ambassador. — noun. 1. a diplomatic official of the highest rank, sent by one sovereign state to another as its resident representative. (via dictionary.com)
granted that diplomacy is what Boy Abunda has plenty of and “his ability to communicate ideas” is the soundbite that’s suppose to explain why he’s been appointed as Arts Ambassador. of course there are so many other people who do this just as well if not better: i can give you 10 names off the top of my head across culture and the academe. but most of them are not on TV, aren’t almost-sisters with Kris Aquino, and most of them will most probably be critical of government. and right there you have the REAL reasons why Boy has become Arts Ambassador.
it’s not that he’s extraordinarily skilled, or even skilled at this job at all. it’s that he’s the right friend at the right time. and you know what’s clear about PNoy: he is paying his debts. because this ability to speak that they say is Boy’s specialty? he’s a PR guy turned showbiz talkshow host, who can spin, if not wrap you around his little finger: this is every marketing person’s specialty. and this is not to look down on people who do PR; this is to be truthful about PR. it’s about selling, about making something look good, regardless of how bad it truly is. they should just put Boy in PR for the whole government: right there is where they need image boosting and fakery.
but for government to pay its debt to Boy in this way? it’s one that the arts and cultures sector of this country will pay dearly for.
this is not at all to question Boy’s abilities as talk show host, or as talent manager, or as PR person. this is to point out that Boy’s Arts Ambassador appointment is just depressing to those of us who are part of the creative sphere and know that it’s in the throes of suffering, of disregard, of neglect. this is to point out that there are countless people more deserving, more experienced, who have for years been at the forefront of and living and suffering within the arts and cultures sphere.
this sphere that has suffered long enough, because government just doesn’t seem to care about it. Boy is part only of TV and no other cultural production, unless you count his CD of life advice and advertising given his endorsements. this appointment is so telling of what this government thinks about arts and culture, how they imagine that someone who hosts on TV must be the best choice. it’s like saying that anyone who travels can be a travel writer, anyone who eats food a food critic.
which i understand, this uh, horrid dismaying presumptions about what is art and culture; after all Cory’s presidency didn’t just kill the local movie industry, it also put Kris on TV. but surrounded as PNoy is with advisers and writers who make him look good, surrounded as he is with people from the arts and academe, i thought we’d at least have a bunch of better choices for Art Ambassador.
now i’m the last person who will say that popular productions aren’t culture; but i’m also the first person who will tell you that TV is but a drop in the large river of art and culture that we create. the ability to interview people is an even smaller smidgen — katiting lang ‘yan ng kakayahan ng napakaraming manggagawang kultural na kumakayod sa Pilipinas araw-araw.
kayod. Boy did not have to work for this, and hasn’t really worked for culture all this time. i don’t know why the NCCA even believes that he is an “advocate for arts and culture” when in the years that i have heard Boy on TV with the equally noisy presidential sister, they have not once struck me as supporters of the local arts other than when one of Boy’s talents are part of a movie or show or photo exhibit, other than when it’s an ABS-CBN / Lopez cultural empire product.
they will talk about a Cory exhibit, but really talk about Cory and not the art; they will mention art and photography, but only when ABS-CBN talents are its subjects; they will mention a book, but not once have I heard them talking about Philippine literature; they will give you a list of the books they love but it is rare if at all that this includes a local author; they will talk about movies and it’s always just Star Cinema films, or Regal Films depending on whether or not Kris stars in it, and then the rest of the time it’s Hollywood; they will talk about foreign designer clothes in the midst of a sea of local designers; Boy will endorse a foreign book, one that talks about God, which of course already limits the realm of arts and culture that he can even begin to wrap his head around.
and this realm, IS HUGE, just in case it isn’t being realized at all. arts and culture in this country is a diverse dynamic world of crisis and contradiction, and in the ideal world an Arts Ambassador would include all of that — all of us — in his vision.
this is not about reading Maya Angelou (who Boy always quotes, goodness gracious). this isn’t about watching Oprah all the time and copying her interviewing style. this is not about supporting one or two or three Pinoy designers for one’s clothes. this is not at all about watching Pinoy TV and film and being a fan of it. this is not about studying for a post, which he promised he’d do when he said no, not yet, to a government post.
this is about having read our Filipino writers all this time, and having a sense of what ails the publishing industry. this is about keeping track of what’s going on in the academe, in the arts and culture it churns out, and seeing what ails our intellectual production. this is about watching plays and going to art exhibits, watching all of TV and not just ABS-CBN, going to the movies mainstream and indie, and seeing how much more — how so much more — can be done to spread that wealth around. this is about knowing the regions and seeing particular pockets of arts and cultures in languages as diverse as there are islands. this is about not being indebted to anyone — anyone at all — and being responsible for the kind of cultural products you yourself produce.
because as Arts Ambassador, Boy’s own productions come into play. as Arts Ambassador it is respect and credibility that are difficult to earn, locally and internationally, given the diversity and division, given the lack of a clear Pinoy identity and agenda.
but here you have an Arts Ambassador indebted to the greatest cultural empire this side of the earth, which disallows unions and illegally dismisses its workers. he sells — is endorser of — a mobile service provider, detergent, corned beef, pineapple juice, a beauty center, writer for a particular newspaper and magazine, and is in TV shows only on ABS-CBN 2. this in itself is replete with bias, and a limited view of what else is there about culture, about the arts.
and i won’t even go into becoming laughingstock of the bigger international world of arts and culture. not just because of the fact that our arts and culture ambassador is a, uh, product endorser but more than that because when and if they Google him what they’ll see is this:
and a photo for what is a hypothetical show that regardless, appears on Google:
ladies and gentlemen, our Arts Ambassador, the guy who will face guests, art practitioners, cultural ambassadors all over the world at the up and coming Philippine International Arts Festival!
you can tell i’m excited.