Sunday, 3 February 2013

Two Billion Tons

What many of us missed in the news last month: in an AFP report from London, two billion tons of food (roughly half of all the food produced in the world) is thrown away every year.  To give some sense of perspective to how much food we’re wasting, two billion tons is the annual increase of carbon dioxide absorbed by the world’s oceans every year.  Globally, we produce a little over two billion tons of iron ore a year.  A big contributor to food waste: ugly food and vegetables.  Maybe the apples aren’t perfectly proportioned enough, or that there are a few blemishes in the cabbage.  Our preoccupation with perfect-looking food contributes to the 725,742 Olympic-sized swimming pools we fill with wasted food every year.

It’s easy – and correct – to pin the blame squarely on commercialism, on consumerist thinking, on the excesses and wastefulness of the modern way of life.  A company like Krispy Kreme, for example, won’t serve or save a misshapen doughnut: they would throw it away (which is probably the same case for other fastfood chains like McDonald’s or KFC or something).  More than that, however, I think that our choices in food also require some rethinking.

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Sunday, 9 September 2012

Freedom Is Never Beautiful

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

– Thomas Jefferson

Freedom is never beautiful.

Here we are, free people, talking about freedom as if it’s the most normal thing in the world.  We render freedom in symbols like peaceful protests, leaders smiling towards the rising sun, peace signs and peace symbols, and the dove flying with an olive branch in its beak.  Freedom; beautiful freedom.

By freedom we mean what, exactly?  Before we claimed freedom for ourselves, those before us fought for it.  We paint and sculpt our heroes in the pink of health, we sanitize them with determined eyes and imposing poses, but fail to render the bullet-wounds, the fatigue, and the starvation that came with their fight so that we can be free.  We put smiling faces on spectators and participants of revolution, but fail to paint the ugly backgrounds of squalor and poverty and hopelessness that forced them to revolt.  We herald free speech, we declare free expression, and forget that these freedoms we invoke often cause people to lose their jobs and livelihood and, very often, their lives.

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Sunday, 26 August 2012

On Original Pilipino Music

Don Jaucian is disheartened, pointing us to the grave of Original Pilipino Music.  On the other hand, Carlo Casas is pissed, telling us that OPM is alive and well (nevermind that Don’s “an idiot”).  Three or four tweets later, I find that whatever my thoughts here are better off blogged… at least kicking off from where Rain Contreras started.

Picking up from a conversation I had with Nan Santamaria: without going through a long laundry list of bands and performers, I think Don’s argument should be taken from the position he takes at the very beginning of the article.  OPM is not defined as anything proudly Philippine made, as with the logos found in everything from tubs of Star margarine to bottles of Silver Swan soy sauce.  “Original Pilipino Music” was a tag used by the Philippine recording industry to promote their products.  When the “Manila Sound” faded into the background in the 1970s, record labels used the OPM tag to create that commercial category of tapes and vinyls and CDs of everything from ASIN to APO to Jessa Zaragoza to Nonoy Zuniga.  That was OPM.

Yet the debate is not about that definition.  Definitions change with time, and “OPM” – as a definition – is no exception.  To not acknowledge that this trademark or brand has changed over the years to encompass a wide breadth of artists, styles, genres, and niches: everything from the ASF Dancers to Wolfgang.  Thanks to indie records and digital downloads, OPM is no longer dependent on whether or not someone signs on to STAR Records.  OPM is no longer dependent on the whims and demands of record executives.  What we hear on the radio and see at the shelves of Odyssey, maybe.  What we enjoy in Saguijo or download on Bandcamp, no.

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Friday, 24 February 2012

My EDSA Story

Whenever I write about the 1986 EDSA Revolution, I tend to underscore one thing: I am part of the generation that grew up after it all happened. At the time, I was seven months old. Suffice to say, I wasn’t in EDSA. I have no EDSA story to tell.

Yet if anything it is my generation that was taught the most about EDSA. It was my generation that reaped what was sowed on the streets on those four days, and the years that led to it. We were the first generation of Filipinos that grew up with no living memory of what it’s like to not be under the iron hand of Asia’s most infamous – and venerated – dictator.

My teachers and professors all shared an impression of Marcos that somehow stuck: an articulate man commanding of so much respect whose intentions for a “mandate for greatness” was marked by human flaws, like the thirst for power and the desire for great personal gain. He was “the greatest president the Philippines could have ever had,” if not for a catalog of reasons that included, among other things, Martial Law.

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Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The Deep and the Shallow

I agree with many of the things F. Sionil Jose wrote about in his column in The Philippine STAR.  I agree; to a certain extent, we have become somewhat shallow.  There’s no denying that shallowness he rails against.  We do enjoy shallow entertainment.  We do elect shallow officials into government.  We do have a problem with memory.  But in the same vein as Liberty Chee, I also disagree with many of the things he wrote.

