Thursday, November 05, 2009

MIxed feelings

This was my column yesterday, November 4, 2009.

The ad opens with dried leaves around a bonfire being swept by winds while the first notes of a haunting melody fade in. The camera then focuses on the burning flames, a resplendent conflagration of yellow, as a pensive Regine Velasquez—also in yellow, must I say it—begins to sing about the need for unity in these dark, difficult times.

What follows is a montage of shots of various celebrities in trademark yellow—from Sharon Cuneta, to Ai-Ai de las Alas, to Boy Abunda, to Kris Aquino, to Anne Curtis, to Ogie Alcasid (who wrote the song), to Dingdong Dantes, to James Yap and what looks like the Philippine Team (a friend cattily remarked that the only people missing in that ad were the Lopezes, the Gozums and Mother Lily Monteverde)—and people supposedly representing Filipinos from all walks of life passing on the flame from one torch to another until the whole landscape is ablaze with the fire of a thousand torches.

At various strategic points of the three-minute ad, the candidate wearing his campaign uniform comprising of a simple shirt with the map of the Philippines emblazoned in the left chest area is shown either passing on the torch to someone else, or leading the people in what appears to be a symbolic journey out of the woods and out of the dark. A fluttering banner with the faces of the candidate’s famous parents makes an appearance exactly at the point when the song mentions them (something about continuing the fight of Ninoy and Cory).

The ad ends with the candidate on top of a mound holding a torch on his right hand flashing his pearly whites while Regine Velazquez brings the song to a rousing close. The words Hindi Ka Nag-iisa is inscribed onscreen while the closing credits—a long list of people, groups, and institutions—roll quickly.

I didn’t know what to make of the ad. But it made history, that’s for sure.

The star wattage in that ad is formidable. In a country where celebrity endorsement is a major factor, being able to assemble that many celebrities, and from competing networks at that, already represents a singular achievement although it really smacks of traditional politician shtick. Kris Aquino is beaming proudly in that ad and I am sure it’s not just because the candidate is her brother. All anyone out there who still has doubts about the critical and major role the supposed Queen of All Media wants to play in her brother’s campaign needs to do is to watch the ad to be fully convinced. It has Kris Aquino written all over it.

On the other hand, the presence of too many celebrities tended to drown the message of the ad so much so that it came across as contrived and unnatural. As a result, the other talents—the ones who were supposed to stand for ordinary Filipinos—looked a bit sterile and the overall effect was too slick and glossy to really draw optimum empathy from viewers. It didn’t help that Noynoy Aquino still looked awkward. Obviously, Aquino is not a showbiz person and his discomfort was quite noticeable.

The ad also happened to be riddled with too many clich├ęs. I hate being a critic but the lyrics of the song are awfully hackneyed and redundant in some parts (kahit paligid ay madilim, iilawan and daan tungo sa magandang kinabukasan; kami ay kasama hindi ka mag-iisa, etc). The opening shot hearkening to the proverbial winds of change riffling through dried leaves is a staple feature in many movies. The lighted torches were not exactly original, or for that matter, an inspired idea. The thing with torches is that it reminds people very strongly of scenes in Filipino movies where the community gather to lynch an aswang. Of course it is possible that this was also the subliminal intent of the ad—we need to start a lynching process to rid ourselves of the numerous aswang in government.

Having said that, let me also state for the record that I think the ad is a much welcome diversion from the usual political ads of this electoral season.

While I do think that the ad wasn’t in any way subtle about what it wanted to say, at least it said what it wanted to say symbolically or metaphorically rather than hit us over the head repeatedly and directly with the usual messages of self-glorification.

Like I said, I have no illusions of the Aquino ad being subtle, but at least, unlike Manny Villar’s ads which tend to bamboozle us unabashedly with false claims of his rags-to-riches story, Aquino’s ad allowed images to bring home the message.

Unlike Chiz Escudero’s ads that remain inchoate and confused as his political ambitions, Aquino’s ad makes no bones about his intent to become President of the Republic.

I think that the ad succeeds in solidifying support for Aquino among those who have already thrown their support behind him. It’s an ad that appeals to emotions as it reprises the fervor of the people power movements. The lyrics of the song in fact trundles the same old slogans from Edsa One from hindi ka nag-iisa to kapit-bisig.

It might also work for people who are strongly convinced that the main issue in the 2010 Presidential contest is character as the ad reinforces the almost mythic packaging of Noynoy Aquino.

But I really doubt if the ad appeals to people who are still ambivalent toward Aquino’s candidacy. For people who still want to know more about Aquino—for example, where he stands in various critical and urgent issues of national import—I am afraid the ad does not really give any hints in this direction.

We already know that Noynoy Aquino is who he is because of the circumstances of his birth. The question that needs to be answered, really, is whether he truly is his parents’ son. This question requires answers that appeal to the intellect and to reason. And so far, Aquino’s camp has remained silent in this area. Hopefully, the succeeding ads will move toward this direction.

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