The need for new stories

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
The Philippine STAR 02/25/2007

To poison a nation, poison its stories. A demoralized nation tells demoralized stories to itself. Because of the story-tellers who are not fully conscious of the importance of their gifts, and who are irresponsible in the application of their art: they could unwittingly help along the psychic destruction of their people. — Ben Okri

That’s a quote from a tiny book called Birds of Heaven given to me by a reader in New York.

This makes me shudder as I ponder all the negativity I encounter each day in the newspapers, television, radio, and from people I talk to. Too many stories abound about defeat and pessimism in the Philippines, about corruption and the hopelessness of our politics, about how we are morally flawed in character. There’s just too much pettiness, frivolity, vapidity, cynicism, and too little of anything of value to pick up.

It hasn’t always been like this. There was a time when we could trust the media, and we felt safe in our cities and our neighborhoods.

There was a time when stories about ourselves were illuminating and truthful and they nourished our sense of well-being, who we were, and what we could be when we were at our best. We still see traces of these occasionally but they are too few and far between.

Think of EDSA. That was a time when we felt very good about ourselves as a people. Lately, there have been stories about Manny Pacquiao and other Filipino sportsmen who have brought home glory for us to savor. But sadly, we’ve gotten so used to our diet of low self-esteem, that even when such triumphs happen, we tend to think that they are mere exceptions to an otherwise depressing rule.

As I find myself deluged by all this negativity and the accompanying vexation, I question whether the situation is truly as it is reported. Are we really condemned to hell at worst or to mediocrity at best? Are we in a spiral of self destruction? Some of us will cite many good, ample reasons to believe so. But even if a lot of our countrymen seem to be so defeatist, we don’t have to follow them. We have a choice to take another route, the higher road. We always have a choice.

I always go back to what Anais said: “We do not see the world as it is. We see it as we are.” So much of what we read about, listen to and observe about our world does not reflect how things necessarily are, but how they are seen by others who have become jaded and stuck in a negative mindset, and who see nothing but hopelessness.

I remember a conference I attended many years ago in Amsterdam on the link between entertainment and education, where a speaker gave a presentation about how tales of heroes, myths, fairy tales and folk stories actually create or help shape the identities of nations or groups of people. During the Q&A, I asked what it meant if a people were fixated on heroes who had been martyred. I had in mind Ninoy, Rizal, Macliing Dulag and other martyred Filipinos. The speaker’s response gave me goose bumps.

She said that ideally, a people should also have heroes who have grown old and lived a full life. Otherwise, according to her, there would be something sorely missing in a society or culture. She said that some heroes must actually live long enough among their people in fulfillment of the “promised land” that they had fought for, and not just represent some visualized utopian future.

One example of such a hero is Nelson Mandela, who continues to be an icon in South Africa and the world. He is a gift to humanity for the story he has lived and continues to live. In contrast, there are societies that are forced by circumstances to almost exclusively hold up suicide bombers as their present-day heroes to emulate. The promise of their deaths is fulfilled in the hereafter or in some faraway future that may never happen.

Ben Okri put it very well when he wrote, “Unhappy lands prefer utopian stories.”

Here’s another quote from Okri:

Nation and peoples are largely the stories they feed themselves. If they tell themselves stories that are lies, they will suffer the future consequences of those lies. If they tell themselves stories that face their own truths, they will free their histories for future flowerings.

Let’s look at ourselves and at the stories that fascinate us. What can we say about a nation that is obsessed with adolescent love stories, Korean telenovelas, tele-fantasies, chismis and game shows? According to screenwriter and director Joey Reyes, the revival of the ’70s soap Flor de Luna is a sad example of the state of affairs of the media in the Philippines. He laments that the three greatest no-nos in the media today are innovation, identity and growth.

A running argument I have with some media bigwigs is why they continue to feed their audiences with mediocrity, or worse, stuff they won’t even allow their own kids to watch. Perhaps to justify their actions, shut me up and end the argument, I have been told brazenly that it all boils down to their assessment that, “Tanga ang Pilipino.”

