Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Pusong Pinoy


This is my column today, August 26, 2014. 
We marked another cultural milestone Sunday night when the big winner of a local television show that claimed to celebrate and proclaim everything authentically Pinoy (thus the title of the show Pinoy Big Brother) was… a non-Pinoy!  Japanese-Brazilian model Daniel Matsunaga snatched the million-peso prize money and the title of being the ultimate Pinoy na nagpakatotoo (most authentic Pinoy).  There was much rejoicing… and as people came to their senses, the usual attempt at justifying and explaining what just happened.
I like Daniel Matsunaga.  In the few episodes of the show that I watched, he did seem like the most amiable and the most mature person on the show although it can certainly be argued that he probably had the most experience in dealing with different - and difficult - people as a model who had worked in countries not his own.  He was also, I think, older among those that were left in the Big Brother house.  And okay, the chiseled abs and the handsome face weren’t liabilities, either.  My reservations about his victory have nothing to do with Matsunaga the person.  I also don’t blame his fans and supporters.
But I am not sure ABS-CBN, the network that makes such a big to-do with being supposedly in the service of the Filipino people, should be commended for imposing on the Filipino psyche a tenuous definition of Pinoy identity for the sake of commercial considerations.  As today’s kids would say, anyare ABS-CBN (what the heck happened here)?
Matsunaga was supposed to have won on the merits of having manifested Pusong Pinoy (Pinoy at heart), an affectation that people grabbed and tossed around so conveniently, as if becoming Filipino or having the temperament and social identity of being Filipino was something easily accomplished.  I’ve always thought being Filipino was something even naturally-born Filipinos, have to live up to every day of our lives.  But like I said, it’s not Matsunaga’s fault; he probably does love being Filipino and genuinely wants to belong.  But we shouldn’t be so careless in ascribing national traits on public television.  More importantly, our media networks should be more discerning particularly when it comes to matters that have far-reaching implications on our fragile sense of nationalism.  PBB is a business project, but commercial considerations cannot be the only agenda.  There is more to television shows than just ratings and profit-making.  Even business needs to have a conscience.
The result of the voting Sunday night was a classic case study on how Philippine democracy works.  People were encouraged to vote based purely on emotional considerations and on commercial values that ABS-CBN promoted; the odds were heavily on Matsunaga’s favor.  As an international model, he clearly knew how to package himself.  Those in advertising would attest that a more direct link to the show’s title was afforded by the label given to him.  Someone with a Pusong Pinoy clearly had a more direct tie-in to the search than the shallow labels given to the rest.  In short, Matsunaga was a superbly crafted media creation.  And in this country, a media creation always triumphs in any election.  Someone with a better story creates greater emotional appeal, and media are more than happy to keep things at the emotional level.  Why bother with making people think, why go to great lengths poking people’s consciences, why make people struggle with difficult ethical dilemmas when there is an easy way out?  Media are content with promoting the easy way out which is to encourage people to simply vote with their hearts and guts, long-term consequences be damned!  So what if there were three others equally-deserving and probably more needy Filipinos in the slate, Matsunaga was Pusong Pinoy anyway, right?  The simplification rankles because matters of national interest are not as uncomplicated. 
Those who insisted that PBB was just a television show missed the bigger picture.  What happened last Sunday has far-reaching implications on matters of national preference, taste, and affections and those who should have known better in this country missed a great opportunity to deliver a powerful lesson on civics. 
I maintain that media networks have a strong responsibility to propagate a strong sense of national identity and nationalism.  I don’t mean that we should exclude foreigners and become xenophobic – but we must learn to strongly value our roots over global influences.  We must teach our kids to appreciate a more diverse and inclusive perspective, but we must make sure that we do not lose affection, and subsequently, preference for our own.  As a way of illustration, it is okay to make our kids appreciate foreign pop culture provided we go out of our way to show that our own pop culture is not necessarily inferior.  Given a slate of equal choices, we must teach our kids to pick Filipino, particularly when the Filipino choices are just as deserving and worthy.
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As I wrote, ABS-CBN has taken the ice bucket challenge out of social networking sites and into public television.  I hope people do not lose sight of the more important issue in the whole campaign, which is that it is about propagating awareness and understanding of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis which is degenerative motor neuron disease.  I think it is great that people are jumping into the bandwagon.  Whatever the motivations, I think the noble objective wins out in the end.  Let’s just make sure we do not forget the advocacy behind the ice bucket challenge.

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