Monday, April 19, 2010

Dealing with bashers

This is my column today.

Are we really simply a bunch of oversensitive humorless bleeding hearts who take offense at the most innocuous comments, or on the contrary, the problem is precisely that we do not assert ourselves enough, that we have gotten used to being ridiculed, embarrassed, humiliated in the global stage that the bullies in this world have an easier time dissing us in public?

Or should we just take some comfort from the fact that the problem is not really us, or any other minority or third world people for that matter; the ones with the problem are the racist, bigoted, prejudiced haters in this world who pick on others just because they think they are entitled to it? I have been mulling these questions in my mind in the last few weeks on account of that recent Adam Corolla incident.

In case you have been so engrossed on the goings-on in the local political campaign scene and have therefore been blissfully unaware other things happening in the world, it’s essentially another case of someone who tried to be glib, funny and smart-alecky, failed dismally, and instead managed to insult many people, in this case, Manny Pacquiao and Filipinos in general.

To be fair though, Corolla already apologized to Manny Pacquaio and to the Filipino people. Pacquiao readily accepted the apology. Some people insist that we should let the matter rest already since Corolla has apologized even if the apology seemed halfhearted.

When I discussed the issue among some colleagues of mine, the opinions were divided. Some thought that the best response was to ignore the ranting—in essence, not to dignify something crass. Some felt that the better response was to give the guy the metaphorical equivalent (all right, some thought being literal was more appropriate) of a whopping punch on the face. The first reaction, of course, was “sino ba tong Corolla na to, sikat ba siya?” (roughly, is this Corolla worth our time?). This knee-jerk reaction is actually very common and this was representative of many of the comments in the blogosphere relating to the issue.

The sad thing is that this reaction is no different from the very stimulus that people are protesting against to begin with: That some people are not worthy of our time, that the value of one’s statements or the worth of one’s opinions is measured by one’s popularity or achievements in life. By dissing Corolla and his background, or lack of global popularity, we’re essentially doing what he did to Pacquiao and the Filipinos in general when he said, in essence, that we are bunch of ignorant, stupid people whose fortunes are dependent on the fate of one boxer with dubious capabilities.

Corolla’s recent tirade against Filipinos was not an isolated case of Pinoy bashing. We had quite a string of them in the recent past including that unfortunate episode in that television series Desperate Housewives and that satirical piece written by a Hong Kong columnist.

A standard defense has always been one of sincere intent not to hurt. In the case of Corolla, he tried to justify his verbal diarrhea as “brand of humor.” In the case of that Hongkong columnist, the defense was writing style. I find this defense pathetic. It’s like saying that if I don’t understand something, it is my fault. Well, excuse me. While I do believe the reader or the audience has some responsibility to try to understand the message the main responsibility still lies with the writer, artist, or speaker. Otherwise, it’s really just intellectual snobbishness or personal gratification; one may as well write or do podcasts or produce radio shows purely for one’s enjoyment.

However, I think that we need more rational and effective responses to cases like the Corolla incident. At the individual level, we all must do something to correct wrong perceptions about ourselves as a people and as a country. But we also need to put in place national programs that propagate national esteem—it’s really about time that we purge ourselves of all the negativity and all the baggage that we seem to carry as a nation and as a people.

***

I’m writing this piece in Davao City where I wish I could take up residence in—at least for the rest of the summer months. I arrived here Thursday early morning last week not expecting any respite from the sweltering, blistering, scorching punishment that Metro Manila - and I am told Luzon—residents have been subjected to since February. Truth be told, I didn’t want to come here because I figured that if I had to suffer more of this oppressive summer heat I would want to do it in the comforts of my home where there is at least air conditioning, readily available refreshments, and reliable company.

But surprise, surprise! The temperature in Davao City has been averaging 34 degrees. There was even a downpour Thursday night—a major one at that which got some streets flooded. Friends tell me it has been raining here almost every day. I cannot tell you what a relief it is to see rain falling down in torrents from the heavens, to feel rain on one’s face and skin, to hear rain beating down tin roofs. The cool breeze created by the rain is also refreshing in a different way precisely perhaps because the experience is multi-sensory.

As we sat there picking on the remains of the tuna meal (very fresh in Davao, of course), we all prayed that the rains would soon come to Luzon and Metro Manila if only to replenish the dams which produce water for Metro Manila and its environs. I have been writing about the need for more information and education campaigns about the need to conserve water not only during the drought season but all throughout the rest of the year because I am convinced that water is the next crisis. Unfortunately, I guess such an advocacy would rank low among the priorities of a third world country.

In fact, despite the dire warnings from the water concessionaires about an impending water shortage, people are still not conserving water. One only has to visit washrooms of restaurants and even those of buildings in the commercial district and will readily spot the many ways in which we continue to waste water. I jestingly called the attention of a neighbor recently about the fact that they were wasting a precious resource by watering their plants three times a day using a hose (she said it was necessary because the summer heat was taking its toll on her precious plants) and she responded— partly in jest but I know there was some honesty in her answer as well—by saying “let’s enjoy it while it is still available.”

This got me thinking that perhaps this feast-or-famine attitude is more entrenched in our culture than many of us would like to believe. Many Filipinos do have this penchant for enjoying anything and everything to the max while it is there; consequences be damned. Thus, many Filipinos would rather feast for a day even it means subsisting on virtually nothing for the rest of the month. So perhaps all this urgent appeals for people to conserve water to stave off a shortage is producing the opposite effect. Instead of getting people to act wisely, it is encouraging people to go out and splurge.


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