But isn’t this the same audience that responds positively to excellent world-class shows and movies like Lord of the Rings? I have begun to seriously wonder if our society, mired as it is in mediocrity, would be able to spot a Shakespeare, a Rizal or a Gandhi if they were reincarnated in our milieu.

As we approach the 21st anniversary of the EDSA revolution, my thoughts turn to heroes, and what kind of examples we need at this time. We have proven time and again that we are ready to march, and at times even die for our country. We praise those who have died for democracy, freedom, justice, truth and all the good things we want to have in our lives. But maybe what we need at this time are living heroes who are ready to stay the course long enough to overcome the vicissitudes that plague our national life, and to march with the rest of the country as we redirect the nation to a better future.

I truly believe that there is no reason why we cannot be those heroes — men and women who are willing to live big, imaginative and creative lives for our country and our people. The people behind Gawad Kalinga, for example, are telling new, compelling stories of redemption in the many communities that they transform almost daily. There are many others in different fields, to be sure, who expand the borders of what is wonderfully possible.

We need to dream our own dreams and boldly live our own stories that rise above the mediocre narratives that the media prefer to purvey. And as we actualize the new realities that we know we are capable of, these newer, more nurturing realities will claim their own place in our society and the mediocre stories, which have been our toxic staple for too long, will wither and die.
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pen
pen
14 years ago

I grew up with a patriotic (albeit cynical) father and I am actually thankful that he kept me in check. I loved Rizal (too bad he did not live to be a hundred) so much from all the books my father showed me as early as before I attended school.

One of the things I never got into the loop with is Pinoy primetime TV. Most people would look at me crazily when I have no idea what’s going on in the latest telenovelas. Watching is not an entirely bad habit I think, but like all things in abundance, it is a danger to let such consume your life. The fierce competition on TV for primetime viewership on shows that don’t even embody our identity as a people is heartbreaking. I hate seeing the minds of our countrymen wither like that.

“Tanga ang Pilipino.” Well, if they believe that, doing what they do just makes me sick to the stomach. And reading what you said about them not even allowing their own kids to watch these “stuff”, ugh, that just makes me angry.

On that note about heroes, I guess we have always been a people enamored with symbols. Martyrs bear so much semblance to the image of a Filipino toiling for survival and yearning for reform.

In retrospect, most of us are Catholic, making that a symbol in itself of our faith in God. We have hundreds of festivals bearing reference to divine providence.

EDSA was indeed a time of glory for the Filipino. But now, it has been elevated as a symbol of a seemingly unreachable oneness that once was.

HAL05
HAL05
14 years ago

“Tanga ang Pilipino”…

Read this yesterday and woke up still thinking about it. Sadly it looks like it is coming to be the truth.

It’s been a while since I’ve read such article so striking that I couldn’t help but thank you. You’ve hit the issue dead on. And I really do agree that the media is the one to blame.

I really can’t grasp the idea of these telenovelas being played over and over again that despite the difference in titles the plot basically remains the same. And to think that most of the people still gets fascinated watching it. Such a waste of time that could have been productive.

And another bad thing that was introduced on TV lately was the dubbing of telenovelas to Tagalog. I don’t have anything against our own language but if I remember it right I learned how to speak English by watching shows (when I was a kid) in English. TV was much educational back then. No wonder a recent survey was done and it says that Filipinos are losing their ability to speak and write better English. If we thoroughly lose it, then we lose one of our greatest assets compared to our other Asian neighbors.

Anyway, nice article Jim. Keep up the good work. And by the way you’ve been writing, it looks like we’ll be reading more of you for years to come.

