Monday, February 19, 2007

killing the movie industry

This is my column today at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

‘Please patronize pirated Filipino DVDs and VCDs so that the Philippine movie industry will die and we will no longer have actors and actresses and their spouses running for public office. Please pass.”

This is a text message that has been going around since Thursday last week. I do not know what to make of the fact that this message was forwarded to me at least seven times. It is possible that the reason why people sent the text message to me is because I have been very vocal about my reservations regarding celebrities who throw their hats into the political ring armed with nothing else but their showbiz popularity. It is also possible that the text message is really going around in certain circles because there are many people out there who believe that it is high time for some drastic measures.

There is a part of me that wants to endorse this recommendation. As I wrote in my blog (www.bongaustero.blogspot.com), this text message is a perfect example of what mixed feelings is about.

It is a tempting proposition. Very, very tempting.

I know that in a democracy, celebrities have as much right as anyone else to seek public office. But this notion that the essence of democracy is absolute freedom for people to make utter fools of themselves and to make a mockery of the same democratic processes that they claim to uphold is exactly what I find objectionable to begin with. To my mind, the essence of public service is social responsibility. And that means those who have access to a platform, such as the popularity that our movie celebrities have, should use that platform responsibly.

I am a fan of Filipino movies. I believe that films play an important part in strengthening our soul as a nation. I do think that filmmaking is a craft and that acting is a distinct art form. Although I must admit that I have also been guilty of sometimes projecting a patronizing attitude toward movie stars, I do acknowledge that the popularity that comes with being a movie star is also earned and that it requires a particular expertise. I disagree with the notion that a pretty face is all it takes to make it in show business. I, for one, can’t imagine having a showbiz career (not that I have the qualifications for it; just that it requires a different set of competencies which I do not have). I wish celebrities would also see that distinction. I know that building and nurturing an image requires a certain level of intelligence.

So yes, I empathize with many celebrities who complain of intellectual marginalization. I think that celebrities have as much right as anyone to participate in the task of building a nation. They also have something important to say and that very often, they are not taken seriously, precisely because in the minds of many, they are just pretty faces.

Our movie stars should be given the respect that they rightfully deserve. But they should, in turn, behave responsibly and begin to acknowledge that, to borrow a dialog from the movie Spider-Man, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Popularity should not be used to advance personal interests. The adulation of the fans should not be used as a launching pad for a political career that they have not had any preparation or aptitude for. Popularity should be used more responsibly.

We have many sterling examples that serve as perfect case studies. Rosa Rosal and her work at the Philippine National Red Cross. Chin-Chin Gutierrez and her environmental causes. Joey Ayala, Gerard Salonga and Ryan Cayabyab and their efforts to preserve our musical heritage.

So I think that the current sorry state of the Philippine movie industry is also a sad consequence of the irresponsible behavior of celebrities who have abused their popularity by turning it into a quick ticket to an elective position. This insidious form of selling out has contributed to the misplaced perception that celebrities are opportunists, that the movie industry serves no significant role in Philippine society.

The sad reality is that we’ve had far too many celebrities who have been given the opportunity and the privilege to win public offices on the strength of their showbiz persona alone and they have failed dismally. Many of them have served no other purpose than to serve as expensive decorations in various public institutions. They have even failed to use their elective positions to help the local movie industry. Can we blame people for being contemptuous of celebrities who become politicians?

To be fair, the local movie industry is not solely to blame for this debacle. We are in this sorry state also because our politicians have had this penchant for recruiting celebrities to serve as ornaments in their respective tickets. The inclusion of actor/director Cesar Montano in the administration’s senatorial lineup is a good example. Although it can be argued that Montano is a competent person, there are others who are more competent and more qualified. His inclusion in the lineup, therefore, is purely for expediency.

My beef, therefore, is not that celebrities run for public office because like I said they have as much right as anyone else, but that the whole phenomenon is not doing the cause of democracy, or the cause of the Philippine movie industry for that matter, any good. The specter of having more and more celebrities running for public office, particularly by those who have absolutely no preparation for it, is contributing to the growing demise of both democracy and the Philippine movie industry. If we are to save the Philippine movie industry, the people in the industry has to act more responsibly. Allowing themselves to be used as token ornaments does not serve the cause.

So in the end, there seems to be no need to kill the local movie industry by patronizing pirated DVDs or VCDs of Filipino movies after all. Our local celebrities are already doing a good job at it anyway.

* * *

Although I was initially surprised that he threw his hat into the senatorial contest considering the absence of a pre-campaign buzz, I must admit that I was beginning to warm up to the idea. I really believe that Jericho Petilla would have made a great senator. And I am not only saying this because he and I come from the same province (Leyte) although I admit that that is a major factor why I would have campaigned for him, at least among my friends and relatives. But Petilla has bowed out of the race for senator and I cannot totally blame him.

The current contest for a senate seat is going to be really brutal and those with a built-in advantage in terms of name recall already has a distinct advantage. It is another sad reflection of our times that competent people with good track records as public servants have no chance of winning elections compared to clowns who have earned national prominence through embarrassing song or dance routines.

Petilla’s chances of getting into the top 12 were quite slim given the fact that the race is dominated by more popular, and we have to add, more determined candidates. By determined, I mean people who are willing to do anything and spend any amount to get into the senate.

3 comments:

vic said...

We should have not come to this predicament had we had a foresight of the process as we know, the party system, and a strong one at that. I am always an advocate of a Strong Party System of Government, where a Party Hierarchy, either the party memberships through the process of nomination, or the party Executives, through consensus picked the candidates who have the better chance of carrying the party to victory to represent the party, or to sacrifice some seat in a sure no-win districts and concentrate the best candidates to contest the tight races. It is more interesting contest and it is a good process of Elimination, whereby those who are not qualified will be exposed at early stages and prevent embarrassing the Party. Sometimes, somehow, someone can sneak into the Cracks, but very seldom and can readily get kicked out of the Caucus at the first sign.

We who tolerated the system for the longest time, and it us to correct them. Let start having a True Party system, not like the ones, we have at present, without permanence and no ideologies or platform, no programs of Government. Let us start having Political Parties that are above Personalities. Personalities come and go, the parties remain and stay.

We started a strong Political Party Systems at the Inception of our Country since 1867 (my other country, Canada), And the same two major political parties remain the main players in our Government with an addition of more and another two main parties. Anyone have the rights to run for Elected Office, no qualifications needed, Actors, Sportsmen, Comedians, Clowns and even Me, but the process will eliminate the nuisances and only the deserving ones will have the chance to be given the few opportunities to Serve. But because with only the Honours, and the satisfaction of Serving are the Rewards, The Actors, and the Professional Sportsmens, and even the Clowns prefer to stay out for a more rewarding Private Careers.

Village said...

Very very tempting...sama na natin ang boxing with pacman running against darlene. hmmmm

exskindiver said...

bong,
i agree with you that irresponsible (that's a euphemism for bobo) celebrities should not be allowed to run for office--but since that isn't going to change any time soon--perhaps the philippines would be better served by intelligent celebrities (is that an oxymoron?)
speaking up and denouncing these people publicly. this is no time for polite filipino courtesy-- walang hiyaan na kung baga. it's for the good of the country anyway.
EDUCATION IS KEY...and if the masses respond to celebrity--(i suppose there are safety issues to contend with, i read your previous post about texts received regarding your own safety due to your candor)

mahaba na 'to.
sorry.
but i leave you with a link to an interesting musing of my brother (who used to be in government).

http://mycollections.blogspot.com/2007/02/opposition-or-opportunism.html

best,
chesca