The Pop Criticultural Infindibulator: Essays on Film, TV, Literature, and Music Table of Contents Introduction Film 1.

2015: The Year I Ride a Hoverboard 2. Die Hard: The Movie You Watch a Million Times 3. Johnny Mnemonic: My Introduction to Criminality 4. Planet of the Apes: My Holy Week Flick 5. Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) and a Guide to Contemporary Scaring 6. Post-Apocalyptic as the Neo-Western 7. Films and Piracy Television 1. How Do You Watch TV? 2. Lost in the Multiverse 3. Glee’s “Dream On” Literary/Comics/Digital 1. What is CNF? 2. Making the Most of my Midi-chlorian Count: Geek Consciousness, Identity, and Humor in Creative Non-Fiction 3. Hamlet and The Sopranos 4. V for Vendetta: In Panels and Frames 5. Freeing Culture 6. The Future of the Book 7. No Line on the Horizon: The Merging of Readers and Writers Through Social Media 8. Test Drive: An Exploration of Contemporary Trends in Thought in Art and Science Towards a Consummation of the Play Drive 9. Dialect This, Mofo! Oversharing Facebook Photos 10. The Digital Library Manifesto 11. Digital Media and a Changing Materialism

Music 1. Is Music Disposable? 2. Songs as Poetry: Mos Def’s “Mathematics” 3. Songs as Poetry: Ash’s “Shining Light” 4. The Importance of Not Censoring Cee-Lo When He Sings “Fuck You” 5. OA, Senti, and Emo

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Introduction
I type this introduction with the turning-thirty counter fast approaching zero. Kash

is across the bed from me, typing away at a book she’s working on, just like me squeezing out the time available in between work and all the other things we have to do. And she and so many other people have told me that I have nothing to worry about, that turning thirty doesn’t really mean anything. And I believed the same. Believed it, that is, until I started getting jitters about a week ago. I thought that I

wouldn’t freak out, that turning thirty would be just like when I turned twenty eight or twenty nine. I don’t know what switch went off in my head, but suddenly I felt like I had to do something massive, something that would justify my having been around so long. Which isn’t to say that this book you’re reading now is that massive thing specifically. Rather it’s the book, the work that went into it, and I suppose most importantly

the initiative behind this book’s release. The initial gumption for this kind of release came from the impending birthday and the feeling like I had to do something. I could not afford to throw a party, as recent employment issues, expenses, and delayed checks did not make that a possibility. So I thought I would do something else on my birthday. The idea behind this isn’t exactly new. People give away their books. But in our

setting, with a reluctance to work in digital formats, a mistrust of books in file form, an insistence on the physical manifestations of books, and an expectation that one would want to earn from one’s books, I think this is a new thing, a project, an experiment. For

my birthday I really really want to give this book away. I want to say thank you to everyone who has ever helped me out, took the time to talk to me or share an idea with me, pass me a DVD, lend me a book, whatever. My thank you is this. And if you haven’t been one of those people, but you’ve stumbled upon this book,

got emailed it, downloaded it from somewhere or other, I thank you still. Thank you for opening this file and giving this book, and my writing in general, a chance. Please pass it along to others. While my first few books were literary in nature (creative nonfiction and short

stories) I’ve always thought of myself as a journalist. I started writing for magazines and newspapers when I was a college freshman, and I’ve been contributing work to some publication or other since then. There’s been so much writing done in that span of more than a decade now that I’ve lost count of all the articles I’ve written. A recent attempt at cleaning out my bodega uncovered binders that my mom

(ever-supportive and loving blindly even the worst-written of my works) had compiled, newspaper and magazine cut-outs of a lot of works that I had forgotten that I’d written. I’d leaf through a binder and be surprised, thinking, hey I don’t remember reviewing this movie, or really? I don’t remember going to that event. Then there are those articles that I remember writing, but don’t even know how to get a hold of anymore. This is all to say that with all of that stuff written, all of the good and bad, there’s just so much to choose from and at the same time there’s so much that I don’t know how to get a hold of.

Blame technology. Years ago I dreamed of compiling a book of essays made up

of music and movie reviews and cultural criticism. I thought I was a smart enough kid to say something (and writers that I admired had similar books so I thought it couldn’t hurt to take a stab at such a book). Every time I’d try to put it together, a virus would descend on my computer and ravage it, leaving a husk and a hard drive waiting to be reformatted and nothing else. It didn’t help that over the decade or so I had changed computers, worked in various offices, and stored files all over the place. Some of these can still be found on old 3.5mm diskettes which are somewhere in my house. I can’t access them anymore (computers at home don’t even have CD drives anymore, it’s either USB or wireless) but I can’t bear to throw them out, thinking that I might just find some way to get those things. Then again getting those files might not be so great. I tend to think the latest thing

I’ve written is awesome, and the stuff written before that is terrible, immature trash. In some ways I guess it’s a good thing that viruses and other issues would pop up, ensuring that I never published a collection of essays prematurely. I shelved the idea of an essay collection and worked on other things. I was

publishing other books, trying to do different things, and collected reviews seemed to be something unimportant. In 2010 though, I churned out a bunch of articles that I felt when compiled as a

book would work to make a kind of statement or at least a time capsule on things I was writing in that period.

I was made editor of the Metakritiko page of The Philippine Online Chronicles.

Metakritiko in the months I handled it was one of the most exciting experiences of my life. I brought in writers that I admired and had worked with, and together we tried to redefine arts and culture criticism. There were attempts to make criticism more hardcore, applying more rigorous theoretical approaches. There was the attempt to critique things that the academe normally wouldn’t touch, like a scene-by-scene analysis of an episode of Glee, a study of photos posted on Facebook, and a reading of rap lyrics as poetry. And there was the attempt to incorporate Creative Nonfiction, criticism as autobiography and vice versa. It was a time of great experimentation. As expected some of these things blew up in our faces. But that goes with the nature of what we were doing. The number of the essays in this book were published there. Others showed up in

other websites. And some of the essays were written for my MA classes and others were delivered as talks. There’s a mishmash of pop culture stuff here, some of my attempts to write film reviews as autobiography and vice versa, and my attempts at looking at different content platforms to see where these will go in the future. With my range of interest in entertainment media I found myself writing about various works, from personal pieces that stem from nostalgia and then discuss cultural engagement (like my piece about Die Hard) to looking hard and trying to be critical of texts that I love, like V for Vendetta. I chose the content that I wrote about based, first and foremost, on things that

interest me. Lost was a series I watched religiously. I am a fan of Western movies. I’ve

read a lot of comic books. I was a late-starter but became a Sopranos devotee. These things entertained me and they sparked interest and got me thinking. Sometimes these were bad things (like the Nightmare on Elm Street reboot) but they got me thinking about form and genre and how these different cultural works operated. So in choosing, I selected works of popular culture that I readily consumed. The next consideration was that I could write about these works in a way that would be interesting and different. Some of the texts here, be they film, music, comics, or TV, have been written about by others already in reviews and online (Lost has its own analysis books; V for Vendetta is a vital text that is popular among scholars and comic book fans). I was trying to find a different way of approaching these texts. And that’s where I brought in the geek perspective. People who have read my other books know that I’ve had a penchant for using

the word geek or some reference to geekiness in my titles. This is because all of the work I’ve written has been put through that filter of geekiness. What comprises this filter? The geek has a rabid devotion to his fandoms. But beyond that the geek also enjoys thinking about entertainment media texts much more than most people. Not only does a geek consume culture, but he thinks about it and analyzes (and sometimes over-analyzes it). This book doesn’t try to employ traditional theoretical frameworks too much. It

doesn’t shoot to be a theory-heavy book. Rather it tries to be written in a way that the lay-reader who hasn’t spent any time in a literary theory class can understand and appreciate what’s being said. It also hopes that despite the general attempt to avoid

jargon and to reach a larger readership, that it can still provoke reading and discussion from critical theory fans. It attempts to encourage discourse by talking about these texts as a geek would, by trying to see not what their larger cultural significances are, or how they reveal the power relations in sex and class, but rather by trying to see what makes these things cool or interesting, trying to see what makes these texts tick. Like a lot of geek culture, it mixes and mashes and pushes things together (The Sopranos and Hamlet, Lost and String Theory) and tries to find connections and examines how they all work. These essays don’t aim to be the last word in things, but rather the opening

volleys in conversation, the hope being that we can engage these texts, and many other things, in an intellectual manner. I hope that the essays in this book get people talking and arguing, first with me and my ideas, and then with each other. I hope that this builds up and gets us all thinking more, being more critical of all the content that’s around us. I hope that we can shake up the way that we think, and I hope that this book makes a small contribution to that large goal. And my other faint hope, as I finish this and count down those hours before I

leave my twenties, is that people who read and like this book will recommend it and my other books to other people. If you liked this, maybe you can help support my writing by downloading my other books or getting copies. Give friends a copy, pass it around. Let people know I’m here, I’m around, and I’m trying to say something. Thanks.

Film
2015: The Year I Ride a Hoverboard
(This essay appeared in new-slang.com as part of their Future issue. I wrote it as a hopefully fun take on my own dreams of the near future.)

In the How I Met Your Mother episode “The Fight,” Jason Segel’s Marshall Eriksen insists that lightsaber technology is under development and that soon enough he will be carving a turkey using one. And in characteristic HIMYM fashion the episode’s epilogue shows a flashforward (from the episode’s narrative frame) but a flashback (in relation to the series’ overarching framework) that has Marshall swinging a lightsaber to indeed cut up a turkey. I have to admit that I share Marshall’s optimism about future gadgets, and I also hope that in some loopy flashforwardy/flashbacky continuity of the narrative of my life I get my grubby, geeky hands on a lightsaber, a phaser, or at least a cool communicator gadget that gets pinned to my shirt. And though I know it won’t happen if we are to follow continuity, I would like to tap that gadget, say, “Beam me up,” and materialize on some transporter. How far these various technologies are from development, one can only ponder, or maybe read Michio Kaku’s The Physics of the Impossible to get a more sobering assessment of which gadgets and when to expect them. But hey, the stuff that we’re seeing in the Iron Man movies is near-future tech, and I’ve got what I think is a well-

founded suspicion that Steve Jobs or Bill Gates already have some of that tech in their own basements. It’s 2010 now, and the year that I am looking forward to is 2015. 2010 is supposed to be the year we make contact, but I’m not exactly banking on that. I am placing all my faith and optimism in the 2015 that I was shown, despite some of the tacky post-punk fashion trends that have been predicted by a lot of scifi flicks. Why 2015? Oh most of you know already, you don’t even need me to spill it. But for those who had to ask why that year is more important, more a landmark than any other year before or after it, it’s quite simple really. It’s the year that Doc Brown brought Marty McFly to. In 1985 and 1955 Marty McFly (and depending on which universe you belong to this would either be Michael J. Fox or Eric Stoltz) gets around on a skateboard and in 1885 Marty gets dragged around the Hill Valley Town Hall by horses, but it was in 2015 that he faced a Tannen using a hoverboard. And that, friends, is what I want. Some of the stuff portrayed in the movie is already done and gone, for example the arcade machines shown there have been surpassed by today’s machines, and all the Max Headroom-themed design is definitely passé, as are the tacky color schemes (ah aren’t we fortunate that the fashion of the future imagined by people in the 80s didn’t come to fruition?). Jaws 3-D would probably still scare me, but the graphical representation of the shark that tries to chomp down on Marty is nothing next to the big blue Na’Vi.

And as a bonus for people like me who have trouble buying clothes, check out the new features they have when Marty puts on a pair of pants and a jacket. I am a short stocky guy with broad shoulders. This means that my big shoulders necessitate buying large, XL, and in this era of the slim fit shirt, double and triple Xs at times, but then my arms are short so I have these big baggy things with long sleeves that threaten to wrap around me like a straitjacket. And the pants! Oh the pants. Years of drinking and sitting in front of a computer for long hours while munching junk food have provided me with a considerable beer belly, making it a challenge acquiring a pair of pants that fit my big belly but short legs. But the people of 2015 have solved this problem! Forget slim-fit, dry-fit, or whatever. They have invented auto-fit clothing. Doc presses a button on Marty’s clothes and voila, they fit him perfectly. The only other innovation that I could ask for in terms of fashion would be clothes that would auto-select themselves. Again I’m a terrible dresser so if clothes could choose themselves, could decide that they would make me look good, then that would really be the last step in fashion evolution for me. At this point it becomes apparent that we do wind up musing about the things that we could do with technology, and it often turns to providing personal amenities. As shown in so much scifi, we could be using technology to change the world, to improve humanity, but often we choose first to indulge material wants and personal needs. Despite my often big thinking about terraforming, developing sustainable energy sources, and enhancing the human brain so that we can achieve even greater things, I

have gone on for a number of paragraphs about how I would like the future to provide me with clothing that would dress me. It’s a good thing then, that the people of 2015 aren’t as distracted as me, aren’t as selfish as I can be. Because though they will provide me with auto-fitting clothing, they have also solved a number of major problems that we of 2010 can’t seem to handle. The first of these is one that we can’t seem to handle even with coding schemes and U-turn slots and interchanges and all other manner of MMDA mediation: traffic. How do the people of 2015 do away with the traffic problem? Simple, make roads irrelevant. Make your cars fly. The DeLorean (and isn’t Doc Brown’s DeLorean an awesome car? Right? Probably the only other cars that I could imagine being more awesome to ride in are the batmobile and the original KITT car, not the one voiced by Val Kilmer, and after the DeLorean I would rank the A-Team van) gets an upgrade by the end of the first Back to the Future movie. As it begins to throttle down the street and gain speed it lifts up into the air, fold its tires, and goes into hover mode. I can’t really imagine how we would go about flagging down cabs, or what we would do with all the overpasses and underpasses and interchanges and whatnot once flying cars come into being, but I think it would definitely be in improvement to what we have now. I wonder if we would all have to walk around with parachute-like devices for when we would get off a flying jeep or bus. That actually sounds kind of fun. Possibly cooler (but not economically viable) and definitely awesome would be if, when we

would have to eject out of a vehicle we would be dropped in pods like Space Marines in Halo: ODST, plummeting to Earth each time. That’d be a rush, and would turn commuting into an experience as thrilling as going to an amusement park and riding rollercoasters. (Come to think of it though, isn’t riding in a jeep or bus with a crazy driver already a comparable experience? Except that it would actually be safer to get dropped from space like an ODST than to ride in a crazy swerving jeepney or bus.) Along with solving the problem of traffic, the people of 2015 have also developed a solution that hits two birds with one stone. They have found sustainable energy and a way to handle the garbage problem. It’s so simple, and yet we of 2010 can’t get it to work just yet, but in five years, you just wait brother, we’ll be able to divert global warming. It’s so simple, so obvious, conforms to Ockham’s razor so well; we use our garbage as fuel. The DeLorean also got an engine upgrade with its flight upgrade, so it went from running on gas to running on trash. Doc Brown sees that he’s low on fuel, so before taking the DeLorean to the air he rummages through Marty’s trashcan and picks out some scraps like a banana peel and feeds it into the DeLorean and they are off and flying into the future. That means that green technologies will finally (and I say that with the exasperated tone that so many of us have when we think about our dependence on fossil fuels and how long we have all known that we should have been breaking that dependence, with the exasperation so many of us share because we are frustrated by how so many countries, especially the big, developed countries have ignored the Kyoto protocol and other various initiatives to address global warming until it has reached the

crisis point that we are at now) be a reality, that the people of 2015 will be working in a world that is turning back the effects of global warming and finding ways to keep the Earth sustainable and inhabitable not only for humans but for all the various flora and fauna that are threatened with extinction in 2010. The people of 2015 will have solved so many problems that we face now. I just can’t wait for it to happen. Of course when Marty McFly jumped to 2015, he was jumping thirty years into the future, whereas we are only talking of a five year gap until then and now. This means, then, that we have to make that happen. This makes me think of a Ray Bradbury short story, “The Toynbee Convector.” In it Toynbee claims that he saw the future, and he comes back with photos and creates a model of a great, wonderful future that would see a fruition of man’s goals and dreams, a golden age, a good society of equality and progress and peace. Because he provided people with this image of a great future, the people in the story worked towards and eventually attained this future. On his deathbed Toynbee confesses that he never went to the future, that his time machine was just a hoax. But he had given people a vision of something that they could work towards, and they had attained that vision. I have seen the future. It’s got auto-fit clothes and flying cars and vehicles that run on garbage. I want that. And darn it, I want a hoverboard.

That movie you watched a million times: Die Hard
(This first appeared in the Metakritiko section of thepoc.net)

These days it’s common for people to watch certain movies over and over, just because they are showing on cable. It’s thus that cultural gems such as White Chicks or High School Musical embed themselves in the consciousness of the youth. Of similar frequency, but decidedly better quality, is Mean Girls, which I remember my former students had seen so often that they had memorized all the lines. There are a number of movies from my youth that I saw many times, because they were so appealing, or they were always on TV, or some other such circumstance. Some that immediately come to mind are The Mighty Ducks, The Ernest movies starring Jim Varney (Hey Vern!), and The Planet of the Apes franchise, which I fondly remember would run for a week, called Apes Week. It becomes apparent that our choice in which films we watch when we are young are not based on artistic/aesthetic choices, but rather they are largely based on circumstance. As a result it’s a lucky circumstance that leads us to the movies that I’ve seen a million times. There are two in particular, and I attribute it all to my parents’ broken VCR. We were a middle class family, just on the fringes and hanging onto the middle status, so when our VCR broke, we could afford to replace it. The replacement stayed in my parents’ room, and the old one was supposed to go to the junk shop had I not salvaged it.

I tinkered with that beat up thing, opening it up and just haphazardly messing with its internals until, I don’t know how, but I got it working again. My parents were getting rid of it because they didn’t think that I needed a VCR, and I suppose they wanted just the one in their room so that they could monitor the movies that I watched. But since I’d fixed it up, I earned the right to keep it. And so we owned two video tapes that I watched over and over. They were Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and Die Hard. These two movies and their inhabiting my consciousness at an early age explain a lot about me and how I am now. If you’ve read any of my creative work, it would be immediately apparent that I am a big scifi fanatic. But Die Hard, there’s a film that would define a lot of things for me. Die Hard, for one, showed me how flawed adult relationships are. At the start we’ve got Bruce Willis’s John McClane separated from his wife, flying to LA to be with his kids. It also centers around my favorite holiday, Christmas, and for some reason, up to this day, when the holidays roll around I have to pull out one Die Hard movie or another, even the later, non-Christmas-themed ones. I believe an important aspect of Die Hard is its use of humor. Despite the horrific situation portrayed in the film (terrorist hijacking of a building on Christmas Eve) the film knows how to tease out a lot of laughs, and Bruce Willis’s McClane has a lot to do with it. He’s a charming rogue, a flawed everyman whose wits are as quick as his quips. As one watches one understands how his wife came to both like him and despise him. Later iterations of McClane would see his transformation from everyman cop to tank-

like superhero as they developed the Die Hard mythos, but this first portrayal of him stands as the most honest and memorable. And the action scenes, oh the action scenes. McClane running around barefoot taking down baddies, going through vents and shafts and getting the drop while spewing out great lines. The final, big scene on the roof is memorable, despite the bad decision to go into slow-mo during Gruber’s fall. Alan Rickman, who has probably cemented himself in the minds of younger audiences as Snape, will forever be, in my mind, the insidious and brilliant Hans Gruber. When McClane runs into him and he shifts into an American accent and becomes a groveling American, it’s a chilling and unforgettable cinematic moment. You’re sitting there, on the edge of your seat. You know he’s the bad dude, but McClane doesn’t and you want to scream at him, “Watch out! Shoot this evil guy! Don’t fall for it!” And director John McTiernan teases out every drop of tension from that scene. As a whole Die Hard operates as a great movie, and I guess that I was lucky enough that that was one of the movies that helps to establish the kinds of movies that I would enjoy and look for later in my life. I am always up for a movie with great action scenes. Probably not so good is that it also made me ready to watch pretty much any Bruce Willis movie, even lame ducks like Striking Distance and Hostage as well as great stuff like The Fifth Element and Sin City.

My introduction to criminality: Johnny Mnemonic
(This first appeared in the Metakritiko section of thepoc.net)

We’re all familiar with celebrities that have a penchant for pilfering for thrills. They can afford to pay for the trinkets they swipe; heck can probably pay the prices ten times over. And yet they do it. I try and contextualize my own introduction to amateur criminality in this kind of universe. I want my sins, when judged, to be mitigated by these other, more unusual criminal acts. I did consider them sins, being a Catholic school kid at the time that I committed them, kneeling before the priest in the confessional and asking to be absolved, yet unable to promise that I would not do it again. Even though I asked for absolution I knew that if given the chance or the right motivation I would do it again. Ah the guilt of having done something wrong, the guilt of confessing and saying those Hail Marys while knowing full well that I would sin again. I stole movies. Sort of. It’s not like I walked into video rental shops and took home VHS tapes. I did not have the cojones for that. And even to this day I do not think that my demanding, guilt-exacting superego would allow such behavior. Guilt and fear would stop me well before I got to the store’s threshold, thanks to my fire-andbrimstone Catholic school upbringing. What I did was I would buy one ticket, and then sneak into other movies. This began with the problem of ratings, making the first offense not an act of theft, but impropriety as deemed by the censors. I wanted to watch Johnny Mnemonic, which

was a scifi-action flick starring Keanu Reeves. It was by no means spectacular, but for a nerdy SF-loving kid, it was amazing. Reeves played the titular character who was something of a human hard drive. You could plug stuff into his brain and he would transport it. Or something like that. It had lots of violence and cool gadgetry and showed how well Reeves played a dude whose brain you could plug things into. The problem was that it was rated R and I was thirteen when it came out. I wanted to see the movie, was willing to shell money out for it, but would not be allowed into the theater without a parent. And neither of my parents wanted to watch that. There was only one remedy: to cheat the cinema. Here we usually have cinemas in malls, and each cinema has its own ticket booth, own person manning the ticket booth. Sometimes they will have one team of say, ticket person and security guard, manning a booth that serves two theaters. But in general the theaters here are pretty well guarded. But in the Los Angeles of the early 90s (and I guess up ‘til now) theaters were housed in cinemas, where you would have a number of movie theaters in that one building, and there was only one access point, the main entrance. Once you got past the main entrance, you just made your way to the theater that you were supposed to go to. This opened up the opportunity to pay for a ticket for one movie that I would be allowed into (say a Disney kid flick), have that ticket ripped at the entrance, line up for popcorn, then duck into a theater showing a different movie that I should not be allowed into (like Johnny Mnemonic).

I don’t know what criminal act you could classify that as. Is it theft? I did pay, just for something else. Is it fraud then? Had I done something fraudulent? Maybe. Was it a crime on myself, as I was underaged and should not have been exposed to such violence and gore at a young level? Maybe that too. When I confessed to the priest he wasn’t sure either, so he just told me to say five Hail Marys and not do it again. I did do it again however. And I added a new trick to my criminal activities, which I am pretty sure could be classified as theft, in some form or other. I would buy a ticket for the earliest screening of one movie. I would actually watch that movie, but then, because I had memorized the screening schedules for the various theaters, I would hop from one theater to another, watching movies that I hadn’t paid for. Sometimes I would see two or three movies at a time, leaving the cinemas well past dusk with my eyes weary from looking at massive images all day. I couldn’t afford to watch so many movies, and even renting them on VHS my funds would have been insufficient. But through these small acts of criminality I began to build my film vocabulary, and to have a reverence for the cinema-going experience, to always have a palpable sense of the difference between watching things on other formats and watching them on the big screen. Notions of theft and film have become much more widespread since then. With the numerous pirated DVDs available from everywhere, and movies available online (albeit sometimes with an audience included) and the question of protecting these films from piracy and unauthorized reproduction and use, it seems that my little acts were petty.

But at the heart of it all, whether those acts of sneaking into theaters or downloading torrents or buying pirated DVDs, all of these are indicative for a love of movies. The degree of love will always vary, it may just be simply liking to watch movies in one’s spare time, or it may reach the level of critical aspirations that a lot of friends have, amassing collections of great films that would not be available through other means. Lots of people love movies. And sometimes things get in the way of that love. These things could be cost or problems of distribution, or all kinds of other factors. In the end though, if you love movies, then it’s just like romantic love, you always find a way.

My Holy Week flick: Planet of the Apes
(This first appeared in the Metakritiko section of thepoc.net)

Holy week, for many, is a time for religion and introspection, penance and deprivation, and well, for vacation. If you can get out of the city then you’re probably at a beach somewhere enjoying the first days of summer. The time, as with most times in the year, has its own cinematic connections for me. How can I forget the holy week when I watched the grueling Passion of Christ? At markedly lesser levels of bloodshed, other movies that were in constant play were my overly-religious mother’s favorites The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur. Little wonder that Charlton Heston ranked among her favorite actors (how she feels about his work in other movies like The Omega Man or Touch of Evil is something that I still have to find out). Also doing the rounds regularly was The Greatest Story Ever Told. I did appreciate these films, because how can you not, right? These are really well made films, and they have proven to be timeless. But I found that my own tastes were looking for something else, something different. Lucky me that the something different that I found on holy week was something my mother found acceptable, thanks to Charlton Heston. While the rest of the family was hitting the churches and singing the pasyon (it was pretty amazing thinking back now, that the Filipino community in our little pocket of Los Angeles had the commitment to carry this tradition halfway across the world and still practice it, erm,

religiously) I was being transported two millennia into the future and finding the world turned upside down on Planet of the Apes. Apes was the first film of a five-day-long ritual that coincided with holy week, Apes week. This might sound blasphemous to some, to connect holy week to Apes week, but when you think about it, it’s pretty apt, especially considering the religious implications that the first film bravely (if at times heavy-handedly) makes. The rest of the films, at least if memory serves me right, don’t make as powerful commentary and were mostly cash-ins on the franchise. But they aired all five films during holy week. Thus I had to find a copy this holy week and watch it. And in returning to it, I find that it’s even better than I remember. I remember it being action packed and I remember how disturbing it was to see someone treated that way by apes. Granted that the costumes don’t look so great now, but even then, the acting came through and the movie was made so well that it all seemed believable. Mixed in with the pointed social commentary about human rights, the struggle between religion and science (which even to this day has yet to be resolved), the antiMAD doctrine, and questioning what really defines humanity, are well-staged pulsepounding action sequences. The frantic escape from the space shuttle is followed by the grueling walk through the forbidden zone. Then after luring viewers into a false sense of security, the astronauts led by Heston’s Taylor are robbed of all their belongings. Once they catch up with the humans who did the robbing, the humans are then all attacked by apes on horseback with rifles, who wrangle in some humans and just kill others for sport. Then

there is Taylor’s attempted escape where he runs through the ape city, and the later, climactic scenes. This shows then that Planet of the Apes’ form may serve as one of the templates of the contemporary scifi action flick. Good effects, some exceptional make-up work, strong scifi premise, and some exciting action sequences. Where Apes succeeds that so many of its successors fails is that is has something to say. Both on the levels of its narrative, the story of Taylor, an astronaut who finds himself in this strange, frightening world; and on the level of the various social commentaries that it makes, Apes is concerned with telling us something, not just dazzling us with flash, bang, and whiz special effects. Planet of the Apes probably doesn’t come to anyone else’s mind in this season (oddly enough, HBO just started running Godfather movies so I am wondering if this was a conscious decision and if this will define holy week in the future) but looking back at it now, it asks us important questions. How do we treat other people? What do we think of the future of the human race should look like? What kind of cruelties do we perpetrate on things (or people) just because they can’t express themselves? How do we treat information that challenges our worldview, that forces us to reorient the way we see things that we believe to be true? If there are questions worth asking during holy week, then those are among them, and if you’re looking for a movie that makes us ask those questions, Planet of the Apes is it.

Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
(This first appeared in the Metakritiko section of thepoc.net)

Bit of a background on my experience with the original Nightmare on Elm Street to contextualize how I approached this new film. As a child my parents told me never to watch that movie (even if they were watching it, my father forcing it upon my mother who was terrified and as a result could not sleep after, while, ironically enough, my father slept through the film) because I would be so scared that I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep. But being a kid, when your parents tell you not to do something, you know that you have to do it. And so I filched the VHS tape from their room and stuck it into my ratty old player. In about half an hour I was crying and screaming for my mom to come to my room, unable to move from my bed or approach the player to turn it off. I spent that night on the floor of their room, unable to stay in my room alone. And the lasting effect was that for almost a decade I could not watch any horror films, and any time that I was left alone and in the dark, I would have images of Freddy Krueger creeping up on me, ready to kill me in my dreams. I recovered eventually, even took a liking to the horror genre, writing short stories and becoming something of a horror film connoisseur. But that initial trauma, as a small kid witnessing Freddy committing his malicious acts on those teens was traumatizing, and possibly more so because I was never able to finish that film, nor see any of the sequels, not even the campy Freddy vs. Jason.

And so here we are, me in 2010 going into the theater ready to face Freddy again after almost two decades. A different Freddy, Jackie Earle Haley now instead of Robert Englund, and the deft hand of Wes Craven no longer behind the camera, but Freddy nonetheless. To whom does this round go? Me. But really, I wish that Freddy had gotten me just as well as he did that first time around. What we have in this incarnation of Nightmare on Elm Street is a powerful concentration of predictable tropes and telegraphed spook-outs, all calibrated for base scares and sudden shocks but nothing of any real lasting horror. What made Freddy so scary that first time around was that, much like the dreams of the characters, he was able to invade my (and I’m sure many other people’s) mind, creating tremendous fear long after the last reel ended (or in my case long after my mom turned off the VCR). The set-up is pretty basic, and I’m not spoiling anything by revealing that there’s something that connects the group of kids that Freddy is after. You have a batch of teens that starts dying violently. There’s a slight hint of moralist sentiment, which is par for the course for slasher flicks, but not that much (we usually expect teens in such films to head somewhere dark, make out, do drugs, have sex, and pay the price with their lives, no such retribution here, though there are a number of “money shots” which play up characters’ cleavage, which is par for the course for slasher flicks too, before the character meets a grisly death). What we do have is the deranged Freddy who keeps showing them an industrial setting, a boiler room, and images of children. He seems to be leading them somewhere and unearthing some kind of repressed memory that all these teens share.

This is a point where, on a theoretical level, the movie could have had some meat. There is some reference to psychoanalysis, and the presence of Freddy and what powers him here is intriguing. Their collective repressed memory (in a seemingly Jungian turn) has helped to make Freddy real, the further he is repressed, the more guilt the kids feel, and the more powerful he becomes. Thus, as they begin unlocking their shared memories, they fuel Freddy’s power for vengeance, enabling him to take his vengeance on them. This shows itself as an opportunity to play with more surreal shifts and more frightening things. Indeed the appeal of this, as in the first one, is that we have no control of our dreams and there is true terror when we experience nightmares. So what happens when a monster starts inhabiting your nightmares, lying in wait for you to fall asleep so that he can kill you there? You try not to fall asleep, but of course that’s impossible, and in the end Freddy’s waiting. The premise is so powerful, so filled with horror that it would seem impossible for this movie to not be scary. But, at least to me, it wasn’t scary at all. It may be that I expected to be frightened as I was with the original, or The Exorcist, or The Ring, or other movies that freaked me out. Or it may have been that I had seen so many horror films that I had grown desensitized. But from my seat in the theater where people were squealing and squirming, Nightmare on Elm Street felt like a pretty generic slasher flick, with some decent effects and showy shots, but nothing really to make it memorable. We recognize that it falls in with the trend of horror flick remakes/updates which have in general been pretty dismal. There’s always something missing in these

updates, an inability to ground these formerly horrific films in a contemporary context and to make them mean something for today’s viewers. There are the occasional ones that will do the job, but usually, they turn out like Nightmare on Elm Street, a by-thenumbers remake that doesn’t really bring anything new to the table except for contemporary camera tricks. And this does make full use of all the trickery and special effects that it can. There’s some good, clean editing here, and the first few times that things shift from real world to dream world they are creepy. But this trick gets used too often until it doesn’t really have that much of an effect. To be fair to the film, there are some visceral scares, and a lot of things that will make viewers jump up in their seats. But then these come from predictable set-ups, or more frustratingly from characters acting stupid. Now we do have to allow for characters in movies such as this to act stupid because that’s usually what helps to push the plot along. Here though, the stupidity can get frustrating, because it’s clear that they are doing certain things just for the sake of moving the plot along. The problem of the plot not moving smoothly is largely the fault of a script that would make most readers give themselves facepalms regularly. There’s so much exposition in the dialogue. Another major problem with the dialogue is that it doesn’t sound natural, but rather it all sounds like the characters are reiterating certain points or expressing their emotions just in case you missed it when they were trying to make the point.

And most of the scenes in the film seem like they are just fillers for when Freddy can show up and kill people. The movie can be effective when those scenes do come in. The sound design here is good. A lot of horror lives and dies by the sound, and here it’s pretty powerful, the scratches and booms and oomphs and screeching and all other manner of disturbing sound, as well as the inevitable ominous tones that play to create tension and a sense that something bad is going to happen. As mentioned before though, these scenes are scary, but at the same time way too cliché. Someone climbs up into the attic. You know what’s gonna happen there. Someone hides in a closet. You know exactly what to expect. Bad things are happening so someone wants to go it alone. You know what’s gonna happen. A dude is saying something really bad is happening to him and no one believes him. You know he’s gonna get it. All these people are getting killed and two characters pull up in a car somewhere. But one character wants to stay in the car. So you know something’s gonna happen. These scenes are scary because of the anticipation that they create, because you know that Freddy is lurking, ready to pounce when he is given these opportunities. But the truth of the matter is that Freddy here isn’t really all that scary. Sure he’s got the claws and all, and he can kill you. But there’s just a certain level of menace lacking. The original Freddy just seemed like he was having such a good time killing people that it genuinely freaked you out; not only was he doing all this mean, evil stuff to people but he was really enjoying it.

The new Freddy is transformed from a mass murderer to a pedophile, and this sort of changes the level of malice here. And there’s none of that enjoyment that he takes in killing, as he seems to have a twisted sense of justice in taking his revenge. I suppose that it’s much scarier when a character just enjoys torturing and killing people than when the character is out for revenge. If you need to see the distinction, I’d probably refer you to Robert Mitchum’s character in Cape Fear who was the embodiment of menace, and who enjoyed being menacing. Even with all the make-up he has on, Haley’s Freddy just isn’t that scary. In fact I found myself comparing Haley’s performance here with his one-scene performance in Shutter Island and found that the performance in the latter, though limited to just a few minutes, was so much more powerful and frightening than his (comparably) extensive screen time here. This isn’t faulting Haley as an actor (as he has shown that he can be darn good when given the right material) but pointing to how the construction of a horror film doesn’t depend on just having a scary monster/killer/slasher but rather creating a sense of fear for both the characters and for the viewers. Another thing that bothered me was this film’s sense of justice, or general lack of it. In the original Krueger kills kids, he is unlawfully killed and then he comes back to just keep killing. Then we have a character who was fueled by sadism and psychotic/ sociopathic tendencies that are just so powerful that they transcend even death, which is a frightening thing indeed. But in the update (POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT) we have a character killed for molesting kids. His memory is repressed by the kids, and while there in their collective

memory he festers and waits until he is powerful enough to get his revenge on the kids. For what? For having told their parents that he was molesting them. This just seems like a sad victimization, and really makes me feel like there’s a meanness to the film that I couldn’t care for. Sure the first film is mean, but then it’s mean because you have a genuinely crazy character who just won’t die and finds a way to keep killing. Here you have a child molester who comes back from the grave to kill the kids he molested. It’s a double-victimization of these characters that just doesn’t sit well with me. He has already molested them, now he gets to come back and do more terrible things to these kids. What I’m looking for, I guess, is that moralist angle to horror, which I feel (and as Stephen King too points out, as he says that horror is the most moralist genre) is missing. I want my characters to deserve to die. I want them to have done something to justify Freddy’s stalking and killing them. But as it is, all they did was get molested and try to repress that molestation in their subconscious. On the level of concept and script Nightmare on Elm Street is problematic. There are touches here that show potential, but not enough to make it feel like a big sustained piece of horror, let alone have it measure up to the original. It is competent in setting up some scares, but these are the kind of scares that we can see in pretty much every slasher flick. There’s nothing distinctive here, nothing to make it stand out in our thoughts, let alone in our dreams.

Post-Apocalyptic as the Neo-Western
(This first appeared in the Metakritiko section of thepoc.net)

An inquiry into the potential of Post-Apocalyptic films to take on the mantle of Westerns in the exploration of common themes about humanity in the face of a hostile environment The Dying Western The Western has been a staple film genre since the earliest days of the art form. Even though there is a relative dearth of Westerns produced, it still maintains its spot in the AFI top 100 films, despite the emergence of other genres that are more vibrant in production. When I think of the last great Western, the movie that comes to mind immediately is  Unforgiven. The Eastwood-helmed film serves not only as a Western, but also as a post-modern commentary on Westerns, as it explores the framework and trappings of the genre while simultaneously providing a superior work. But in recent years, while there have been some films that have ventured back to the Wild West, such as the fun popcorn flick 3:10 to Yuma, the power and appeal of the Western as a genre has generally waned in the face of scif and fantasy epics, slasher flicks, and small, quiet dramas. In fact, to most young viewers, when asked to name film genres the Western probably won’t even come up. And if it does, it is inevitably connected to homosexuality, thanks to Brokeback Mountain. There is a double-irony to be observed in this kind of relation that is established. Brokeback Mountain finds some of its power

in emasculating one of the icons of masculinity, the cowboy. And yet, the contemporary younger viewer misses the irony of this emasculation, because they are unaware of the stereotypical image of the macho cowboy. It is rather safe to say that the Western may be in its last throes, the equivalent perhaps of a senior in a nursing home, visited once in a while by their offspring and those that still remember them fondly, but generally avoided by the younger kids because they smell old. And of course, because they aren’t cool. Indeed what appeal has the lone gunslinger now, the  Man with No Name  on the ridge with the cigar and poncho, the valiant sheriff who faces a band of outlaws at high noon? Even going beyond the idea that most people don’t have a sense of that history (indeed how much do we Filipinos know of that, our own cultural consciousness of it being reflected by the long-extinct Pancit Westerns and not much else) and considering that the Maverick as a stereotype has been painted so negatively in contemporary culture (we are always promoting fitting in, individuality but only in terms of expression but not a true, personal moral code that wavers from the socially acceptable), how are younger viewers to take seriously a genre that has always had a decidedly macho stance when their immediate referent has them recalling images of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal frolicking in the fields? And yet I will argue that we need Westerns. Within the parameters of the Western genre we see, admittedly portrayals of patriarchy, but also the portrayal of numerous values that seem to be lost. The contemporary settings which we have are

hotbeds of ambiguity, where we see the grays, where the lines of good and evil, right and wrong are always shifting. But in the sunburst backdrops, in the prairies and the deserts, the saloons and brothels, the sheriff’s office and the town hall, the distinctions between these things are easier to distinguish. And even when we have a maverick, or a Robin Hood-type, a righteous outlaw, we know on which side we are meant to fall. We see in Westerns extensions of the values of chivalry, the need to help the weak who cannot fend for themselves, the constant moral questioning that that setting provides. For what are Westerns but exhibitions of people in a hostile land, devoid of formal government, trying to make their way. Decency is most often punished (usually by bandits or other bad guys), weakness most often taken advantage of. And it is up to the good to protect the decent and the weak, often taking a toll on the good, as they are forced to adopt the evil’s methods to protect the decent and weak. The Western speaks of the uncharted frontier, a chaotic land filled with hostiles (bandits, Indians, thieves, and the list goes on) and the people who are trying to establish a life there. Without formal government and formal social structures, stripped of social conventions and social norms, we have people who either slip into savagery or who hold on doggedly, heroically, to their humanity. And it is in these traits that one can find commonalities with the Post-Apocalyptic setting.

The Post-Apocalyptic Possibilities Post-apocalyptic settings can be wildly varied, from a  Waterworld  to a robot dominated  Terminator  or  Matrix  to post-zombie apocalypse settings, to the usual barren, desolate wastelands that we have come to see more and more often. What they all do have in common (with each other as well as with Westerns) is that they have people trying to make a life in a world where the old rules, the old social structures are gone. It is up to the people to define how they will live, and they are always under constant threat from the environment and from human threats that would take advantage of them. It is here then that we see that the Western may be dying, but there is a chance for its spirit and its values to be passed on to a genre that is more relevant to contemporary viewers. Indeed, Westerns began just as the Wild West was being tamed, and thus their appeal to that generation. Today’s viewers, on the other hand, have no consciousness of that world, except for what they have gotten through media (and what little that is, all things considered), but constant in our minds is the prospect of an Extinction Level Event, in all of its various incarnations, whether it come from global warming, a killer virus, earthquakes, tidal waves, nuclear war, zombies, or a hostile Singularity. Ahead of the curve by a few years, as he usually is, is Joss Whedon  with the much-loved but quickly-axed Firefly. Here we see the Space-Western, a seamless integration of two genres. While it is set off-world though, Whedon’s Firefly universe

wasn’t too focused on post-apocalypse, but rather in portraying space and terraformed planets as a new frontier, turning the outer planets into the Wild West. To clarify, Firefly portrays a kind of apocalypse. In its mythology the Earth could not sustain and man took to the stars. Its focus though, is on how man handles taking over many planets in the universe. Like the movement west in the 19th century, we see people making establishments and trying to make lives for themselves. What Firefly further portrays is the relationship between the Alliance and the outer planets. In the larger scheme of things, Firefly presents us a world where the Core planets are more technologically advanced. Their proximity to the center makes aid easier and we see that the privileges, both political and personal, on these planets are vastly different from the outer planets. This works as a direct referent to what we see today, in Third World politics, where the Core in our contemporary case would be the First World Countries, while the periphery would be the Third World countries. The obvious impositions made by the hegemony are likewise observed in both instances, as we come to a Firefly universe where the Alliance has taken control of and subdued the Independents, or Browncoats. Former Browncoats lead a ragtag crew through their adventures. We observe here Captain Mal Reynolds, portrayed by Nathan Fillion, as a successor to Han Solo, with Solo himself a charming rogue who finds his place fighting on the side of right. Further we observe the values of individuality, non-conformity, and questioning of a hegemony as parts of the show’s main themes. “People don’t like to be meddled with,”

a n d “ T h e y a i m t o m i s b e h a v e , ” t w o c r u c i a l t a g l i n e s f ro m t h e fi l m adaptation  Serenity  both make reference to this rugged individuality that one must possess to survive in the frontier, outside of the gaze of normal society. But where the Firefly universe shows us a setting very similar to both contemporary Third World politics and the American westward expansion by showing us other galaxies and the dynamics between planets, we see also the potential in newer post-apocalyptic films that are set firmly on Earth, exploring how people deal with the immediate effects of a cataclysmic event. Two recent films in particular,  The Road  and  The Book of Eli  consistently question the toll that a post-apocalyptic world takes on humans and their humanity. Though of distinctly different visual styles, both portray the formation of roving bands of marauders and a rule of the land defined by ferocity and violence. Similarly, both films have us follow characters whose moral boundaries are challenged. In The Road we see a protagonist who, in surviving the apocalypse and having to protect his son, has his moral code regularly questioned. He finds himself redefining his own limitations of what he is willing to do in order to protect and provide for his son. We observe the interactions with fellow humans to be regularly hostile, as there is no formal sense of government and people wander around lost. Though we are never shown a rebuilding, the film shows the values of the young (in particular the protagonist’s son) important, as it is these values that will define how the world will be

rebuilt. The constant moral questioning that happens between father and son and their interactions with other travelers leaves both the characters and the viewers wondering at what kind of world can be built, and if there is a sense of goodness that can exist in such a ravaged world. The Book of Eli, is decidedly more of a Western, as its visual style and themes draw directly from classic Westerns. And thus it serves as a great template for the potential of the post-apocalyptic film to explore what a rebuild society would look like. Set 30 years after the ELE, it still has marauders and wild people on the road, but also towns that have been established and we see that there is a clear rebuilding process that is happening. It is here that the film flourishes, as it shows the moral and ethical questions that are made in rebuilding society, asking what kind of leaders one should have and how one should lead. While the film isn’t as powerful as it could be, it serves as a clear template for the potential of future films that may follow it.

Where to Now? While other films worry about the machines that might enslave us, or the viruses that might get us, the stories of our humanity are to be found in those films that show people trying to rebuild society. Indeed if the rule of the road is kill or be killed, how does one survive without being a killer? If one is to preserve humanity, to build a humane society in such a hostile environment and hostile world, what kind of actions must be taken?

We see, then, with those questions, that there is a clear intersection between the themes and ideas that both the Western and the post-apocalyptic film explore. Considering the popularity of the post-apocalyptic film at the international level, one can ask, will this setting begin to make its way into Filipino film? I doubt it will, at least in major studio efforts. But it would be interesting to see the Filipino’s take on such a situation, and on how Filipinos would view how our society would restructure itself in the aftermath of an apocalyptic event.

Films and Piracy
(This essay was submitted to .MOV festival’s journal in 2011.)

Here’s the challenge: go to a big bricks-and-mortar DVD store (or store that sells

DVDs) and pick up copies of Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, Fellini’s 8 1/2, Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and a movie by either Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin. If you can do this, then the world, or at least the world of retail DVD sales in the

Philippines, has changed. If not, then things are as they were, and will likely be for a long time. And this is precisely why what is considered piracy will continue and proliferate. This will go on no matter how many times and in how many iterations we are bombarded with messages against “camcording” or copying of files or anything of the like. Cultural tastes are fragmented. There is a dominant taste, that of the masa, which

defines mainstream television, film, and radio. But outside of the big hits of the largely homogenous mainstream there are many different niche markets. And at present these markets are largely serviced only by pirated DVDs and illegal digital downloads. The easy acquisition, reliable availability, and social acceptance of pirated DVDs

and digital downloads are so pronounced that we use these to describe the quality of films. How so? When you ask someone if a film is good, they might tell you, “Oo pangsinehan (Yes, you should watch it in the theater).” This means that they found the film to be a filmic experience, good enough to be worth the price of a ticket as well as a trip to the theater. If they weren’t too pleased but thought it was ok “I-download mo, ok

naman (Download it, it’s okay.). This connotes that it’s worth the time and effort to find a torrent and download it, but not really good enough to shell money out for. If someone really loved a film, they might call it, “Pang-orig,” which means that it’s so good they believe they need to own an original copy of it in their personal collection. But if the person you’re asking thinks the movie is pretty bad, not worth watching but something you might watch anyway, they’ll tell you, “Pirated mo na lang (Just buy the pirated.). Indeed the way that we view audio-visual media is in a process of great

transformation. Entertainment is cheap and relatively free on youtube, television is undergoing changes as the model of commercial breaks distributed through the length of an episode is being challenged, and the way that we view films is changing to suit the viewer more than the vision of the filmmaker. Never mind the filmic vision of David Lynch (who has voiced his disapproval of the various media his films can be viewed in) and other auteurs, we can watch something in IMAX, in our living rooms, or in the palms of our hands. Previously we encountered problems with pirated DVDs. Some of these problems

still exist of course. Sometimes the pirated disc doesn’t work, it stops, or it goes wrong. There are funnier times when the content of the disc isn’t what you paid for. There’s also the sometimes questionable quality of copies at times (which DVD sellers are often very honest about, “camera pa lang” for those shot with a camera in the theater, screeners which were leaked, “ngongo” for discs whose visuals are good but whose sound is compromised, etc). But more often than not, the quality of pirated DVD

sales have increased, some of them becoming so good that there are what have come to be called Blue-Ray DVDs, which are DVDs which were copied off of Blu-Ray discs. Along with the good (and sometimes superior) video quality, our pirated DVDs often have the bonus features of original DVDs. Contrast how potentially and often how actually good pirated DVDs can be with

how potentially bad original DVDs can be. Little problems like certain special features not being on the disc even though they are listed on the box can be an annoyance. But an obviously bigger problem is the video quality of some original DVDs, which look like VCDs or have even lower resolution than VCDs. My funniest experience with buying an original DVD was when I picked up a copy of James Cameron’s True Lies, a movie I enjoyed as a kid, and would have enjoyed a lot more if there were care taken in its DVD conversion. Instead I got something with cheap video quality, with the edges of the picture cut off, and most laughably, it was hard-subbed in bad Filipino, such that a snappy exchange where one character says “Blow me!” is transliterated to “Hipan mo ako.” This is just unforgivable, and it’s an embarrassment. If there were any argument for eschewing paying more for original DVDs that is better than watching True Lies, I have yet to find one. Which is to say that local original DVD sellers are sometimes peddling crap (okay, they are often peddling crap movies, but here we refer to the quality of the DVD conversions) and driving us towards piracy. And again, I am only speaking here of DVD quality, and not of selection. Still, let’s acknowledge that the local DVD stores have made attempts to address

the problem of DVD piracy. The pricing has become more competitive at least, with

original DVDs going for as low as P99, or sometimes buy-one-get-one for P150. When we download movies, it feels like we are getting them for free, but we are spending money on our internet connections, electricity, use of computer, and when you think about it, the time that we spend on the act of downloading offsets the cost of buying. So I propose that while pirated films are cheap and cheaper than original DVDs, there isn’t that large a difference in the cost to truly drive people to pirated. It also makes me believe that if original DVDs could get their act together, then piracy could be stopped. If we set aside the issues of quality which we have identified, and assume that pirated and original DVDs are of the same quality with maybe a twenty to thirty peso price difference, then we can see where the pirated films really have the upper hand. And that upper hand, I’ll argue, is content. DVD and home viewing adhere to the concept of the Long Tail. In Long Tail

economics, we have a business model where big hits are at the top, or the head of the graph. But as we track down the sales, we see that after the big head (lots of purchases of major hits) the sales curve downward and never hit zero, but keep showing hits. This leads to the assumption that anything on the internet will be bought/ downloaded/read at least once, as the Long Tail means that the graph never hits zero. It also means that while a small number of products (say Justin Bieber or Glee CDs, The Da Vinci Code or the Twilight series, or big Hollywood movie DVDs) will rake in the biggest sales, the rest of the tail is enough to sustain niche markets. These niche markets are precisely what pirated DVDs and illegal digital

downloads service. While major DVD sellers peddle the latest big Hollywood flicks, the

same movies that you could find in the theaters, and those same movies are peddled too by most illegal DVD sellers as well, and those big flicks also have the most seeds in illegal digital downloads, when viewers with different and niche tastes start looking for films, they cannot find them in the mainstream and legal modes of acquisition. There are some pretty clear and simple explanations for this. The most significant

things we can look at are the limitations of availability and stock. When Hollywood churns out a big picture release, there’s massive marketing push and solid distribution channels behind it. Thus in every branch of legal stores you can find those DVDs. But going into back catalogues like, say, the Criterion collection, or trying to find

newly released foreign-language films, it becomes extremely difficult to make these available. Another problem is stocking these in stores. With the limitations of shelf space in relation to the amount of money that could be potentially made on each DVD, stores will more naturally choose for DVDs that will be sold, rather than DVDs that will display a certain level of mastery and great filmmaking. Hence the great ease with which one can find copies of Snakes on a Plane. Piracy on the other hand, sidesteps a lot of the issues of shelf space and the

exorbitant overhead costs that legitimate DVD sellers must incur. Thus they can afford to carry less popular titles. And in the process they wind up catering to a niche market, not the large market that is needed to sustain a large legitimate DVD store chain, but large enough to make their servicing of the niche market a sustainable business. And so I have a place I go to regularly when I want to find those foreign-language flicks, and I know where I can get classic Hollywood films if I want them.

This problem of stock is addressed even more easily by digital downloads, where

through P2P sharing and torrents one can find a vibrant online community willing to share films for free. And though the collection of people online isn’t complete by any means (for what collection really can be?), it is substantial enough that most of the movies you look for can be found, in some way or other. Which again means that with quality being pretty much equal, the availability offered by extra-legal means makes it the clear choice, for the simple reason that the extra-legal means are more likely to have what you want. Now I believe that there are some ways we can deal with piracy. In first world

countries video streaming and digital download and subscription opportunities are available to viewers. Services such as Netflix and Hulu offer not only the big hits, but also have in their servers films and TV series which appeal to the various niche markets and subcultures that bricks-and-mortar stores ignore. The cost of a Netflix monthly account doesn’t differ too much from a cable subscription (even with the recent increase in prices). I, and a number of people I know, would we willing to pay this cost. However the service, and other streaming services, are unavailable to Filipinos in the Philippines (Okay, so despite the region-blocking that happens, Filipinos still find ways to work around it, such as using VPNs to fool the system into believing that your ISP address is somewhere in America. But if they made the service available to us legitimately, then we would not have to resort to that). The principle in getting people to pay for content that they could get for free is making the paid content easier to get

than the pirated stuff, and offering it at a reasonable price. Without a legitimate means to acquire the paid content, then film-lovers are left with no options except piracy. If you want to stop piracy, well it won’t happen. If someone wants to pirate work,

someone wants to get it for free, there’s no stopping them, sorry. If someone has absolutely no plans of spending money on content, there’s no way that you can get them to. However, those kinds of people are outliers more than the norm if you establish distribution models that serve more things to more people. If you want to lessen piracy, then make the original content more accessible to people. Which is to say that blocking third world countries from entertainment services because of the rampant piracy in the country gets the opposite of the intended effect. Make it harder to get the content and you make piracy the better choice. Beyond the availability of DVDs in stores and streaming and downloading

services, there are other limitations we must contend with. At present bandwidth is extremely expensive, and with the arrival of data-capping (the term is something telcos are trying to avoid, but they are already doing it and trying to implement it even more aggressively) this will only further drive us away from streaming services. The large masses of data involved in streaming or downloading one film are massive (700MB or thereabouts for an AVI, but as you increase the video quality the films run up into the GBs) and thus become prohibitive. So people will avoid streaming and other services that gobble up their bandwidth and will still choose instead to download files, even if these come at limited speeds.

People want their content. The question lies in how they will get it. If someone

wants to pirate something, then they will pirate it. But if you make it easy for them to buy, and make the prices reasonable, then you can begin to make a viewership that will have more respect for the product, and will be more willing to pay for the product. We can solve many problems by adopting new about film sales and distribution.

The first of these is that piracy is something that will always be a part of the industry, now that it is so easy to make copies. Piracy is not as criminal and evil as we have been led to believe, but rather it should be seen as an act of resistance against the dominant forces of the record and film industry. It speaks against the exorbitant costs of original copies of the content. Next, piracy serves as a subversion against the imposition of mainstream tastes on niche cultures, as it allows viewers access to films that fall outside of the dominant modes of viewing. So we must live with piracy and create cultural products that take piracy into account. We must design these products, these distribution channels, and the physical and digital media, in such ways that they would be preferable to the pirated versions. This means going beyond just the price points, because legitimate producers cannot compete with pirated versions. It means examining the quality of the product, the range of choices available to viewers, and creating for viewers a system that provides them with the greatest number of titles, the easiest ways to watch titles, and a reasonable cost to engage the system. Which is to say at the cost of a monthly cable subscription, I want to be able to

turn on my TV, log onto a site, and on a whim, start playing The 400 Blows, 8 1/2, Seven Samurai, and City Lights in glorious high-def digital video.

TELEVISION
How do you watch TV?
(I started writing this essay as a short think piece on where television was going. Then it exploded into this lengthy overview and lots of ideas, which I wound up submitting for an MA Class.)

This question might have been considered absurd a decade ago. After all, at the turn of the century the only real question was whether you had cable or not, and maybe which cable provider you were using. But with the proliferation of digital media, the affordability of the DVD player (being more of a mainstay than even VHS was, and quickly usurping the short-lived reigns of both laserdisc and VCD), the cheap and easy access to TV series in DVD format, online options for downloading to your hard drive to watch at your leisure or watch via streaming, and the impending arrival of affordable DVRs, this becomes an important question. Not only has this technology changed the way that we consume and perceive television as a form of entertainment, but it has important impact on the development of television as an art form. I began thinking about the changing nature of television when I asked a friend if she was watching the latest season of Chuck. She said that she was waiting for the season to end, then she would do a marathon-viewing of it. And I started thinking about my own viewing habits. I had to watch the latest episode of Lost every week (before my friends started texting me spoilers, like Lost blogger Adam David who regularly texted me things like,

“Everyone dies!” the dynamics of this, the need to watch the latest episodes and the avoidance of friends who have when you haven’t, to be discussed later in this essay), while there are series like House whose episodes I can allow to pile up after a few weeks and breeze through in one sitting. My own wait-til-the-season-is-over-to-watch series was 24. That show, despite its regular absurdity, made cliffhangers so darn good I couldn’t bear to wait a week. And thus arises this new subjective nature of TV viewing. We, as viewers and consumers, can now define how we experience television, which was not necessarily the case before.

The Yoke of Scheduling One of the definitive aspects of TV before digital media was that we were, in essence, slaves to it. We did not dictate when our favorite shows would air, we could not control what episode we would watch or when we would have to watch a rerun. If we had a party, an engagement, or a meeting, we had no choice but to miss that new episode and hope that we could catch a rerun of it sometime soon. Further we would have to hope that nothing substantial or important happened in that episode that we were going to miss. We were at the mercy of TV and whoever set the schedules. We were also at the mercy of sports events, special announcements, and other things that might interrupt regular viewing schedules. I remember one hellish summer in California where regular

TV programming was replaced by the OJ Simpson trial on every channel, when all I wanted to watch was Gilligan’s Island. Even more susceptible to scheduling and at the mercy of TV execs were series, whose shelf lives were not merely defined by the quality of the show but also by the ratings. And the ratings of a show could be greatly affected by its airing schedule. One need look no further than the much-loved but quickly cancelled Firefly which suffered from the double whammy of being ahead of its time in terms of the material it was trying to exhibit (but oh how exuberant and fun that was) and then having had terrible screening schedules that all but ensured low ratings. Aside from erratic schedules, one also has to consider the competition on other channels. Imagine coming up with an amazing show in the 90s, but being told that you would be airing at the same time as the Friends/Seinfeld power hour. Or in more recent years starting a cop show that would have to go head to head against CSI. Or the Monday night (in the US anyway) head to head between House/24 on one channel and Chuck/Heroes on another. As a viewer, you would be forced to choose which show you would watch, in effect, missing another show, and possibly killing it. This set a great limitation, considering the choice primetime slots and the need to choose only one show per time slot to watch. This would have been fine in earlier times with fewer choices (or say on a local level where, as far as local TV viewers are concerned you are Kapamilya or Kapuso, these terms coming to embody an identity for the viewership, creating a kind of brand loyalty in relation to cultural consumption), but with so many choices out there

it meant that you might be missing out on something that you would probably really enjoy and love, because you were stuck watching something else, which you already enjoyed and loved.

Breaking the Yoke Digital media has broken the yoke established by the old network television paradigm. You don’t have to stay at home for it. You missed it? Hey you can catch it via streaming. Or you really liked it? You can download the episode (one wonders when such a service will become available locally via iTunes, as this would probably help to combat the piracy that they are trying to prevent by not selling entertainment media on iTunes) and watch it on your own time. This means then, that the limitation of time is broken. No longer must you follow the schedules as established by the networks. And you no longer need to choose which show to watch in a given time slot, as you can watch both those shows at your own chosen time. This further means that you can watch shows that are cancelled or shows that are years or even decades old, all this media and culture available as long as you have the technology to play it. We are no longer confined to what’s on TV, no longer stuck with whatever shows are being shown. If we had shows that we loved that were cancelled, or that were old, then all we could do to see them in the old broadcasting paradigm was hope that they would come out in syndication on cable. In my lost years (a period I refer to as lost because I

was in high school, often kicked out of the house or passed out somewhere drunk, cultural enrichment in the form of film and television escaping me as I dealt with adolescence and family trauma), Star Trek: Voyager aired and I missed it all. My only chance to see it was during its reruns on the Hallmark channel which were at times when I was usually out drunk somewhere. But with access to digital media, we can all have access to shows that we missed. Never before have we had so much access to so much good television. A friend raved about The Shield when it was running, but since it was already in its third season by then, it was too late for me to catch up. But now I can pick it all up on DVD. Same with such greats that started airing during those aforementioned lost years, such as The Sopranos or The Wire. Thanks to re-releases on DVD, online streaming, and downloadable media, we can get shows from all over. A personal favorite, Brit show Spaced feels like a show that everyone should have watched, but it came at a rather obscure time, the dominant on our own networks being reruns of Ally McBeal and Friends or comedies like Palibhasa Lalake and Okay Ka Fairy Ko, all a far cry from the humor and witty po-mo referencing of Spaced. Further, British television wasn’t something that was available to us at the time, and still is, at the moment, a niche interest in this country. Its recent rerelease on DVD was a celebration for fans and a great opportunity for everyone else to see it since some of the people who worked on the show, namely Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, and Edgar Wright, have all attained commercial Hollywood success.

This breathes new life and new interest into a decade-old series, and is something that we can assume would benefit other shows such as Freak and Geeks, now that its co-creator Judd Apatow, as well as a lot of the series’ cast, have become Hollywood mainstays. And Asian series as well as local teleseryes are getting in on the re-releasing act. This means an availability of shows from all over the world for viewers. Whether one would want to sit through a DVD collecting local teleseryes would of course be a matter of taste, but seeing as to how there is a congruence between our tastes and those of our Asian neighbors this could mean a whole new way of looking at local television production beyond the radyo-inspired eight-month-long daily screening lifespans which they currently follow now. (To address the question of whether one would want to sit through a whole season’s worth of a local teleserye in the marathon manner that some of us watch Battlestar Galactica or Firefly, I did as part of a research sit through a whole season of Pinoy Big Brother in a span of two days. While you may argue that PBB is a reality show, I do believe that it is the distillation of the Filipino teleserye, all the elements one looks for present there, and presented in the prism of reality, with a nice voyeuristic touch to it. It is, I maintain, a matter of taste. This material may well appeal to our Asian neighbors, as much as their content appeals to a lot of Filipinos. On my end however, halfway through my first day of viewing I wanted to put my head through a wall just so that it would all stop, only being able to steady myself and endure the rest of it by

assuring myself that this was all in the service of art, literature, and the pursuit of knowledge.) Ongoing shows have benefited from DVD releases as well. The aforementioned Chuck owes its second and third season renewals just as much to its DVD sales as to its Save Chuck online campaigns. Networks are realizing that it’s not merely big ratings when a show airs that defines the show’s profitability, but also fans’ willingness to pay for downloads and DVD releases that collect the series’ recently aired season. Thus, shows that have small, loyal followings are making more of a difference now than ever before. Ratings are no longer the sole measuring stick for a show’s popularity, but downloads and DVD sales help to influence a show’s life, and in this sense the consumer has more power than before, getting to vote for his favorite show not only by watching it when it first airs, but by buying the show and having the opportunity to watch it over and over. The changing, shifting nature of how to gauge a show’s popularity and profitability will be something to watch out for, as the parameters are still being defined. And one cannot help but muse at the shows that might have been saved had this more inclusive “ratings” gauge been employed then. For example, the immensely enjoyable and re-watchable episodes of Arrested Development sold on DVD and available for download, coupled with a strong online campaign for the show, might have saved the show from its early demise, had the reconfigured ratings system been in play at that time.

An even newer phenomenon adding to this gauging of popularity are the sales being generated by Glee and American Idol. Songs performed on both shows generate numerous downloads, and they expose young viewers to older music, causing renewed interest in older musicians who would not have gotten such exposure. For all of the classic rock stations in the world, on radio and online, none of them can generate from the youth an interest in a power ballad as well as usage in an episode of Glee. In a memorable scene from 30 Rock (which I can rewatch as much as I want now that they are selling for only P200 per season!), Tracy Jordan says, “Treat every week like it’s shark week.” And thanks to digital media we can do precisely that. We can define time and consumption. We don’t have to wait for Shark Week, we can just pop in the Shark DVDs whenever we feel like it. This new freedom has, of course, its own repercussions in terms of how we experience television, and how we share our television experiences with others.

Water cooler culture and its death In The Long Tail (to which this essay owes a lot, many of the ideas being explored here extensions of certain things asserted there) Chris Anderson discusses water cooler culture and the death of water cooler culture. Water cooler culture is defined as the talk that occurs around the office water cooler. We may not have a quick and easy identical cultural referent, but I think we can

get the idea. It’s the small talk that we make about what we watched last night. You ask, “Hey did you get to watch _________ show last night?” And since there were only a few stations and people generally watched the same shows, then you would always have something to talk about. It’s not like this has entirely disappeared but it has fragmented. The pervasiveness of this water cooler culture is gone as more options have become available and people are defining how they view things more and more. Perhaps American Idol stands as a semi-communal activity, but only still speaking to a sub-culture. Locally, there is still much more response to the soaps. But these soaps don’t yield the mythologizing and theorizing of more complex Western series. Here we can observe the kinds of discussions that can emerge. The talk about the soaps will largely be about the plot and recent developments in the latest episodes, or about the characters and how likable or dislikable they are. The Western series (not all of course, but the better ones) would allow for discussions of plot and character, but also of larger possibilities within the series, the drive of the narrative, and when TV is at its best, theorizing about the various connections to be found in the series and how it will progress. One can begin examining form, trajectory, developments, and mythology. Beyond the limits of the show, viewers are also starting to show interest in

intertextual connections. The intertextuality can be observed both in terms of creators/ writers who are working with other shows, where viewers observe common themes or ideas being shown (for example JJ Abrams’ stylistics on display in Alias, Lost, and

Fringe), as well as the differences. Guest directors also come in sometimes to make contributions to shows. Notable examples are Quentin Tarantino writing and directing a two-hour episode of CSI which bore his trademark dialogue, and Joss Whedon, after having established his capabilities at directing musicals in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog directing an episode of Glee. Because of the wealth of context and viewer familiarity with this content they are ready to make these connections. Intertexuality is also enjoyed by viewers when actors make cameos on other shows, or they show up as characters that are similar to characters from past shows. Small winks to the audience are made, and in the context of postmodernism playing up this intertextuality, this adds a real sense of pleasure as well as fun and nostalgia to the viewer who can read into the referencing. A few examples of this would be Lee Ermey playing strict military disciplinarian in House, clearly working as an intertextual reference to his role in Full Metal Jacket, Adam Baldwin playing essentially the same character in Chuck as he did in Firefly because as Chuck show-runners admit they were imagining Baldwin and his character Jayne as the inspiration for Major Casey, and perhaps the most fun referencing, How I Met Your Mother’s use of references to Doogie Howser, M.D., where they have Neil Patrick Harris writing in a journal while the show’s theme music plays. The kinds of discussions that one would engage in, which would be defined by levels of analysis as well as content, would then help to define one’s culture and social group at present. Our interactions with media help to define us, and because of the

various different markets that media addresses now, this would redefine the kinds of social groups one would belong to. My sister spent her week-long vacation from school at home. She decided to utilize the time watching shows like Chuck and Fringe, watching entire seasons of both series in that week. She also stopped watching local soaps. When she went back to school she felt alienated because she had no idea what her friends were talking about. Afterwards she had to decide which shows to watch, and so she wound up choosing to go back to watching soaps so that she could still fit into her social group. Now though, she watches her soaps but has been watching less of them and more of the Western shows which I watch. Not only that but she has also begun to seek out friends who watch similar shows and has started to expose her friends to the shows that we watch together. In reaction to the cultural exposure, she has begun to influence her peers and get them to watch other things, or to find social groups that she might fit in based on her newfound tastes.

Cultural Imposition vs. Cultural Adaptation This could be viewed as a cultural hegemony, an imposition of one culture on another, because this Western culture is eclipsing the appeal of local television and film (though it can be argued that while local media addresses the masa in doing so it has chosen to exclude viewers of other sensibilities, so the appeal of Western culture is long entrenched in the bourgeois viewership). It can be seen from a post-colonial perspective as a subconscious deference to the colonizer, that we inevitably find the

colonizer’s work superior to our own. However, one can genuinely argue for the quality of Western television as better than local television. Production values, story, writing, developments, acting, and so many other things can be pointed out to show how those shows from elsewhere do it better. This deference to superior craft is not the only way that we look to other cultures in acquiring their media. There are many soap-based crossovers, as other countries import and translate our soaps to their cultures, while we import and translate and at times adapt soaps from other Asian and Latin American countries (why developing countries seem to share the same tastes in soaps and freely adapt one another’s soaps so readily would be an interesting study in itself). The trend of adaptation makes it clear that it’s not just the hegemony that transfers its culture, but the developing world similarly passes on content to each other, taking and adapting as seems to fit better in that culture. Adaptation is fine because we see here expressions of both the global and local. We have shows that have international appeal, have what we could possibly call universal values, or shows that speak to all types of viewers regardless of nationality. Then we have these series being localized, adapting to the market and culture of the country importing it. While one might think this rehashing detrimental to the development of TV culture, this activity allows for new models to develop and will hopefully inspire innovation. An example of this, but in film, would be Infernal Affairs, a very good movie in its own right, being taken by Martin Scorsese and being turned into the Oscar-winning The Departed.

Where importing can be seen as problematic is when it discourages the development of new content. For example, it is easier and cheaper to import soaps from neighboring Asian countries than it is to produce a new series locally. As a result, there would be less incentive to invest in soaps. Also, there have been numerous failed attempts at adapting British shows into American series. The Office stands as the successful Brit to American adaptation, but for that one show there have been so many other failures. Thus it’s clear that there is a precarious balancing act between a show’s core ideas and the culture of the adapting country. The adaptation then, is in itself a creative act. It’s not merely a change of setting or a renaming of characters, but a re-creation of the series. Just as much care has to be taken in a cultural adaptation as is given to successful reboots.

Voting with Our Hard Drives If we can look beyond the idea of the West as imposing cultural hegemony on us, then we can consider that this preference for Western series by certain members of the local culture is a way of voting with our remote controls and our hard drives. We are unsatisfied with what’s on television, so we buy DVDs and we stream and we download and we watch other things. This then makes clear the fragmentation of culture into various subcultures. The masang Pilipino gets divided between the “big two” while the rest of the viewership

splinters into various subcultures, whose interests were at first represented by choice of cable channels, and now even further by the shows one downloads and follows. As such, content begins to address these smaller niche markets. Scifi viewers will gravitate to some series, while those interested in police procedurals go to others, and those who like comedies or dramas or other genres can similarly choose what they will buy or watch. As long as they have access to all of the different shows, which given enough money (which these days is a relatively manageable amount, with the costs of bandwidth conforming, if not exceeding the tenets of Moore’s Law) are all within one’s reach, then each viewer gets to program their own personalized TV networks. The niche markets give way to subcultures that self-organize based on these common media interests. Where previously the only subcultures that organized were those that were marginalized, like say Scifi/Fantasy or Anime/Manga, there is now a cross-pollination where thanks to availability more popular shows are incorporating conventions of scifi, fantasy, and viewers who would normally be limited to what’s shown on network TV are now discovering a lot of genre television. Recent attempts at genre-crossing series have been hit and miss. Fantasticprocedural Pushing Daisies was a beautifully-made show but short-lived, Dollhouse’s scifi coupled with action and drama and the incorporation of various genres in different episodes was also compelling at times, but did not make it past its second season. Lost looks to be most successful here, but attempts to replicate it like FlashForward have paled in comparison. It could also be argued that House has started to mix genres, and though it still follows its original medical procedural format, it has begun to

pull away from that, most noticeably season six’s focus on the House/Wilson bromance more than the actual medical cases (where certain episodes didn’t even focus or bother with a case at all). Despite the hits and misses, this is all indicative of a wealth of content being created that a viewer has to choose from. So along with all the back catalog television releases are all of these new series that are being launched and one is only limited by the time available to watch all these shows. Here then enters a new dynamic to the viewing experience.

Spoiler Alert Be Gone The water cooler culture is gone. We can no longer mass in groups and talk about the same show because we are watching different shows. So we wind up gravitating to the group of people who watch similar shows, creating subcultures. But even within these subcultures the social dynamic is different because you may all be watching the same shows, but one of you may be watching it on cable, at a later airing date than is available via streaming. Or another may be waiting for the season to finish. As such, there is now a common concept of the spoiler alert (formerly we only had to worry about it in relation to film, but now we can get these in TV too), because we may be talking about something that someone else hasn’t watched yet. Also, as a result, if we haven’t seen the latest episode of a show that we all watch together, we

must, to avoid spoilers and discussions about the episode, avoid our friends from that subculture. In discussing an episode with friends one now has to establish if the others are “updated” or have seen the latest episodes, else they might spoil the events of that show. With the finale of Lost airing and me not having time yet to watch it, I had to avoid not only all my friends who had seen it, but also all my social networking sites for a number of days to ensure that I wouldn’t hear anything about it. In this sense digital media creates new communities, but it also at times forces us to avoid one another. We discover friends through message boards, find people we share interests with from all over the globe. Inevitably we gravitate towards sites, boards, and groups that reflect our own wavelengths. But if we don’t keep up, then we have to “unplug” ourselves. This shows a number of things, in terms of social dynamics. First, and this may cause some alarm, is that there are cases when we can become more concerned with not having a show spoiled than we are with maintaining human interactions. Granted this may seem alarmist, but small instances abound. For example, I was in a group that was discussing our disappointment at the Battlestar Galactica finale and two or three people had to leave the table and go do something else because they didn’t want us to spoil anything, and we were more excited to discuss the show than to keep these people in our discussion.

Alienating Viewers We see then that in partaking of this other content, in deciding to watch things that address our tastes, the local viewership that consumes this niche market content, are distancing ourselves first from a large part of the local population, and then possibly from people within the niche market. It’s already been mentioned that local television seeks to appeal to the masa and generally leaves viewers who want something more intelligent to cable or other media. If a viewer decides not to watch local television, then the decision has been made to distance himself from local culture in favor of Western culture. This could cause alienation in the viewer, as he will become out of touch with local pop culture (I am a willing victim of this alienation. To illustrate: At the height of the Hayden Kho/ Katrina Halili scandal, when I was told about it, all I could say was, “Huh? Who?”) Obviously, viewers such as myself, or those who say, watch only anime, or who wind up preferring some other content will develop consciousnesses and identities wildly different from those who consume local television. If the idea of passing on cultural identity and cultural consciousness and values through mass media occurred to local media distributors, then they might be concerned with this alienation of a small, yet influential segment of the population.

Inspiring Aesthetics It could be argued on one side that once again this is the hegemony exerting itself on the viewer, it is the imposition of Western values and Western consciousness

on developing countries’ viewers because of their wider ability for distribution. On the other hand, this can be seen positively as a kind of transcendence, beyond the localized views and limitations portrayed in local television to a more global consciousness, a higher aesthetic demand being displayed by viewers. And if, through digital media, more viewers can gain access to better television, then this could be seen as an opportunity for improvement in terms of content. Local television has contented itself with small steps in terms of development, to ensure that they maintain their viewership. This means limited innovation and invention. The excuse has been that viewers don’t want to be challenged. So the stations produce material that is not challenging. But if you never challenge them, how will you ever know that they don’t want to be challenged? But why would you challenge them if they are happy with the product they are being given? There is really no incentive for local television to deviate from its tried and tested formulas. They sell, and to deviate would take risks that might not pay off. So obviously we cannot expect local television producers to initiate this change. What can happen, through the availability of content through digital media, is our local audiences can be tested without local television having to take risks. With internet access becoming ubiquitous, and with the availability of content both online and from legal and not-so-legal sources, local audiences can be exposed to media from other countries. It is my hope that this exposure will produce positive results. If this were to be viewed negatively, one could say that this is me hoping that we start aping the West,

that I just want us to copy the content of the West rather than develop our own content. On the contrary, I think that once local audiences have more exposure to better television content, they will start to demand better quality. It’s not taking the ideas, themes, and stories from other countries and implanting them into our own (though a look at a lot of television content shows we’re doing a lot of that anyway) but the idea that upon witnessing how good television can be, we can wind up aspiring to create television that is just as good, just as compelling, but television that tells our stories. I’m not asking that we make Lost, or The Wire, or The Big Bang Theory but with Filipino characters. Rather we aspire to make television that is just as compelling, that is just as broad and engaging, but that is uniquely Filipino. It would be a Filipino TV driven not only by the dominant aesthetics of the Pinoy teleserye, nor a bastardized Western aesthetic imposed on local television, but a newly imagined Filipino television aesthetic, inspired by having watched and seen how good television can be and desiring our television to be just as good.

Digital Changes Dynamics Thus far we’ve discussed television in its general terms, taking a wide-angle view of how digital is changing the viewing experience. Now we begin to dolly in on our subject and examine how digital is changing the dynamics of television content, and what effects these changes could have. As with any art there is an interplay between form and content, and as the form of consumption changes, then the content is given

new opportunities to develop accordingly. Here we begin to ask, what do the new ways of viewing allow for? First off we consider what TV was designed to do. It was built on a model where content creation and distribution were subsidized by advertising in the form of commercials. By creating content that entices viewers to keep tuning in, shows build up a viewership that attracts advertisers. It entertains people and sells ad space. Alternatively, one could approach it from the opposite angle and say that it is content that is created so that people will watch ads. Either way, up until now, television and advertising time have been inextricably linked. When you watch TV, you also watch commercials. Exceptions exist, of course. There is content that follows a different model, particularly those series that air on cable, publicly funded television, or government funded television. But for the most part, the bulk of television entertainment that is produced and consumed is still based on the paradigm of ad-selling commercials wedged between blocks of content.

Commercial Integration The normal hour-long episode will be designed to integrate these commercial breaks. This is probably best seen and best executed in 24, where even the amount of time that commercials take is factored into the show’s narrative. But almost all shows are written and work within the paradigm of integrating breaks.

How does this affect shows? The goal is to keep viewers from straying from your channel. There is always the temptation for viewers, thanks to the remote control (and perhaps it’s even worth mentioning the technology that allows us to display multiple channels at once), to jump to another channel and see what’s going on there, instead of sitting through commercials while waiting for the show you’re watching to come back on. Obviously, if people are jumping to other channels then it defeats the purpose of selling ad time. Thus, there are two options, either penalize them for switching to other channels or give them incentive to not change the channel. Both of these are accomplished effectively by writing mini-cliffhangers within episodes. Right before a commercial break the writers drop one of these intra-episodeWTF moments. It keeps you there because you can’t miss a frame when the show comes back from commercial break. You don’t want to risk straying to another channel for fear of missing how the scene will be resolved. If one takes the time to observe these aspects of the form, it becomes apparent that effective television maximizes its dramatic effects by playing with these breaks. When these are integrated into the episode well, they enhance drama through the creation of suspense, a perfectly calibrated suspense that serves both the commercial function of the show as well as the artistic aspects.

Breaks Eliminated What happens when you can effectively remove commercial breaks? We’ve seen how this is effective on cable series that don’t conform to the form that integrates commercial breaks. We get a more filmic experience, we get longer shots, and not so much propulsion towards big significant moments. It’s as if the content is allowed to breathe, to expand, because it has been freed of the need to keep viewers hooked and watching commercials. But again, those series were built on a different model than standard television. We can, however, watch most shows while bypassing ads now, thanks to digital media and the internet. We have access to shows via streaming, digital downloads, and DVD, which all eliminate the commercials that pay for the cost of the series. We see here changes in two things, the economic model on which television is built, and a possible change in the way that television can be written.

New Ad Models First, considering that the economic model was based on selling ad time, how can these shows be sustained if no one is watching these ads? The easiest answer is something that film has been doing a lot, product placement. Product placement can be a terribly ugly thing when it isn’t thought about and integrated properly into the content. It can seem obtrusive, unnecessary, calling attention to itself, which would repel viewers from the product. On the other hand, it can also be totally ignored or left unnoticed, if it is slipped in but not important to the

film. As mentioned in the book Buyology, there was massive product placement in Casino Royale but no one can really remember what product was being endorsed (Sony gadgets, in case you’re wondering). However, intelligent product placement integrates the product into shows where the characters would conceivably use such products, so these seem neither obtrusive nor forced. Chuck and Morgan on Chuck are always playing Xbox. Makes sense, because they are a couple of video game geeks. Olivia Dunham has a sleek Samsung business phone in Fringe. And The Big Bang Theory’s Penny is a waitress who works at The Cheesecake Factory. We can expect to see then, more product placement in television. This will necessarily change character, setting, and other elements, as creators and advertisers become more conscious of integrating products into series to subsidize the costs of production and effectively market products. This may also mean less commercial time in standard broadcasts, as the commercial is effectively integrated into the content. There is of course the fear that a show starts to feel like a very long commercial for one product or other, but as this trend continues I believe that content creators will be savvier in their product placement and in making sure that the product placement is woven seamlessly into the characters and story; the key will be to make product placement that never feels like product placement but will inspire brand loyalty. Viewers identify with characters, and if a character practices brand loyalty to something, then this could be effectively used to market a product. This might even be a better marketing tool than the commercial.

Where this works for local television is still a very open-ended question. The majority of our ads have to do with shampoo, laundry detergent, and canned or instant food. We also don’t have a very subtle or developed sense of product placement either. We are well aware of which artistas endorse which brands because of the blatant product plugging that they do both as guests of shows (which would be fine) and even in scenes in their shows and films (which all come at the detriment of art because of the lack of proper integration). Other possible ways to address the loss of revenue due to the absence of commercials would be advertising on the web if one were watching it via streaming. Like what’s done in ted.com, commercials are appended to their videos, and one feels like it’s worth watching those commercials since you did get to watch something for free. The commercials’ relative brevity works for it too. Also, charging for downloaded content works perfectly well. While you may not have to watch commercials, you wind up paying a reasonable amount of money to own a copy of an episode. This model hasn’t taken off with us locally both because there is no one running such a service, and because local content does not seem to inspire downloading and rewatching (more on local content and rewatching later). And there are always DVD sales. Fans will go out and buy DVD boxed sets even if they have digital copies of episodes. These DVD releases are increasingly enticing with their special features and additional content, and they provide viewers with a whole new experience as well as a chance to re-experience their favorite shows.

These things may not generate as much money as television ads, and this may mean less money for television shows to work with. But I think that the coming years will see a search for new business models that are compatible with the new digital options that television viewers have.

Two Seconds of Suspense Looking at the aesthetic changes that will come from the removal of these breaks, we can see a loss of suspense. Scenes that would make you gasp and hold your breath for the minutes until the show returns are effectively removed of their suspense factor because, watching on digital media that eliminates commercials, after one or two seconds, that scene will be immediately resolved. This means that writers may start doing some rethinking. If the demand for minicliffhangers that factor in commercial breaks are removed, then the need for such things are effectively removed, and writers can be free to allow the episode to develop without imposing such events. Granted, this would remove a lot of suspense from television. But then it would also mean that, without the imposition of such suspense, writers are free to explore other things, to create suspense in other ways. What are these ways? We can once again refer to cable television series and the way that there isn’t a need for big explosive scenes (though those series do certainly have those, but not in as predictable and calibrated a fashion as network TV series) to see the possibilities for

TV. At present, and as a writer, I can’t predict what this means and what I can expect to see in television due to the removal of this imposition. What I do know is that it will open up lots of room for experimentation and this is an exciting opportunity to stretch the limits of the television form if it can be picked up on and explored.

Arbitrary Time As we look at the relation of form and time in television, we can also observe that digital media will change the way that time works in television. The TV series that we watch usually come in 30-minute or one-hour chunks. Why 30-minutes and one hour? Is there an underlying logic to these lengths that make them the optimal TV series lengths? Not really. It’s just easier to sell ad time when you cut your shows up into these lengths, then peg an episode run time at around 22 or 44 minutes respectively, and sell the rest of the time to advertisers. These are nice round numbers to work with. But as already discussed, we’re cutting out the commercials. We’re not thinking about that ad time that we have to work in. If so, then it’s possible that the time impositions of that paradigm will also disappear. If there is nothing inherently productive about setting content at 30-minutes or one-hour, and if the reason for setting those times is rendered unnecessary, then that frees up content creators to work within other time frames. These time frames would be dictated not by the advertisement-ready chunks, but by creativity and content.

The web has shown how series of various lengths can work and be successful. Of course webseries have also conformed to limitations, but these have been limitations of form and not of commercial consideration. It’s easy to stream a three to seven minute video on youtube, and that’s been about the length of most web series episodes. Some might decry the brevity as a further dumbing down of the viewer, of further shortening attention spans in the post-MTV landscape. I’m not saying that TV necessarily shrinks to these short byte-size smidgens. What I am saying is that without the imposition of the old paradigm, new kinds of content can be developed. We’ve seen successful online content like Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, The Guild, and 2009: A True Story, among others, that maximized the non-standard episode length. Impositions of form allowed television to develop and be calibrated, but with the removal of these impositions we see once again possibilities for development. If you’re doing a sit-com, why must it run for thirty minutes every episode? What if the story you want to tell is shorter? Will only run say twenty minutes? You wind up throwing in fillers or lame jokes. At worst, and this is done locally, you just get the actors to riff on whatever and improvise for a few minutes. But removed of these demands, writing can be more direct, content can be more effectively designed.

Reset Button I think probably the best thing that experiencing television through digital media offers us are the great possibilities it opens up in terms of content. Before, TV had to

be able to reset so that when you missed an episode, you didn’t really miss much. Episodes were, well, episodic, self-contained units of narrative. There were large movements that would and could happen for the duration of a season or for the whole story, but often a single episode could function on its own, and missing one did not mean that you would be lost or would not know what was going on. Think of long-running series like the classic Dragnet or Law and Order. Or even better think of sitcoms like I Dream of Genie and Bewitched, The Dick Van Dyke Show and I Love Lucy, Cheers and Gilligan’s Island. A sitcom would resolve itself within one sitting, with everything essentially being reset by the end of the episode. We can examine the structure of the traditional sitcom in The Big Bang Theory. Each episode begins with the characters in equilibrium, usually doing something geeky and in their comfort zones. Then a complication is introduced. This complication will lead to the characters doing funny things. Then by the end of the episode, the complication introduced will be resolved. Granted there are couplings, some things that carry over from one episode to the next, but the characters essentially remain the same, and each episode we find them generally the same as they were the last time we saw them.

Mother Myth and the New Sitcom Now look at How I Met Your Mother which does not follow a traditional sitcom structure. Unlike most sitcoms which introduce us to characters and keep them as they are, HIMYM introduces us to its main character in the future, setting the old Ted as a

narrator, and his telling the story to his kids as the narrative frame. It essentially tells us that it will not stay constant, and that the events in these episodes are all leading to this moment, featured in the narrative frame. While HIMYM utilizes familiar sitcom structures and tropes, it on the whole negotiates traditional sitcom elements with innovative new techniques and ideas. More importantly for our discussion on digital media, it builds a mythology. It has its metanarrative that tells the story of Ted Mosby’s search for the titular mother, along with smaller narratives, it has its great symbols and markers, all of these things that the show keeps returning to. And really, more than telling the usual sitcom stories it builds upon these to form this much larger story not merely of meeting the mother, but of life, love, friendship, career, relationships, and generally mirroring the kinds of issues that people in their late-20s and early-30s go through. So Friends and Seinfeld did these things, but they never made it seem to matter as much as HIMYM precisely because we aren’t just invested in the small events of individual episodes, but because of this larger narrative frame that we are aware of. Now I posit that a large reason why this frame works, and why it’s so enjoyable to witness HIMYM in this way, is that there is such quick and easy access to previous episodes. The show plays this up, seemingly encouraging viewers to go back to past episodes to make connections. As the show has progressed and its catalog has grown longer, it has had more material to bounce off of. When new episodes are shown that build the “mother

mythology” we are given hints, clues, and images which send us back to past episodes as we try and piece it all together. There is a self-referentiality available to this new kind of sitcom that considers mythology-building just as much as it does immediate laughs.

New Narrative Space And if sitcoms which are essentially stagnant situations are now evolving and maximizing the opportunity to build on mythology, what can we expect from shows that focus on developing their universes and mythology? Granted, shows started having longer, more complex narrative threads in the early 90s with shows like ER and NYPD Blue. But the narrative space to build a mythology was hampered by how much audiences could remember and how much you could fit in a “previously on” which necessarily limited overall movement. Possibly limiting to those shows were also changes in cast which would hinder a grand narrative. Whatever those limitations were, once digital media and the opportunity to revisit episodes opened up, many new shows took advantage of the new narrative space. Lost is obviously meticulous in this, but even shows that don’t have any scifi twists are developing the mythologies in their universes to powerful effect. One need only to recall a great series like The Wire and see how it works on the level of a novel. Or the continuing, and always excellent and compelling Breaking Bad as it stretches its novel-like storytelling capabilities. In its third season, it has, like a novel, told the story

of a protagonist, but also the stories of those around him and of so much more. It keeps building and the ability to go back and rewatch episodes allows for viewers that might have previously gotten lost and given up on a series, to be able to access episodes and rewatch them. As mentioned previously, if you missed an episode you could be lost. And that’s why traditionally shows had to have reset buttons, to keep from alienating viewers. But now digital media opens up a vast narrative space that is only now being explored. Comparisons are being made as television moves into novelistic territory, seasons functioning as chapters and the larger narratives and themes binding the episodes that function as pages in the novel. This means that television is moving towards larger narrative space because of the rewatch capabilities that digital media gives viewers.

Serialized Fiction Comic books operate as serialized narratives. They come to us in short, small installments, but within these installments they create large narratives, establishing mythologies and constructing intricate continuities. These continuities get so large that fans wind up fighting over many things, and the only way to settle things is to pull out the issue and present your evidence. If you get lost in the storyline or forget things because it does often take a month for the latest issue to come out, you can always pull out the issue from last month, and even the month before that and so on. If you’ve been following the comic book, you have access to the old content and you can always go back to it.

This is why comic books can create such large stories and intricate continuities, because readers can so easily return to back issues. This form encourages interlocking stories, setting things up with pay-offs later on. And it’s this form, I believe, that television can begin moving towards as more access to TV in digital media formats becomes available. It’s hard to think of a TV series going bigger than Lost, but I do believe that one will come. I also believe that if we get ambitious enough we can accomplish a similarly epic narrative on a local level. Considering the new media available to television, it is necessary for creators to begin to consider not only immediate appreciation for shows through their initial broadcasting, but also how to find a balance between immediate appreciation and long-term watchability.

Replay Factor Thinking cross-media one can reference video games and a criterion which is used to rate video games, replayablity. Not only are games ranked on the initial experience, but on replay factor. Would you play it again even if you had finished the game? Does the game provide incentive for replaying? Does it provide online support that enhances the game and provides a new experience for gamers different from the main story? Television as product does not end merely in broadcast, and not just in syndication. It now continues to be a physical and digital product available for

purchase. If this were a consideration then it would change the content so that a series can have replayability beyond first screening. This means mythology as mentioned before, and more features in the DVD, but also the ability of television to create meanings that would resonate, and for television to be constructed in such a way that would reward multiple viewings, like rewatching a film does. Television no longer has to be a disposable product that is discarded after its initial run, nor just a vehicle for running commercials, nor a repetitive, dumbed down form of quick and easy entertainment. If you want people to shell out money, you have to come up with a product that they believe they will come back to. It’s no surprise that what has powered the popularity of Joss Whedon’s Firefly has been DVD sales. The show is well-shot and well-written, with stories so powerful and a sense of fun that’s equally powerful that make it something you could watch over and over again. Fans keep coming back to it, and the more people watch it, the more people pass it along to friends, generating even further attention for the series. It tells human stories, it provides us with characters we love to spend time with, it gives us episodes that we enjoy rewatching, and best of all, it creates a mythos that is expansive and intriguing, something for fans to think about and contribute to themselves (as evidenced by the recent fan film made in the Firefly universe, Browncoats: Redemption). New series should not only attempt to make things that people will like immediately, but also make shows that people will come back to. Creators should look

to make shows that will stand the test of time, so that they can be reissued on DVD, Blu-Ray, and whatever new digital formats develop. Not only do we have technology that is revolutionizing what television can do, but there is clear incentive to develop content so that people will want to own copies of it. The hardware exists, and the demand is there. The only question is how will these things be addressed? Will creators be able to adapt to the new, expansive opportunities that digital media offers television as an art form, or will they be constrained by old paradigms? Local television series are designed to be disposable, catering to the artista-ofthe-moment. But if lasting effects were considered, if we were to introduce this as an aesthetic criterion, then it would mean that the artista-of-the-moment trend would be re-examined. Also local content would have to develop to be distinctive and worth more viewings than the one broadcast run that episodes usually get. The eight month series run could also be reconsidered, so that the form can serve the content, so that local television can tell more different, more lasting stories that would resonate with more viewers.

Conclusion It’s an exciting time to be a television fan. Digital media is changing the world, and television will necessarily have to change with the digital revolution. I’ve explored a number of ideas here about social interactions, the changing nature of television viewing, and the great potential that the innovations of digital offer television content. I

don’t know how many of the ideas here will come to fruition, but it’s very clear that television, both on the international and local levels, is ripe for innovation and reinvention. The technology has led the way and opened the door, and now it’s up to TV creators, producers, and viewers to explore the digital landscape.

Lost in the Multiverse
(This first appeared in the Metakritiko section of thepoc.net. It was written sometime in the middle of the sixth season, when we were all still grasping for answers, though you could say even after it ended we still are grasping. This attempts to throw in and educate about science concepts by examining the show.)

At the end of the fifth season of Lost, when Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell) was cursing at the nuclear bomb and pounding it with a rock, her impassioned cries growing frantic, we witnessed the last time that she struck it, a flash of light , and then nothing. We were witness to one of the greatest Schrodinger’s Cat situations in all of television. And in the months between the season five finale and season six opener, we viewers would wait, contemplating whether Faraday’s plan had worked or not, whether the plane wouldn’t crash and none of it would have happened, or if the characters were still stuck on the island, in possibly worse shape than before. But Lost, being a show that has mastered throwing, “Huh, WTF?” moments at viewers, has with its reinvention in its last season, given viewers one of the most mindblowing and challenging set-ups that any TV show has ever come up with.

How to make an Alternate Universe In quantum physics, it has been posited that there exist multiple universes. String Theory and M-Theory propose a number of dimensions which exist parallel to our own, but outside of our detection. In a Schrodinger’s cat situation the cat in the box is both alive and dead. By creating that kind of situation you have created a reality in which the cat is alive and dead at the same time, or you have created two alternate

realities. In one reality the cat is alive. In the other reality, the cat is dead. With the creation of this split, both realities will continue to exist, each reality, or universe, oblivious to the existence of the other. Thus all these different universes exist in what is referred to as the multiverse. When Juliet detonates the bomb, we are left waiting for some resolution. At the start of the sixth season, we are shown that the cat is neither alive nor dead, but both. The bomb went off, Faraday’s plan worked, and the plane never crashed. At the same time Faraday’s plan failed, the bomb went off, but the characters just jumped through time again, they were still on the island, and everything that had happened before still happened. Thus, in its sixth season, Lost has given us two different realities that its characters inhabit. The existence of alternate realities/universes is not a new thing in art. It’s a common trope in comic books, has been used in films, and in television it was used most memorably in the classic Star Trek: TOS episode “Mirror, Mirror” (and Star Trek: Enterprise went back to the well with their own versions of it, which were among that series’ best episodes). There is a clear difference between the use of multiverses in Lost as opposed to its use in other TV shows. Other shows presented the alternate universe as the alternate to the one which we regularly watch, and only visited those universes on occasion, making a clear delineation between the “real” and the “alternate” universe. Lost gave viewers one reality for five seasons, threw us a Schrodinger’s cat moment in the season five finale, and then in season six gave us two realities which we are

supposed to believe in equally. Further, it is asking us to watch a show that operates with two different universes, with their own separate rules and logic.

Form and how Lost Functions One of the great things that Lost has done over its run (and let’s at this point acknowledge that the show went in bad directions at times, but that’s material for another essay) is maximize how it structures its show, both in terms of season-long arcs and developments, and in individual episodes. Whether things are making sense or not, they are always exciting and leaving us wanting to know what happens next. A factor that has contributed greatly to this is the way in which the show is structured. We are given a narrative present that is filled with action, suspense, and horror, as well as warmth, love, and hope. The survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 that are stuck on the island go through ordeals in which they have to strive to survive, run from the black pillar of smoke, encounter the once-mysterious Others, and many other adventures. Set against this narrative present, for the first three seasons we were given flashbacks that revealed the characters’ pasts, their inner demons, and the things that had brought them onto the flight from Sydney and to the island. This was an intriguing way to run the show, as it gave us, in the forefront, a pulse-pounding action-adventuredrama of castaways on a hostile island where freaky things happen. This served to push the show’s grand narrative advancing the plot of the narrative present.

Then the flashbacks allowed for more character development, and for drama and at times melodrama, as it delved into the tragedies and (sometime) triumphs that the characters had before becoming castaways. This allowed for resolutions within single episodes, for particularly powerful stories to be told in the frame of single episodes, while contributing to the larger narrative of the series. But one had to wonder, how long could they keep flashing back and telling these stories? It was apparent that they were running out of flashback stories when they threw in the other set of survivors (though a number of those stories, like Libby’s, were pretty interesting to watch). Then they proceeded to kill off these survivors, which made the whole thing seem inconsequential and like they were just dragging it out. Then in the fourth season the show’s structure changed dramatically. From flashbacks we are suddenly introduced to flashforwards. From a narrative present with flashbacks that bring us to the present, we are given a narrative present and the future events that are the result of the present. The show does an even more challenging thing, by mixing up flashforwards and flashbacks, along with the narrative present, all in one episode (which focused on Jin and Sun). Showing the show’s full potential in applying science fiction concepts for dramatic effect is the episode “The Constant” which, in a seeming tip of the hat to Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5, we have Desmond unstuck in time, shifting his consciousness from one time setting to the next. This further shows the ability of Lost to play with temporal settings, as the narrative present and the past occur simultaneously. In this episode we are told that time is not linear, but rather that all of

these things are occurring at once, and one can, through the power of the island, become unstuck in space/time. Most admirably, “The Constant” plays with this concept within the context of one of the greatest single-episode love stories of all time. The heart-wrenching story of Desmond and Penny is made only more powerful, instead of gimmicky, by the scifi behind it. Then in its last season Lost does away with both frames. No more flashbacks and flashforwards. Having mastered telling stories within those two forms, they threw it all out the window. Instead of having a narrative present and another time to jump back and forth from, Lost presented us with something that we have never been asked to watch before. Lost asked us to watch a show with two narrative presents.

Will Lost Expand the TV Universe? In Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad is Good for You, he posits that American TV viewers have become more intelligent in the last two decades due to television; the expanding narrative demands that certain shows make on their viewers increase the viewers’ ability to understand and engage the shows. It would seem that the viewership of Lost would serve as evidence of this observation. Think back to the demands of shows twenty, or even ten years ago. How many of them asked us to track so many characters through a variety of temporal settings, ultimately asking us to follow these same characters through two different, co-existing realities?

At present other shows are using similar devices. The recently-cancelled Dollhouse had one of its best episodes, “Epitaph” set as a flashforward to that show’s narrative present. Fringe (also co-created by J.J. Abrams, leading many viewers to look for overlaps and intersects between the mythologies of it and Lost) regularly makes mention of, on occasion has visited, and in its overarching mythology seems to be moving towards a clash with an alternate universe. And How I Met Your Mother uses a narrative present (in that show’s case the future) and then flashes back (to our present), and from there flashes back regularly, with certain episodes doing a great job of using that narrative device to jump back and forth in time for comedic effect (more of this in the essay “How Do You Watch TV?”). Still, most shows are structured in a linear manner, with shows progressing from point A to point B (or in the case of most sitcoms, from point A to somewhere, then back to point A). One can only ask, will Lost and what it has accomplished by applying a variety of framing devices over its six season run, influence other series, or become an influence on new series that are being created? Flashforward started off strong, hoping to be a Lost successor, but its viewership has dwindled, and it has failed to make a mythology as compelling as the series it is trying to ape. Also, most of the show is set in the present, the flashforwards more a narrative gimmick rather than an influence on the larger narrative and its frame. The consistency to which Lost stuck to and innovated with its temporal setting jumping narratives has yet to be replicated with success. Yet, it is not a replication that we should look for. Rather we should see the show’s ability to break from the traditional

form of the hour-long television drama as a clear sign that there are show creators and writers who can deliver pretty much the same content (love stories, marital issues, daddy issues, con men, adorable fat dudes, drug problems, crazy killers, being lost somewhere, people looking for redemption) that we’ve always been watching, but restructure it in such a way that its form is so compelling that it seems new to us. Looking now to our local television, with its decidedly pedestrian programming and its insistence on repetition rather than innovation, one can only hope that there could be some development. Local television does a lot of adaptations, some of these reboots made for the Philippine setting. Some productions, on the other hand, are billed as original series, but they have been outright copied or made from an amalgam of foreign material. Would it be possible for a change in form to provide the push that local television needs? As we have witnessed in Lost, where we are shown the stories of fragile humans in extreme situations, we are not really shown anything new in terms of content, but rather how that content is presented to us. Could the next great teleserye featuring temporal shifting, or time-jumping characters? At present, whether local television will take a cue from the development of television in other countries and start experimenting with form remains its own Schrodinger’s cat. But as Lost winds down and heads toward its series finale one cannot help but admire where the show has taken us and how it has challenged us to think differently, demanding more from the viewers than almost all other shows have ever dared.

Glee’s “Dream On”
(This first appeared in the Metakritiko section of thepoc.net. It is a scene-by-scene analysis of an episode of Glee. At the end of this essay I made a list of directions that I hoped the show would go, but as the show has progressed, we can observer that it was a decidedly different show from what I wanted to see. Still, I think you can go back to this episode, read over this essay, and get something out of it.)

This analysis is prodded by a number of things, among them the Jollibee appearance, friends’ requests, Neil Patrick Harris’s great guest performance, and most notably the presence of guest director Joss Whedon. Also because I really like Glee. And if anything, this episode feels like it encapsulates what Glee could be as a series, capturing both a popular audience while at the same time telling small, tragic stories of coming of age, loss, and dreams fulfilled or forgotten. It may be called Glee but I watch this show for the sadness and I think it operates best when it is revealing the little tragedies embedded in its characters’ lives, and the possible tragedies that await them. It seems clear that Whedon has a good grasp of this, and he plays this up with a number of little heartbreaks sprinkled throughout the show in between the big, fun musical numbers that people watch the show for. This commentary will run without an overriding centering theme or structure. What I’ve done is list down notes and write comments as I watched the episode, so one set of ideas will bleed into another. Here we go.

The Bryan Ryan Pseudo-Menace The episode opens with Will coming into Principal Figgins’s room. Figgins will introduce the man who after a few seconds is revealed to be NPH’s guest character Bryan Ryan. It cuts to a funny flashback where Bryan Ryan sings “Daydream Believer” (yes, as is the case with a lot of Glee episodes the characters will repeat the main idea ad infinitum throughout, and it will also be used in picking songs) and in the middle of it NPH performs a magic trick while Matthew Morrison’s Will gawks nerdily. It’s meant to be a funny sequence and it works in setting up the kind of relationship these two once had, as after the song Bryan Ryan demeans Will with, “What’s the matter Schuester, cat got your talent?” Then it returns to the present where NPH delivers a monologue with starts and

stops that help to accentuate and punctuate specific words, these affectations done carefully for great comedic effect. It may just be me, but it was reminiscent of his opening monologue in Dr. Horrible, where he and Whedon supposedly worked on how to deliver his lines for just such an effect. Then it’s followed by another flashback, this in the near past showing that after Bryan Ryan had found his dreams of showbiz were all a lie, he began to run a show choir conversion group. This whole sequence is hokey and unrealistic, and drives home the point that Glee exists in its own little world which is kind of like ours. But its being unrealistic helps to prepare us for the gags and switches that are to come. What’s interesting is that this storyline is generally meant to be fun and inhabit la-la land, but the other important plot in the episode is something very realistic and heartfelt. Still,

this works to undercut the menace established by Bryan Ryan by showing him in a kind of absurdity. We will see that throughout this episode we are presented with heavy scenes immediately undercut by funny sequences and vice versa. This shows how much range the series has, as well as displaying the wealth of material that the series has to work with. Seeing how effective the shifts from happy-go-lucky funny stuff to serious issues are in this episode, one hopes that they could develop this kind of balance in all episodes. From the show choir flashback we again return to Principal Figgins’s office where Bryan Ryan tells Will that he wants to speak to the New Directions kids. Will senses that Bryan Ryan doesn’t mean well, and there is clear tension as the two square off. Then the tension is undercut when, in a very effective comic gag, Figgins pops out from behind Bryan Ryan. It’s a great bit of slapstick comedy, working both to resolve the scene’s tension and to also remind us that Bryan Ryan isn’t meant to be taken seriously by the audience. We’ve already seen three humorous instances where the menace that he represents is negated in just the first five minutes. We, the audience, know well enough not to take him too seriously. And yet, when in the next scene Bryan Ryan makes his speech to the Glee kids

he absolutely terrifies them, literally crumpling up their dreams and throwing them in the trash (Artie’s dream anyway, on which the rest of the episode hinges). And with a Dr. Horrible-like determination he gives his “Your dreams will die” speech that is punctuated with sudden quick edits to extreme close-up. And this pretty much

establishes the episode’s drive, Bryan Ryan as the episode’s villain, and Artie as the one who is most affected by his vicious assault on youthful optimism. We see that in these two opening scenes Bryan Ryan has been established as both an object of ridicule and an object of menace. I can’t stop heaping praises on NPH, because though Bryan Ryan’s motivations are so hard to establish or justify and his disposition is so mercurial as to make us question his being a character, he is played in such a game manner that we go on with it. What we do have that’s clear is Bryan Ryan is a man whose dreams have died. And he is out to kill the dreams of others.

Glee Clubs Past We now have three characters from Glee Clubs past. We’ve got Will, who never made it big, settled down with his wife and became a high school teacher, but has always held onto his dreams in one way or another. He still pursues it vicariously, through New Directions, he makes the most of chances to sing and dance with the kids, and he’s even got the Acafellas thing (I didn’t like that episode, and that whole thing seemed kind of rushed, but I think that there should be some kind of follow up on that front). Kristin Chenoweth’s April Rhodes never made it either. She turned up a drunk who kind of just latches onto one thing or another, though in the recent episode she did get lucky, sort of, and have a future, sort of. But again it was more out of luck and dumb circumstance than the pursuit of her dreams.

And now we have Bryan Ryan, who failed too. But he wants to kill everyone else’s dreams. There’s a definite bitterness here, as well as a kind of arrogance. If he wasn’t good enough to make it, then why should these kids think that they are? And thus he thinks he is doing them a service by disabusing them their dreams.

Artie and Tina From there we jump to the scene with Artie and Tina which establishes the episode’s emotional fulcrum. Thematically Artie is the most important because while the others can dream and think that making their dreams come true will be a matter of their hard work and talent, Artie has to come to terms and acknowledge his limitations. Among the kids, he is most aware of how out of reach his dreams are. It’s good also that we return to the Artie/Tina (I am contemplating, but do not yet have the courage to coin them Artina) pairing after such a long time and so much time spent with Rachel, Finn, Quinn, and Puck. Those stories with the main players seem to feed the soap opera aspects of the show, while the Artie/Tina pairing has much more potential to tell deeper, more sincere stories (as we witness in this episode).

Mama-Drama Another element reintroduced here is Mama-Drama. The show has been playing with concepts and portrayals of motherhood and the issues surrounding it, but it hasn’t really made these real or tangible. The first is the uncompelling, often unbelievable fake pregnancy which really functioned as a kind of time bomb that we were all waiting to

go off so that Will would leave Terri. That was probably the weakest thing about the first thirteen episodes, and it was good when they finally did away with it. This bled into Quinn’s pregnancy, though that was hinged on the other time bomb, the revelation of the true father. Again it’s a very soap-y thing, something that happens in the Glee-verse that we’re meant to accept. The new Mama-Drama is more believable, as the adopted Rachel starts to wonder about who her mother is.

Dreams Dashed and Rediscovered In the next scene we see Artie trying to walk and falling over. He lies on the floor and when Tina tries to help he just sends her away. He’s angry and bitter and he doesn’t know who to blame and he winds up throwing it at Tina. There’s a small tragedy there as Tina brings Artie his wheelchair and then he sends her away. This works to exhibit how when someone gets his hopes up and he quite literally falls on the floor, the anger and bitterness can be directed to anyone near him. This small tragedy then gets undercut by a gag right after, Bryan Ryan talks of the

practicality of Home Economics vs. Glee: “You can’t feed a child sheet music. I suppose you can for a while, but then it’ll be dead in a month.” Then Will and Brian head for out for a beer while “Dreamweaver” plays in the background. There’s no great motivation behind it, but Bryan Ryan breaks down. When Will says, “Glee is expressing yourself to yourself,” Bryan Ryan slams his head down onto the table. I would have done the same because the line is just so cheesy.

But Bryan Ryan’s not reacting to the cheesiness. He reveals how much he misses Glee. NPH once again gets some funny lines here: “I have a box of playbills hidden away in my basement…like porn.” Then we get the amiable, friendly “Piano Man” as Will tries to remind Bryan Ryan of past glory. They just sing along in the bar, there’s no shifting of settings, no location changes, just two dudes singing which resists Glee’s tendency to overdo and turn things into big production numbers. It’s just right in limiting it to this; these two men, one who once admired the other, former teammates, singing along to a song in a bar. We then return to the Artie/Tine storyline. Tina gives her research and in effect she

is trying to give Artie hope. When she kisses him there’s a perfect shot as the camera tilts upward ever so slightly and the sun breaks into the scene. It ain’t subtle (but come on, Glee has never been big on subtlety), but it’s beautifully executed and with both the gesture (kiss) and the symbolism of the sun’s rays dawning on Artie and Tina, you get the sense of movement and progress, a tangible sense of hope.

Showdown The Les Miserables auditions have a different Bryan Ryan, still an asshole but probably more similar to the one Will had to be around in high school. He’s fiercely competitive, petty, and unscrupulous, to the point of trying to slip in the accusation that Will’s an escaped pedophile. Bryan Ryan is still ridiculous, but played with such conviction that we go along with it.

The dynamic has now changed. At the start there was a clear power imbalance, with Bryan Ryan imposing himself on Will. Then Will helped Bryan Ryan rediscover who he was during their little “Piano Man” duet. Despite Will helping him to return to what he once loved, he forgets that as they compete for the same part. Now it’s a showdown. For Bryan Ryan this is a reclamation of past glory. For Will this is a chance to finally beat Bryan Ryan. He got the girl (Terri) Bryan always wanted. Now he can get the part that Bryan always got. Who gets the part, the man who gave up his dreams or the one who held on and kept his dreams alive?

Artie Dances After this we get Artie’s dream sequence. It starts simply, no big flashes or dissolves or indications that it’s a dream sequence. Then it moves into “Safety Dance” which is possibly the biggest dance number that the series has done thus far. Kevin McHale shows off some serious dance moves and it’s shot differently, with perspectives taken from what seem like camera phones and perspectives of passersby. People in the mall come rushing in and join in on the dancing. What intrigued Filipino viewers was the appearance of Jollibee in the background. I have to wonder if this was intentional or incidental. Did Jollibee just happen to be there, by lucky coincidence? Or was it paid for? Does Jollibee now have the clout to buy ad space on Glee? Despite those questions buzzing around my head, I like the rest of the Pinoy viewership, was happy to see Jollibee appear in a bonafide pop cultural phenomenon.

As the number progresses more and more people join the phenomenon as it

seems the whole mall is dancing with Artie. This brings back the idea that it is a dream sequence. Artie starts it out simply, him telling Tina he can finally dance, and by the end he is dreaming big. Then the sequence ends as quietly and unassumingly as it started. Artie is sitting there in the middle of the mall, just looking out and daydreaming. It’s handled so well and it’s here that we see the intersection of the overwhelming glee and the undercurrent of sadness that power the show.

Sue Sue is underplayed in this episode but she gets a sizzling scene with NPH. They both start rattling off stats to support their arguments, and I have to like Sue’s line, “I’m an educator.” Then they rush into Anger Sex. It doesn’t make great sense, but it’s a fun scene to watch because of the way that Jane Lynch and NPH play off each other.

Revelations After the inconsequential (as far as Glee’s larger narrative is concerned) scene between Sue and Bryan Ryan we get two big reveals in one scene. Jessie we have been suspicious of ever since his creepy initial appearance. But these suspicions have been mostly wondering if he is planning some kind of sabotage against New Directions. Now things become clear. We find out why he’s there and that Shelby is Rachel’s mother. It confirms speculation that was based on the actresses’

resemblance. And there’s a touching delivery by Idina Menzel about the one and only time Shelby saw Rachel as a baby which makes you understand Jessie’s willingness to undertake the deception. Next is a difficult scene between Emma Pillsbury and Artie. How does a teacher, an educator, break it to a student that they aren’t going to get their dream? This scene serves as a nice counterpoint to the Bryan Ryan scene at the opening. He breaks Artie’s heart out of malice and bitterness, crumpling up the paper at the start of the episode just to kill his and the other Glee kids’ spirits. Emma does it out of compassion, thinking that it’s her role to limit Artie’s expectations. She has to kill his dream gently, so that he remains realistic about things. She is breaking his heart out of compassion. This is followed by the jolt of Sue’s revelation. Sue plays villain for a scene, pitting Will against Bryan Ryan after Will gets the role and Bryan Ryan only gets one line in the whole production. Again after a sinister, tense scene we get a humorous moment with Bryan Ryan practicing his one line and doing variations on the word, “Hooray.” This is followed by another funny line delivery from NPH. “I’ve grown weary of your insults, Will. They sting and they make me want to punch your face.” The first half attempts at sophistication, the second half dropping the act and coming out blunt. Will gives his little black hole speech. It’s a bit corny but it sounds like just the kind of thing he would resort to. Will calls Bryan Ryan a black hole and appeals to him on this emotional level. Then he offers Bryan Ryan the lead. What’s funny is that the

black hole speech matters naught to Bryan Ryan. He does turn on a dime and takes Will’s part, and immediately starts acting the star with the play’s director. With that issue generally resolved the show switches to what will develop into a major arc at least until the end of the season. We get a number from Rachel and Shelby, “I Dreamed a Dream,” which is beautifully performed and shot likewise. Take special note of the blocking, Shelby’s always out of Rachel’s line of sight. The camera bobs and weaves but Rachel stays in one place. Shelby approaches, holds her from behind, but still Rachel can’t turn to look. And though Shelby crying in the rain and Rachel crying in her room at the end of the sequence overdo it, the song performance has earned enough goodwill for me to forgive that kind of blunt, bashing-over-the head imagery of the separated mother and child.

Dream a Little Dream The episode closes with a focus on the story arc of Artie and Tina. You realize at the episode’s end that Finn and Puck only got a line each, the Finn/Kurt storyline has been set aside, Puck & Mercedes sat on the sidelines, and we’ve gotten a lot of play out of some otherwise neglected characters. It shows the possibilities of more stories being told, and more realistic stories that can be explored in the future. The show has gotten an extension into its third season already, so hopefully this gives the writers confidence to take risks and tell the stories of more characters. In the episode’s closing number it’s again important to take note of the blocking and movement onstage. As Artie starts singing “Dream a Little Dream of Me” he is in

the foreground, center stage. But after his verse, he has to move aside so that Other Asian and Tina can take center stage. There’s a sad effect as Artie rolls stage left. His “tap-wheels” make a few lame clicks and then we hear the shoes of Other Asian and Tina clicking together loudly. What’s impressive is Artie’s supposed acceptance vis-à-vis the obvious pain in his face as he watches Tina dance with Other Asian. The episode’s closing shot captures the heart-wrenching nature of it all perfectly as it has Artie’s sad face in the foreground as Other Asian dips Tina in the background. Seeing what this episode can pull off, I now offer my own suggestions, or at least my own hopes for future episodes. First off, there’s got to be an episode featuring Other Asian or Mike Chang and Matt Rutherford. The show has given them names but it hasn’t given them stories yet. Some of the other minor players are still jostling for screen time, but there’s a chance that giving these two guys more narrative space may reveal other new directions that the series can go into. What I want most though is an episode through Britney’s POV. Heather Morris is showing great comic chops with her limited time, and she’s become the New Directions member whom I always look forward to hearing from. She is hilarious, and we can only imagine what kinds of things that the writers can think of. The season is winding down and it’s been bumpy as Glee has struggled between its various tones. “Dream On” is one of the best episodes, if not the best episode in terms of pacing, visual language, and storytelling. It shows how far Glee has come this season as well as showing where the show can go.

LITERARY/ COMICS
What is CNF?
(This first appeared in the Metakritiko section of thepoc.net.)

In a literature class a professor of mine said of the literary genres, “There is poetry, and then there is everything else.” Poetry has, after all, been regarded as the highest form of expression, the poetic line the most charged of meaning in all literary units. We’ve had poetry for as long as we have had literature, both written and oral. The novel has been around a few centuries, depending on who you believe when it comes to which was the first novel. The short story’s a couple of centuries old, coming to fruition in the last one. But what about Creative Non-Fiction, or CNF? Depending on how you look at it, CNF (we refer to it henceforth as CNF as this is its local term, as appropriated by Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo in her CNF Manual and Reader, thus far the definitive academic texts on Filipino CNF, not to say that there isn’t more room for developing the CNF criticism and canon, but to say that Hidalgo called dibs, she’s first, and until someone writes to the contrary we will stick with that; in the West though, the C has been dropped leaving it termed nonfic, as they say that since it’s literary work, the C or creative is assumed, so it’s unnecessary to add the C onto the NF, but it’s all still semantics, and so we’ll stick with CNF for now) could be considered the newest of literary genres, or one of the oldest. We could consider works

such as the biographies written by Plutarch, or the diaries and journals written by past leaders and thinkers as the content of CNF. If we look at CNF as a new thing, we see it as a strain of writing that stems from the 20th century’s literary journalism. By employing the techniques of fiction and poetry, journalists imbued their works with a markedly different way of storytelling. These literary journalists’ works were driven as much (or more) by theme, plot, character, irony, as they were by the five Ws and the H. And from this strain of writing comes contemporary CNF. It’s interesting to note that in Hidalgo’s reader, a lot of the CNF featured was written for journalistic publication. As an undergraduate studying creative writing in the Noughties, I didn’t have CNF classes. At the time there were classes in Essay and in Non-Fiction Narratives. I believe the Non-Fiction Narrative (NFN) has now been replaced by CNF, as my Master’s level studies have offered CNF classes (which I studied under Prof. Hidalgo). This brings to mind the idea that CNF is different from the essay. There are things which now fall under CNF which previously would have been called something else, such as the personal essay. NFN as a term is helpful, in the sense that it refers to a narrative. Essays need not have narratives. But a nonfiction work which employs narrative in the sense that a short story would, would be considered a work of CNF. However, even if you don’t have a narrative, you can still be writing CNF. Confused yet?

Indeed, defining CNF is a bit of a pickle. It is, after all, a genre that is defined by what it’s not. It’s not fiction. That’s the underlying assumption of it. It’s not fiction, written in a creative (literary) way. That leaves a lot of room for what it could be. Unlike poetry and fiction, which have some expectations in form, it’s harder to pin down what constitutes a work of CNF. Poetry is written in verse, cut up into stanzas or strophes (at least that’s our back to basics definition, contemporary poets have of course been pushing the limits of poetry far beyond these basics) while fiction is written in prose, and it has characters, a plot, a beginning, middle, end, climax, denouement. CNF is written in prose (generally, though I can imagine someone making an experiment of other ways to do it) and employs the tools of literature to create meaning. It doesn’t have to tell a story, it’s not NFN, it doesn’t have to have a narrative. That means that CNF could be used to portray a mood, a feeling, a single moment, like poetry sometimes does. So far, as we’ve explored these definitions, we see that the only constraint placed on CNF is that it’s not fiction. It can take various forms, can pick and choose literary devices to fit its whim, can adjust and adapt to whatever form is best for what it’s trying to tell. In this sense, CNF is one of the most exciting areas of literature to explore. This means that, with such little definition placed on what CNF is, the writer is free to explore what CNF is, what CNF can be.

I started my own serious (or as serious as I get) thinking about CNF last year, when I was invited to be a fellow for CNF at the UP Advanced Writer’s Workshop. The range of CNF works at the workshop was indicative of the drastically different directions that the genre could take. Fellows for the Filipino equivalent, the Sanaysay, were Vlad Gonzales, who wrote about music and different kinds of games, portraying his life through these contexts in language that was conversational, while Jing Panganiban wrote something of an expose on the literary community in playful chismis-style language. For English, Criselda Yabes had a work that teetered between CNF and fiction, as she wrestled with issues of portrayal and the identities of her characters (such issues in CNF and many more to be discussed in future entries). Hers was a story of a couple from abroad who was moving back to the Philippines, and buying a home in the province. Very different from my own work, funny pieces about being a geek in the Philippines. And these are just four different writers, with only four projects. Each writer comes up with other projects of course, and there are so many writers now who have published fiction and poetry and are now exploring what can be done in CNF. This is to say that at this point the directions in which the genre could push are, as yet, undefined. Much publication of CNF has come out of Milflores Publishing, a local publisher that has specialized in CNF works (among these my own first book). Owned and run by the aforementioned Hidalgo’s husband, Tony Hidalgo, it has come out regularly with a variety of CNF books. While these have received mixed reactions (for example Rica

Bolipata Santos’s Love, Desire, Children, Etc. received a first book award, but was also lambasted by critic Adam David, who went on to shred most of the publishing house’s CNF line as navel-gazing) it cannot be denied that Milflores has stayed at the forefront of CNF publishing in the Philippines. They have hewed closer to more “commerciallyaccessible” material, skewing towards the funny and light. These choices seem to be more business- and availability-driven choices. Which is to say that the field is wide open. There are a number of reasons why CNF is appealing to a lot of readers. Among them the idea of, “Totoo ba ‘yan? (Did it really happen), being something that entices a good number of readers. It’s not clear whether this is a Filipino thing or something that crosses cultures, but the Filipino reader/viewer does enjoy the “true” story a lot (if we look at a lot of movies that come out though, they may show a similar tendency as so many have tags of “based on true events”). We can’t define and put our finger on what exactly CNF is. We know what it’s not. But that means that anything that is true can be the material of CNF. And because of its limitations being content based (only that which is true) then the CNF writer is free to explore what forms can be employed in CNF. The “true” and how such truth is portrayed in CNF is a problematic concept, and it’s a concept that this series of essays will address. This first essay tried to define, or show how little definition, CNF has. Succeeding essays will discuss ideas of truth, how we portray things in CNF, who we can write about in CNF, how we approach the idea of

writing about real people and many other things that would come to the mind of the CNF writer or reader. This series will attempt to be an examination of CNF through one writer’s perspective, as I hammer away at my second book of CNF and try and address the issues and problems that I encounter and end up thinking about in the course of my writing, and reading other people’s CNF works. It can’t be definitive, as CNF as a genre of writing is still stretching out and figuring out what it can do, but it will attempt to reach certain generalizations and identify some ground rules (which of course can always be broken, given that you know them already) and try and help readers and aspiring writers of CNF of grapple with a lot of the basics of the genre.

Making the Most of my Midi-chlorian Count: Geek Consciousness, Identity, and Humor in Creative NonFiction
(This paper was delivered at Praxis: International Postcolonial Studies Conference in 2010. I was part of a panel asked to discuss the issues of young writers, along with Kit Kwe and Anna Sanchez Ishikawa.)

I. Filipino “Where’s the pain? Where’s the anger and the hurt?” my friend asked as she thumped my chest emphatically. She looked at me and I could see the sadness in her face, this look like she was searching for something and she didn’t find it. I was thinking, I might have been doing something good in my writing to get her so emotional about it. “I don’t know,” I said, “I was just trying to be funny.” “No,” she said, “You can’t just make jokes about these things. This is serious stuff. You have to write it out.” I feel that that exchange encapsulates a lot of issues about my Creative NonFiction. We see there this questioning of the content, why it was chosen and how it was handled and executed. We also see the demands made by the reader. Further, shown is the belief that there are things that should be taken seriously, and that the CNF writer should indeed be responsible not only to himself but to the people and the milieu being portrayed in the work. Factoring in all these things to think about, I am reminded of a number of times when I have been told that my writing is fun and entertaining, but lacks pathos and gravitas.

Cognizant of my residence in a postcolonial country, and the kinds of experiences that we have had in our bloody, brutal history where we endured centuries of oppression by Spain, a war with American colonizers whose death count is still debated, the devastating Japanese occupation, Martial Law, and the post-Martial law presidencies with their own stories, it’s clear that one need not look far for material that would have both pathos and gravitas. Poverty is rampant. Corruption and abuse in the government has been something that we have learned to live with. Systems and institutions are assumed to be compromised. Even in this supposedly hopeful time of regime change, there is so much to be angry, sad, frustrated, or disappointed about that one would think that I would have the good sense to be serious when I write CNF. But then I have my subject position to blame. I was born in the Philippines, but when I was three my mother and I migrated to Los Angeles. And I feel like I really missed a lot because whenever friends get together and reminisce they talk about Shaider, Voltes V, and Masked Rider Black. All of these are outside of my cultural consciousness. Similarly, when older friends talk of their love for the softdrink beauties I am at a loss. And this is just the pop culture stuff. There’s even more about Filipino culture that I know I don’t know, and these blindspots in my cultural consciousness really do weigh heavily on me. My own cultural consciousness is defined by a lot of television I watched as a kid. There were the mid-day reruns of old sitcoms like Gilligan’s Island, I Dream of Jeanie, and I Love Lucy. At night my parents would think I was asleep but I’d be

watching Nick at Nite for classics like The Dick Van Dyke Show, Get Smart, and Welcome Back, Kotter. I became a disciple of Saturday Night Live even though I would rarely finish it because, being a kid, I wasn’t used to staying up past midnight. I would discover Star Wars and Star Trek and they would provide me with hours of entertainment and what has now become a lifelong devotion to both franchises. At nine or ten I attended my first convention. I spent lots of hours at the comic book store either picking new comics or trading basketball cards. And feeding my love for sci-fi and fantasy was my membership at the book club of the neighborhood library. Down the block from our apartment was a video store. The Armenian dude who ran it always recommended indie films to me, and he let me borrow R-rated movies even when I was only twelve. Just a few blocks down, with the help of rollerblades, I could get to the multiplex and catch a bunch of movies. I was a suburban kid who was fully attuned to American consumer pop culture. Exposure to Filipino culture was limited to the VHS tapes that could be rented at the Filipino stores. Having spent my formative years abroad, I was stuck with a consciousness that is largely divorced from the third world/postcolonial experience. Studying here helped me to form more of an identity as a Filipino, but I feel that these are aspects of an identity that I have chosen to develop, not the result of socialization at a young age. I’m not sure if my awareness and complicity in developing my identity as a Filipino enhances or diminishes it. What is clear to me is that this kind of diptych

consciousness makes for a CNF voice that can adopt stances of both outsider and insider. It’s from this perspective that I attempt to write. The essay is an attempt, and in most cases, it’s me trying to understand a social situation. My geek consciousness makes for limited ability to understand and function properly in social situations. This gets compounded at times by the Fil-Am consciousness. I feel it’s worth pointing out here that it helps that I do not look American or mestizo at all, that my kayumanggi skin and rather plain looks let me blend in and allow for more normal natural behavior towards me, as opposed to say looking like I am part American. I’m not saying it’s the most fortunate thing, as I suppose that if I did look more American then I would be much better looking and would do better with women and might perhaps have had a chance at a showbiz career. But my Filipino looks do help me to be a funny writer, and well, you gotta make the best of what you got. In these attempts to understand, funny things emerge. I try to understand, I try to fit in, but I often fail. These failures do lead to some learning, to some enhancement of understanding. But this learning and understanding is built upon my inability to adapt or conform to situations. I often write these situations as funny. But if one thinks about it, these are based on sad occurrences, on instances of failure. These situations might include a dilemma while buying DVDs, not having a date at a wedding, or a breakup. All of these are obviously dwarfed when it comes to the larger social conditions that we have to contend with in this world, and particularly in the third world. But these are small

tragedies, containing gravitas and pathos, wrapped up in a sense of humor. Which is to say that while I may be making jokes, I am serious about them.

II. Geek I’ve carved a niche for myself as the voice of the Filipino geek. And I think it’s important that I problematize the bringing together of those two terms, as the latter is an inherently Western concept. The definition of geek is highly debated. As part of the general consensus and what we’ll work from here, is that geeks are socially awkward people who have a devotion to non-mainstream interests. It’s not just people in the West who are geeks, though there are probably more of them there because of the access to media and content which would inspire geekery. There is a geek community here. It has not reached a critical mass to the level that it can influence local pop culture, but geeks do organize and congregate. Seeing geeks gather though, it becomes clear that the composition is mostly middle to upper class, with most of its members being affluent, which explains not only their ability to engage this type of culture, but their access to media, content, collectibles, and the other physical manifestations of geekery. Which is to say that geeks make up an extremely small part of the population. Also, the things which geeks get geeky about are rarely Filipino. Filipino content at present is developed for the masa, and it largely excludes the geek from its

considerations when TV shows, movies, music, or other forms of entertainment media are designed. This means that the Filipino-ness of a geek will be at question, because while Filipino in nationality, the geek will inhabit a consciousness that is not Filipino. It is arguable that the consciousness is largely Western- or Japanese- influenced as most of the content that fuels geekery is either from the West or Japan. While this might lead us to assumptions that this is just the spreading of Western cultural hegemony, we can also point out that the content that geeks get geeky about isn’t pop or mainstream either, but constitutes fringe culture and interests. It’s more likely that the values geeks ascribe to are influenced not by the hegemony of the West, but rather the teachings of The Jedi Council and The Force, The Federation and The Prime Directive, or other fantastical worlds. The cultural consciousness to which the geek ascribes is something not fully Filipino, if Filipino at all. Most geeks would point to the lack of Filipino content to get geeky about. After all, local TV has no such mythos-building equivalents, local literature has no sweeping LoTR or Song of Ice and Fire epics, no local movie has the irresistible allure of Star Wars. But there is content. I can’t speak for TV, but I think that our local epics do have mythic qualities and classic Filipino films as well as old Pinoy comedies inspire their own brand of geekiness. But again all of this has yet to catch on, and it’s going to take a lot more before there is a brand of true Filipino geekiness. Where does that leave me, as a person who attempts to document his own geekiness in this world, with an eye on the movements of pop culture? It presents on

my end a substantial problem, as it shows limitations in the way that I can engage Filipino content, Filipino consciousness. The true Filipino geek does not exist. Knowing this it becomes apparent that the way is clear to create an identity which has never been explored in our literature before, an identity that engages both global interests and hopefully local concerns.

III. Writer I try not to introduce myself as a writer. Some take this as false modesty. But to be honest I’ve always observed and respected the difference between a writer and a person who writes. The first is a state, one that has been attained and proven and acknowledged, while the other is an act which, if done often enough and well enough, leads to the first. As of late I have started to be introduced as: the writer. This usually leads to one of two reactions. The first is something along the lines of, “Oh really? I didn’t know that there were Filipino writers who were still alive.” This probably speaks too much about the kind of exposure to literature that most people in this country have. The second reaction is to ask, “So how many Palancas have you won?” I think about this because often the skill of the writer is thought to be commensurate to the number of writing awards amassed. I’ve slowly come to a place in my writing career where I have accepted that no one will probably be giving me an award anytime soon. I write funny, short essays about seemingly trivial things that are told from the perspective of a fringe subculture.

My attempt in writing essays is to try to approximate a rhythm and rapport that would be similar to stand-up comedy. I think that the geek stance that I am able to appropriate makes for a great perspective from which to tell jokes. In lucky strokes this stance allows me to make insights on the Filipino condition and the human condition which would not be available to other writers. This is because the self-deprecation and self-awareness provided by this stance allow me to say certain things that would not be acceptable if I were speaking from a position of authority or knowing. It’s in knowing that I don’t know, and in being willing to admit such a lack of knowledge that, paradoxically, allows me to speak with credibility. Still I feel that humor is underappreciated. It’s not that people don’t like humor, but I sometimes wonder if we give humorists as much credit as they deserve. How hard is it to tell a joke? How hard is it to keep people laughing? Imagine all the assets at your disposal when you’re with friends and trying to make them laugh. You’ve got material all around: the physical environment, the past that you have all shared, recent stories and situations, and you’ve got your body, voice, facial expressions, hand gestures, and so many more resources. Now consider what you’ve got if all you’ve got are words. How hard is it when you don’t have intonation, or rhythm, or other aspects of delivery? Notice that most “joke books” are filled with puns, or quickie one liners, or just one line set-ups followed immediately by punchlines. It’s because it’s difficult to sustain a joke. It’s hard to make people laugh, and it’s even harder to build upon that initial joke and keep spinning it into a series of jokes, or in my case a complete essay.

My essays come out in short bursts. This is fine, of course, as it is what the content demands. This brevity though, makes most of my essays ineligible for contests, as they often don’t reach page minimums. And while people will laugh and enjoy my work, I am rarely taken seriously, or taken as a serious writer. I feel that there should be some kind of way to acknowledge and even promote funnier writing. More often than not our awards and our respect go to decidedly serious writing that incorporates social realism and portrayals of social issues. This isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with that writing. But I’m wondering if it isn’t time for us to think of humor more seriously and to try and recognize the work that goes into a wellcrafted piece of humor just as much as we reward a well-crafted piece of realist literature. I remember Dr. Dalisay asking in one of our classes, why it was that everyone was always setting out to write the great Filipino novel. Everyone was trying to write the next Noli Me Tangere. So I’m not sure how people will respond to this stance, but I feel that I am leaving others to write those books for the moment. I might try my hand at it one day. I’ve got a tri-generational narrative brewing in my head that spans the occupation of Corregidor to a fleeing from Martial Law to 1970s Southern California to a turn of the century murder mystery. But I’m leaving novel writing, and mostly serious writing, aside for the moment to focus on being a funny geek trying to understand the world and his place in the world.

I do sometimes think about one day bagging some awards that might convince some people that I am a writer indeed. But I wonder if it’ll be my writing that changes, or the aesthetics of judging, or if magically these two things will just align perfectly. In the meantime, I’ll keep talking about the mundane and weird everyday experiences that I have, I’ll keep chronicling geekiness, and most importantly I’ll keep trying to make people laugh.

Hamlet and the Sopranos
(This paper was written for an MA Shakespeare class.)

In contemporary pop culture, the narrative form, while remaining popular in

traditional forms like literature, has seen an explosion in terms of formats through which stories can be told. By far, one of the most expansive of these formats is the television series which boasts the largest narrative frame in visual media. While a film may expand to tell a trilogy, for example The Godfather series, or even six films, as we’ve seen with Star Wars, the time available would amount to somewhere near ten to fifteen hours. In contrast, a television series will span at least twelve episodes per season, with an average of 44 minutes per episode, this extending to multiple seasons. The narrative space given allows for numerous characters and the developments of multiple storylines, some being framed within that season, others spanning the entire series. One show that has consistently pushed the narrative possibilities of the television

series is The Sopranos. Recognized as one of the shows that has helped to reinvent storytelling in its format, The Sopranos has shown its ability at weaving stories with postmodern panache, playing self-referential, using mobster movies and other similar works as touchstones, consistently challenging viewers with sprawling storylines that explore not only the dirty mafia underworld but the sometimes more difficult family lives and more surprisingly the inner conflicts faced by a contemporary Mafiosi. It’s no wonder then that The Sopranos has received much critical attention. Not only has it

received awards and has been recognized as a hallmark of television, but it has also been the subject of academic criticism and has spawned analysis in books such as Psychology and the Sopranos and I Kill Therefore I Am: The Sopranos and Philosophy. Being such a large part of contemporary narrative and storytelling, The Sopranos

quickly came to mind as we discussed Shakespeare in our classes. While the two may seem to come from very different pantheons of literature, as I read scenes from Shakespeare’s tragedies, and as I analyzed situations, I could not help but find similarities between them. It’s not to say that The Sopranos takes directly from Shakespeare, but rather to say that the elements of story that Shakespeare employed are still consistent, they maintain relevant, and shine through even in such contemporary literature. This paper then will seek to show the similarities, the intersecting points between

the Hamlet, and those things that appear in The Sopranos. It will employ my analyses of both the show’s six seasons and Shakespeare’s tragedies. It is hoped that by finding these similarities we see that these motifs, these themes recur. Indeed, Shakespeare was an originator, but he too drew on various sources. Thus tracing these conflicts will serve to show us how we witness the same stories, and yet the creators before us are able to give us new stories too. The idea for this paper struck me when we discussed Hamlet in class. I had

asked about the form of the soliloquy and the purposes it served. As a device, the soliloquy allows us to see into the character’s mind, it lets us hear what he is thinking,

lends us some understanding which the character strives for and which we may glean through listening to his unbridled thoughts. I began thinking about scenes in contemporary media like film and television,

which would allow for something like this. Indeed there is no time for a character to make a soliloquy in today’s entertainment; it’s done more quickly and more efficiently with the voice over. However, there have to be other ways to accomplish this. For example, there are films like High Fidelity where the character will face the camera and begin talking to it. Still, that seems far from reality; it’s a postmodern technique to acknowledge the audience, but there had to be a contemporary way to deliver what the soliloquy does while maintaining the fourth wall. This technique was The Sopranos’ use of a psychiatrist, Dr. Melfi, and her

sessions with her mob boss patient and anti-hero of the show Tony Soprano. The technique, established as the narrative frame for the first episode, courses through the whole series, serving as the device through which we peer into the candid thoughts of Tony Soprano. In the first episode we see Tony Soprano enter Dr. Melfi's office for the first time.

Like most patients seeing a doctor for the first time, he is guarded and unsure of how much he should tell the doctor. We see, through a process of editing, the truths that Tony divulges, while at the same time seeing the discrepancies between what he says and what he actually does. For example, in this first episode he says that he saw a friend earlier. He

approached the friend and said hello to him and they had a short chat over coffee.

However, as he narrates this to Dr. Melfi, we are shown Tony and his nephew Christopher Moltisanti as they chase down a debtor; first they follow him with a car, then Chris gets out of the car and follows him on foot while Tony heads the debtor off. When the debtor turns a corner to escape from Chris Tony hits him with the car, then Tony gets out of the car and beats him. Here we see also the ambiguous nature of Tony's admissions. There are moments when he seems to fully disclose all he feels, and at others we have a feeling that he is toying with the doctor, saying things that she wants to hear or that will further his reputation with her. It's interesting to note that this ambiguous nature that is displayed by Tony's

talking with Dr. Melfi is very similar to the kind of doubt and sincerity questioning that we inevitably subject Hamlet to. When Hamlet speaks we wonder if he speaks the truth, or if he speaks to fool those around him. At times we believe that he is merely acting mad, and yet at times he does seem like a bona fide madman. Tony Soprano shows a similar duality when it comes to his psychiatric sessions.

He may express regrets, may say that he will be a better person. And in fact as we are shown that though his moral system is flawed, we also see how he gives value to his family, to his crew, to his people, and his reputation. In recent pop analysis there's been the statement that while mobster or gangster

flicks portray their characters as smart suave men, the truth of the matter is that most of these types enter that line because they lack the education or intelligence to make an honest living, hence their criminality.

Though most of the characters in the show are reflective of this reading, and thus

many of the characters act like thugs and dimwits, Tony distinguishes himself in his attempts to lead the Soprano crime family as something of a Cosa Nostra philosopher king. Tony is intelligent, and he has the ability to manipulate, and at the same time there are moments when his being candid is just as brutal as the beatings that he gives his enemies. It's these things that Dr. Melfi, his psychiatrist, has to contend with, just as much

as the viewers do. This adds yet another level of ambiguity as we have a character with questionable actions (like Hamlet) making statements about these actions, and we have another character attempting to filter these actions and interpret them. What happens is that we find the one who is supposed to see through Sopranos' unusual moods being the one who is further confounded by them. Adding further to the comparisons to Hamlet and his soliloquies, we find that Tony

Soprano's indecisiveness, like Hamlet's, is inversely proportional to the frequency of his soliloquies. In the early parts of Hamlet, as Hamlet is wracked by indecision, we find him delivering his soliloquies or giving long speeches. However, as the action becomes more frantic and as Hamlet moves closer to action, the soliloquies lessen until the last act when there are none left and Hamlet is acting just as rashly as Laertes. Similarly, Tony is indecisive. He spends much time, sometimes a number of

episodes, putting off decisions or allowing situations to play out waiting and hoping for them to resolve themselves. There are instances when even though he is aware that he is in danger, or that there are plots being hatched against him, he still delays or waits.

Sometimes these can be attributed to the idea that he would like to be prudent, to have a clearer view of the situation before acting. But like Hamlet he is guilty of procrastination and inaction. And just as Hamlet’s soliloquies lessen as his action increases, we find Tony’s

visits to Dr. Melfi disappear as he moves closer to action. One might attribute this to the idea that he does not want to have to explain or think over the decisions that he has made. Much like Hamlet, who stops his ruminating, possibly Tony too does not want to dwell upon the actions he is about to undertake. He does not want to face Dr. Melfi who will question his actions, and in effect he does not want to face his decisions until after they are done. Another similarity between the two characters is that once they break their chains

of inaction, terribly violent events ensue. After all the delays, his need to test his uncle through the play within a play, his abuse of his mother and Ophelia, Hamlet does ultimately come to a decision, and it is this decision that leads to the play’s bloody resolution. Once Tony Soprano makes a decision, the outcomes are fatal, and since it’s a

Mafiosi story they are more brutal, resulting in bloodbaths that would shame the Shakespearean and the Senecan stages. For example, when Tony’s cousin guns down someone from a rival gang, a hunt is launched against the cousin. Over the course of several episodes, Tony goes from not wanting to intervene to not wanting to know where his cousin is, to helping his cousin hide, all the while procrastinating with the rival gang and trying to get them to let the whole thing blow over. He keeps hoping it

will blow over, but as the situation worsens and the rival gang demands more blood Tony is pressured to decide. Finally, he takes matters into his own hands and goes to his cousin’s safehouse and puts a shotgun round into his chest. We witness this progression of events over and over in The Sopranos, almost

each season we see a similar occurrence happen. Hamlet can only die once, but owing to the show’s narrative frame, we see a stretching and a recurrence of these violent events. And with each season coming to that kind of end, and ties with Dr. Melfi lessening as action increases, we find that the starts of the earlier parts of the next seasons show Tony attempting to re-establish contact with her. This movement allows for a return to the sessions and Tony’s ranting. It might have been interesting to hear one last soliloquy from Hamlet. But taking things from Tony’s end we see that regret is something that he can scarcely afford and yet it is something that haunts him as terribly as the Ghost of Hamlet’s father. In terms of family intrigue, there are also many similarities to be noticed. While

Hamlet’s romantic woes pale in comparison to Tony and his wife Carmella’s rollercoaster rides of infidelity and reconciliation, as well as Tony’s troubles with his children, it is notable to study Tony’s conflicted relations with his mother and uncle. Where Hamlet’s father was king, Tony’s father was the boss of the Soprano crime

family. The two characters looked up to their fathers and their fathers’ deeds. They both felt that they owed their fathers, but at the same time there was a sense of abandonment. Hamlet was left hanging, unsure of what to do, unknowing of how things were playing out and only the apparition of what might have been his father’s

ghost to guide him. Tony’s father had been the head of the crime family, but he had also left Tony terribly scarred emotionally and saddled with a family both nuclear and crime family, that was in a state of constant turmoil. Interestingly, both Hamlet’s and Tony’s main family problems stem from the same

family members, an uncle and their mother. Tony’s mother was diagnosed with a disorder that had her being terribly pessimistic and blaming all things on her son. While Hamlet’s mother was not psychologically disturbed in that manner, she had to have been suffering from either illness or lack of conscience to remarry so soon. This traumatized Hamlet and put into action the events of the play that would lead to all of their deaths. Though such outcomes don’t hold for Tony, his mother too begins a ploy that she

hopes will lead to her son’s death. And like Hamlet’s mother whose partner is her brother in law Claudius, Tony’s uncle Junior becomes his enemy. Though they do not marry as the characters in Hamlet do, Tony’s mother and his uncle Junior conspire against him. Claudius, after Hamlet’s erratic behavior, begins plotting against him and even

enlists the help of Laertes to ensure Hamlet’s demise. Hamlet’s mother’s role is unclear in the events that build up, but her taking up with Claudius already makes her suspect. Though she dies by mistake, we are never truly sure of her loyalties, though it would be clear that she had sided with Claudius over her own son Hamlet. We find Tony’s mother not only betraying her son’s trust, as did Hamlet’s mother,

but actually seeking out his demise. When Tony’s mother becomes unhappy with his

putting her in a retirement home, she begins whispering things to Uncle Junior, goading him into thinking that Tony is plotting against him. Uncle Junior, who has been insecure of Tony’s father and now Tony, fears for his position in the family and puts into the works a plan to kill his nephew. Like Claudius, Uncle Junior can’t do it himself, so he sends people Tony’s way, but like Hamlet, Tony manages an escape and exacts his own revenge. In later seasons this conflict would recur, up to the point where Junior, suffering from mental problems akin to Alzheimer’s disease, would shoot Tony in the stomach. It’s this familial intrigue that also helps us to see the dramatic similarities. While

I’ve outlined here only this basic one, further studies would reveal to us the many layers of loyalty and betrayal that could be found in the Sopranos. Tony shoots his cousin so that he can maintain peace between to warring families. The Cosa Nostra is consistently referred to as the family and we would do well to note that there are demands which would line up directly with Shakespearean characters’ beliefs. Hamlet, though indecisive, does feel that his father deserves to be avenged, and Laertes believes just the same. Similar intentions fuel many of the characters of the Sopranos, as they are driven by their own personal drives and the demands of their stations and surroundings. Through this brief paper studying the similarities of Hamlet and The Sopranos we

see that the themes of Shakespeare and some of the elements that drove his play serve just as much in providing dramatic force to one of the touchstones of contemporary television. The sprawl of The Sopranos series in comparison to that of

Hamlet onstage only further highlights the effectivity of those techniques which Shakespeare used. The reworking of these techniques, such as the soliloquy turned psychiatrists’ sessions shows us also the ingenuity of the show in appropriating old forms to new media. However, as we go over the subject matter and the kinds of conflicts that they have in common, we see that the stories are the same, but the way that the stories are told is different. It’s not a quick and easy connection between the bard and the Don of New

Jersey, but we see that there are many points at which they intersect. Shakespeare’s work reverberates through time and through various forms of literature and so even in the most pop and contemporary of formats we can find connections.

V for Vendetta: In Panels and Frames
(I delivered this talk to an ACLE-Alternative Classroom Learning Experience organized by a student org that I was a member of, UP Samahan sa Agham Pampulitika.)

Alan Moore, writer of V for Vendetta, has become notorious for, among other things, disowning the film adaptations of his work. There was the travesty that was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen being turned into the nonsensical extravaganza that was LXG, and all the other liberal departures that Hollywood has made, often extracting the powerful vision that Moore has used to craft his groundbreaking work. Arguably one of the greatest, if not the greatest, comic book writer of all time, a pioneer who elevated the comic book to the level of art, Moore’s dissociating himself from the film adaptations of his work leads us to examine, in the context of V for Vendetta, how narratively similar, and yet how fundamentally different the comic book and the film are. The film takes a number of departures, and this is to be expected in adaptations where you take the story of one art form and transplant it to another. Of course each art form has its own conventions, tools, and limitations, and when making an adaptation there will necessarily be changes. The serialized comic book art form is one of the most popular, and yet one of the most easily misunderstood of forms. This is because it is often treated as a child’s form, as something that does not deserve study. And yet with each work that Moore has produced he has pushed the narrative boundaries of the comic book, and shown what, as an art form, the comic book is capable of. From these aesthetic considerations, where each of Moore’s books is a masterpiece, any sort of adaptation

is doomed to failure as the stories and the way that they are told are meant truly for the panels and gutters. We account for and accept the changes that must be made. The limitations of the feature film coming to around two hours (these limitations, mind you, are defined not merely by aesthetic concerns, but also by business concerns, as movies that are too long limit the number of screenings per day, lessening ticket sales) and the sweeping story of V taking up a number of issues over a years-long publishing period, there were things that had to be cut out. There were changes made to character. A considerable amount of nuance was lost. And there is the dreadful sexual tension between V and Evey which was handled differently and much better in the comic book. And viewing the film version, and even allowing that the film is enjoyable and in itself is quite a good film, there is something that is definitely lost. I do believe that this film is worth watching, but it removes one of the central tenets of the book, that of anarchy. What’s unusual is what radicalizes V, what makes him what he is, is essentially the same in both versions, and yet they lead to decidedly different convictions: the V of the film believes in democracy while the V of the comic book is an anarchist. I believe that given the context of the events portrayed in both versions, and the way that the character develops according to Moore’s vision, then the true outcome should be that of V as an anarchist. I’ll first discuss V’s push for democracy in the film, citing examples of lines and scenes, and then I will contrast them with the concepts of anarchy as presented in Moore’s book, while also introducing some ideas about anarchy, the übermensch,

superheroes, and the anti-hero. All of these will lead to the conclusion that working from the text’s framework, with the author’s vision, and within the conventions of the comic book, that V must necessarily be an anarchist. The democratic V begins by destroying the Old Bailey, the symbol for justice. In the comic book, he begins by destroying Parliament. Further different are his motivations for destroying the Old Bailey. What is omitted from the film is V’s tirade against Justice. He says that he loved her, but that she was an unfaithful lover who allowed herself to be used by the powerful to oppress the people. And then V tells Lady Justice that he has found a new lover, Anarchy. “She has taught me that justice is meaningless without freedom. She is honest. She makes no promises and breaks none.” After destroying the Old Bailey in the film, V makes a news broadcast, where he speaks of the power of words. He enlists the populace, giving them a one year timetable. He encourages discourse and it seems very clear that he is a believer in collective action. In fact, later in the film, he says, “With enough people, blowing up a building can change the world.” By the end of the film Evey tells us that V’s is a message of hope, that “He was all of us.” In essence, and we see this represented visually as various characters who were killed by the oppressive regime appear onscreen as the Guy Fawkes-mask wearing protesters unmask themselves, the spirit of V resides in every one of us. We need only to stand up for ourselves, to take charge, and we too can be V.

Needless to say this ease at which we can become revolutionaries fits that democratic framework, but it falls well outside of the demands of anarchy, and it falls far from the spirit of Alan Moore’s artistic vision. Thus when we look at the adaptation on an aesthetic level, which is to say, is it a good movie to watch, we can say that it is successful. But on the other level of adaptation, which is does it capture the spirit of the original work in a new art form, we can see that it fails to bring the brave, non-conformist, anti-authority stance that defined Moore and Lloyd’s book. When we look at the anarchist V we see that he was created within the context of ultra-conservative Thatcherism. The film deals with a Pax Americana gone wrong and biological attacks on the populace. The comic book envisions a world postnuclear winter. Though now we know that the world would not survive such an event, Moore wrote V imagining how Britain might handle one. This nuclear war outcome was meant to hint that the world of both democracy and socialism had failed, resulting in war. And what rose from that was a government composed of fascist groups, right wingers, and big corporations. In any case, while V calls on the populace to join him in the film, he makes a judgment of them in the comic book, a judgment which shows that he sees next to no difference between democracy, socialism, or fascism, as what defines all is the presence of leaders and rulers: “We’ve had a string of embezzlers, frauds, liars, and lunatics making a string of catastrophic decisions. But who elected them? It was you!

You who appointed these people! You who gave them the power to make your decisions for you!” While the world around V is different, the immediate circumstances that created him were no different. He was a prisoner, one of the outcasts of society who was chosen for experimentation. In both cases, V becomes something of a superhuman, physically, intellectually, and most significantly culturally. The movie never identifies V as being more than a human being. After all, it hints at democracy, that we can all become V by merely becoming aware of the prison around us. In the comic book though, there are clear instances when V is referred to as more than human. In the comic book Finch says, “What we’re up against is someone who isn’t normal people.” And Dr. Surridge says of V when he blows up Larkhill and walks away from the facility: “He looked at me as if I were an insect…as if I were something mounted on a slide.” Indeed V has transcended whatever it is that we normal humans are. Here it’s interesting to bring up the torture scenes where Evey discovers her freedom. They are mostly identical in book and film, and yet in the film there seems to be a logical discrepancy. If V does reside in every one of us, if all it takes is to join collective social action to become a part of the revolution, then why must Evey be subjected to such torture? In the book it is clear, he is creating a new V, indeed it’s rather explicit that she is the new V for the new world, one who won’t kill, who won’t destroy, but one who will help build. But she has to undergo that process so that she too may transcend the prisons which she has been raised to accept.

So what is V then? If V and then Evey have transcended, what have they become? I believe that V comes to represent an iteration of the übermensch. Unlike the Nazi version or other oppressive interpretations of the übermensch I believe that V is a human who has overcome the limitations of humanity, someone who has become an intellectual, a fighter, a revolutionary, a theatrical performer, a philosopher, an artist, and quite literally a superhero. Ubermensch translates roughly to over-man or super-man. Superman we all know. And he will come into play here as we begin to look at the moral questions that are brought about by such a being. What happens, when among the people, there is someone clearly above and beyond them, their abilities, their capacities? In the case of Superman, we know that due to his birthright and his upbringing, he lives by a moral code of helping and trying to do right. But obviously with V we have someone whose morals, because of the torture and oppression that have come to define him, are in stark contrast to our tights-wearing heroes. That is one of the clear appeals of V, one of the first anti-heroes. He is a hero, he is our protagonist, and we root for him. And yet, while we understand his quest to topple an oppressive regime, we witness morally questionable, often sadistic acts. He is cutthroat, literally. He is more brutal in the book, and does not give a second thought to taking lives, merely because he is taking the lives of those who are part of the system he is trying to destroy. He is theatrical, and in this way he toys with his prey. And this makes us question, are we ready to do similar things? Would we be willing to go to these lengths? And we cannot forget that underlying all of this is, of course, a

vendetta, a carrying out of revenge in blood which to many of us would seem morally reprehensible. One way to approach it is that the ubermensch, or supermen, fall outside of the rules of normal society. Normal society cannot contain V, what more this oppressive totalitarian regime. When dealing with a superman, can we expect him or her to play by the rules of normal society? This is what we find often in comic books that are willing to question the existence of beings that are, quite literally, superhuman. Moore did this definitively with Watchmen, and many have followed in his footsteps. We think of all the comic book villains whose claim to subjugating people, to exploiting and taking advantage of them is their clear physical or mental superiority over normal people, and we also witness in these books individuals who, endowed with superpowers, super strength and strong moral fiber, become heroes and protectors. And we see V falling somewhere in between. While he is shown to be physically superior to other human beings, we must pay attention to his being cultured, his artistry, flair for dramatics, and his being a connoisseur of art. This may seem like a gimmick to make him cool, or just a quirky superhero trait, but aside from the torture that he endured which define his motives and fuel his vengeance, his identity is also defined by the great works of art which he has immersed himself in, and which he has come to live by. The arts which we often refer to as the humanities, and the concept of art as that which humanizes us, connects us with all of culture across time and space. It is

essential that we refer to them if we are to understand the beliefs of V, and what drives him. The arts make him human, breathe life into his burned body. But the movie deprives V of this when, as he is dying, he says that Evey helped to make him feel alive. In the comic book it is the art that makes him live, the art which he has collected and that he appreciates that make life worth living. There’s the vendetta, yes, but there is also the idea that he must celebrate the great music, film, literature, sculpture, and painting. This I believe is what causes him to be better than the oppressors. While the oppressors wield power and influence against V’s subversion, what makes him more of a human, more compassionate and caring of people in general, despite being terribly brutal to the oppressors in particular, is that he believes in art and man’s ability to be great through the creation of art. He believes in humanity, because he believes in the humanities. He knows how people can become great, can become everlasting, immortal, and transcendent. It is not through the machinations and control of the state, but rather through individual accomplishment that we transcend ourselves and connect with the whole of humanity. And really, that is what is demanded in V’s anarchy. Unlike the film which shows a toppled state and a collective action taking over, the comic book ends with Britain in chaos. V’s job was to free them from their prison, as he freed Evey, and it was up to humanity to do what they would with it, whether they would revert to faulty systems, or would rise up to the idealized anarchy of V. V, knowing that he has no place in the new world, allows himself to be shot in both versions, though the passing of the Shadow

Gallery to Evey is more pointed and meaningful in the comic book, as she becomes protector of the ideals. Among V’s last words he says, “Anarchy wears two faces, both creator and destroyer. Thus destroyers topple empires; make a canvas of clean rubble where creators can then build a better world. V’s anarchy is not the one that we most commonly think of when the word is thrown about, where there is chaos and disorder. It is clear to V what anarchy is and what his revolution is for: “Anarchy means ‘without leaders’ not ‘without order.’ With anarchy comes an age of…true order which is to say voluntary order.” To be able to attain such an anarchy would then require of all of us a desire to become ubermensch, to transcend the pettiness of our lives, to live beyond the prison of limitations, and to hold ourselves to a much more demanding, exacting code. We see in V a commitment to right, to truth, and to art. And we see that he is uncompromising in that. We also see that Evey, through what she has endured, will be similarly uncompromising. For V’s anarchy to work, and for us to belong to such an anarchy, it is clear that it’s not easy as joining in social action. We must be idealists. V, after all, is an idealist, as any revolutionary must be. And within the moral code that he has set for himself, he has created a kind of framework for what he believes people should be. They should be intelligent, cultured free thinkers who are willing to do what it takes for good to triumph over evil, even if that means that the good must, at times, commit evil. These ambiguities are where revolutions and revolutionaries get frightening and muddled. And that is where V offers some of his best advice:

“’Midst insurrection’s clamor, we may forget just what it is for which we strive… isn’t it dancing? Scented shoulders? Pupils widened by desire or wine? Anarchy must embrace the din of bombs and cannon-fire…yet always must it love sweet music much more.”

Freeing Culture
(This first appeared in the Metakritiko section of thepoc.net)

Before we go to the main discussion of Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture, some examples of copy infringement that help to frame my reactions while reading this book: As a former member of the academe, I had to regularly watch out for plagiarism. Plagiarism is, of course, academic dishonesty. Submitting something and trying to take credit for it, trying to earn a grade for something you copy-pasted is despicable. On one occasion I doubted a student’s work because he had faulty grammar, but had produced a beautifully crafted poem that made use of Middle Eastern imagery. When I asked him to write another poem, and asked where he had gotten those images in the poem, he stammered, and then never showed up to class again. Another time, a student who showed limited writing skills submitted a wellwritten essay about her family of baseball fans. I had my doubts because of the sudden leap in the level of writing, as well as the content being addressed. I googled the first line of her essay, and it took me directly to a site of sample essays, where this one had been copy-pasted in its entirety. Those show clear, blatant examples of academic dishonesty. But what about the gray areas? These will inevitably exist. For example, is failure to cite a source tantamount to plagiarism, and should it receive a similar penalty? Or can the writer be allowed to revise and include the reference?

And what happens when someone gives a speech that he had his speechwriters write? Those speechwriters in turn cropping whole chunks from other speeches? How do we consider this? Aside from these academic examples we can look at the Michel Gondry film Be Kind Rewind. For those unfamiliar with the film, it has two friends, played by Jack Black and Mos Def, who, after an accident that erases all of the videos in their video store, make their own versions of movies. They “remake” or shoot their own versions of Ghostbusters, Robocop, Rush Hour 2, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and many other popular Hollywood films. Lacking a proper name for what they are doing, they go with the arbitrarily labe “swede” and rent out these “sweded” movies to the video store’s clients. By the end of the film they have been found by Hollywood and their little business crushed. But also by then, after being banned from copying content, the amateur filmmakers, and the community that has supported them, have progressed to making a pseudo-documentary of superior quality using the skills they learned from “sweding.” The reason why I go so long into these examples is that we are plagued by plagiarism and its appearance in various contexts. But then it’s such a powerful umbrella term, and concepts of copy infringement, though they do not usually affect us directly as yet, will play a large role as we try to engage in global culture. And Be Kind Rewind serves to encapsulate the main points of Lessig’s Free Culture, illustrating how culture develops through copying and the movement towards genuine innovation through a process first of copying.

Subtitled The Nature and Future of Creativity Lessig argues powerfully that we must be allowed to copy content so that we can develop culture. He does this within an American framework, referencing American laws, and referring to American cases. But this clearly defined position of his does not prove detrimental to his points about creativity, nor about cultural development, as the ideas he presents cut across cultures. Though the book was first released in 2004, the issues it raises are ever pressing, and its ability to examine these complex and nuanced issues illuminates readers to the real problems that are at play. While detractors of “free culture” may try to simplify the issue and mark it all as theft, Lessig elaborates on many points and stories and thus turns his title not only from a thing to be prized, but as a rallying call; free isn’t just an adjective in this case, as Lessig argues it, it becomes a very, and a rather insistent and convincing one. Lessig is a law professor who specialized in copyright law and who has fought to do exactly what he says in his book. His failures at changing things through the legal system led him to write this book, as he realized that it wasn’t just the law, but culture and popular consciousness that had to be addressed. Despite his legal background, Lessig does not bash readers over the head with legalese, nor does he only write about the law. He powerfully and effectively argues for a free culture though giving concrete examples and counterexamples to the various arguments involved. An example here would be his referencing Walt Disney himself as one of the great “remixers” of culture. Disney took a Buster Keaton movie, Steamboat Bill, Jr. and

turned it into the now-iconic Steamboat Willie movie that first made Mickey Mouse famous. Lessig argues that if the copyright laws we have today were in place, then Disney would not have been able to do that. And yet Disney holds such powerful control over its copyrights, most of them taken from other stories in the public domain anyway. More than arguing these points though, Lessig gives clear definitions for what constitutes plagiarism, piracy, and other terms. Further, he addresses how digital media, and the copying that happens online changes the dynamics of the law. Returning to Be Kind Rewind, Free Culture describes the process that creators often undergo. We start off as appreciators of culture well before anything else. Appreciation leads to copying (how many artists today started out doodling comic book characters? how many writers started out by writing fan fic?) and if these creators continue, then they will progress to create new content. Lessig argues that if you stifle this process, then you prevent would-be content creators from going through crucial phases of development. And if that happens, then you effectively prevent content from being created. As I was reading Lessig’s arguments I could not help thinking about homages, reworkings, and retellings. A lot of my literary work builds upon me reimagining and retelling my favorite stories (stemming from my personal belief that there are a finite number of stories, but an infinite number of ways to the tell them). And the film that I co-wrote with Khavn dela Cruz serves not as a film on its own, but an amalgam of the

characters created by Lino Brocka and Bembol Roco, playing not just on the film itself but the existence of those iconic characters in the pantheon of Philippine film. If we were to follow the limiting definitions of copyright infringement as described (and decried) by Lessig in his book, then I could probably be spending some time in jail. The homage, and building upon existing creative work, standing on the shoulders of giants as it were, is being systematically eliminated by the stringent rules against plagiarism and copyright infringement. The black and whites of the issue are clear enough, the copy-pasting students, the students who submit work that is not their own, the movie DVD pirates. And these things are clearly and quickly addressed by Lessig, so that he can move on to the grays and the points that need to be studied and better understood by more people. Lessig augments his legal knowledge with historical and contemporary examples, and raises a number of issues which are thought-provoking and force readers to reorient many of the labels that we have become too quick to apply. This doesn’t mean, of course, that plagiarism is now, nor will it ever be acceptable. But it does argue that copying is not a grave offense as we have been led to believe. Sampling, mixing, matching, reworking, reimagining, the fan impetus, all these things lead us towards new creative directions that we would not reach if we did not do them. Reading Lessig’s impassioned argument that we be allowed to do these things, as well as be allowed access to out of print books and other cultural artifacts that are no longer available on the commercial market (old movies, TV broadcasts, etc) is

exciting as it shows a bright future for creativity with all that would become available to us. I believe that if the kind of thinking that Lessig argues for will lead to a more creative, more culturally diverse future filled with intelligent user-generated content. I can’t help but think that in that kind of environment, in that kind of future plagiarism will disappear, as it’s not grades or other rewards being chased, but the exhilaration of creating something that is your own and sharing it with people. If we think about plagiarism we see that it is motivated by an extrinsic goal, the grade. The student is not after personal development, but the grade. And thus I believe that if students were given more freedom to create, and were allowed the feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment in creating, then they would chase that more than the grade. At present though, our society is about grades and degrees. A change in our thinking and the way to perceive creation and culture could go a long way towards remedying these trends, much further than the punitive measures with which we address these issues today. Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture would contribute greatly to this trend, and I hope that a lot of educators and policy-makers and content creators pick it up and use it to help them reimagine the way that we perceive culture and how it is distributed.

Future of the Book
(I delivered this talk at the first Future of the Book conference in 2010. I’m happy to look back on it now and see how so many of the features I was talking about are now actually standard in e-book readers.)

I feel that I only began to truly love books when I felt their scarcity. When I was a kid, books abounded. I was a member of the school book club. For

a time I worked at the Glendale public library. When the library would get new editions of books, the old librarian would allow me to pick through and take home old editions, before throwing them out. I was really uncool obviously, but that was offset by what I perceived to be the cool ability of reading lots of books, which I felt would be an important trait in my future which I envisioned had something to do with the science fiction that I was always reading. Moving to the Philippines though, and then my family hitting hard times, led to a

constraint on almost everything. This also meant that there were no books around and I stopped reading. For most of the time that I was in high school, I could not be bothered to read because I was probably too drunk. And well, I didn’t have anything to read. But when I went to college, I was introduced to book-hunting. Having taken some

literature classes and having met professors and friends who exposed me to good books, I got into reading again. In 1999-2000, in my freshman year, I began buying the books that constitute the library I have now. (On a side note, I believe that these books may be only about two-thirds if not half of all the books I’ve bought since then, as I

have always been lending books to people, and these books rarely ever come back.) The thing was that I had to learn how to buy books on my 60 peso-per-day allowance. I learned to hit the book sales and one particular place that I spent a lot of time

was the fourth floor of National Book Store in Cubao. It’s a very different place now, but I remember there were great Saturday mornings spent there. I would be going through all the shelves and racks, these books all unorganized, and most days I’d come out with nothing, but there were some days that were magic and I’d find just the right book and the radio would be tuned to the rock station and they’d be playing Pearl Jam or Guns N’ Roses at the exact moment that I picked up the latest book that would change my life. There were always so many books, so much in any bargain book place I went,

and most of it would be stuff that I would never bother reading. But I went for the experience, for the joy finding of something. The value of the book would not just be tied to its price, but to the great lengths I went to find it, and to what I would believe was the great fortune I had in being in the right store at the right time. And though today I can generally afford to buy new books, I still find that thrill in finding that great book on the cheap. It might be due to the kinds of things that I read and write, but perhaps I think of this kind of book buying as a kind of quest. Again, it’s not just the thing acquired, but all that goes into acquiring it that gives it more value, and helps to develop my love as a reader. When we think of the movement towards digital, then we can see that these

quests will no longer be necessary. Sure old book hounds will still be doing this, but

will those who are younger even bother with such a thing? This romanticized notion will most likely be lost on them, or maybe some will find it quaint. But really, when most books are only a few keystrokes away, who could be bothered to spend hours digging through shelves and piles of old books (assuming that these places will still be around. Of the more than five spots that I used to hit in Cubao, there is only one left)? This means that the experiences that we will have from now on will be

fundamentally different. We cannot take whatever it is we do with books now and think that we can merely port them to a digital experience. We will have to build the digital book experience from the ground up. It’s important that we take a look at the things that we love about books, the things that we will be losing when we are dealing with the digital (bits) as opposed to the physical (atoms), and consider how we not only make the experiences similar, but how we can maximize the differences in the two mediums to provide the best possible experience in each. To be concrete about this, let’s take a favorite experience of book lovers: smelling

the pages of a new book. People who love books will confess to flipping books open, sticking their noses deep into the book, and taking a nice long sniff. Some may even accompany this inhalation with a closing of eyes. The new book smell is something that many people love. And I think that if some

air freshener company would develop such a scent then they would have an immediate market of book nerds. But this is an experience that will be lost on those who start out with digital. The only solution that I can find, which I think is quite clever, is that all ebook readers come with scratch-and-sniff functions. Hey, movies are going back to 3-

D, why not books going back to scratch-and-sniff? Of course this is impractical and it just doesn’t make sense to consider this when thinking about digital, but hey, why not bring it up, if only to acknowledge how big a part of book buying the new-book-smell is and to highlight the great differences in the experience between atoms and bits. (Think after all this talk of the new-book-smell, how many times did I stop and sniff a nearby book as I was writing this, and how many of you have tried to recall the joy of smelling a new book as I described it?) But moving on, I suppose that the primary concern would be the technology on

which we will be reading our digital books and how much it will cost. We see some clear advantages with digital, beyond say, saving the trees. Among these is the ability to carry around a large number of books at any given time with only the weight of your reader slowing you down and for small apartment dwellers like me there’s more space because you don’t have to accommodate all those books on shelves or all over your house. I’ll question the importance of being able to bring around lots of books though.

When you compare this with say, being able to bring loads of music around, there’s a very clear difference. The iPod allowed you to walk around with your whole music library, and that was great because when you suddenly felt the urge to listen to something or other, it was just a few swipes on the clickwheel away. But with books, unless you are suddenly struck by the need to read a Shakespearean sonnet or a section of “The Wasteland” (okay I’ll admit that I have had those moments) then you’ll

probably only be needing a few books on your reader, maybe the main books you’re reading, and if you’re a student the stuff that you’re studying. I’m thinking about how important it is to have books in my house or in whichever

office I might be working in. Often, as an English teacher, I would find myself needing a poem or a short story because I would think of using it, or would like to reference it in some way or other. That’s why I never got rid of my books, so that they would always be around in the case that I would need them. Now I feel that these two cases, not needing so much memory, but having access to whatever you need, are two important things. I don’t believe that our readers have to have massive memory capacity. The iPad’s

lowest offering is 16GB, Kindle comes with 4GB internal. But then the digital book I’m reading now, in PDF form, is only 2.14MB! More important than having lots of space would be access to books from anywhere at anytime. Assuming that we are buying our books from online stores, it would be a wonderful feature if, after having purchased the book, we could be free to download it at any time. That way, we wouldn’t necessarily have to have it saved on our readers or hard drives, eating up space, but they could be contained within the seller’s servers, ready for us to access and download whenever we wanted. I know that facilitating this kind of service would be difficult and is a possible coding and security nightmare, but if offered, this could make the publisher who facilitates it great. All my books, in the cloud, and I could just grab them and read them anytime that I wanted.

Now’s a good a time, as any, to start talking about costs. First off is considering

the costs of readers. In my own experience, aside from computers, I’ve read e-books on my iPod Touch (P12,000) and my Smartphone (P14,000). Both are rather small affairs, and while the iPod had a passable interface for reading books, it was still wanting as an e-book reader. At present the prettiest looking thing on the market is the iPad, which can supposedly goes for as cheap as P24,000. And there’s the Kindle, which has gone down to about $140, in response to the iPad. There are other readers on the market, but it seems that these are the ones that dominate. Now, let’s compare the costs with my book buying habits. I will usually spend between P2,000 and P3,000 per month on books. Whether I

ever wind up reading all these books (and you book buyers know that the pile of toread is always rising), I do keep acquiring them. If we go for an estimate of P2,500 per month, then that comes to an annual budget of P30,000. This is well beyond even the cheapest iPad. This means that if I diverted funds from buying books in atom form, then I could easily afford an e-book reader. The difference is that I never actually feel that I’ve spent so much on books. I’ll go

into a store and pick something up for 600 or 700 bucks. Then I’ll notice something on sale and snatch it up at 200 bucks. And then a friend will launch their book and I’ll buy it for maybe 300. And I never feel that I’m spending too much, as opposed to the lump sum cost of buying a reader. Now I have to wonder, is there some kind of way that the readers can be priced

cheaply? I know that the iPad is a wonder machine, and if given an opportunity, that’s

probably what I would get. But what about the Apple haters? And those people who just want a dedicated reader? Can we come up with a manageable price for a simple reader? Beyond that manageable price for a reader, can we actually convince people to

pay for their digital books? This is the same problem that the music industry faced, and it failed in such dismal fashion in its attempts to address it by making war with music piracy. What are the possible options? What might be viable business models for distributing e-books? The obvious one will be to sell them the way that Apple sells songs and other

media on iTunes. Per book, you’d click and then download the book onto your computer or reader (keeping in mind that it’s always a bonus if you can offer books in a format that can be read on various devices) and pay a set amount for that book. These prices could be scaled, depending on, well the kind of value. However, these values will have to be reassessed. Working with atoms things are clear, you’re paying for hardbound or paperback, size of the book, number of pages, and other physical concerns. But these things are all generally negligible when working with bits, as only a few seconds would differentiate the rates of transfer for books of different length or edition. I don’t see how viable this would be though. While this might work in the West, I

feel like we will have to find another model that would better suit our readership. What this model is, I’m not sure yet, but I can venture some ideas or suggestions.

The first that I can think of is the Freemium model. We could give away our books

online, and then ask people to buy the physical copy of the book. This has been found effective when the release of the free digital version and of the print version have been well organized. Some people will decide that they want to have an atoms version of the book. It’s easier to write in, you can have it signed, it looks nice on your bookshelf, and you can smell it! But this also means that a large number of people will download the book and won’t buy it. The upside is that you reach a much larger audience of people who might buy your book if you’ve given it away initially. Giving the book away probably doesn’t sound like good business sense, but

developing a Freemium model may be the way to go. You’ll notice that bands have done this. They have given their albums away and have monetized by selling merchandise, special edition releases of their albums, and concert tickets. While I think it would be awesome if book authors could sell the equivalent of concert tickets, it probably won’t happen. But there may be some other way to tweak the Freemium model to make it profitable. One way that comes to mind might be to do the opposite of what I just proposed. Ask people to buy an atoms copy of the book, and then they can have a free digital copy of it from anywhere. Once again the question of piracy exists there but let’s accept that we will never get away from the problem of piracy and it’s just something we’ll have to work with. I still think, though, that giving the digital copy away free may work in certain cases. What this would mean for people who are making a move away from the physical and to digital, and how we might monetize from their patronage, presents its own problems if this Freemium model were adapted.

Another option I see is subscriptions. Publishers could offer whole copies of their

catalogs at monthly or annual rates. Subscription rates could be customized, like cable, where you have basic packages, and then add-on channels, and specials. Again this is an iffy set up. What would help to make this set up viable would be easy payment programs. Of course subscriptions would necessitate regular new content along with the back catalogs offered. And I realize that monetizing is once again difficult in this case. How much do you pay your authors? A flat rate? If not, how do you compute for royalties? By download activity? These are all dynamics which will have to be explored by online publishers, and there are many many more things to consider. Notice that I only discuss money at a limited level. This is for two reasons. One is

that I am very bad at math. The second reason is that I realize that when you look at these models you see that it is going to be very hard to come up with a business model that will fit with our already-limited book-buying public. In my head I’m thinking, how many people can you get to subscribe? And why would they when they can just download most books for free anyway? And that’s really the big question that I’ve been tippy-toeing around all this time.

How do you get people to pay for something that they could probably get for free? How do I manage to sell books when people say, “Ang mahal naman! Bigyan mo na lang ako” for a book that only costs P220. Obviously we can’t appeal to people’s

better nature, much as we would like to. It means that you have to offer a service for distributing e-books that is not merely a distribution service, but an experience. You

have to build an experience that people will enjoy, and an experience which people will take pride in being a part of. If it isn’t obvious yet, I am a member of the Cult of Mac, and one of the things that

a member learns is that membership is a point of pride, ownership of Mac products, though more expensive than other products of similar function, shows not only the capacity to buy more (and it’s a myth that Mac users are richer, it’s just that a lot of Mac users are willing to save up for Mac products because they realize the value) but it is equated with the knowledge that one is buying better. It’s money well spent. And Apple has made it so that you have an experience, and you foster a sense of belonging in a group. One willingly brands oneself a Mac User, and wears that consumerist label as a badge of authority. It’s this kind of fervor that one needs to rouse when attempting to convince

people not to buy pirated and trying to get them to pay for something that, with a little time and maybe some ingenuity, they could get for free. There will be physical manifestations to it, but convincing people that they should be paying for content will involve a shifting in consciousness. This really means designing a process which would be unique to the buying of

digital books, and making this process something quick, easy, simple, and intuitive. It would have to be as simple as wanting a book and, in a few clicks, having it in your reader. While I think that a whole design team would be best deployed to conceptualize and make iterations of this experience, I will make an attempt at illustrating the kinds of things that I would hope for:

I’ve just heard that Greg Brillantes has edited a collection of short stories,

featuring his favorite stories published in the last twenty years. It’s a must-have, so I log onto the site where I have a registered account and search for his new book. Along with this new book, other titles pop up, among them Brillantes’s short story collections and a literary biography about him. I remember loving “Faith, Love, Time, and Dr. Lazaro” and I see that it has passed into public domain. I download a copy of that short story. While the book is downloading straight to my reader, I check out the list of authors. All the author’s names are hyperlinked. I see the name Carljoe Javier. (I know, but again, we’re talking about a kind of dream sequence here, so indulge me.) I click on that and see his other books. I’m not sure if I really want to download his books, but I open one up and take a look at a few pages, browsing through some of the opening paragraphs of some of his essays. I set it aside, put it into my maybe bin. If I like the story that he wrote in the Brillantes collection, then I will go back to the maybe bin and download his book. The download of the Brillantes collection finishes. A widget I’ve installed asks me

if I would like to update my Facebook status and Tweet that I am now reading Greg Brillantes’s collection. I send the update, and another widget informs me that my friend has started reading the book and he has posted his comments and annotations. I access his annotations, but only up until the introduction. I enable comments as well, so that I can post my comments and annotations of the book in real time, to be shared with other friends who might be reading it. We can have online discussions, and eventually, copy these discussions and if we are so inclined co-author a literary

criticism essay, which we can post in the same site where we downloaded the book. This paper can be accessed by the site’s users in helping them decide whether they should get the book themselves. Other users find our reading of the collection very informative and so they rank us

highly. Our rankings as users increases, and we develop a kind of online prestige. As a result, another user who I don’t know sends me a message and a book. She has just finished reading this book, and after seeing what I wrote about the Brillantes’s collection, she’s interested in what I will think of this book. I download it, based on her suggestion, and we begin a discourse, shooting comments to each other back and forth. I recommend a book to her as well. In attempts to drum up buzz for the book, the publishers organize an online

discussion with Greg Brillantes. Seeing my enthusiasm for the book and the time I’ve put into it, I get contacted to join a panel that will get to ask the author questions. While the members of the panel are asking questions, viewers are posting comments and questions, and these are addressed. By the end of the show, it’s announced that a limited edition release of the book will be coming out, signed by all the authors. Fans can also buy the regular print copy. The following day, I’m reading a short story that plays around with comic book

characters. Remembering one of my favorite books by Michael Chabon, I decide that I’d like to go over that again. I flip through the selection, and download it to my reader and start reading. After a chapter, I set it aside. When I pick it up again, I fumble with

the reader and mistakenly erase the book. I log back into the site and download the file again in a matter of seconds, and I’m back to reading. That’s the kind of experience that I would like to have with the reader. I would like it to be as simple as possible. It would harness the full power of the internet and social networking. And it would be seamless. No having to enter lots of passwords, no constant reminders. No bothering with credit cards and access numbers every time that I download something. I want the books to be there in the cloud, ready for me to snatch at any time. This would be in stark contrast to my experience with books in atom form. I would still keep going to book stores and that experience would be classified by books that I don’t know about and had no plans of buying. Or I would be getting special versions that offer something that the electronic versions cannot.

