Sunday Essay: Henry Golding, shirtless

Sunday Essay Cartoon by John Gilbert Manantan

SHE no longer remembers how many others were in the room, only that it was a public event, like a congressional hearing. On one side sat Nicanor Faeldon, the former Marine who, until recently, headed the Bureau of Corrections.

It seemed that Faeldon needed something retrieved from a shelf across the room and so he signaled for another man to get it. The other man stood up, and the woman watching quickly recognized him by his broad shoulders and high-wattage smile: Henry Golding, the actor who looks and sounds like he could play James Bond.

That’s when my mother woke up.

After a fit of age-inappropriate giggling, we tried to figure out why her dream had such a strange cast. Half of it was easy. In the last two weeks, my mother and I watched Crazy Rich Asians on HBO Asia once, but later caught parts of the movie again as the channel kept repeating it. There’s a scene where Golding takes off his jacket and shirt, and I remember telling my mother that a gratuitous shot of the actor’s abs was up next.

She disagreed. In a previous scene, the actor Constance Wu’s character did spill some wine on Golding’s shirt, so a scene of him changing the said shirt—and appearing shirtless briefly—was not gratuitous, but necessary.

My mother and I rarely argue, and mostly that’s because she’s not only the funniest but also the wisest person I know.

We wondered, though, about Faeldon’s supporting role. Sure, he has been in the news a lot in the past three years but my mother has consumed many other news stories that didn’t involve the former mutineer and ex-director general of the Bureau of Customs. For much of this past summer, she read and shared many stories that quoted some of the better-qualified candidates for the Senate—and even posed for photographs with three of them after a forum in Cebu City—yet not one of them ever appeared in her dreams.

What made the news stories involving Faeldon so powerful that my mother’s imagination dwelt on them enough to bring them up in her sleep? “At least,” she said, “it wasn’t (presidential spokesman Salvador) Panelo.”

Nearly 10 years ago, Christopher Nolan wrote and directed a movie about a future in which con men, spies and scientists can sedate another person, bring him into a shared dream and introduce an idea into his subconscious that would later cause him to decide or act in a certain way. My mother didn’t love Inception. I did.

Since then, we’ve seen dramatic events that showed just how vulnerable we can be to a kind of inception; how millions can make disastrous choices after being exposed to certain ideas that are powerful not because they rest on facts and reason, but because they match our own views and biases about how the world works. And we latch on to these ideas and messages because these are worded or presented in ways that trigger our emotions.

I have learned in the last three years to take a step back from news stories and opinions, particularly those shared on social media, that confuse or anger me. The easier part of the exercise is asking some basic questions: Who is the source of this news or commentary? What corporate, political or individual interests could be behind it? Will this matter next week, next month or next year? This way, I am learning to ration my attention.

The more difficult part of the exercise is learning to seek out people whose opinions run counter to mine and to listen to them openly, without suspicion or disappointment. That’s a work-in-progress.

As Cebu’s Press Freedom Week opens today, I am reminded of the writer Alain de Botton’s suggestion for facing the news. Stand too close to it and you will see only the confusing details—the brushstrokes, not the broad view. You have to take a step back for the true picture to reveal itself.


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