Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Glory of Instant Fame and the Gore After the Instant Fall

I remember about five or so years ago, I'd marvel at how mesmerised a lot of Filipinos were by the voice of Charice Pempengco.  She was such a joy to listen to--hitting those high notes and diva-ishly belting out lofty pieces like it was nobody's business.  I'm not gonna lie: though I wasn't particularly a fan, I did acknowledge her talent even though a lot of my closest friends couldn't care less.  She was an instant sensation!

A few years after her discovery, her subsequent entry into the battle stage of non-minor-age-artists and her conversion to Roman Catholicism, she seemed unstoppable.  Her fan base sky-rocketed and I was beginning to get annoyed by how everyone at my old office--especially the camp men--couldn't stop blabbering about her.  Even when they'd talk about their favourite topic--Miss Universe--they'd still manage to get Charice into the picture, often describing her with superlatives and calling her "queen."  That didn't sit well with me because, as far as I was concerned, the league of musical queens had Julie, Babs, Bernadette, Lea and Elaine in it among other greats.  How dare they push their teenage queen agenda?  I later brushed it off, of course, coming to terms with the fact that tastes differ.  "What do these people know of real music, anyway?" I said in my head.  Then I gasped.  Was I beginning to develop an aversion for Charice because I was jealous of the attention she was getting which the musical goddess I knew and worshipped didn't get at the time?

No.  No.  No.  No.  No.

Well, maybe.

I remember getting into a petty Facebook argument with a friend once.  He posted a link to a video of Charice singing Carousel's "You'll Never Walk Alone" and captioned it with "I wonder if anyone could do better than this."

I then posted a link to a video of Barbra Streisand singing the same song as a tribute to 9/11 heroes and victims and captioned it with something like, "The youngsters may belt their lungs out but this true diva sings with her soul.  And, yes, this one definitely did better."  I didn't link him to this video; I just posted it on my wall but he reacted through a comment--fully knowing I was attacking his link and his opinion about Charice--telling me to wait 'til Charice ages and saying something quite akin to "she'll be the most sophisticated red wine."  I was, like, "Pffffff! Yeah, right."

As I predicted years ago, it has happened.  She has lost social relevance and she's asking questions like "Do they still love me?" and sort of hinting on Filipino society's general adverse attitude towards LGBTs as the reason for the loss of her fame.  Well, the lesbianism certainly isn't the problem.  Look at Aiza Seguerra.  She can still pull off attention when and how she wants.

And, of course, we still love you, Charice.  You were an instant sensation who brought us joy at one point.  But the thing is, there's a problem with two expressions I used in that previous sentence:  instant and at one point.  The former means you didn't gradually build up your ability to draw attention; you were thrown there by YouTube and Ellen.  The latter, on the other hand, means "not anymore."  The one point you brought most of us joy isn't this point.  It was a point before this point and that point has, sadly, seen its time and vanished.  We still genuinely love you--just not the same way.

I'm sorry this had to happen to you but it was inevitable.  From the beginning of your career as a young belter on Ellen and Oprah, people have predicted that you wouldn't last very long.  Sure, you lasted long but not long enough, apparently.  You still saw yourself fall.  Looking at you breaking down on YouTube videos after your skirmish with your mother about your sexuality lost social attention (I bet you thought that was gonna last a while, didn't ya?) makes me think of what happened to Sunset Boulevard's Norma Desmond after the era of silent films got trampled on my the "sacred microphones" and the dawn of spoken scripts.

I feel bad for you.  I really do.

A few friends of mine--even a cousin who happens to be a close friend of yours--might jump at the first opportunity to deny that you're losing your mojo and they can do it all they want but they can't do anything fix the bones you've broken because of your fall.  They may wipe the blood away and hide the gore--possibly even help your wounds heal--but not change the fact that you have fallen fast and hit ground very, very hard.  Some people are known to have risen above their fall.  Unfortunately, you aren't likely to be one of them.  This is the age of YouTube and Facebook.  There will be and there are countless others who will achieve your level of fame.  They will come storming in--each dimming your non-existent-to-begin-with chance of ever owning the limelight again.  This is the age of online freeforalls where even the likes of Nicki Minaj can, in less than 10 years, achieve fame and attention parallel to the kind Barbra Streisand worked 20 to achieve.  Of course, it's a different kind of fame.  Babs was never known to strut her stuff to gain the media's eye but, nevertheless, attention is fame and fame is money.

