Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Soap opera

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

Sometimes it seems to me that we’re all living in a soap opera in this country. The situations we often find ourselves in are surreal and the level of histrionics is often unbelievably, well, soap operatic. There are times when we half expect certain people in power to publicly break down in tears and start spewing cinematic dialogues—oh wait, these have, in fact, happened!

Take the case of the current travails of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. This long drawn-out drama has been hogging the headlines for quite some time now and the twists and turns of the real-life controversy have become even more complicated than the average soap opera.

If we are to believe Gutierrez, she is the hapless victim in the whole sordid chain of events. She is supposed to be the suffering heroine whose rights have been and continue to be mercilessly trampled by the oligarchs in this country. Of course she claims to be innocent and righteous. Her loyal supporters, which incidentally count everyone in the Office of the Ombudsman, insist that Gutierrez does not deserve the kind of treatment she has been getting from almost everyone lately. They have hung huge banners proclaiming their support for Gutierrez, one such banner covering practically the whole façade of the huge imposing edifice that serves as the seat of power of the Ombudsman.

On the other side of the fence are the accusers of Gutierrez who, as can be expected, paint the Ombudsman as the witch that holds prey in her gnarled hands the very concepts of justice and progress and practically everything else decent and right in this country. In fact, there are those who insist that this country will not be able to move forward unless this current Ombudsman is taken out of office. The President himself has let loose the proverbial dogs in Congress to go after Gutierrez.

A subplot that has added further complications to the whole soap opera is the fact that the matter of whether Gutierrez can be impeached or not was still on appeal at the Supreme Court when the proceedings were resumed. There was a time in this country when actions pertaining to contentious issues were put in abeyance pending the final decision by the proper authorities. Thus, parties in a highly contested litigation observed the status quo until their case was decided on with finality and this usually meant going all the way up to the Supreme Court. People waited and allowed the other party the right to exhaust all legal remedies before they go for the kill. Apparently, this is not the case anymore today. Our lawmakers, and the President himself, teach us by example that there is no more need to wait for the Supreme Court to issue a final ruling before they start officially skewering a person in public.

As if these were not enough, there’s also the other subplots involving conspiracy theories about how certain congressmen are using the impeachment process to sanitize themselves as they themselves have pending graft cases in the Office of the Ombudsman. It’s all very engrossing and admittedly entertaining; if only all these weren’t so damaging to the country and to our collective mental health.

This particular soap opera will reach yet another high point this week as Congress goes through the motion of submitting the articles of impeachment to the plenary for voting. We all know it’s a formality, of course. Even Gutierrez has already conceded that it’s a done deal. The only reason we still have to go through the whole thing in a very public way is so that we can allow our leaders some precious moments on primetime to do their big dramatic scenes. The soap opera must continue. Abangan.

Still on the subject of soap operas, let me share with you that the very few times that I caught Mara Clara, the ABS-CBN tearjerker, on television (I eat dinner at our kitchen where the other people in my household converge to get their daily soap opera fix), I was so incensed by the level of villainy displayed that I made a mental note to write about it.

In case you have been blissfully unaware of it, an updated version of the soap that catapulted Judy Ann Santos to superstar status in this country is enjoying resurgence in local primetime television. This time however, the villainess Clara is a thousand-fold more cruel, devious, scheming and manipulative. The few episodes that I watched showed the character was made to do all kinds of evil things I actually wondered why parents allow children to watch the stuff.

It is easy to explain why the Clara character has to be so downright bad —this is so that the protagonist Mara’s character would shine in contrast. The more suffering she is made to go through the better to allow the actress to shed copious tears and make her character more endearing. Villains in soap opera are likewise portrayed as sexual predators who use their power to seduce leading men. One would expect that Mara Clara is spared from this stereotype because the lead actors are supposed to be in high school for crying out loud. Unfortunately, it seems the people in ABS-CBN truly don’t care about these things because they just had to include the love triangle angle as another complication in the soap opera. The problem is that this soap opera is directed at a very young demographics—people who cannot yet fully distinguish real life from soap operas and this was painfully illustrated by a more recent “development.”

Last week, however, someone sent me a link on Facebook to a You-tube video of a little girl bawling her lungs out in front of a television set. She was supposed to be caterwauling over the “death” of Mara, the lead character of the soap opera. From what I gathered from the avid fans of the soap in my household, the character of Mara was supposed to have figured in a major explosion in one of the recent episodes and subsequently “died.” We all know of course that killing the lead character in a soap opera is a total no-no in the Philippines so it’s really all part of the efforts to further thicken the plot. Characters in local soap operas always get resurrected from the dead—it’s the most convenient way to resolve or unravel the most complicated complications. This matter of dead characters coming back to life has become a standard fixture in Pinoy television that almost every soap opera features the same guessing game at one point or another in its serial life: Is the character dead or alive?

But to get back to the point of this column, there was that little girl on You-tube immortalizing for all eternity the extent of her heartbreak over the death of her soap opera heroine. The fact that she was bawling her lungs out was already indicative of the kind of torture the people behind the soap opera inflicts on people; the fact that the little girl’s grief was recorded and posted in the Internet smacked of further exploitation.

But wait, there’s more. The video was actually featured in the newscasts of ABS-CBN! The network actually used the video of a little girl who was disconsolate because she apparently has not been taught the difference between real life and soap operas. It gets worse. The news story was actually an obvious plug for the soap opera, which is of course on the same network. It is truly amazing how low television people can get for the sake of ratings!

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