Sunday, December 07, 2014

Hype vs substance

This is my column today, December 7, 2014.


I have learned never – as in never—to believe celebrities when they endorse films that they, or their friends star in, or are part of.  For example, when certain celebrities would proclaim on public television that their latest “film” is their best work so far, or that it offers valuable lessons in life, or when they stress that they have never before invested as much effort or emotions or resources as they have done on the film that they are promoting - I make a strong resolve to avoid that particular film. 
Experience has taught me that the actual quality of a movie is inversely proportionate to the level of hype heaped on it by people who are part of it. I prefer to hear directly from disinterested people who have actually seen the film, and yes, these exclude overzealous fans who shriek in front of TV cameras and sing paeans regardless of the quality of the movie or the performance of the stars they worship. 
There was a time in the past when I would still make exceptions for people that are somewhat renowned for having something else between their ears other than pretty faces.  Not anymore today.  The problem is that even talk show hosts, news anchors, reporters, radio disc jockeys, etc, have already gotten into the act of making money from all kinds of endorsements.  Today, entertainment writers need not write about films anymore to “promote” them.  Everyone else with some celebrity status has jumped into the bandwagon.  Everyone is promoting or endorsing something.  
Sadly, the same phenomenon has started to seep into the publishing world, thanks to the growing number of celebrities who have become authors, seemingly overnight. 
I don’t have objections about people who use their celebrity status as platform to push certain advocacies; in fact, I do admire people who put their popularity in the service of some great cause.  I also agree that since we live in a democracy, people should be allowed to pursue their dreams and aspirations, including publishing their own books.  However, there is an important caveat that should be followed:  People should not make false claims about their work or their output.  That’s not just tantamount to fooling people, it’s really prostituting one’s celebrity status. 
I don’t have anything against celebrities who write books.  They can write as many books as they want and publish as many as they wish.  However, they should stop proclaiming on public television that their books are the metaphorical equivalent of God’s gift to mankind particularly if the books in question are really nothing but a scrapbook of random ideas, most of them half-baked.  I am not even going to talk about measuring up to certain standards of style because, well, there’s just no accounting for taste.
I read most anything, or at least try to.  And I encourage kith and kin to read as well.  To encourage my kids and my nephews and nieces to read regularly I bring them to bookstores and pay for books they like on condition that they actually read what they pick up.  I also end up reading what they buy – and these are mostly books some celebrities recommended.  Believe me, most of those “books” written by radio disc jockeys and media personalities, are hardly worth the paper they are printed on.  Some of them are actually a collection of other people’s ideas, which makes one wonder why the authorship of these books is attributed to the celebrity “authors.” 
Unfortunately, it truly is difficult to argue with success.  Many of these books are best sellers, thanks to the propaganda machines of our media networks and the efforts of people who lend their celebrity status to commerce.  The end result is that media empires become richer while we continue to dumb down our population.
Having said all of the above, I do want to take the effort to commend blogger and TV personality Bianca Gonzalez for at writing a book that shows a great deal of thinking and effort.  Paano Ba ‘To: How to Survive Growing Up is an earnest, sincere, and in the end, noteworthy effort.  It’s a book that is worth reading because Gonzalez does not have pretensions of being intelligent or a great writer and therefore does not hit people on the head with ponderous prose and insights. And there’s really a lot one can sink his or her teeth into in the book, it actually has substance beneath the seemingly light touch, so in the end one does not feel shortchanged for picking it up and coughing up hard-earned money for it.  One wishes other celebrities were as forthright and as sincere as Gonzalez.

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