The main difference is this:  Babs has been known to lie low for certain periods of time but then she returns with a blast.  Cher and Madonna have done the same.  Julie Andrews, too.  So has Patti LuPone and many the likes of them.  They all have decided to give it a bit of a rest at one point but their comebacks were all the rage in the lines of show business they are in.  However, when Nicki Minaj falls, she's never going anywhere near where she is now. Her fall will be a real one--not a low hover.  Her fall will be just like yours, Charice.  I'm really sorry about this.  I know none of this is your fault.  This is just how society is.  As a student of social science, I'm looking at this from a purely sociological point-of-view--not from a prejudicial one, as some may assume.  I do think you're a really good singer but you just didn't have the right tools to keep people hooked.  "Good" just doesn't quite cut it.

This is what happens to people who are shot from the ground up the summit of Mt. Everest without caring to learn the art of mountaineering or without at least bringing equipment that will enable them to cling to the rocks and the ice on the mountain top and keep themselves from rolling down.

There's nothing to do but begin the getting over process.  Let me say it again:  None of this is your fault.  Just like how you didn't have to constantly shed bloody sweat for 20 years to achieve that level of fame, you didn't do anything to cause your fall either.  It's just how it is and you just have to live with it.

Of course, I could be wrong.  It's not like I'm a sage or anything.  I'm just a heavily opinionated prick.  I don't think I'm wrong, though.  I COULD BE!  But I just don't think I am.  Sorry.

If you are in the sky because you took the time to grow your wings and you experienced the necessary pain that comes with learning how to fly, you will soar.  You can come down as slowly or as fast as you want but you will never hit the ground and you know you can always fly back up as high as you were before--or even higher--whenever you want to.

If, however, you're in the sky because you took the easy way up and allowed yourself to be catapulted without being equipped to fly, you will fall faster than you rose up.  You will come down with a massive, maiming BANG that will leave you lying there, helpless, incapable of even standing up, left to watch those who are soaring, regretting why you ever decided to get on that trebuchet in the first place.

Yes, the glory of instantly rising to fame is awesome but the pain of losing social relevance, being ignored and, ultimately, forgotten is like having a spoon forced through your abdomen--unless, perhaps, you've somehow mastered detachment from worldly things.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

On Speaking Tagalog as a Third Language

I'm a Bisaya--a person living in the Visayas Islands of Central Philippines--and my native language is Cebuano.  The Philippine national language is Tagalog, with a prestige register called Filipino, and, as it was a compulsory language to learn in school, I am fluent in its technical use and its use in formal conversations.  It's useful to a certain degree but not really with anything more than understanding televised national news and literature, and conversing with people in the parts of the country that use it as their native tongue.

Tagalog, although it is the national language, is not my second language but my third.  All schools in the Philippines use English as a standard medium of instruction and all but two subjects--history and Filipino--are taught in the world's most imperialistic language, which is also the language of Philippine government and commerce.  On that note, Tagalog isn't very useful to those who don't speak it as a native tongue.  One might argue that because the Philippines has so many languages, it can be used as a uniting language for us and that if two people who speak different regional languages try to converse, they would use Tagalog.  Nope.  This is simply not true in my experience.  Although it is a bit shameful to admit, if a Waray-Waray speaker and a Cebuano speaker were to have a conversation, they would likely use English rather than Tagalog.

Moreover, since I don't actively try to improve my use of Tagalog, I've been largely ignorant about it's non-formal use.  Even though it was pummelled into me during my years in school, I only learned it academically.  Until fairly recently, I have only ever used formal and grammatically correct Tagalog.  I didn't become street smart with the language until about 4 years ago.  If you speak Spanish, imagine me speaking to you in the Usted Form with a Castilian accent while walking around the slums of Bogota.  Or if you're an English speaker, imagine me speaking to you with the British Received Pronunciation while drinking Guinness in a small pub in Kilcullen.  Yeah.  Kinda like that.