Jim
Jim
14 years ago

It’s a ‘garbage in, garbage out’ situation. We have to change our media diet and some things will change immediately and dramatically.

hal0 and pen, thanks for the comment.

orangebloom
orangebloom
14 years ago

Sila ang totoong tanga for feeding the viewers with trash. THOSE MEDIA BIGWIGS PANDERING TO THE PEOPLE’S MEDIOCRITY ARE THE MOST DEPRAVED OF ALL. It would be futile to expect them to know their moral and social responsibilities, especially to the young minds. That is why the likes of you, sir Jim, are a rarity to find in the same industry where these sharks abound. Don’t tire of sharing your wisdom, wit and genuine concern for the pinoys. Indeed, we deserve better.

cindee
cindee
14 years ago

i am happy someone like you po take me back to reality when you wrote about those media trying to give wrong message to its audience, media purvey, i am one of those who loves watching telenovelas and teleseryes and i am always so pessimistic about everything because when i read my blog i saw many negative post and i am so sad for i have been affected by too much tv. i think some telenovelas are not so bad but sometimes they just too not natural when they are shown.

tanga nga ba ang pinoy? definitely no but some are just using their skills to earn money but not minding about how will it affect some people, just like those media purvey, (is that right?) everyday i hear rapes and murders on tv, is it really necessary to put all those horribles news? there are many negative news than positive, i just hope someday this place i call home will be turned into heaven or paradise.. but that’s not just easy to change everything, isn’t it?

Edong
Edong
14 years ago

I salute you for your strong topics and bold insights. Your passion for words has been so overwhelming that one cannot write it better than you do.

True enough, we really need more stories and we just cannot sit there and let those TV networks dictate what we need to see and hear from them. Most of us have just lazily accepted the situation and pretended that we cannot do something about it and this is what makes us an idiot (tanga).

However, you have this certain charisma that influence readers to admire your writings more so believe it. This is what I like about you Sir Jim – you empower us your readers to think and start the needed changes in our system, especially those beginning in ourselves.

I wish that your point here will reach the proper persons/networks faster than they change programs from telenovelas to Koreanovelas to Super hero fantasies.

It is our right to shout and be heard when we need to.

Ann
Ann
14 years ago

My comment may anger many but I feel compelled to reply and share my thoughts. I am what you call a “Martial Law Kid”. I was 12 yrs old when Martial Law was declared, as a child I didn’t know what Martial law meant. Altho this was explained in school the many political terminologies did not mean anything to me. All I knew was under this “Martial Law” I grew up loving the streets I lived in because all of a sudden they were very clean and was kept clean until my adulthood. People were quitely rebelling, passing on secret messages “No more freedom of speech, no more freedom of arms”…yet I grew up feeling safe knowing there will be no more “Plaza Miranda” bombings, no more drive by shootings..low crime rates finally! I grew up feeling peaceful at night knowing that all members of my family will be home at certain times because of the curfew. Tho my middle class family can’t afford to send me to ballet school nor acting class, I grew up loving art, ballets, and plays because I knew in my heart that one day I will perform at the Philippine Cultural Center (which I did). Somehow, the many programs and scholarships available then to many talented Filipinos inspired my young mind and heart to strive. I envied Cecil Licad for being sent to Russia for her talent in playing the piano. I grew up believing that Filipinos can outmatch the best performers in the world. My thirst for education was propelled by the many scholarship programs available for deserving students, many who can’t afford a good education were given hope. I grew up feeling proud that The Philippines has one of the best medical care in Asia..The Heart Center..the children’s hospital near U.P…equipped with the best and latest machines, staffed with the best doctors. So what went wrong, where are all these opportunities now? After Ninoy’s assassination everything seemed to change, I left our country in 1985 by choice…and in 1996 I came to visit..and yes everything changed, it seemed like I lost the country I grew up in. Many officials were elected mainly because of their showbiz backgrounds, not because of their education or ability to run a nation. I don’t know much about politics but looking back, growing up under Martial Law isn’t all that bad….

GreenMangoes
GreenMangoes
14 years ago

…and we also need to change our diet in literature. The Philippine literature’s dying.

Kuya Jim! nakakita na po ako ng “Writing On Water” copy sa fullybooked! =) I reserved it for a week in the bookstore. Luckily, there’s only ONE copy in their shelves.

