Sunday, October 24, 2021

Alamon: Musings

I REMEMBER an interesting topic in a drinking session we had amongst academic friends many moons ago. The question was whether your respective discipline has been lionized in a movie or book character. It was to be a measure of the usefulness and positive regard that the public has over your discipline if one can cite a few cases. Otherwise, it’s either the field is outmoded and irrelevant or too esoteric in concerns to be of any use to society.

My archaeologist friends had a ready answer with the swash-buckling and popular Indiana Jones. Those from literature can tick off a few brooding characters who are writers in both film and novels. Even economists can cite the character of Russel Crowe in a film and claim likewise that they have beautiful minds. But to imagine Harrison Ford or Tom Cruise as sociologists has not occurred to Hollywood directors and scriptwriters as of yet.

In the local front, the Philippine movie industry is more imaginative or should I say more forgiving. Maryo J. de los Reyes’s “Saan Darating ang Umaga?” had Raymond Launchengco play the amiable but smart character of being Maricel Soriano’s boyfriend. Mind you, he essayed a role as a sociology student at the state university in Diliman.

He did not have action scenes and neither did he have steamy and hot romantic episodes with the teener Maricel. But he served as the silent witness to the breakdown of a family upon the death of the patriarch. In a way, he was the public’s special lenses to understand the effect of grief that resulted to the unraveling of a family.

It was a sympathetic rendition that captured the function of the discipline to the general public as the chronicler or as sage who can interpret the significance of personal events and relate these to the collective experience we all share.

This is the reason why it would be so hard to build an interesting character around a sociologist to drive a film. Most of the time, the actor would be chin-stroking while staring off into the void contemplating on the social events that have unfolded before him – that wouldn’t make for interesting cinema for most.

But he would make an interesting character in a novel where it is possible to follow the trace of a thought or an idea in the mind of a protagonist. Imagine that instead of car chases in movies, you can follow instead the exciting intellectual run-around of pursuing ideas. Some of these paths lead to dead-ends while others offer satisfying philosophical escapes that will bring us closer to understanding and then consequently changing the given state-of-affairs. To the best of my knowledge, no such book with a sociologist as lead character has yet been written.

It is therefore frustrating that the only space in the popular imaginary for sociologists is the very successful book by journalist Mitch Albom about his conversations with his former sociology professor. It is an inspiring book for many but lack the dose of critical sensibility and pathos that should accompany any discussion with a sociologist of value.

I wonder if the said book has quantitatively affected the enrolment figures of sociology departments all over. It is known that sociology academic units all over scramble for students to enroll in the discipline in order to justify their continued existence. The truth is that those who enroll in the discipline either have their course of choice shut out from them or that they remain lost and the open doors of the department was just ready to take them in. Which is a sad thing really, given what the discipline can offer to both young and old in a nation such as ours still finding its way through centuries of colonialism.

But the hope of the discipline actually lies on the shiftees and those who are converts from within who are smitten by the vocabulary of sociology. They are the ones who will remain and learn how to stroke their chin and stare into the void pondering on what ideas are healthy for society’s past, present, and future. These fellows will find a community of believers among their peers and copious amounts of alcohol will be spent debating on the merits of Marx and Foucault.

Marx once said that ideas are like chains to which one is tied. The fidelity to ideas that have captured one’s heart means that to wrestle away from them, also results in the breaking of one’s heart. As long as the practitioners of the discipline soldier on with this shared passion and maintain their commitment to its humanistic ideals today, I am sure the movies and novels of the society of the future will have a prominent place for a sociologist played by the Ryan Gosling of tomorrow.
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