In times of crises pop culture provides the best of distractions. I’m not one to think this deliberate—popular and media cultures are far too complex to be controlled and dictated upon by the powers-that-be. But certainly that doesn’t remove the possibility that a government-in-crisis will use the popular, controlled and otherwise, to distract a citizenry that is finally angry and now growing impatient. If I were in their place, I would take what I can get.
Luckily for PNoy, there’s plenty to distract us with. There is local cinema, which has become a worthy distraction given the two recent filmfests: one the government’s Film Development Council of the Philippines’s Sineng Pambansa, the other privately-sponsored CineFilipino. Tried but failed to see all films from both filmfests, but what I saw were enough to warrant a stretch of non-pork-barrel and non-Zamboanga-war statuses on Facebook, and tweets.
There is, too, The Voice Philippines (puhlease let go of the “Of The”) which has provided us with the most memorable performances from lesser known singers and musicians, especially from the ones who didn’t make it to The Finals. You’ve also got Lea Salonga as judge, which is always interesting because she’s more honest than what we’re used to.
There’s “My Husband’s Lover,” the first primetime soap opera that actually deals with homosexuality and love, almost at the end of its run and still getting enough viewers to warrant a huge farewell concert with its lead stars.
And did you hear the Tourism Secretary taking pride in Katy Perry’s new video because it shows an image of Taal Volcano? Yipee.
This government need not try so hard though. Because it’s got Kris Aquino. Move over Katy Perry.
Because one can always depend on Kris for some distraction, no matter how fleeting. And while before it was easy to get herself on the evening news (and every other talk show in between) via some tried and tested love and/or marriage problems, now it takes so much more to get some mileage. Or so it seems.
Say, her six-year old son being paired up with child star Ryzza Mae Dizon, where the latter’s humility shone through the superficiality of the conversation. What with questions about boyfriends and girlfriends, about cars and wealth, all of which Ryzza was wont to dismiss; all of which seemed to have been important not just to Kris but to her son, too. Were I a child psychologist it would be a fascinating case study.
Ah, but nothing beats instagrammed photos of Kris riding the MRT, because traffic on EDSA was just so bad, she didn’t have a choice. So she falls in line for the train, and has her photo taken. Then she gets on the train, and gets a photo taken. Then she decides to feature public transport on her daily show, if only to drive home the point: the MRT and LRT are government-subsidized trains, and look at how wonderful my experience is!
Imagine the amount of money government spends on keeping this service the way it is. Which is of course to ask: how much of Kris’s MRT experience is actually like the every-woman’s experience of the daily commute?
Certainly she didn’t need to elbow her way into the train, and neither did she have to experience getting into a carriage so full one can be be crushed by the multitude of commuters. Kris didn’t experience needing to pee and finding that the MRT restrooms are far from ideal. She didn’t have to worry that if she got onto the non-women-only carriage with all those male passengers, that it would be a signal that she doesn’t mind being harassed.
Kris did not go through the everyday harassment that most women who commute have to deal with, no matter what they wear, as long as one runs into the every-man who decides he can power trip. She cannot know how scary it is to travel the streets at night, especially if you’re a woman, where the train stations aren’t brightly lit; even less so the streets that you need to walk when you get out of the station.
There is no safe way to get a photo of oneself on the train, at the time that Kris was on it. In fact there is no safe time in the evenings to take out one’s cellphone for a photo, and certainly one doesn’t commute with a huge smile on one’s face. Unless of course one travels with nary a sense of one’s surroundings, when we throw our fears to the wind and decide that we shall let things happen as they must? There is no going up the flight of stairs of the MRT or LRT and missing the stench of the city. There is no walking this city without clutching one’s bag closer to one’s body. The city is a scary place, the trains, too.
But Kris doesn’t know that. And that image of her smiling widely while riding the MRT is absolutely political because it is deceptive. It deceives nation into thinking that commuting and using the trains give us reason to smile. It makes us all imagine commuting to be easy, and safe, when it is far far from it, especially for our women.
And then we remember that PNoy has been insisting on letting go of government subsidy of the trains, and having passengers shoulder that government subsidy by hiking up MRT / LRT fares.
There is no innocent posting of a photo on instagram here. Neither is there any humility. And no, there is no naivete. If there’s anything we’ve learned from Kris’s kind of celebrity culture, it’s that there is nothing that comes out that is not to her liking, no matter how it seems to be detrimental to her career and / or public persona.
That these photos were on her own instagram accounts tell of the kind of narrative that is being written by her, by her. Now that this narrative provides Kris’s brother’s government reprieve, if only for those so many minutes
that the public will comment on her photos, or read a piece on her, or watch a video, is no coincidence.
It is a measure of these times that Kris’s antics don’t get the mileage they usually would. And that is a great thing.
We might all do well to be consistently critical, especially when we know that half the time, in a time of national crisis, Kris is the one who is suddenly on the evening news.
It is said that a measure of how bad things are in America is how fantastic and out-of-this-world its Hollywood movies are – the better to distract nation with. Here all we have is the absurdity of Kris Aquino.