Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Politicians as entertainers

This is my column today.

We already know that the line that separates show business from politics has long been blurred to the point that it has become difficult to distinguish politicians from actors. It used to be that people from one camp generally looked better, but one cannot be sure anymore these days. At any rate, I think that as far as the masa is concerned, there’s no difference anymore.

I am sure that this development does not bode well for the future of politics nor entertainment in this country. Ideally, the requirements for each specialization should be distinct. There must be more to becoming a good politician—assuming that trying to become a “good politician” is something one aspires for—than simply being popular.

As a result, we’ve been seeing a lot of showbiz people crossing over to politics and vice versa. As expected, the results have not always been insightful or entertaining. But we’ve all learned to take this perversion in stride because, quite frankly, there’s really not much we can do about it aside from hoping that our politicians, at least the ones that are perceived to have something else between their ears other than a cute face, to act more responsibly. This means not engaging in cheap antics that reinforce the perception that deep down inside themselves, our politicians are really frustrated entertainers.

Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Bayani Fernando is one of the very few politicians in this country who have earned the distinction of being a no-nonsense official. Say what you will about his authoritarian tendencies, his legendary stubbornness, or even about his seeming predisposition to be exacting and uncompromising but if there is something that makes him stand out from everyone else, it is the fact that he always means business.

You can therefore imagine my consternation when I saw him making a fool of himself as one of the contestants in the second season of GMA-7’s Celebrity Duets contest.

I know, I know. There is nothing inherently wrong with joining singing contests on television, especially if one has the talent. And I’d like to stress that Fernando does seem to have a singing voice.

But Celebrity Duets is hardly a singing contest in the strictest sense of the word. The singing is really just an excuse because what it is primarily is a comedy show. I know I am going to get it from a number of people, particularly from the people behind the show for saying this, but anyone who thinks that last season’s grand winner socialite Tessa Prieto-Valdez can carry a tune needs to have his head examined. Celebrity Duets is a variation of the reality television phenomenon where people are encouraged to make utter fools of themselves under the guise of building character or whatever other lofty ideals the organizers can conjure.

I can also appreciate humor where we can find it. God knows we can all benefit from a little entertainment every now and then—particularly of the type that makes us roll on the floor in laughter given all the difficulties we’re all facing. It also doesn’t hurt to derive some satisfaction from watching some politician blast into smithereens whatever is left of their stature by wearing atrocious costumes, gyrating and doing silly movements, and croaking on television. Doing these might even do a lot in terms of softening a stern image.

But for crying out loud, given the fact we’re already scraping the bottom in terms of public perception of the overall probity, respectability, and earnestness of our politicians do we really need to see the MMDA chairman reducing himself to a caricature on public television?

A number of people see politics behind Fernando’s decision to join Celebrity Duets. The man is rumored to be harboring a moist eye on the highest seat in the land and there’s a need to soften his image, particularly among the masa who see him as a dictator of sorts. There is no doubt that this foray into absurdity will endear Fernando to many people. It’s not everyday that one sees an exalted government official dueling with the likes of Melanie Marquez, Joey Marquez, and Cory Quirino for the distinction of filling in the frilly shoes of Tessa Prieto-Valdez.

Fernando’s antics last Saturday came across as cute. He looked like he was having a rollicking great time warbling “Macho Guapito” with singer Renz Verano complete with some awkward choreography. It was entertaining, albeit in a grotesque way.

But at the end of the day, we need to ask some sobering questions. Is this the way we want to see our leaders? Do antics like these contribute to creating a positive image of politics and politicians in our country? Have we reached that low point when the best we can expect from our leaders is entertainment?

***

For the second Monday in a row, we took respite from our usual tribulations on account of two national holidays both celebrating heroism.

Although Ninoy Aquino has still to be officially proclaimed as a national hero, I think very few would dare contest the great man’s claim to the distinction. It’s been 25 years since he was felled at the then Manila International Airport and the memory of what he had done for this country has been clouded by time and lack of concern to perpetuate his legacy.

Thus, it is heartwarming to note that certain sectors are valiantly trying to reawaken the national consciousness to the need to resurface the spirit of Ninoy Aquino today in our lives. Seeing yellow ribbons once again all around Metro Manila was a welcome sight and brought back powerful memories of that exhilarating period in our history when love for country was palpable.
Unfortunately, yellow ribbons are not enough. And t-shirts that show stylized renditions of Ninoy Aquino’s famous eyeglasses hardly do the trick. I concede that there’s a need to come up with stylized artwork that would appeal to the current generation, thus, there may be some wisdom in coming up with those stylized renditions of Ninoy Aquino’s eyeglasses as artwork for t-shirts. But they’re not enough.

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