Not that I’m going to lay my neck on the line against one of the Philippines’ most celebrated writers, but even he has his shallowness.

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Monday, 8 August 2011

Shock/Art


The assemblage of a crucifix, rosaries, and other religious items – punctuated by the presence of a movable, erect, wooden penis – caused a storm of discussions a few days ago at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

It’s a good thing that art is taking center stage this time.  At a time where heated and polarizing opinions (and Tweets and Facebook pages) would revolve around a guy who drives his car into a flooded street and makes it to national TV, the discussion around Mideo Cruz’s Poleteismo is refreshing.

Merde d’Artista by Piero Manzoni (pictured above) is a collection of 90 cans autographed by the artist himself.  The cans contain (purportedly) Manzoni’s own feces, sealed and sold to art patrons.  If I were to do the same thing, I would have simply been dismissed as a loon, or those cans would have been thrown back at me.  Which is quite true for other situations of “shock art.”  I couldn’t soak a crucifix in a container full of urine, photograph it, and call it art.  I would probably be derided by everyone in the country if I made a collage of what I purport to be the Virgin Mary using pornographic images and elephant feces.  I could not get away with an installation made with a bed, used condoms, and panties stained with menstrual blood.

(Photograph: “My Bed,” by Tracey Emin)

In many ways, art is institutional.  It is guild-like; that’s why we have “artists’ circles” and “writers’ circles.”  In the wake of Caparas’ National Artist award, we cannot deny that part of the protests of Caparas’ works come from some preconceived notion of what art is, what should be artistic, and what body of work qualifies for the “National Artist” distinction.  Beyond beauty, aesthetics, and theory, part of what makes art “up there” are the notions and the conventional wisdom of those within these groups, inside looking out.

While I would have a notion of what makes a good painting or song or sculpture or poem, being an “outsider” would somehow make my thoughts but hushed whispers from the back of the room, compared to an established artist’s lectures from the lectern.  This is not to cry “circle-jerk” or “artistic incest” or whatever; but like the realities it represents, there are hierarchies and stratifications in art and its interpretation.

Yet the same institutional character is true for religion.  The vitriol and anger over Cruz’s piece by laity and priests and members of the clergy does not – in all likelihood – represent the views of the so-called “Catholic majority.”  In all certainty, there must be at least one devout Catholic who would praise Cruz’s sculpture as a gripping commentary on idolatry in the modern age, just as Sister Wendy Beckett did in behalf of Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ.  If the problem with the art world stands in how closed it can be to the presence of an artist, the problem with the fundamentalist religious universe is how close-minded it can be.  Like bigoted comments on how this would have happened when the religious iconography was Muslim, for example.

In other countries, the case against “bad art,” “offensive art,” or “not art” has been met with strains of unrest which we’re now quite familiar with.  Chris Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary, for example, was the subject of a high-profile threat from former New York City Rudy Giuliani in 1999.

That’s where we are: more than a battle of something “out there,” it’s a battle of tangible things like Churches and artists.  Even if we remove the piece from exhibition right now there is a tension between art and religion as much as there is cooperation within it.  The faithful of the Catholic Church have made beautiful pieces of art in the name of the Lord.  The art form, to Catholics, is a form of intercession.  Yet to an artist, the form may just be a component or template to create new art.  In this tension, conflicts will arise.  It is more than just taste, or taste classifying the classifier.  It is a conflict of institutions which we are not completely departed from.  We are part of art, as we are part of a faith, or a movement about or against it.

Yet in the context of our modern world, where discussions and debate and sobriety and magnanimity are expectations from everyone, disagreeable acts like vandalism and intimidation in discussion are unnecessary.  There are ways to disagree with the depiction in Poleteismo without being disagreeable or unnecessarily political and fundamentalist.

I think that aside from the un-Christian insults from the Catholic fundamentalists and the snobbery from artist circles, the controversy surrounding Mideo Cruz’s work is good for the arts, as far as the general public is concerned.  Because of it, and the coverage from all forms of media, the people get to form opinions about things that they are part of, but somehow distanced from, like art and religion.  A sober, diplomatic view beyond vandalism and online vitriol is a better way to look at Mideo Cruz’s piece.

Now whether the forum by the CCP was about art or politics is another story altogether.  At the very least, it was a venue to talk about art.  Which is still a good thing.

