed to edit using that very familiar onomatopoeic toot, probably out of lack of regard for decency, ignorance, or malice, the more graphic descriptions of the crime. “Pinasubo po nila sa akin ‘yong ari nila habang ‘yong isang lalaki ay pinapasok ang kanyang ***** sa ari ko (They forced their penises into my mouth while one of the men inserted his ***** (a more graphic Filipino word for penis) into my vagina,” she said while the camera zooms in on the flowing tears to her mouth. “Nakatutok po ang baril sa mukha ko, nang kumatok ang driver at siya naman po ang humalay sa akin, naalala ko pa po ang kanyang tattoo, pinipilit niyang ipakain sa akin ang kanyang ari habang ‘yong isang kasama naman po niya ang nasa likuran ko (The tip of the gun was at my face, when the driver knocked on the door, I remember his tattoo. He forced me to take into my mouth his penis while one of them was behind me).”

I understand the requirement of the program to remain faithful to the account of the victim of the crime and to maintain the ever-important television value of realism (a result of the public’s uber-fondness for reality TV programs that border on unevaluated fanaticism). To be very explicit about it, however, to broadcast the details as if letting the public know what the rapists did to her will enable the people to protect themselves from these criminals, is stepping beyond what is acceptable on national TV broadcasts, not to mention it is useless. Useful if its object is to titillate, but hardly if the crime is rape. The media need to leave it to the court to dissect the gritty elements of the crime and spare the viewing public, the children most especially, the horror of the crime.

In the mean time, I am well aware and am grounded on reality enough to know that the news and current affairs departments of the biggest TV stations in the Philippines will not bother reading this post much less heed the simple call for self-restraint. Nor will they change anytime soon.

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Paigan (Fagen): when the sub-altern dares to speak but chooses not to

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It is not necessary that one has to have a good background in the history of Filipino-American war in the beginning of the 20th century to appreciate the play Paigan (Fagen) by Liza Magtoto and directed by Sigrid Bernardo.

It is the story of Pedring, a member of the  insurrection and Tacio, his former comrade who is the brother of Pedring”s girlfriend abducted by the Americans and their indecision to kill Fagen in exchange of the 600 dollars for the rebel soldier’s head. Pedring captures the defected Black American soldier, David Fagen, and is about to behead him when Tacio persuades him to let go of the man because, like them, the soldier is also a victim of discrimination by the American troops whose majority is made up of white Americans.

Fagen is freed eventually by his headstrong Filipina wife who directed a ploy to deceive the Americans by using another man’s skull to be given to the Americans. According to legends. Fagen is still living in the mountains of Luzon with his Filipina wife until this time.

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A news clipping from the Indianapolis Freeman about the occasional sightings of David Fagen

He became legendary not only because of his skills in eluding capture and staging impressive guerrilla attacks, but his supposed audacious belief in the Filipino cause for freedom and his rejection of him being used as an instrument to ‘free’ the Philippines as if it were the white man’s burden.

However, in the play Paigan, the focus is shifted from the black American soldier to the two Filipino characters of Tacio and Pedring. Two caricatures of Filipinos during those time whose options are limited to the black and white of total rejection of the American project or otherwise and whether an American, although partly black, can be their comrade in the fight against American colonialism.

This inability to come up with a strong resolve to behead Fagen on the part of Pedring and the constant dissuasion of Tacio against the act drag the play in the most of the middle part. In fact, a precious amount of time is spent on this part that viewers felt an uncomfortable restlessness concealed by their intermittent laughter at the slapstick of the two short, brown-skinned characters while they make fools out of themselves.

Granting that David Fagen did not die in real life, the playwright missed the very good opportunity of actually giving a voice to her sub-altern characters, to let them use their voice even to such an extreme point as to murder the demigod David Fagen.

David Fagen was fighting his own battle to stop discrimination among American troops, to give voice to the marginalized colored members of the US armed forces. And while stationed in the Philippines, he met Filipinos fighting the US occupation and, it seemed to me, convenient allies in his rebellion. And the Filipinos, known for their hospitality to foreigners, welcomed with open arms the renegade Fagen.

The play, by following faithfully this accepted ‘reality’ of Fagen escaping execution let go of the chance of problematizing the white man’s burden and the possibility of the Filipinos of southern Luzon having murdered Fagen, because like him they are also a sub-altern who long to be heard, and that the battle of Fagen is detached from their experience, that after all he is still an American who although not found in the top-most  stratum of the center, still is a part of the center.