Swipe
Swipe
14 years ago

Personally, I think that we, Filipinos are waiting for a present day ‘hero’ that we can rally behind. Unfortunately, most of the so-called leaders that are in office are only in it for personal gain and not selfless service to the public.

The media bigwig who told you that Filipinos are stupid, is the stupid one. The lack of intelligent shows on TV is not caused by demand. It is caused by supply. The suppliers are producing stupid show and the consumers have no choice if both networks continue producing recycled ideas.

If the networks start producing intelligent and innovative shows, they will educate the Filipino audience and help in the development of critical thinking in the public. Instead they give their audience quick fixes and temporary reliefs to their concerns by creating shows that are mere eye candy.

Arnulfo Cruz
Arnulfo Cruz
14 years ago

“..not even allowing their own kids to watch these “stuff”…”

These are the same people that tells us to vote this “person” and this “person” even though they know, in their hearts, that they are not even qualified to be a baranggay captains in their areas….these are the people that should be held accountable for feeding the filipino people of political and intellectual garbage…no, no, filipino is not dumb (or “tanga”) they are just stuck to the system that they are forced to shallow almost like hook, line and sinker………..

GreenMangoes
GreenMangoes
14 years ago

…until i can answer with full conviction and realization this simple question for myself, perhaps, i can now say that i am ready to become a hero:

“Are my country men still worth dying for, fighting for and living for?”

trickpa trickyu
trickpa trickyu
14 years ago

the dream of edsa im sorry to say is gone.. its words will always retain its power. but the truth is there is something terribly wrong with our country.. corruption, injustice, poverty and oppression! how did this happen? who’s to blame? certainly there are those who are more responsible than others.. but then again truth be told if you’re looking for the guilty we need only look into a mirror.. Goma and the showbiz gang plus others who are not totally qualified will never be a part of the solution bcoz the system itself is the number one problem!… the entertainment of a game show does not generate laughter and suprizes it only shows sorrows n pity that for a little dance and other antics is the hope of having a peso for a day or two… one main reason why i never watch the tube anymore… its all trash!!!

Anonymous
Anonymous
14 years ago

why did apo hiking allow itself to be used by steag coal power plant to endorse an environmental project in cagayan de oro? don’t you see the irony of this: coal power generation is being phased out in many developing countries worldwide, blah, blah. i’ll spare you the details, am sure you get the drift. and here was apo promoting environmental issues sponsored by a coal firm in mapawa.

Nicholas
Nicholas
14 years ago

Exactly the right sentiment Jim, so true.

Ask yourself, how many protests, anti-war rallies, anti government.. movements do you see.

I say this. I am not anti-war…

I am pro peace.

Major Tom
Major Tom
14 years ago

It seems to me that the written word—or literature for that matter—is also becoming slowly but surely forgotten among our people, especially the youngsters. Maybe its the symptom of the Internet age, or maybe entertainment has just become too convenient nowadays that hardly nobody I see now going thru a 500 page book. This is I think one major negative development in our nation, or perhaps of the society as a whole. Literature may one day becomes a frozen amber of a former civilization.

And if the “written word” dies, the soul of the nation may suffer temendously.

uleb
uleb
14 years ago

I was just thinking of the series “The Wonder Years”. The show trained me at an early age to contemplate on my thoughts, feelings and sensations. Wala pang show na ganito ang concept sa Pilipinas. In our telenovelas, people are either black or white, masama or mabuti. These telenovelas do not even resemble an ounce of life. Nakakalungkot lang. So when we do theater plays, we do not underestimate the audience. I don’t think it’s right to insult their IQ and sensibilities.

Jim
Jim
14 years ago

uleb–I’ve been trying to sell the idea of a Pinoy Wonder Years to TV people here for the reasons you mentioned but they are not interested. masyado daw mataas. Hay!!!!