So where do I stand with Poleteismo?  The trope and theme of the profaned, grotesque-ed body of Jesus has been around for a very long time.  It has been portrayed by everything from sculpture to painting to pornography and high art.  Many of our reactions now may just be knee-jerk opinions based on something that we don’t see all too often in this country (what with museums and exhibits being quite prohibitively expensive for the populace in terms of economic and social cost, but that’s another story).  I think it’s best to see if the piece would stand the test of time and memory, to see if the shock goes beyond being skin-deep.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Triumph Over Pain

 

I think it was Marcel Proust who once wrote that we can only be healed from suffering only when we experience it completely.  It’s hard to understand that, when we live in a world that has all but eliminated pain.  There’s a pill for just about every kind of affliction, and an anaesthetic for every surgical procedure.  It may not be a pain-free world we live in, but there’s always a guarantee of relief.  We are no longer bound by pain, but we are free from it.  Pain merely becomes an option in our lives.

The images of despair, grief, and torment that comes with everything from pricking to paroxysm find relief in small little pills.  In the same way that the light bulb changed day and night, the painkiller changed that intimate connection of mind and body called pain.  At its most extreme, we have successfully alienated it from ourselves.  We no longer “suffer:” we merely manage pain, control it.  Or alleviate symptoms.  The experience of pain violates the morals of reason, joy, and pleasure.  It is taboo to suffer in a world that is somehow, in some way, governed by doses of over-the-counter analgesics.  Or, at its extreme, vials of anaesthesia.

We speak of “revolutions” a lot, but there’s no human invention that has ever changed life in its entirety – from the mind, the body, the heart, and the soul – more than the painkiller.  Our world is dependent on it: work can stop with a migraine, so we pop a pill.  We want the most convenient way to extract teeth, so we developed lidocaine.  The easiest and smoothest road to addiction are not the hard drugs glorified in movies, but the blisters and bottles we keep around the house to keep ourselves from experiencing a regular physiological function.  A normal human reaction.

We speak of “desensitization” a lot, but even our painkiller-fortified bodies cannot stand suffering.  Or worse, we cannot understand suffering.  And while our bodily pains are relieved by painkillers we start searching for things immune to it.  Or worse, create things that are beyond the doses of painkillers.  Things like war, heartbreak, fear, hunger: things that are beyond the sensibilities of humanity.  We’ve become out of touch with pain that we create it, and try to drown it with the painkillers we’ve grown dependent on.  Care packages filled with aspirin, overdosing on drugs in the event of heartbreak, a paracetamol to curb the anxiety of day-to-day living.  Or just plain not caring at all for the welfare of those suffering around us.  It hurts to see people suffer, and we haven’t developed a painkiller for that yet.

And so we watch the extremes of suffering unfold before us; and for our own suffering, ibuprofen will do.  Or apathy and indifference: society’s best painkillers.  I don’t want to think that we’re all but desensitized, but somehow I’m wont to believe that those who suffer are closer to being human than those who pop a pill.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Reins of Reasonable Terror

It’s easy to chastise religious ritual as irrational, and perhaps maybe it is.  In India, for example, many of the faithful who pull the Juggernaut’s chariots are crushed by the massive wheels of the vehicle.  In the Philippines, there are undercurrents of “progressive” atheism that dismiss the Nazareno feast as panata pinned by false hopes.  Yet Enlightenment, brought about by the radical changes of the French Revolution, also brought with it something unreasonable: the guillotine.

There are as many reasons not to believe in God as there are reasons to believe in Him.  Religion has sinned against humankind in harsher ways that man has sinned against whatever gods he believes in.  Yet when the arguments against God result in petty, pseudo-intellectual arguments that rely more on wit than reason, one can’t help but be more averse towards the argument than the premise.

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Saturday, 8 January 2011

The Shoemaker and the Ceiling Elves

Buying shoes in the 20th century was nothing like the click-and-meet-up routines people do nowadays over on Facebook (for the love of Zuckerberg, please use Facebook Marketplace, don’t tag random people on pictures of discount Bangladeshi espadrilles).

It was as simple as going to a shoe store, say, Zenco Footstep, have your feet measured with decades-old foot-measuring boards made from iron, and then wait for the saleslady to do the old “size-seven-Tretorn-white-running-training-size-seven-size-seven” routine.  The in-store music was piped in from an eight-track cassette of varied songs, from 80s “Sussudio” to 90s Keempee de Leon songs.

As if summoned by the arcane chants made over inverted microphones dangling from the rafters, the shoe box magically falls from the hole: size seven Treton white running/training shoes, if you ordered them.

The shoe is fitted, tested, wrapped, and the discount Rambo sandals thrown in.  Like magic, so it seems.

Today it speaks of either technological backwardness or inventory efficiency, but nine-year-old me thought of things in terms of “The Shoemaker and the Elves.”  I thought that the shoe store ceiling was a workshop of elven shoemakers that made the Bandolinos, the Kaypees, and the Reeboks.

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