Saving Philippine television
I-WITNESS is one of the very few remaining shows on local television that does a remarkable job of striking a good balance between form and substance—it is often both intelligent and entertaining. And in an industry where the ability to look good is mistaken for talent (and where cosmetic surgeons have been elevated to the stature of God—some people have the gall to announce “body by Vicky Belo”), Howie Severino is one of the very few who chooses to let his mind and his work do the talking for him.
Unfortunately, all these are alien to people with a terminal case of “moralitis.” It is a debilitating disease with strange symptoms such as seeing malice in anything where sex and body parts are mentioned, inability to use their gray matter, and taking offense at things one does not understand.
I-Witness has just been slapped a two-week suspension by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board for airing Lukayo: Hindi Ito Bastos, a feature on a cultural tradition in Laguna. The tradition was first documented by National Artist Ramon Obusan and involves street dancing by rural women “adorned” with phallic symbols. Those who didn’t watch Tatarin, the movie, or the I-witness feature can recall experiences watching inebriated older women having fun.
In my town in Leyte, inebriated adults —sometimes all women—inevitably do their own rowdy version of the curacha, which simulates the pairing of a male chicken and a hen, to the delight of the crowd. No nudity is involved, but it sure does border on the ribald. Certain cultural traditions may border on the lascivious, but the community does not necessarily perceive them as such. Most public functions in Leyte involve the dancing of the curacha, and the crowd always prefers dancers who make more suggestive movements and aggressive simulations of a male chicken’s behavior.
The decision to suspend the show is premised on two issues. While MTRCB does not question the significance of the festival, it insists that not everyone has access to explanation about such traditions. This reasoning assumes that Filipinos require having culture explained to them, that Filipinos are not capable of using their brains to make sense of what they see or appreciating what they see on their own merits. When people watch Pangalay or Singkil being performed, does it really matter if people do not understand the cultural significance or meaning of the dances? Do we honestly believe that when fully clothed people dance courtship rituals, people do not see the sexual content of the performance?
The second reason is that there are people who were offended when they watched the feature. This kind of reasoning is silly because if the MTRCB intends to do something about television shows that offend people, I have a long list of complaints I want them to take a look at. I am offended that the government station read my letter every night from February to April without even asking my permission. I am offended every time Nuts Entertainment or even Wowowee mock those aesthetically challenged people in their shows. I am offended every time the Tulfo Brothers make a mockery of due process, or when Secretary Raul Gonzalez opens his mouth without first considering the consequences of his pronouncements. The list goes on and one, but you get the drift.
On the other side of the fence, ABS-CBN launched Bandila, the latest reincarnation of the late night broadcast last Monday night. Prior to the launch, the station pulled all the stops in promoting the program. Typical of the personality oriented culture of the station, the focus was on the newscasters as if the quality of a newscast is mainly determined by who delivers it. I hope the station does not really believe that people watch news programs to ogle newscasters.
The program makes this big homily on citizenship and the value of the Philippine flag. It would have helped, of course, if they actually did something to the way the Philippine flag is being desecrated in the streets of Metro Manila (along Baywalk, there are still bedraggled Philippine flags flapping against the wind that are pierced through by wires on all four corners).
ABS-CBN has moved back the timeslot for the late night news, making it part of primetime again. Since I have been ranting in my blog about the ridiculous hours that Saksi and the erstwhile Insider kept (only the terminally insomniac would actually be awake to watch them), I initially cheered the move. At the very least, I figured people would at least have the choice of watching the news or the Koreanovelas.
To be fair, ABC-5 and Studio-23 do broadcast the news also at an earlier hour. So just for the record, Maria Ressa did not invent the concept of a newscast at 10 p.m. But ABS-CBN says that advertisers prefer to put their money on escapist entertainment rather than on news programs. They claim to be taking a huge gamble and stand to lose a lot of money in the name of serving the Filipino people. I suspect that there are more realistic business reasons, but like I said, I am willing to cut them slack.
I do want the program to succeed. I think there is something wrong in a setup where citizens have to sit through sitcoms featuring middle-aged men horsing around like tots before they get to know about what is happening in their country. Unfortunately, if the maiden newscast is a harbinger of how Bandila will shape up as a program, I think many people will stick it out with the telenovelas.
Bandila eschews the hysterics and hyperactivity of the usual news broadcast. Korina, Ces, and Henry do not engage in vocal histrionics and they make an effort to come across as friendly and conversational. So at least one does not feel like being screamed at anymore. The program is also relatively short and thankfully does away with what has seemingly become obligatory fodder in Philippine news program—showbiz gossip.
But I think Bandila is currently saddled by the weight of its own sense of self-importance. It seems confused about what it is primarily (news, news-magazine, public affairs, national advocacy) for. And they really should downplay the “we are here to save Philippine television” attitude.