To everyone, thanks for writing your thoughts. It is very tiring to write about anything close to politics these days since people seem so hyped up about it.

greatfulted
greatfulted
14 years ago

Tanga ang Pilipino.
That’s a harsh word coming from a guy like you.
As a Martial Law kid and a memeber of SDK during my college years, I saw the ideological transformation of kids during my era. one of the first casualties before martial law was a high school friend Dick Alcantara ( mentioned him to give credit to his undying sacrifice during that storm) was an advocate of reform. How we impart this is thru teach-in. You probably still remember those days. Thru assimilation of relevant information, kids like me where educated in the street about hardship and perseverance. I grew up poor but has strive to make a difference. I seldom watch TV cause I value the opinion of the masses rather than the opinion of the dictators (corrupTED officials).
Martial law was good from 1972-1978. Went back to the goverment fold and through hardship doing 3 jobs created a million pesos business. After the election of 1978, things turned upside down and was harassed again that forced majority of us to go abroad (USA).
Fast forward, I went home last year after 20+ years and saw the distortion of ideas being feed to PILIPINOS. Because of hardship, they embrased the Idol culture. Be an Idol and make money. Heard you were a moderator of one of these culture.
Patriotism is gone, ideological differences are gone, poverty is beyond critical and the only thing that entertains Pilipinos is the TV.
And now you call them TANGA.

minotte's notes
minotte's notes
14 years ago

the stories people like to listen to are those that reflect their inner state. in the midst of the kris-james-hope circus, i join you and yearn for more uplifting news towrards a more evolved consciousness.

if we write them, they will read them. . .

Jim
Jim
14 years ago

greatfulted–HUH!!? This is exactly how stories are distorted. YOur comment was way-off. Magbasa ka nga ng tama. Hindi ako ang nagsabi na tanga ang Pilipino.. It was a quote from a network big wig. READ AGAIN AND PROPERLY. PAY ATTENTION.

You wasted good space in the comment forum.

minotte’s notes–yes, definitely.

aCey
aCey
14 years ago

hi, jim! i totally agree with you, that we can be heroes. not because it’s noble, but there is a need for real and living heroes for our country. this post made me think about how we could be the heroes we’re actually waiting for… it’s stirring, too.

p.s.: would it be ok with you if i write about your blog for feature writing class? (we’re discussing online writing now. ^_^

Jim
Jim
14 years ago

acey–sure

Inkblots
Inkblots
14 years ago

It’s saddening how media has turned out these days. The plots of telenovelas have become mind-numbing, overused, abused and misused. It’s feeding bad images to the youth and the young.

Interestingly enough, my friend and I were discussing telenovelas over dinner. Flor de luna came up. We discussed how the children were treated. The way they kids, Flora (i presume), gets treated is saddening. How one kid bullies another kid leaves a bad impression to other kids. The tendency there is, kids will actually follow what they see on TV and in turn, become bullies themselves. Sad.

Media forms societies. We get enchanted what we see on television or in the main stream media.

The thing is, what is pang-masa sells. And usually, what is pang-masa is not ideally the best thing to be aired on TV or radio.

It boils down to the media consumers. I strongly believe in media literacy. There has to be something done, as what you said, “to change our media diet”.

The media has to set a good example to the society. It should be a forerunner in promoting a positive influence.

Dogs go to heaven,

Lis B. 🙂

Anonymous
Anonymous
14 years ago

I fully agree with the sentiment that we need heroes who will lead our country out of the dark times we find ourselves in. But I also feel that once in leadership, we need to allow them to do what is necessary to do so. Ann made a good point when she mentioned the state of the country under Martial Law. We were in the top third of countries in Asia, economically speaking. Asan na tayo ngayon – 2 EDSAs later?

If I may say so, we have become so obsessed with our “rights” na iyon na lang and nakikita natin. Di ba pwedeng ipagpaliban muna ang ilan sa ating mga karapatan, para sa ika-uunlad ng bayan? So long as we are free to live and breathe, and even express dissatisfaction (without resorting to rallies and such, which I think hinders productivity), a little discipline might go a long way! Allow those in leadership a chance to make a difference, without always wondering if they are doing it for their own good. We might be surprised to find that, in their own way, they are working for the good of the country.

junger
junger
14 years ago

I love your positive attitude and I see that you do mean to enlighten and advance our present outlook and consciousness.

