Sunday, September 26, 2021

Maglana: Bae antics and cultures and arts

I FINALLY got to watch Alden Richards, he of the AlDub Nation and pambansang bae fame, do one of his bae poses one lunch break, and ended up expressing apprehension that the segment is now one of the leading means by which we are sustaining and creating Philippine cultures and arts.

Understand that this is not one of those everything-about-the-Philippines-sucks-and-I-am-more-educated-in-culture-and-arts-than-thou rants. I join others in saluting the efforts of the AlDub promoters and fandom to fundraise for Lumad education. But I confess that this writing is one of those that ask that we citizens take more than the usual few minutes of headshaking and harrumphing to express displeasure, and that we look more closely into what we can realistically do so that the cultures and the arts in our localities are more vibrant, affirming and dynamic rather than just reflections of the pap that mainstream television generally dishes out.

Understand too that I do not subscribe to a notion of culture as the vestiges of our grand past that we must keep pure. I hold more to the view that culture is the “…distinctive shared way of organizing the world that a particular group or society has created over time… manifested in artifacts (the things we make), behavior (the ways we act), and knowledge (what we believe and know about the world)” (Nolan, 2002). Nolan also said that culture is far from fixed, that it is “dynamic and flexible” and that “groups and individuals manipulate their culture and its symbols in interactions, constantly negotiating or redefining cultural categories, meanings and values”.

The domain is also inherently plural and diverse, no matter the effort of dominant groups to preserve the image of only one unifying culture. So it’s really cultures, as it is arts.

Back to Alden Richards, the issue isn’t that GMA is capitalizing on the good looks of Alden and the other mestizo and mestiza artistas in the show to sell ad time and product endorsements. The issue is that by doing so exclusively, without acknowledging other standards of beauty, TV networks reinforce the belief that dominantly Caucasian features are more superior to Malayo-Polynesian ones (the maputi/fair-skinned over the maitim/dark-skinned), and warrant the consumerist behavior of attempting to whiten complexions using cosmetics and drugs.

There are those who protest that it’s just harmless entertainment, something to while away the time. I grant that it is entertaining to the extent that it amuses us and diverts our attention from the stresses of everyday. But we should also recognize that it influences and reinforces cultures -- our knowledge and behaviour -- and privileges a particular set of people.

While not sweeping under the rug standing critiques about the whole pageant approach, I must say that some credit is due to the Davao City Government through its annual Hiyas ng Kadayawan for challenging the dominant beauty-as-mestiza paradigm by highlighting representatives from different indigenous peoples. Would that the Hiyas do more than the guesting and photo shoots in her reign as Ambassadress of the City. I’d like to see the next Hiyas have more interactions with the youth of Davao (who like other youth are bombarded endlessly by images and messages about what is attractive and desirable) and converse about beauty and popularity maybe, but also self-acceptance and actualization, and identity.

So, if we also get to make culture even as we are shaped by it, and if ATM with the Baes is GMA’s contribution to culture-creation (paralleled by ABS-CBN’s Ms Pastillas), it stands to reason that we citizens can also intervene and contribute to defining/redefining cultures, meaning-making and valuing. And I think we can do it better when we purposively work with local governments, cultural workers and artists.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) issued Memorandum Circular 2002-81 to encourage the creation of local culture and arts councils. The Davao City Government was supposed to have established its Coordinating Committee for Culture and Arts early on. However, the Committee has not been reconvened in recent years. The City is also known for other cultures and arts initiatives like the Museo Dabawenyo and the Kadayawan festival.

Davao is home to many cultural workers and artists, many of whom are nationally and even internationally recognized for their craft. Some have formed associations, like the Davao Writers Guild and the Davao Musicians Guild. As representative organizations, they are a natural point of contact for those who are seeking to work with cultural workers and artists not just for the promotion of their rights and interests, and the maintenance and advancement of cultures and arts, but also for harnessing better their contributions to the continued development of the city and its different communities. I think it is high time that the City Government reactivate the Coordinating Committee, engage the different groups of cultural workers and artists, and address cultures and arts in the two fundamental local development plans of the city.

It is disheartening to note that cultures and the arts fare poorly in both the Davao City Comprehensive Development Plan or CDP 2012-2021, and the recently updated Davao City Comprehensive Land Use Plan or CLUP 2013-2022.

In the sectoral analysis volume of the CLUP, the closest references to cultures and arts are under tourism as part of the economic sector where the five annual major cultural and tourism activities are cited, and sports and recreation under the social sector where “diminishing appreciation and practice of traditional sports and games and theater plays” is noted.

Also, it is of concern that culture gets exclusively associated with indigenous peoples; one of the objectives of the social sector in the CLUP is “protected and preserved cultures and rights of Indigenous People”. The same is observed in the CDP social sector mission statement which reads “recognize the right of the Muslim People and Tribal Filipinos to self-determination and to give due respect to their ancestral domain and their culture”. There are no other objectives about cultures and the arts in the Davao CLUP and the CDP.

It is unfortunate when cultures and arts get subsumed under economics and paired with tourism, or exclusively equated with a group, like indigenous peoples. It’s also problematic that Davao City’s long-term plans excludes other forms of cultures and arts like music, literary arts, visual arts, cinema, dance, architecture and cultural heritage, and only mentions traditional sports and games, and theater.

The registered voters of Davao City can make a push in the direction of addressing the above concerns by making them part of the 2016 electoral agenda. Voters in Davao, and elsewhere for that matter, should ask candidates what they know of, what their vision is for, and what they intend to do about cultures and arts.

On the matter of vision, one of the contributors to Davao’s cultures and arts scene recently passed away. Ben Fernandez promoted film appreciation to a generation of students in Davao City through the Society for the Advancement of Films in Education (SAFE) and was vital to the organizing of the Davao Musicians Guild.

Ben also advocated the establishment of the Davao Center for Culture and Arts (DCCA) that was supposed to coordinate with the LGU-created Coordinating Committee and other partners. His vision for the DCCA was to enliven the cultural life of the city by 1) encouraging and sustaining the production of artistic works by local artists such as those practicing traditional arts; 2) providing an appropriate place where they can exhibit and share their various talents; and 3) drawing up an arts agenda that will promote the works of Davao artists, awaken the appreciation for the arts on the part of the community, and invite other arts groups and artists not only from the island but from all over the world who will enrich the sense of art and culture of the Dabawenyos and interact with the local artists and arts groups.

I hope the vision of Ben Fernandez, and the efforts of the different cultural workers and artists of Davao City to define and redefine, and contribute to meaning-making and valuing through cultures and arts will gain their due attention and support, and not only the bae antics of Alden Richards.


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