I usually post my Philstar articles on a Sunday but my access to the internet these days is intermittent at best.
Humming in my UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
The Philippine STAR 01/28/2007
Iwas nine years old when I saw Neil Sedaka perform at the Araneta Coliseum, and I was mesmerized. There he was, a foreigner who did not look like his Filipino audience and did not speak the language except for the customary “Mabuhay!,” performing to his heart’s content to the infinite delight of his adoring fans. Immediately, I knew I wanted to be like him.
During APO’s very early years, we struggled to be heard. We were not an easy fit then. We were Atenistas, (a rarity in showbiz then), and hopelessly Inglesero. And in a field dominated and defined by performers who wanted to do covers and be the “so-and-so’s of the Philippines,” we were bent on doing original stuff. It was a long shot but we were enjoying ourselves and so we just plodded on.
But persistence paid off. Danny can still recall the exact moment around 1975 when, to our surprise and amazement, the girls of St. Paul College in Quezon City for whom we were performing actually started screaming when we came on stage. We had our first real fix of what it felt like to be known and admired. Through the years, the dosage would increase, sometimes a whole lot, and at other times, it would recede. But for the most part of these 34 years, the adulation has been there everywhere we’ve gone.
I have been a “famous” or at least a recognizable person among Filipinos for over 34 years now. That’s way over Warhol’s predicted 15 minutes, and I have mostly come to terms with all of its aspects, both wonderful and not-so-great. What I mean is, I am already comfortable with it most of the time. In the first 15 years, it was difficult since I was always self-conscious and felt that my privacy was being violated when people stared or approached me off-stage.
Fame is both a privilege and an imposition. You get a lot of respect, accommodation and freebies. Just yesterday, I met a Pinoy here in Sydney who was taking a cigarette break from his work in a restaurant. He recognized me and after chatting a few minutes, he gifted me with $20 worth of credit to use in any restaurant within the complex.
Many doors and opportunities have opened for me because of APO and I am grateful for them. But while it is an honor to be famous, it can also be a burden. An image can be a very tight straitjacket. It can be scary to speak one’s mind about unpopular issues much more to act in a way that can be misunderstood. Public people are supposed to live up to people’s expectations. My move to Australia, for example, was misunderstood and condemned by some who chastised me, an EDSA advocate, for “abandoning the Philippines.”
If one is too careful about preserving one’s carefully crafted image, he may find that he is no longer the person he has always wanted to be.
Through the years, I have tried to understand celebrity, why and how it happens. Perhaps it is because every human being aspires to make a statement in the world or to make an impact on life, and some people just seem to do this so much more eloquently than others. And so we end up admiring, even adulating them. The appeal is really inspirational. We may like what they stand for, and may want to emulate and follow them. I can think of Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa who have qualities and values that rock my world.
There is also perhaps the aspirational pull that celebrities have. We want to be like them, or as close to what they are as we can, because they seem to have it all. Thus we aspire to be as white-skinned, beautiful, thin, sexy or as cool as we perceive them to be. We want to talk, sing and act like them. So we eat the food they claim to eat, use the shampoo and facial soap they claim to use, support the love teams they belong to, etc. Their projected image is the self-image we aspire for.
Whatever the appeal of a celebrity, it boils down to the notion that our dreams are possible since we see our favorite celebrities living our dreams. We are affirmed by their being what they are. But more often than not, we are content to live vicariously, through the seemingly exciting and glamorous lives of the celebrities we admire.
There is another kind of fame, which nobody really wants. This is the notoriety obtained by public figures who get into the limelight due to scandal and negative behavior. Strangely enough, the public needs to have their punching bags. We need people whom we can criticize, ridicule, condemn and send nasty text messages about because they make us feel assured that we have not sunk as low in our own quest for happiness and social acceptance. Just as we tend to elevate ordinary mortals to godly status, we also enjoy cutting them down to size when they misbehave.
These days, the way to fame is quicker than ever. Fame is a commodity that almost anyone can access. But with media commercialism at its height, it is just as easy to fall as it is to rise in showbiz today. Compared to two decades ago, today, many celebrities last only as long as the proverbial flash in the pan. Here today, gone tomorrow.
But the stakes are much higher now. Fame is the magic ticket not only for access to the wealth that a career in showbiz can bring but also to political power. Look at all the showbiz people invading politics.
However, it works both ways. Being among the beautiful people has its rewards and so politicians too aspire to be among this crowd. Whoever it was who said that “politics is showbiz for ugly people’ couldn’t have said it better.
For those in the public eye, the hardest dictum to live by is the one from Marcus Aurelius who said, “To thine self be true.” One thing I’ve learned is, famous or not, I really can’t please everyone. But I can at least try to be true to myself.