You are also right on with mentioning lies that are told among peoples lead to destruction.

My little bone to pick is your choice of Nelson Mandela. In my opinion, peoples perception is greatly shaped by the media. Therefore, the media has an enormous responsibility in guaranteeing that what they portray is of absolute truth.

Please check out this website:

http://www.netcomuk.co.uk/~springbk/enemy.html

We’ve all got skeletons but Nelson’s is of great measure and consequence.

Correct me if I’m wrong.

Love and light,

Mark Arienda-Jose

ivoryhut
ivoryhut
14 years ago

Hi Jim. It was nice to see that quote from Ben Okri. That little book always seemed like a key to me – such a tiny thing that opens doors to vast spaces.

I saw a movie on cable here the other day where there was an interesting exchange. One character said that we all like to believe that we live in a world that’s fair, but that unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in. The response to that was simple, but profound: “I always thought the world is what we make of it.”

Ben Okri had it right. If we feed our minds and dreams with mud and empty calories, how can we nourish ourselves? If we are malnourished, how can we even hope to produce the light needed to exit the dark?

I often wonder if it is a problem of failing to recognize substance and meaning, or simply an issue of a mass consciousness following the wrong leader.

People have to be aware that they actually need new stories. And, just as importantly, the new stories have to be out there, so that they can be found once the people start looking.

I, for one, am glad that your writing is becoming more accessible to more people. At the very least, you’ve been filling my need for new stories.

paeng
paeng
14 years ago

I think it’s easy for Filipinos to relate to Hollywood movies like Lord of the Rings. It also helps that it depicts underdogs winning over oppressors.

The strange thing, though, is that Filipino films are underdogs and not works like LOTR.

I suppose it will help if Filipinos watch their own movies once in a while. That’s what took place when in many Asian countries where U.S. films were banned or taxed heavily for sometime to allow the local industry to become stronger.

Finally, what I find interesting is that many aspects of our culture emphasize suffering and defeat, probably because many Filipinos are simply poor. Examples include Biyernes Santo (whereas in other places, it is Easter that is seen as more important), the Black Nazarene, our best movies from the ’70s (including those by Brocka), Freddy Aguilar’s “Anak,” and so on.

paeng
paeng
14 years ago

But many of Okri’s stories somehow still depict the harsh realities of Nigeria. My favorite is The Famished Road.

pinoy
pinoy
13 years ago

Hindi tanga ang Pinoy. Through years of bad leadership, most of us simply became bad citizens. We may not even know what citizenship is all about. My personal advocacy is GOOD CITIZENSHIP. I believe that this is part of the solution. Once we become good citizens, good leaders will follow and it will never be the other way around. I hope you support the GOOD CITIZENSHIP campaign. So far, it has been a lonely journey. Nobody seems interested in pursuing this campaign as each one has his/her own advocacy. Can you be part of this campaign?

Ernel Arcangel Felix
13 years ago

Hi Jim,

Now that I have been residing here in the US, I realized how important one’s original identity and how significant our own heritage in this highly diverse country. Despite of the many trials and tribulations the Philippines had in the past and present, I surely feel that the values and cultures I have as a Filipino still remain in tack and growing. I teach in the junior high school here in the US in a diverse community. Contrary to the pessimism you mentioned, I see it opposite to what I’ve been experiencing and seeing to all Filipino students I had in my 13 years of teaching in the US. They are all diligent, respectful, well-mannered, hard-working, and bright. Thanks to the good foundation brought by the close family ties and focus on education among the Filipinos there and elsewhere.

More power to you!

Ernel Arcangel Felix
Monterey, California USA

amsterdam hostels
10 years ago

You will love amsterdam !!! I went there in september only for like 6 hours and i had a great time.Sorry i cant help with hotels but enjoy your trip to the moon lol