once again social media Pilipinas and government officials are on the defensive, offended by references to Manila in Dan Brown’s novel Inferno. as i sit and read the novel — because there’s no other way to assess it really, but to read it — here’s something i wrote in 2010 for the now defunct metakritiko, about Filipinos and our inability to handle it when we are told some truth or other about us, and how we miss the point entirely half the time.
also this is what Cabinet official and MMDA Chair Francis Tolentino has said in response to Inferno:
More than your portrayal of it, Metro Manila is the central of Filipino spirit, faith and hope. Our faith in God binds us as a nation and we believe that Manila citizens are more than capable of exemplifying good character and compassion towards each other, something that your novel has failed to acknowledge. Truly, our place is an entry to heaven.
Let’s begin with the fairytale.
Because as far as literature’s misrepresentation of life, as far as questionable stereotypes and archetypes that inform our lives, as far as falsities and political incorrectness are concerned, I point a finger at that story.
Elsewhere in the discourse of representation though, the spotlight is on race. And while I understand its value, the reason third world Philippines is even part of this discussion is because of the ill-informed, and the not-well-read, it’s just sad.
Because in the context of this country being well-read is key to speaking about representation, which is to say that very few of us care for it. In fact, we are a minority that problematizes it, which means we are part of the same minority that reads and buys literature, the same one that’s removed really from those who suffer the stereotypes that are created by texts, about us in the Philippines, all over the world.
For example, who has really cared about racial slurs against Filipinos? Half the time, it’s a minority from the minority, i.e., it’s government that takes such offense, demanding apologies left and right, as if those slurs aren’t credible, or true. Case in point, when Teri Hatcher’s Desperate Housewives character wanted to make sure that her doctor didn’t get a diploma from some med school in the Philippines, was that not a valid concern? Do we not know of diploma mills in this country that churn out students, of medicine and otherwise year-in year-out, where skill and learnedness isn’t at all the point?
When BBC’s Harry and Paul showed the character of a Filipina maid doing a lap dance for her employer, what should’ve been offensive was the show’s portrayal of women, instead of the truth of the Filipina maid, yes? Had that been a Chinese maid or an African-American maid, would the Filipinos have stood up against that racial sluras a nation? Would the Filipina woman even care?
Of course not. Because in fact, Filipinos choose their battles, and can only deal with the easy misrepresentations, the more obvious (maybe more truthful?) jabs at our race, and we go crazy, demanding an apology, as if that is ever equal to respect. In fact, what we fail to see is that these things that offend us? We practically set ourselves up for this.
Because when Alec Baldwin said he’s thinking of getting a Filipino mail-order bride, he was obviously joking. But instead of laughing at the joke, we become the joke. After all, the most credible Senator-actor Bong Revilla aka Onyok Tigasin, said that there will be mayhem if Baldwin even thinks of visiting the Philippines. Revilla’s point? That the mail-order bride industry is illegal in this country. Why true, Mr. Senator Ben Delubyo, but that doesn’t mean it ain’t happening. Google it, dear Alyas Pogi, and you will see that the truth ain’t at all pretty, though some of those Filipinas are.
The truth is our issue with these racial representations of us by creative minds elsewhere in the world isn’t so much about what they say, but about what is. It is true that there are Filipina mail-order brides accessible online, there are Filipina maids all over the world, we have horrible schools in this country. And when we are unable to deal with why these exist and actually move towards changing it, we set ourselves up for these jokes.
Because even when we’d like to forget that Chip Tsao had in fact written something very funny, and we’d like to say that we are protecting the industry of domestic helpers that we send out to the world with pride, in the back of our heads what we remain to be offended by is the fact that we do this at all. Which nation in her right mind would be proud that her main exports are her people, that her new heroes are blue-collar workers doing unskilled work elsewhere in the world?
Does this mean letting the world write/speak/create perceptions about us as a race that are untrue? Does this mean just living with the stereotype of maid for the rest of our lives? Not at all. It means being more truthful about the myths we believe in, because once we call someone hero, that person is so up for scrutiny. And given the things we celebrate, we seem to be predisposed to failure in the face of that.
So Adam Corolla talking about how the Philippines is way too crazy about Manny Pacquiao? We have to admit that it’s so true, it can only be crazier to ask for an apology; it’s absurd if we don’t even think of the possibility that all that boxing hasn’t gotten his head all messed up. Or us all messed up. Look at that, he’s now a member of Congress.
Now if we can’t laugh at this sorry state of affairs, then soon enough some foreigner will.