I guess it’s either bitterness on my part, or my inability to appreciate films; for me, “Slumdog Millionaire” is the award-winning version of a Sharon Cuneta film that takes place in India. Think “Bukas Luluhod Ang Mga Tala,” sans the catchphrases that made that movie a cult classic.
(Was “Slumdog” a second-rate trying-hard copycat? Nope; I mean, we didn’t win Best Picture. No, we could have succeeded in sending gay-themed-indy-art-film-type movies that are so popular these days to the Oscars, and we settled for “Ploning.” Gosh.)
Not that I didn’t enjoy watching “Slumdog” – I found the movie a tad “racist,” but it was cool – but the people in charge of the Academy Awards deemed it to be the winning formula for Best Picture. Any winning formula, like energy, can be transmuted and translated. What better way to transmute and translate the success of “Slumdog” than in, say, politics?
Now it seems that Indian political parties, hot on the heels of its own general election to be held between April 16 and May 13 (and you thought our elections were long and protracted), are capitalizing on the success of “Slumdog;” Congress Party – the ruling coalition in the Indian parliament – has just bought the rights to the Oscar-winning song, “Jai Ho.” The song – which translates to “Let There Be Victory” – is the new campaign anthem (no, jingle) of Congress.
I don’t know if they’re going to play the Pussycat Dolls version in caravans that will ply the Indian subcontinent, though.
Back in my Political Science courses, one point that was always driven home was a passing thought from either David Wurfel or Gunnar Myrdal: the failure of Asian democracy is the kind of populist approach that focuses on putting people in power instead of institution-building. Personality-driven, entertainment-oriented politics is more of the rule than the exception in many Asian countries. Consider Indonesia’s experiment with Megawati Sukarnoputri, or Thaksin Shinawatre in Thailand. Aung San Suu Kyi is as much a symbol as she is a person in Myanmar, and Lee Kuan Yew is pretty much the Hulk Hogan of “Asian-style” democracy.
Much as we bemoan the sad state of affairs of our own democracy here in the Philippines, the new “Jaihocracy” taking place in India is pretty much the same way we do our own politics. Senators can make impassioned PR materials about billion peso boasts and elections being the “will of the people,” but our own brand of populist democracy banks on entertainment value. Back home, a Congressman always campaigned to the tune of the Beer Barrel Polka, so you can imagine burnination every time his Cimmaron (or was it a Fiera) passed by the street. Campaign jingles and rip-offs, so to speak. Take a look at the Senate:
- Manny Villar mastered the campaign jingle by playing a campaign version of “Sasakyan Kita,” which is still played on occasion at a Starmall. It’s a good thing he didn’t wear tight leather pants when he had that campaign jingle based on Tom Jones’ “Sex Bomb.” Brain cell burnination.
- Mar Roxas, for all the “kulitization” that he wants us to do, had his PR dudes turn “Mr. Suave” by Parokya ni Edgar into the “Mr. Palengke” racket, and turned it into the facepalm brand he’ll probably take to 2010. Eye burnination, seeing Roxas do the “Hoy hoy hoy” sequence.
- Migz Zubiri could have capitalized on the Batman chin that made him the political crushable that he was, but nooo, he had to head on over to novelty songs. I’d never thought I’d see the day, but “Boom Tarat Tarat” had the effect of putting him in a position where he had to defend his spot against Koko Pimentel.
- Jamby Madrigal, who can burninate at least half of all Filipino political observers out there, turned Eric Clapton’s “Change the World” into the “Ja-ja-ja-Jamby Madrigal” TV ad that hearkened us back to the days when Billy Crawford still used “Joe” with his name.
Will our democracies reach the ideal form where we focus on issues, where there are central issues to campaigns? I don’t think so. In Barack Obama, the Americans hearkened back to the days of Bill Clinton and elected someone so media-savvy; Obama is as much of an entertainer as he is a politician, and has Obama Girl. The French, for all the platitudes served to them for their contributions to democracy, had the same showbiz factor in the marriage of Nicholas Sarkozy. Yup, democracy has devolved from a show of hands at the city square to your run-of-the-mill beauty contest.
The medium, says Marshall McLuhan, is the message. Right on target: presentations of self, definitions of a situation. Sociological boonkaka can wait another day. Maybe 2010, when I start poking holes to vote instead of writing names down.
Maybe every Asian democracy – or every democracy, for that matter – is undergoing birth pangs. Or maybe to rephrase Saint-Exupery, what is essential is always visible to the eye. Our democracies appeal to the senses, the people-ness of political exercise, that Government exists to entertain as well as to govern. It’s like politics taking the role of theater: to take a page from the Machiavellian playbook, to seem is to believe. No matter how out of context it may seem… lately, even in a song like “Jai Ho” and “Slumdog Millionaire” in India. Reaching out to the public doesn’t have to mean something noble, high-minded, and important like building institutions and serving the national interest. It’s about getting there, staying there, and recall.
Context, as it seems, is relative. Especially in politics.
Mimesis; being the pop-culture Goatse forever burninated in the image of the voter come election time.