What happened to the Filipino taste?

By: Ian Harvey A. Claros

As the box office tallies of the Metro Manila Film Festival 2014 (MMFF) are being reported before it ends on January 7, a question that raises questions comes to mind – what happened to Filipino taste?

A glaring contradiction is the top grossers The Amazing Praybeyt Benjamin, Feng Shui 2, and My Big Bossing garnering meager accolades compared to Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo, reported by the MMFF as one in the “bottom four”,  which championed in numerous categories including the top honors and most-vied ‘Best Picture.’ The disparity appears between the purchasing favor of the audience and what appears to be “quality films,” recognizing the tested taste of cineastes or one of the more up front and worthy roster of winners this year. To lure viewers/profit, the prime grossers invested on the massive extraction of feeble emotions, superficial epiphany and nationwide television and advertising dominance. By observation, one may claim (as a matter of expression) that these top-grossing films “may have been shot the day before the MMFF set deadline” as they basically lack significant human experience. Unlike the lesser viewed Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo which rested premium on the historical semblance, fine story lines and social significance.

MMFF was once an avenue to stretch an artist’s finesse of their craft or to express social protest through a plot and script’s undertones. It was the arena of film virtuosos like Eddie Romeo, Ishmael Bernal, Mario O’Hara and Lino Brocka, to mention a few. Even the internationally acclaimed film, Himala, came from MMFF. Definitively, it ‘was’ a Corinthian column in the pantheon of Philippine classic cinema.

Historically and up to this day, MMFF was a brief sigh for local film industries as gargantuan foreign films were excluded in theaters. The MMFF caters only all locally-produced films in the national language in all theaters nationwide during Yuletide season when Filipinos have their salary, bonus and 13th month pay and a sense of merrymaking to spare pesos for watching a movie in the theaters. MMFF is also conducted that all films should start with a National anthem, a tradition still followed. Even the “No Smoking” at movie houses was a decorum said to have been started here.

In terms of fandom, it is as if the entire Daniel Padilla fanaticism has succumbed into hibernation the moment he played in a significant film.

The issue of ‘what kind of producers’ is already passé since there is already a film of quality that is available. The striking dilemma now is – ‘what kind of viewers.’ In terms of fandom, it is as if the entire Daniel Padilla fanaticism has succumbed into hibernation the moment he played in a significant film. Thus, this calls to locate the willingness of a viewer as to where one will pay for and most of all spend time with.

This catastrophe recalls the question of National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose – “why are the Filipinos shallow?” He blames the decline of Humanities and non-reflection to the Classics in the education system. The relaxing of General Education foundation in tertiary education was made a policy and testing ground since 2002 in the University of the Philippines, the premiere state university and what can be considered the primary lab school of state education policies. There is also fault to find in the dissolution of Araling Panlipunan or Social Studies in the Makabayan subject in the basic education level (only taught a part of an hour per week and no longer the 1 hour per day for five days). Then, to ask the question if the Filipino taste is shallow is to inquire their access to education. It is elitist to to judge them for their “low-kitsch taste or culture” if they have had less in life, also a double dagger to stab them with.

Then, to ask the question if the Filipino taste is shallow is to inquire their access to education. It is elitist to to judge them for their “low-kitsch taste or culture” if they have had less in life, also a double dagger to stab them with.

Discursively, the manner on how the audience selects is molded by the systems and forces within the society they live spanning through economic, political and cultural dimensions. Following these considerations, before the movie goer bought the ticket, the society has already chosen for them. Thus, the free choice in the market is fundamentally illusory.

As the capitalist society provides a man the opportunity to select based on his economic capacity, a viewer considers which film will not empty out his purse. But in the event that films have averagely similar prices, the competition is tossed to the type or genre of film. As the society’s conditions are immensely stressful, the films to be selected are those that will give relief like farce. As an example, a man who works more than eight hours a day to earn a modest living is not expected to watch a film that unravels political ecriture. He will surely find something that is psychologically comforting. The unhuman conditions of the society subject the man’s choice to ephemeral and artificial respite.

The Filipino is transformed into a scapegoat rejecting all that is mimetic of his past and present. Now, they select the art they see – an art that cripples synesthesia and supplies anesthesia. By the selection of the blockbuster films, the Filipino becomes numb from the world he lives in as they are administered with a dose of fantastic travesty. What maybe more perilous is if the Filipino taste succumbs to cultural amnesia.

As if to strike counter-capitalist discourse on the dominance of mediocre films, the man’s option is a direct but passive protest to the forces that perpetuate the moribund society. He decides to live in a fantasy away from his horrid reality – thus rejection. But the demand for social change lies in active participation not in passivity. It calls the Filipino to interpellate the systems and forces that shape them.

Filipinos have less and less options in television and film. And in the face of boredom and P200+ to spare in your pocket for a movie during the MMFF season, this is what can be done:

  1. Support films of quality and historical, social and cultural significance. Pass this on by word of mouth. Make these movies the blockbuster as Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Jose Rizal in the 1998 MMFF was. (It was already January and it was still SRO in SM Cinemas.)
  2. If you must watch a blockbuster film (their kind in this year’s MMFF) or a film of Vice Ganda thinking you will be treated to his impromptu wit (you will not, as the movie is shot and edited), raise comment on these films using social media, text, word or mouth, so that others may have more information whether they should watch this film or not.
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