Anyway, not actually using Tagalog on a regular basis, it took quite some time for me to learn bits and pieces of the language that are apparently really necessary if you want to survive in a place that uses it.  Among them are the following:

a.)  When someone says, "Wow, ang dami mong alam,"  [Eng: Wow, you know a lot] they're not giving you a compliment.  No matter how deadpan the face of the one saying it is or how nicely it's expressed, it's actually just a sarcastic way of telling you to shut the fudge up.

Someone used this on me after I explained the difference between bisexuality and homosexuality--prompted by her assertion that bisexuality is just homosexuality in disguise.  I thanked her after hearing it and went on about the principles of addressing cisgender people and how to be avoid being offensive.  She repeated what she said.  (i.e. "Ang dami mo talagang alam."  [Eng:  You really know a lot.])  I thanked her again and she left.  Shortly after, a friend, who was also present in that conversation, pointed out that she was actually being sarcastic.  It only hit me then why her grin was too darn big.  She must have thought I was an idiot.

b.)  Po, [a word used to express respect to an elder or "superior"; no direct English translation] is almost absolutely compulsory.

I was never told this in school.  It took a confrontation for me to learn this.  Someone approached me after a forum and said my speech was really rude because I didn't use the word po after each sentence when addressing a Roman Catholic priest.  Right!  That didn't help the guy's cause.  From that day on, I resolved never to use the word with anyone who would expect to hear it.  I am not superior to anyone and nobody is my superior so I will not address anybody as such unless they are really, really kind people and I want to make them feel good!  I refuse to be another brick on a pedestal that boosts anyone's ego.  The most I would do is say things nicely and gently but I'm not going to use a word that would make you feel like you're above me.  You're not.

We Bisaya are generally nice and respectful people but we just express respect by saying things gently, which can be done universally with anyone and everyone.  In our language, which is not mutually intelligible with Tagalog, we don't have a separate word that elevates a person's status in a conversation and I like that about my native tongue.  Sorry, I'm not sorry.

c.)  If you do not know someone very well, or if someone is supposedly socially "superior" to you, it is rude to refer to them in the second person singular.  Instead you should refer to them in the second person plural or even third person plural.  For example:  "Saan ka pupunta?"  [Eng: Where are you going?] should be expressed as "Saan po sila pupunta?" [Eng:  "Where are they going?"; with po in its appropriate place].  Again with po.

d.)  The word tarantado actually means "stupid."  In both my language and in Tagalog, the word taranta (tarantar if expressed appropriately in Cebuano) means "to panic," so I thought adding a "do" after it, like you do with most verbs to turn them into adjectives--a Filipino adaptation of a Spanish grammar rule--would just make it mean "a panicky person."  Nope.  Apparently, it means you're stupid if someone calls you tarantado.  An internet Tagalog-English dictionary translates the word as "flustered."  Wrong.  It really means stupid.  Try being in a street in rural Manila and calling someone that and you're almost sure to get a black eye.

I used it the wrong way on a Tagalog colleague once, telling her, "Masyado ka kasing tarantado eh," after she got rejected from an audition to a singing contest.  I thought I was saying "Because you're very panicky," when I was actually saying "Because you're very stupid."  No wonder she cussed at me and didn't speak to me for over a month after that.  Sorry, we didn't learn such words in school.  I'm glad I didn't use that word too much.

Monday, September 15, 2014

On Beauty Pageants

Sorry, I'm not going to "like" your friend's/sister's/brother's/cousin's/neighbour's photos in support of their candidacy for Miss/Mister/Queen/King/Prince/Princess/Jewel/Heart of what-THE-FUDGE-ever.

In case you don't know what my personal stance is on the matter or in case I haven't been clear enough about it, I do not support beauty pageants--female or male.  I think it's shallow and degrading to publicly compare people to each other, chipping down a bunch of people to one or two, on the basis of personal appearance--even with that question-and-answer portion that supposedly gauges their intellectual capabilities as public role models.  Right.  I don't buy that crap.

If you don't share my opinion, I honestly couldn't care less.  Fair play to you.  I'm not gonna lie; I am going to judge you and think you're misinformed at the very least but, of course, we can still friends.