Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Protectionism and devotion

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

A number of local performers, among them singers Kuh Ledesma, Ogie Alcasid, Rico Puno, Nonoy Zuñiga, Marco Sison and others have been griping about what they perceive as unfair competition being posed by international artists.

Ledesma and company are talking about Janet Jackson, Taylor Swift, and others who are slated to hold concerts in Manila during the Valentine season. The concerts of Jackson and Swift are expected to be bestsellers because of their global celebrity status. In fact, tickets to Swift’s concert have been sold out as early as December. I am told that the tickets to Jackson’s concert is also quite in demand. And mind you, the tickets to the concerts are quite pricey: About P15 thousand for the best seats. The cheapest tickets are going for about two thousand each.

I am surprised that Ledesma and company are raising the issue of protectionism at a time when Filipino artists are finally penetrating the global market. Charice Pempengco, Arnel Pineda, Lea Salonga are just some of the Filipino artists who have successfully built a global following. There are actually quite a number of other Filipino musicians and entertainers who are also making waves abroad although may not have stars that shine as brightly as those of Pempengco, Pineda, and Salonga.

I was of the belief that international performers pay equity to local organizations every time they perform in this country. This is the system that is operating in most countries. If this setup has been discontinued, then local performers should fight for reinstatement. But to openly gripe about “unfair competition” and ask for preferential treatment such as zero taxes for local artists while levying more taxes on foreign artists? I don’t think so. As it is, tickets to concerts by foreign artists are more expensive in this country compared to our neighbors.

Martin Nievera, probably because he has had the opportunity to headline regular shows in Las Vegas, offered a divergent opinion: He said that local artists should step up the bar and improve their act to be comparable to international artists. I agree.

I strongly agree that some form of governmental support for local artists should be institutionalized. Many art forms are dying, gasping for precious breath—if not already dead. But let’s not do so while shooting down global artists in the process.

***

The garrulous retired bishop Oscar Cruz was quoted in many news reports the other day saying that the surge in the number of devotees who attended last Sunday’s procession of the Black Nazarene at Quiapo Manila was indicative of the increasing number of people in this country who are mired in poverty. I am not going to argue that the number of poor people in this country have actually decreased although some empirical data says so. The retired bishop’s observations strike me as rather incongruous because it is the Church who propagates that kind of devotion to begin with. More to the point, I think the retired bishop’s observations oversimplify the Black Nazarene phenomenon. To simply equate the religious event or the devotion to the Black Nazarene to poverty is a disservice to many.

As someone who was there in Quiapo last Sunday and in a number of processions in the past, I would like to ask the honorable bishop if he has personally witnessed the procession and planted himself anywhere near the heaving mass of humanity that attends the annual event. If he has, he would have noticed that most of those who attend are young people who come in groups and do so like it was tradition. Most of the supplicants ask for intercessions for sick family members or friends. I still have to meet devotees who actually ask the Black Nazarene for material blessings.

There’s a whole gamut of social, cultural, and even psychological context around the Black Nazarene phenomenon and it’s not just about religion or poverty. To many, it’s a passage, a coming-of-age ritual.

Besides, there is actually a much simpler explanation why more people went to Quiapo this year. It was a Sunday and there was no work or school. In addition, the weather was perfect—a little bit of rain.

***

Three readers reacted vociferously to my column last Monday on the supposed Boracay sex scandal. Their points of view were so diverse, I felt compelled to write about them.

Someone who identified himself as Celito Buhain wrote in to comment about what he says is “the increasing tendency of our media networks to sexualize and sensationalize our newscasts.” He questioned ABS-CBN’s real intent in taking footages of the tourists supposedly engaged in the sex act, wondering “if the tourists would have continued to do what they were doing if the media people didn’t take the footages covertly.” In short, isn’t it everybody’s job to ensure that public beaches like Boracay are kept “wholesome?”

I also have some reservations about media’s predilection to use hidden cameras, particularly in recording activities, which it later on sensationalizes. I am also aware that media’s role is to report events as they happen. However, like Buhain, I also wonder if media actually simply records and reports events as they happen. In many cases, media actually sets up the whole thing like a sting operation.

Another reader wrote to accuse me of being “ultra liberal-minded” and for “imposing my own liberal views on the general population.” I always find it amusing when people who write in to vehemently disagree with my opinions hide behind a pseudonym. This reader used the convenient handle “moral crusader.” Pray, what is wrong with being ultra-liberal minded? And as a columnist, I think my job description is to express opinions. I am not sure any columnist can be accused of imposing their views on other people—as far as I know, no one is forcing people to read my column.

But what struck me most about this reader’s tirade were the name-calling and the crude references to the sex act. He (or she) basically called me a “pig” that “wallows in the mud of sexual depravities.” Then the reader went on to prescribe certain sexual positions and acts that I should engage in supposedly to satiate my “filthy perversions.” How someone with such a malicious mind (not to mention familiarity with certain acts labeled as “filthy”) could fancy himself as a moral crusader is beyond me. Clearly, there are quite a number of people in this country who need lots and lots of growing up to do.

The third email I received in response to my column floored me. It was basically a tirade against Ruffa Gutierrez. The actress’s comments condemning the scandal were published in several news articles. The reader, Amante Garcia, basically reminded me that Gutierrez acted in various movies, which featured people cavorting and having sex in the beach. He even cited the titles of the movies. Garcia chided Gutierrez for having “temporary amnesia.”

What can I say, when the topic is about sex or sex scandals, people sit up and take notice.

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