But in the playwright’s attempt to be historically ‘correct’ this possibility is ignored and considered too extreme to be considered an option. And so Tacio and Pedring both laughable characters remain wallowing on the margins, holding on to the only description one can have of their characters – caricatures.

Probably, I was looking for something that is not in the play. A realistic treatment of a historical story. (Realistic as the adjective form of the movement called Realism not as how it is understood today.)

Paigen is a one-act play written in time for the Writers’ Bloc Virgin Labfest V sponsored by the Cultural Center of the Philippines. It is staged in Huseng Batute Theatre. Virgin Labfest runs from the 23rd of June until the 5th of July 2009.

The banal and the divine

I’ve been reading an expository work on Realism written by Linda Nochlin of similar title, bringing it along with me wherever I go: in the bathroom, riding a bus, having my meal, or while doing a balancing act inside a train. It is a book meant for the academic and art connoisseur, but I forced myself to understand its thesis and use it to reflect on the current life I am trying to start in Manila.

What struck me most is the importance given by visual and literary artists on contemporaneity. For Gustave Courbet, a leading exponent of Realism, the artists of one century is “basically incapable of reproducing the aspect of past or a future century.” There is no idealism, no romanticism, no outrageous and distorted analysis of entities in reality.

Nochlin wrote that Claude Manet was the city-dweller par excellence. ‘To enjoy the crowd is an art’ declared Baudelaire, and Manet seems to have developed the art to an extraordinary degree. It is with him that the city ceases to be picturesque or pathetic and becomes instead the fecund source of a pictorial viewpoint, a viewpoint towards contemporary reality itself. In Manet’s case, this has nothing to do with capturing the bitterness of the lower-class existence, nor yet with a specific and systematic depiction of the haute monde, nor is it related to the minute topographical accuracy which informed the urban scenes of eighteen century vedutisti.

The books gives me a new perspective on how to live in a metropolis. For most of the time we complain about the ills of city life, the ubiquitous poverty, crazy traffic jam, unbearable noise, anomie, alienation, impersonality, and rat race that we miss the reasons for the dynamism of life in a big city. That there are patches of inspiration from the struggles of people, the pace routines are done, the hushed individual; and that these streaks of reality are legitimate subject for academic discourses or can be elevated from banality to divinity.

That one can get a glimpse of truth from events as mundane as a movie taping in the parking lot of a mall at 1 o’clock in the morning.

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Letting go of fatalism: finding a job

I’m on a frenzy now. A mix of emotions that border on the absurd. I just started looking for jobs in the Philippines last night and it’s not easy. I’ve never tried looking for a serious work before. My application as an instructor in the University of the Philippines was not that difficult, at least, because the panel already knew my strengths and weaknesses and that I did not have to sell my self to a certain extent. But for a job in a private corporation in Manila, my credentials may speak for me, but I think it won’t be enough considering the competition in the working world this time.

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I intend to work in Manila after, in case, this will be my first time to work in my country’s capital city and to actually stay there and immerse my self in the hustle and bustle of a big metropolis. I am scared but am even more excited. Bigger world means being able to experience a lot of things that I will otherwise miss if I stay in one place during my entire lifetime.

I am trying to console myself that the economic condition of the world in general and my lack of working experience might delegate me to the lowest position, or worse not being able to find a job at all, but I am trying to be hopeful.

In fact I am considering finding another scholarship for a graduate degree just to postpone my entrance to the working world. I just hate the idea of working. I loved formal learning so much, but this time, I’ve got to choose, and it appears that the best choice is to work.

For most twenty-somethings this part of life is one of the most dreadful. I just can’t imagine being asked about my salary and not being able to answer because it’s dismally low. I can’t imagine being asked about what I do if it’s something I am not happy doing. A lot of things to consider, but at the end of the day it all boils down to a fact that I have to work. I may study forever and reason out that I am learning for learning’s sake, but then again, learning is not an end in itself. I have to apply what I have learned through a job and receive remuneration for doing my job.

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I’ve been quite fatalistic these past few years. If given a chance to choose between a stable job or studying abroad, without any consideration, I’ll choose the former, but as I age I am starting to realize that I can’t think of adventures all the time because travelers also have to take a rest, or that superheroes have Louis or grandma waiting for them after a day of saving the world from all nemeses.

I guess I have to slow down on my fatalism and be more pragmatic and realistic. I have to plan my next action. A new life will greet me a month from now, and I cannot afford to fail.