This is my column today.

There was a very spirited discussion in one of my e-mail groups a couple of weeks ago that I feel is of interest to all Filipinos.

It was the kind of discussion that was typical among us Filipinos. It was sparked by a seemingly innocuous observation about a local television show and which somehow got blown up into a major argument that hooked people into taking sides. If the discussion were conducted face-to-face, I am sure it would have gotten emotional and probably confrontational. Eventually, the topic lost steam and some academics took over to make sense of what just happened. To complete the cycle, I am now mining the discussion into material for a column. The discussion was on the so-called crab mentality that’s supposed to be prevalent among us Filipinos.

What prompted the whole discussion was a comment made about the behaviors of contestants on the local version of the television show Wheel of Fortune. To the uninitiated, the local Wheel of Fortune airs as pre-programming for the early evening news on ABS-CBN. It is hosted by the irrepressible Kris Aquino, who, as expected, provides the show infinite material for various types of commentary.

Brought to the forum’s attention, however, were the heckling, hooting, jeering and taunting done by contestants in that show. The negative behaviors, egged on by a live audience, and presumably encouraged by the show’s staff, were interpreted as indicative of latent crab mentality among Filipinos.

For those blissfully unaware, what follows is what typically happens in Aquino’s show: Every time a contestant spins the wheel in order to accumulate prizes, the other contestants would openly wish misfortune for him or her by shouting “bankrupt,” “lose a turn,” or simply heckling the contestant almost as if to jinx his or her chances of winning. It was noted that in the original version of the show, which is taped in the United States, contestants do not indulge in the same crabby behavior.

I’ve watched some episodes of that show (it airs at midnight on cable) and can attest that yes, the American contestants on that show do cheer each other on and seem genuinely happy for other contestants’ good fortune. Every time someone snags a major prize, the other contestants jump for joy as well as if they themselves won the prize.

To be fair though, Wheel of Fortune is not the only US television show and there are many others where contestants do indulge in crabby behavior. The Survivor series is a good example; contestants on that show not only pull each other down, they wheedle and conspire to make others lose. Some other shows not only encourage contestants to sabotage others, they also put contestants in awfully embarrassing situations that tend to bring out the worst possible examples of human behaviors.

But to go back to the discussion on crab mentality, because we Filipinos seem to derive some pleasure in self-flagellation, people naturally weighed in with their own comments and observations, which, as in the case of the Gucci Gang scandal and the 70,000-dollar blog, proved more interesting and explosive.

A number offered their own analyses on the implications of showing such negative behaviors on primetime television. The general drift was that kids imbibe and emulate what they see on television, including negative behaviors, which they think acceptable and part of our norms. Others went on to point out the many other negative consequences of displaying on television behaviors that propagate the so-called crab mentality practically heaping the blame for most of our woes as a people on television. I do agree that television is partly to blame for many of what is wrong in our country. However, it is not fair to ascribe all the blame as well as the responsibility, particularly on the issue of crab mentality, to television.

There were those who opined that kids are not as dumb as most think they are and are therefore able to make distinctions between entertainment and real life. Someone cited personal experiences and challenged others to look back on their past and see if similar exposure to negative experiences produced the dreaded negative consequences that others harped about.

I personally contributed my own two cents about the evils of subliminal messages that our television networks very often indulge in. Subliminal messages are those that are often stealthily inserted into regular content to reinforce certain conclusions or points of view that the network or the show wants the audience to concur with. It’s a kind of conditioning. For example, an award-winning magazine show regularly flashes key words when tackling controversial episodes. These words purportedly summarize what is being discussed, but upon closer inspection are revealed to be partisan advocacy points.

We are in a country that is endlessly fascinated with show business, so it was expected that the network war would get dredged up as well. The relative successes and failures of GMA-7 and ABS-CBN in the areas of values development and in strengthening citizenship were analyzed and discussed. More examples of television shows that promote the crab mentality among Filipinos were cited as well as those that purportedly propagate “wrong” values.

What was really interesting was the seeming ease in which many among us accepted the accusation that we are guilty of crab mentality as a people, or worse, that crab mentality is a Filipino trait. It seems many are quick to believe that there is empirical basis for asserting that crab mentality is part of who and what we are as a people, citing that Juan Tamad story as proof.
I think we should be careful about making this kind of sweeping generalization. As my colleague Bobby Galvez pointed out, “the assumption that crab mentality is inherent and unique among Filipinos is a dangerous one because putting down other people to promote self interest has been a practice since ancient times. You can find examples of it in many world literature, from the Greek drama to Shakespearean plays to ancient and present Indian and Chinese manuscripts.”
Galvez asserted, and I agree with him that it is lamentable that many “ascribe negative behaviors to “Filipino cultural traits” when these are simply human frailties that should be condemned and discouraged.

Those contestants in the local version of Wheel of Fortune engage in behaviors that is indicative of the crab mentality not because they are Filipinos. They do so because they give way to certain human frailties, encouraged by commercial considerations.


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