A friend of mine showed me an online project called “iamninoy,” which makes available merchandise (t-shirts, buttons, glasses, stickers, and so on) that aim to boost the awareness of the youth for one of the Philippines’ most famous (if not infamous) heroes. To me, the trigger was almost automatic: I’m betting that at least one person out there believes that this is the “commercialization of Ninoy Aquino.”
I’m not a historian or a historical critic, so I won’t delve or dwell into whether or not Ninoy’s assassination – and its precedents – constitutes heroism. For all intents and purposes, let’s just assume that Ninoy is a hero. Which begs the question: if someone out there sells Ninoy t-shirts, is it commercialization? Are we commercializing the image of Ninoy if we wear the retro glasses?
“Commercialization,” like many words, is easy to use; however, the meaning of commercialization is often lost in context. Everything has its price, and everything with a price can be sold.
Let’s take corned beef for example. A can of corned beef is not free: it either costs P22.00, a serious natural disaster, participating in a political rally, or pitiful circumstances. Any which way, there is value in that can of corned beef, which gives it value and a place in the market. Whatever we can exchange and place in any sort of marketplace is to give it a commercial potential. Commerce and trade is the backbone of economics; everything is, in effect, commercialized.
I know it’s shallow, and I know that people my age prefer complicated and overwrought explanations to something as mundane as the image of a guy in a T-shirt. For purposes of complicating things, the image of Ninoy is a simulacrum: a representation of a representation (Baudrillard for the masses). What makes it all the more mundane and absurd is that within that context, there is nothing beyond it. We all have to be smartasses, in one way or another, to think that there is something more to that image, that the act itself is inherently the negative connotation of commercialization. Yet there’s nothing inherent about symbols: language is arbitrary.
In other words, it means nothing.
Yet since nobody I know would subscribe to such a nihilist, com si, com sa affect toward symbols, let me put it this way. If it takes the image of a hero to have a hope that we become heroes in our own right when the time comes, then that itself is worse than “commercialization.” It is often the case that those who speak out against “commercialization” are those who allow themselves to be victimized by it. It’s not because everyone’s a victim, but because of a lack of perspective. We are all duty-bound to do at least one heroic thing for this country, and yet the bulk of us even balk at being half the hero that we label Ninoy.
If there’s any poignant meaning that can be derived from “iamninoy,” it’s the fact that it sometimes takes a t-shirt and a pair of retro glasses to remind us that there was a time that one guy stood up for what’s right, no matter how wrong he seemed.
And died for it.