Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Desensitized to horror and terror

This is my column today.

Up until the time I was in college, the hours between six and 11 p.m., now known as primetime television, were relatively “safe” television hours.

Primetime was an occasion for the whole family to huddle in the living room to watch some situation comedy or musical show. The shows were often of the mindless drivel type, but they were always guaranteed to be both entertaining and safe. By safe, I mean stuff that won’t do irreparable damage to the minds of children, or even adults for that matter, as well as stuff that won’t interfere with one’s healthy appreciation of dinner. Back then, one watched television mainly for relaxation.

Today, primetime television is anything but relaxing. It has gotten to a point where practically every show on primetime carries a parent advisory warning. It has gotten so bad that a number of people I know no longer watch television to avoid unnecessary stress.

The kind of muck foisted upon the general public by our television networks has become so varied and unpredictable that practically every show now carries a parental advisory warning. They now have so-called fantaseryes (fantasy series) that feature all kinds of man-devouring monsters to go with your dinner. I remember coming home at dinnertime a couple of weeks back to find a kid in the house being punished for not finishing dinner because one character in Lastikman spewed thousands of cockroaches and other insects that devoured people. I couldn’t blame the poor kid because even I could not imagine finishing dinner with that kind of appetizer in my mind.

For dessert, our very thoughtful television networks feature telenovelas with very adult content. Last I looked, adultery, multiple sexual partners, murder, swindle, large-scale deception, etc., were still adult material. These telenovelas are invariably drenched in hopelessly, endlessly, and pointlessly convoluted plots that serve no other purpose than to lengthen running time and justify the blank and dazed expressions on the faces of the actors.

As if these were not enough already, they have now introduced yet another genre into primetime television: horror television. GMA-7 started the trend with La Vendetta a couple of months back featuring a ghost haunting her siblings for justice. ABS-CBN has now countered with a made-for-television-remake of the Filipino cult classic Patayin Sa Sindak Si Barbara featuring the self-proclaimed queen of horror herself, Kris Aquino.

I think that critiquing Aquino is irrelevant in this country; it is precisely her quirks and imperfections that make people want to see more of her. Besides, it is pointless to argue with success and let’s face it, practically anything Aquino does turns out to be a huge success. However, I must insist to our networks that scaring kids every night is not exactly a good way to raise them. A friend commented in jest last week that the people behind Patayin ought to be reported to Bantay Bata for the terrible things they do to the child on that show (as well as kids who watch it) when we remembered that ABS-CBN is the main benefactor of Bantay Bata.

***

The kind of shows that our networks put on primetime is horrible, indeed, but at least we know that these are fiction. They are not real. Unfortunately, the network war between GMA-7 and ABS-CBN (or ABS-CBN and GMA-7 for people who are conscious about billing) is real. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of war that is bound to get uglier and uglier; the kind that only pulls everyone else down into the muck.

What exactly is the issue? To ABS-CBN, the main issue is ensuring that the ratings game continues to be clean and fair. Noble goal, of course, except that the station is not walking the talk in terms of keeping accusations clean and fair as well. Up until Monday night, the station was still at it, presenting witnesses who insist on remaining anonymous and who continue to hem and haw, in the end really adding nothing but static to the whole discourse.

As far as GMA-7 is concerned, the main issue is integrity. GMA-7 is smarting over the fact that ABS-CBN continues to make accusations whose veracity remains to be proven. Both claim to have not only the most definitive version of the truth but the sole patent for “integrity” as well.
What is truly sad about the network war is that both stations have now pulled all the stops in an effort to convince people out there that they are the ones telling the truth. Both stations are employing all their institutional resources in the service of the war. Not only have both stations come out with verrrry lengthy (and expensive, in terms of airtime) explanations that are broadcast on critical primetime hours, they have also engaged the services of their major stars in what looks like a proxy war.

Moreover, the networks have shown that they are not beyond using their own television shows as mouthpieces for their talking points. All these raise questions of ethics. Both stations are zealous critics of other institutions, particularly on ethical issues. Both have shows that regularly pass judgment on the actuation of other institutions and people. It would be nice if both stations really walk the talk and spare all of us the hypocrisy.

***

According to news reports, our country’s airports flunked international safety standards. The criteria used to evaluate overall worthiness of international airports included security measures, facilities, among others. I am not surprised. Here’s a real story that’s bound to depress you.

A friend of mine, who is a management consultant of international repute and who is a columnist in another newspaper, narrated to me the horrors that she and many others had to go through last Jan. 2 at the Centennial Terminal. She was leaving for Vietnam for a consulting gig and was taking a Philippine Airlines flight out of Manila.

Unfortunately, it was the day after a major holiday (New Year’s Day, of course). Most of us, particularly the superstitious ones, believe in starting the year right. We believe in putting our best foot forward at the first working day of the year to attract good fortune for the rest of the year. But it seems immigration officials in our country are not like most of us.

Can you imagine an international airport with only a single functioning immigration counter, manned by a single forlorn immigration official, on the first working day of the year?
It’s the day when most tourists and balikbayans who spent the holidays here scramble to get out; the day when businessmen with regional and international engagements start their foreign trips. It’s the first business and working day of the year! And we only had a solitary immigration official on duty at the Centennial Airport.

Imagine the situation this engendered. The queue was kilometric. Emotions were running high. The tension was palpable as the public address system kept on calling for passengers that needed to board already on planes that were already running behind schedule by at least an hour.

How is it possible for the centennial airport to be manned by a lone immigration official on Jan. 2? The reason was simple: All other immigration officials called in sick for the day. No, not because of some virus or epidemic; they simply had too much to eat or drink during the New Year revelry.

This is one of the reasons why we have trouble attracting foreign investors or tourists into our country. Who wants to come back if the last memory you have of the country is that of aggravations experienced while exiting the international airport?

In the end, perhaps our television networks are doing us a favor by showing all kinds of horrible stuff on primetime. We’re so desensitized to horror we don’t even get surprised when we see it in our daily lives.

No comments: