I have always been a believer in democracy. The clans I come from the Misas and Paredeses are intensely politically opinionated and have always had democratic leanings. A great many of us were anti-martial law activists. We expressed our indignation at the Marcos regime in various ways, to the point that members of my family were incarcerated.
Democracy, as EDSA and other events have shown us, is something we Filipinos have repeatedly and collectively expressed a desire for. There is a strong egalitarian constituency in our country that believes in equal justice and equal opportunity for men and women, rich and poor. And I think that is a good thing. Sadly though, while this constituency can be easily coaxed into voting for certain candidates in every election, it has been largely unserved by the candidates they elect, and by appointed officials. I must confess this makes me doubt my belief in democracy, sometimes.
Today, I want to talk about egalitarianism and democracy, not to extol, praise or defend them but to point out what I feel are their annoying flaws. While I have always chosen the democratic approach to everything, I have to admit that I can be a complete snob in many ways.
To declare oneself as a bit of a snob can hardly be construed as egalitarian. Visions of Marie Antoinette and her unguardedly contemptuous statement urging the masses to “eat cake” when there was not enough bread to feed the poor, easily come to mind. No, I am not in any way charmed by her insensitive rhetoric. But yes, I risk being misunderstood by declaring myself a snob at the outset.
One can be a snob in many ways. And some of them may be healthy. I am far from being of the bejeweled, perfumed elitists that often come to mind when we think of the word. But I am a snob when it comes to my taste in music, TV shows, food, or almost any craze that the rest of the world goes for. For example, I may initially like a song or a musical group or talent, but the moment the world discovers and goes gaga over them, that’s the kiss of death as far as I am concerned. I almost immediately distance myself and change my allegiance.
The easiest way to turn me off is to try and sell me something by saying it is the latest craze or fad. The only way I will subscribe to something is when I know I am one of the first to do so. So it is not hard to imagine that I was an early Mac user in a PC world and one of the first to have an iPhone, iPod, iPad and other such delightful gadgets. It’s not so much about brand loyalty but more of being ahead of everyone else in discovering the next big thing.
I am thankful that some of my favorite musical artists like Caetano Veloso and Joyce have not gone mainstream in the Philippines. Otherwise, I would have a hard time professing my undying love for them.
But being a professed snob notwithstanding, I can spot trends, and know quite often when something will make it or not. I can read trends even if I do not always subscribe to them. In politics, for example, I have been largely successful in predicting who gets elected, and knowing which issues will catch on with the public.
My annoyance with egalitarian practice is not that it gives the unconnected, nondescript poor the opportunity to join, participate and lift themselves up from poverty. As a matter of fact, I praise that and wish there was more of this going on in our democracy.
What gets my goat is the crazy idea that everyone, the unthinking, the idiotic, “even the dull and the ignorant” (as described in “Desiderata”) can have their voices heard, and yes, even taken seriously. Now, that can really make me want to rethink the idea of democracy. Just look at the chismis shows and much of the stuff on TV. On cable, there are the Jerry Springers, Howard Sterns and a lot of what passes as entertainment or what is supposedly “media-worthy.” Ironically, the hallowed concept of freedom of expression can and often manifests as shock TV, scandals and hyped-up mediocrity. It belies the value of democracy as a noble system of uplifting the masses, portraying it instead as a circus attraction.
The people we really need to be hearing from, the unique and exceptional talents, crystalline thinkers, creators of astounding beauty, and people with deep but practical perceptions are exceptions in every society, whether democratic or not, and are hardly ever heard. They are the precious grains taken from tons of chaff. They are society’s crown jewels. In short, they are the true elites, rare and valuable human assets whose gift of brilliance should be shared with everyone. Do you see many of them in media? Of course not.
Media executives will point out that there is little demand for them. The media have long subscribed to the monetary value of the shallow circus masters than the cultural value of the true elites who have something great to contribute. The result is that ordinary viewers can now hardly recognize TV fare that can elevate.
In other words, they have been anaesthetized into a stupor that they can hardly detect, much less appreciate good taste, breeding, intelligent points of view when they encounter them. I once asked a top TV executive who was so ratings-driven that it hardly mattered to him how shows in his station were selling warped values if he would give Jesus a show were He to suddenly show up. He looked at me with great annoyance and disdain.
While a circus may be entertaining, it would be good to balance this with exposure to other kinds of shows, books, ideas, events that stimulate the spirit, mind and senses and give audiences a higher sense of awe and thus be inspired.
I say give the “elites” more exposure. We should be hearing and watching more of them. We need people who are distinguished because of their depth of intelligence and talent. They have something important to share that can change and elevate us. They are the salt of the earth. They spice up our lives.
We need more people like Cheche Lazaro and Winnie Monsod. More National Artists exposed on TV. More museums, libraries and less malls. More servant leaders like Jesse Robredo and Leila de Lima instead of the trapos that inhabit many government posts. We need elites from the academe, showbiz, arts, politics, media, sports and religious sectors to expand our sense of what is possible for us as a society and as a nation.
“Each honest calling, each walk of life, has its own elite, its own aristocracy based on excellence of performance,” wrote James Conant. And I appreciate democracy when it does exactly this. I am hoping more Pinoys become “snobs” and show appreciation for the brilliant and the true instead of the dubious, scandalous and mediocre elite. We must choose our icons and beacons if we want to go up notches higher than where we are now.
* * *
1) Jim Paredes 2nd Songwriting Workshop on Oct. 9 and 10 from 1 to 6 p.m. Fee is P5,000. Address is 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC.
2) Basic Photography Workshop on Oct. 16, from 1 to 6:30 p.m. Address is 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC.
3) Creative For Life: The Two-Day Run on Oct. 23 (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and Oct. 24 (1:30 to 5 p.m.).
Call 426-5375, 0916-8554303 and ask for Ollie. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions and reservations.