No Line on the Horizon: The Merging of Readers and Writers through Social Media
(As of this writing, I will be delivering this paper at the first Filipino Reader Conference, to be held at the Manila International Book Fair 2011.)

There used to be a clear line that divided authors from readers. The thickness of this line could change, but it maintained the divide. This line was the spine of a book. “The book with your name on the spine,” I was regularly told, was the goal, the be all and end all that would make one an author. And for a long time this held true. But not anymore. Now the line is disappearing. We knew, we always knew, that good writers had to be good readers. But the transition from good reader to good writer was a rare thing, hindered by modes of production and access to readership. With the net, blogging, social networking, and all of the great things that you can do online though, anybody can write, and anybody can be read. And that’s a beautiful thing. Well, it’s beautiful to me. It’s scary and ugly to a lot of people though. Scary because suddenly there’s no gatekeeper, no one to ensure that things are “of quality.” And ugly because, well, lots of ugly stuff can be thrown up online. I’ve been troll-fodder myself. And I’ve seen people who have no other agenda than to bring others down be given an opportunity to do so online, without fear of repercussions. And like all of us here, I’ve also read more than my fair share of slush-pile material, of work that should be greeted with nothing less than a Mega-Facepalm. Still, I believe in and fully embrace

the range of quality and range of content that is now available to us because of the intarwebz. Now a disclaimer. I come from a traditional, old-school Creative Writing and publishing background. I graduated from a traditional Creative Writing program. I worked in print for a long time. And so if you came from this background, until you were published in the Free Press, you were a nobody. Until you won a Palanca, you hadn’t proven yourself. And without those things, you could not publish a book. So I went through the traditional processes of becoming an author. I applied to and was accepted at the writing workshops. I enrolled in the Creative Writing program. I tried to publish in the major Philippine publications and anthologies. I joined the various writing contests. And though I found a measure of success and readership, all that didn’t seem to be right for my writing. I struggled and scrapped in the system, got disheartened, gave up on my writing because it wasn’t going anywhere, came back to it, gave up again; at a certain point I thought, there has to be a different way, there has to be some other way to reach readers and get read. The problem was that the traditional modes were not offering this. This is not a revolutionary attack against the traditional programs and institutions of literature, but rather it’s to say that there is now a different way to go about things. There were a number of reasons why I wound up looking for an alternative. One of these was that, well to be honest, my writing wasn’t as big a hit in the traditional mode as I would have liked. A good part of that is due to the content, which is generally funny or in the speculative fiction mode. The traditional institutions at the time

did not acknowledge speculative fiction as a literary mode. I was told, “Until you stop writing these kinds of stories, you will not be taken seriously.” Now if it was hard enough to be taken seriously because I was writing science-fiction and fantasy, well it was even harder to be taken seriously because I was writing funny essays. For a while I had hoped to become a war reporter or hard-hitting opinion columnist, making social commentary and big statements about how to make the world better. But I found that my temperament and though process veered more towards humor, and finding the funny aspects of things. This temperament has held me in good stead in life, and has paved a way for an identity in my writing. But at the start it was difficult to establish myself as a writer worth reading because I wasn’t writing the heavy, life-changing, epiphany-inducing stuff that the literati looked for in their fiction. I believed though, that while these weren’t the kinds of things that the good old literary institutions went for, there were readers out there who would like to read the stuff that I was writing. And so I decided to leave the establishment and strike off on my own, trying to find a different way to publish and to be read. What I did was I published independently, and then I marketed aggressively online. My first book was released through a traditional, albeit small, publisher. They distributed through traditional means, which means big old NBS. And it did alright, selling something around 380 copies in one year. However, my independently published book, which eschewed the traditional publishing and distribution models, sold more than 400 copies in about three months. Now I know those numbers are small, but then the numbers for local literature, excepting the likes of Bob Ong, Jessica

Zafra, Ichi Batacan, and Trese, are usually small anyway. A bestseller sells out a print run, usually a print run of a thousand. So to go indie and sell that many copies was quite an accomplishment. But beyond book sales, there were a lot of things I learned and got to experience with the release of The Kobayashi Maru of Love. One is that it isn’t bad to give stuff away. I initially gave copies of the book away, in PDF formats, letting people pass it around. This apparently didn’t affect sales, as I did pretty well. My commitment to giving stuff away extends to a current experiment which I began last week. I gave away my latest book for my birthday. The jury is still out on this one (though as you would expect, lots of people thought this was crazy) but I do hope that if nothing else, it gets more people to read my books. I also learned that you didn’t have to go through the big gatekeepers and get the approval of the bigwigs of Philippine literature to do your thing. All you had to do was write, write with a passion, and back up that passion with craft. A lesson I learned from a bad thing happening was the importance of timing. While the print version of the The Kobayashi Maru of Love came out a few days before the launch, ensuring that I would be able to sell at the launch (and I bagged more than 100 copies at the launch then), the digital version was a failure. While I did all the promotions and marketing that I could for it, the digital version was released many months after the launch date, and with kinks too. And up until now, a year after the digital launch, the digital publisher of Kobayashi Maru has yet to provide me with sales reports or any other data about how the book did. Considering the relative success of

the print version, it’s a shame that the excitement generated was not translated to the digital version. This isn’t a point against digital publishing; far from it. I love digital publishing. But rather it’s a call to say that your digital publisher has to care for your book and believe in it and work on it just as much as you do. Sadly, my digital

publisher has made it clear that they really don’t care about the book; this is particularly sad considering that another major publisher has shown interest in releasing a new print run of the book based on its performance. One of the best things I got out of the experience though was that I had to learn on my own how to go about mounting an online marketing campaign. Without any real marketing resources available other than the internet, I found that utilizing social networks, blogs, and other online communities was the best way to promote the book. And through this kind of promotion, I was able to meet a lot of people who are readers and who are bloggers. Now that’s a physical space where the line between reader and writer disappear. As an author, I found it crucial that I connect with the blogging community. As a result, I attended meet-ups, gave talks, and just hung out with people who enjoyed reading and writing about the stuff they had read. More importantly, I saw how connecting with readers meant transcending physical spaces. I was meeting readers online, via twitter, tumblr, Facebook. People would drop a line on my blog, send me a message on Facebook, or tweet me and get a conversation started. And I realized, hey man, this is great. I was connected with like-

minded people who had happened to read my work. But there were all kinds of other things that we could talk about. And I visited their blogs. It was there, reading people’s blogs or reading reviews on sites like goodreads or shelfari, that the trend became most clear. We are witnessing, as I said, the crumbling of the line between writer and reader, or in the more technical terms, the rise of the pro-sumer. Where content producers and content consumers were once divided by modes of production, the content consumers now have the power to produce content too. This producing of content can be as simple as snapping a video with your cellphone and throwing it up on your flickr or youtube, or it can take as much time and care as the book reviews that a lot of people here write. So we get to see here the nice nifty overlaps. Sure writers were readers first, but readers are writing, and writers are reading what readers are writing. Does that sound kind of circular? I’ll tell you, it’s circular, and it’s awesome. We now often turn to the net to provide us with content to read, and with new ideas, and new ways to look at things immediately. Previously, to read critical readings of contemporary texts, you had to wait around for book collections or academic journals or things like that. But now, even on the day a movie comes out, or a book becomes available, there are already discussion boards and readings of it. I think of Inception, which was one of those movies that you had to talk to people about, and a day or two after it came out, there were critical readings and various analyses already available, and so much net chatter that it was enlightening to read what all of these different pro-sumers were writing, pro-sumers who had consumed the film but were producing literature about it.

Now I’ve introduced the word literature and opened up a can of worms. The debate of literature with a big or a small L has been going on for decades in the literary world. Fights over what belongs in the canon, whether other forms such as found poetry or comics are literature (and yes, if you ask me, comics are most definitely literature), and what can be considered art and what’s lowbrow still bother those in the academe. But you know what? Outside of the academe, that doesn’t matter. People are reading. And people write about what they read. And I as an author and as a reader have learned that what’s good for the academe only goes so far in helping me develop. If I listened to the the academic institutions and the literary bigwigs, dude I’d never have read Alan Moore or Warren Ellis or Garth Ennis or JMS. I wouldn’t have read major influences like Gary Shteyngart and Dave Eggers and Michael Chabon because they were’t on any of the syllabi (though they were included in my syllabus when I was teaching). Readers read, and readers who are online read even more, and write about so much more than we literature majors and literature professors could ever hope to read. Bloggers have such a wide range of genres and sub-genres and specializations that it’s exciting to see how much and how can be read, and how perceptively all these can be approached. And so now as a person who struggles to write, and to always write better, I turn to book bloggers and status message updates on goodreads and facebook. Where in my youth and while studying I turned to professors and the reading lists of authors to guide my reading, now I turn to people online who are reading all over the literary world

and finding those gems and letting them bubble up to the top using social media and social networking. As a person working in the publishing industry, having witnessed the power of new media, I am making constant efforts to reach out to readers through new media. I’ve convinced the publishing houses that I’ve worked for that getting bloggers to review our books is almost as, if not more important than getting books reviewed in broadsheets. I hope to organize events that allow authors and readers to meet, so that there can be an increased awareness of the readership, which will hopefully help to inspire authors. And I hope to tap into all of these new media that are available to me to help increase awareness and reading of Filipino literature. It’s important to note that while there are a number of Filipino writers that have made it internationally, it seems to me that it’s the FIlipino bloggers and book club members who have been more successful in creating an international online presence. Many book bloggers here receive review copies from international publishers. Many bloggers here are known the world over and generate a lot of traffic to their site. The kind of traffic and the kind of attention that Filipino literary writers aspire to. And so I guess I’m also here to learn too from bloggers, to see how you guys have broken into the international scene. More than that though, I am also here to ask the Filipino book clubs, Filipino book bloggers, the Filipino readers, to read books written by Filipinos. I know the problems that Philippine literature has, such as readability, authors writing the kinds of works that readers would want to read, a lack of awareness of the titles that are

available, a lack of distribution and a need for a more prominent position in bookstores. I’m hoping this will be a rallying cry that binds the Filipino pro-sumers, that pushes all of us to write and promote each other. To bring all that we are doing here to a global consciousness.

Test Drive: An Exploration of Contemporary Trends in Thought in Art and Science Towards a Consummation of the Play Drive
(This paper was written for an MA Literary Theory class. It tries to bring together my parallel interests in arts and sciences.)

When entering college, one is asked to make a choice. More often than not we, as incoming freshmen, are forced to choose between two pairs of letters, BA or BS. There is a fundamental divide there, and although we attend universities and get a universal or holistic education, there is at the start of our educations this clear division in our fields of study. As a student, forced to choose between the two tracks, science or the liberal arts, I chose the liberal arts. And because of the structures and the manner in which the general education subjects such as the natural sciences and math were taught, I developed a distinct disdain for those fields. I chose to, after putting math and science behind me, devote my reading and study solely to the arts. Despite my decision to read solely in the arts, mainly fiction and poetry, I found that through my readings, and as I made my own attempts at writing, particularly in science fiction, that I desired more knowledge of the hard sciences. I read poetry about physics and found myself wanting a better understanding of that world, for consciousness of the scientific world meant a greater grasp of this world which enveloped me.

So in myself I found that a knowledge of the arts was insufficient and this led to much reading of layman’s science and math books, the kind of literature that could bridge the gap, could allow someone with a background in the arts to understand and appreciate the arts. In these readings I was able to find concepts that overlapped, parallels, ideas that could do well to be merged, to be explored using both backgrounds. In reading Friedrich Von Schiller’s Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man I have found that this struggle that I’ve encountered in my reading, the realization of the lack of knowledge I have because of my attention to only one aspect, is a manifestation of Schiller’s writings on the separation of the drives. Schiller posited that man possesses two drives, the sensuous drive “proceeds from the physical existence of man…the domain of this drive embraces the whole extent of man’s finite being… it is also this drive alone which makes their complete fulfillment possible.” Meanwhile, the formal drive “proceeds from the absolute existence of man, or from his rational nature, and is intent on giving him the freedom to bring harmony into the diversity of his manifestations, and to affirm his person among all his changes of condition…that drive which insists on affirming the personality can never demand anything but that which is binding upon it to all eternity…embraces the whole sequence of time, which is as much as to say: it annuls time and annuls change. It wants the real to be necessary and eternal, and the eternal and the necessary to be real.” Schiller sees the division, that which is based on the sensuous, or the physical experiences of this world brought to us through our senses, and the formal, which is

man’s need to give form and meaning to those things around him. According to Schiller, modern society has further divided the drives through the various impositions that societies make on man. Despite that, he says that these two are not irreconcilable. In fact, there was a

time before they were separated, the time of the Ancient Greeks. Schiller believes that there is a third drive which the two drives will transcend to, the play drive. Schiller says:

…the play drive…would be directed towards annulling time within time, reconciling, becoming with absolute being and change with identity. The sense-drive wants to be determined, wants to receive its object; the formdrive wants itself to determine, wants to bring forth its object. The playdrive, therefore, will endeavor so to receive as if it had itself brought forth, and so to bring forth as the intuitive sense aspires to receive. The sensedrive excludes from its subject all autonomy and freedom; the form-drive excludes from its subject all dependence, all passivity. Exclusion of freedom, however, implies physical necessity, exclusion of passivity moral necessity. Both drives therefore, exert constraint upon the psyche; the former through the laws of nature, the latter through the laws of reason. The play-drive, in consequence, as the one on which both the others act in concert, will exert upon the psyche at once a moral and a physical constraint; it will, therefore, since it annuls all contingency, annul all constraints too, and set man free both physically and morally…The play drive…will make our formal as well as our material disposition, our perfection, as well as our happiness contingent.

These drives have been separated, as Schiller observes. However I believe that in times of great intellectual flourish, there can be a breaking down of the divide between the drives. One need only refer to the Renaissance, when social theory, science, and literature found opportunities for great growth, to see that the confluence

of the zeitgeist and a development of both intellect and art can bring about expressions of the play-drive. Our time, the twentieth century and in the years of the new millennium, have

shown the greatest advances in history. In terms of scientific knowledge, economic growth, technological capacity, and sheer intellectual production in all fields of study, no period has seen such growth and advancement as this, the information age and the years that led to it. Similarly, literary production, thanks to mass media outlets, modern production, the internet, and various avenues for innovation afforded to the contemporary writer, has seen great diversity and quality. We see that our time is one in which we might see a consummation of the play-

drive, or at least a close approximation. The divide that has been held up between the empirical or natural sciences and the liberal arts and philosophy is closing as these two sides start looking to each other for further understanding. It is observable that there is no conscious effort; however we can see that there are clear attempts towards the play-drive. In the time when science and technology are dizzyingly vast and the arts are struggling to situate themselves in an increasingly changing and digitizing world, we see that here is the opportunity for the interactions of the drives to further knowledge and understanding and the creation of various new forms of play. With the increase in resources and the developments in study in the twentieth

century, there was much specialization done. While one might think that specialization is counter to the idea of the play-drive, this specialization has actually helped lead to a mingling of disciplines. As specialists in their fields saw the expanses of knowledge

within their studies, they also came to observe the limitations that their disciplines had. As new questions arose it became clear that oftentimes it took more than one discipline to understand and come closer to answers for those questions. It sounds complicated, but the process is rather simple and more than sensible.

For example, a biologist studies the brain in the hopes of finding answers to behavioral questions, looking to the physical aspects of the brain to give explanation to his questions. The biologist can identify the various parts of the brain and their functions and she can connect processes to certain behaviors. However, if the biologist decides to incorporate theories based on psychology, then she has some basic behavioral explanations that she could start from, testing these ideas against the neurological findings. A mixture of social theory and science lead to a new field of study, biopsychology, which might find new answers and ideas which would not have been found, had the researcher chosen to limit her study to her specialization, biology. Another field that benefits from its interdisciplinary nature is the study of emergent

behavior. A field that explains the kinds of behavior that are common to ant colonies, cities, organs of the body, computer programs, and many other phenomenon, complexity theory comes out of a combination physics, biology, social theory, and economics. While reading about complexity theory I stumbled upon the Theory of Other

Minds, developed just in the twentieth century. Through studies done by British psychologists, it has been found that we humans begin to identify and infer what others think, or “mind read” at the age of four. At that age we recognize that there are

other minds at work, other consciousnesses aside from ourselves. The study focused on the age at which we become aware of other minds and begin thinking what others think. As a reader though, I could not help but be intrigued by this idea, that this “mind reading” is not innate but rather something that is developed at a certain age. With this knowledge, and the common practice of writers to assume various roles as narrator, then one might think applying the findings of that theory to explorations of narrative structures, especially those that use multiple narrators in one text, might make intriguing material. The findings of that study would then make for interesting reading on how we construct our narrators and how the writer takes on these myriad minds. In these readings I have found that poetic concepts and philosophical inquiries

have been turned to by scientists to fuel their questions or to give them direction. For example, certain studies in experimental psychology attempt to link empirical cognitive science and classic themes from existential philosophy. The great questions of consciousness posited by epistemological thinkers give rise to studies in consciousness and brain function. Similarly, I believe that there are numerous findings and exciting ideas being explored by scientists that are more than ripe for the creative writer to turn into literature, taking the findings of the sensuous-drive, combining it with the formal-drive, and coming up with texts which incorporate both, making attempts at the play-drive. For example, one of the most memorable word etymologies I’ve come across is

that of the words memory and remember, coming from the root memorar, which means to pass through the heart. As explained by poet Gemino Abad, not only is the act of

remembering something you do with your head, but it’s done with your heart, that that idea passes through your heart to become a memory. While we are aware that the heart referred to here is metaphorical, one might look to new ideas in neuroscience that might lead us to a similarly poetic activity. Recent developments in the technology available for observing the brain have

offered a great wealth of knowledge. However, at this point, it is still unproven where exactly, in a physical sense, memories reside. Neuroscientist Terence Sejnowski offers an intriguing idea of memory:

My hunch is that the substrate of old memories is located not inside the (brain) cells but outside, in the extracellular space. That space is not empty but filled with a matrix of tough material that connects cells and helps them maintain their shape. Like scar tissue, the matrix is difficult to dissolve and is replaced, very slowly, if at all…When the neuromuscular junction is activated, the muscle contracts. If the nerve activates a muscle is crushed, the nerve fiber grows back to the junction, forming a specialized nerve terminal ending. This occurs even if the muscle cell is also killed. The “memory” of the contact in this case is preserved by the extracellular matrix at the neuromuscular junction, called the basal lamina. The extracellular matrix at synapses in the brain may have a similar function and could well maintain overall connectivity despite the comings and goings of molecules and neurons…It might be possible someday to stain this memory exoskeleton and see what our memories look like. This idea offers numerous possibilities. One is the idea that one day we might be able to see someone’s memories. Another is that there is actual physical “scarring” involved when something is transferred from our short term to our long term memory. It is poetic to believe that we are scarred or that things that are memorable leave an

indelible mark on our souls, and still even more poetic is the possibility that there may be actual physical “scarring” that occurs when we commit something to memory. Here we can see the interplay of the sensuous-drive and the formal-drive again, how there are clear overlaps between them, and how an awareness of these overlaps offer an opportunity to transcend to the play-drive. An even simpler, and yet equally interesting example of an idea that shows an

overlap between the two drives comes from a discussion in one of my classes. While talking about horror movie monsters, I was asked to define what exactly the undead are. I stated that among the criterion for being defined undead was that one could no longer procreate. A student jokingly said that that meant that people who were infertile, were then they would be considered undead. In response, another student explained that in her evolutionary biology class they had defined the infertile as genetically dead because they could no longer pass on their genes. We see that, though we are not saying that those who are infertile are anything like our movie monsters, there are clear overlaps in the portrayal of the “undead” in horror literature and the scientific definitions. The person is considered genetically dead because there are no natural means through which he or she can pass on his or her genes. Thus they may resort to artificial means. Pushed to an extreme metaphorical level, the undead similarly resort to “unnatural” means in passing on their traits or creating “offspring,” this means usually some kind of “infection.” Thus far we have seen how concepts in science can inspire artistic production

and vice versa. Here we begin thinking about how we can come to a clearer

understanding of the creation of art through scientific studies, particularly new studies in brain science. Near the start of my formal writing education, I was exposed to the idea that there

might be ways that we might channel the thought processes of great authors. I used to type a page by Hemingway or Joyce in attempts to emulate the way that they put their words together. A professor of mine, Dr. Aureus, said that we might try copying the great writers’ handwriting as a way of channeling their minds. Handwriting has been known to be indicative of thought process; you could tell certain things about a person and how they think based on their handwriting supposedly. So perhaps if you could emulate their handwriting, then you could emulate the way that they think. The idea might sound unusual to those who don’t write, but the opportunity to

find some way to have a similar thought process as those grand masters of writing is an immensely tantalizing proposition to the young writer. At the time though, there was no real way to know whether you were indeed channeling those great minds with these off-beat methods, or merely practicing some literary hokum. New advances in brain science, however, may be able to offer some answers.

Thus far, the effect of music on the brain has been observed, and there are visual representations of the brain activity showing that playing music activates both sides of the brain, and specific, specialized areas. One can’t help but wonder, upon seeing these pictures of the brain activity during playing music, what might our brain look like if we could see it as we wrote a poem or the climax of a short story?

The ability to make a neural map of the mind while in the process of creation would lead us to literally see what goes on, what happens in someone’s head when they are writing. It might seem invasive or frightening, but at the same time, one cannot help but be curious to see what kind of activity occurs in the brain. Here then is a chance to see what this person was thinking, in terms of what parts of his brain were functioning, and indeed perhaps to identify, physically, which parts of the brain are active during the creation of literary texts. We could only imagine how Shakespeare’s brain might have looked, the kind of activity that it displayed, when he wrote. Now we have the technology that might allow us to literally peek into the author’s brain as he writes. This would lead to further questions, for example, what other activities is writing like? How similar are the brain function readings between writing and music or other art forms? Answers to these questions could lead to a refinement in our writing processes. For sure they would offer writers a greater understanding of the creative process. One should not think, however, that these inquiries would lead to a clamping

down of creativity, or a creation of certain imposed forms or rules for literature based on the findings. Though it is tempting to think that we might be able to activate certain switches in our heads to create superior literary works, I do not believe that is the direction that this kind of study and knowledge will yield. On the other side of the spectrum, there are certain new ideas which would

assign the creative process not to the singular author but rather to memes and our social subconscious. Much like literary theories which claim that there is no such thing

as original work, but rather everything has been “pre-written” in the social subconscious, certain new ideas make claims that there is no such thing as free will; all our actions are the product of genetic processes and decisions based on the social beliefs that have been instilled in us, that we make no real true original decisions. This line of thinking might provide more basis for struturalist and post-structuralist theory, as the attempts are made to map out the ideas of the social subconscious and the patterns the recur within it. It is often disheartening, though, as an artist and creator, to be faced with such ideas. Though intellectually valid they may be, they tend to sap the power out of the writer. Still, when the creative writer is told by the literary critic that his work was not made of his own creativity but rather something merely snatched from the social subconscious, a set of words pre-made that were there for the writer to grab from the ether, he is faced with two choices. One is to accept that he was incapable of invention, and that indeed everything came from there. Or he can strike out and try to prove his individuality. We will see how this struggle plays out. Thinking of these things, of how we are so close to explaining the processes of creativity using the scientific tools at our hands, one might also be taken aback by the idea that we might be reducing the emotions and thoughts of the writer to mere brain patterns. In spite of the technology available and the scientific approach that we might observe the creative processes with, I believe that we cannot isolate in a scientific manner what is creative, cannot develop an algorithm for the sublime.

Though we cannot formulate an equation that leads us on the path to sublime literature, we can understand the processes that an individual undergoes in the creation or the attempt towards creating a sublime text. This might lead us in directions which would make the creation of sublime literature easier or more accessible. At the very least, understanding the process of creating literature would provide us with insights on how we could adjust our writing routines or create optimal creative opportunities. Not only does the information make us conscious of the play-drive and how it

could contribute to our creation of art, but attempts to consummate the play-drive lead us to evolutions in our present art forms and, more excitingly, newer forms of art. Though virtual reality has been a buzz word since the late 80s, until now there

doesn’t seem to be any clear manifestation of it in terms of its applications for art. However, there are those that would point to it as the possible ground for newer art forms which we have only yet to imagine. It is said that these art forms will incorporate brain readings and lead to what is thus far being called postsymbolic communication. Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist, composer, and visual artist who coined both the terms virtual reality and postsymbolic communication describes postsymbolic communication this way:

Each person would be changing the shared world at the speed of language all at once, an image that suggests chaos but often there would be a coherence that would indicate meaning…Postsymbolic communication will be like a shared, waking-state intentional dream. Instead uttering the word ‘house’, you will create a particular house and

be able to walk into it; and instead of comprehending the category ‘house’ you will peer into an apparently small bucket big enough to hold all the universe’s houses, so that you can assess directly what they have in common. It will be a fluid form of experiential concreteness, providing expressive power similar to but divergent from that of abstraction. Given these possibilities one can only imagine what kind of art would be created with such a system. If indeed, there were something that would emulate the idea of play, where it is limiting yet encompassing at the same time, then the development of technology that would lead to postsymbolic communication could very well lead us to that level of play which Schiller pines for. While we have not reached that point yet, it is clear that present mass media,

visual art, and hypertext are all benefiting from technological developments allowing for an evolution in the way that we see and write the world. The ways that we see literary texts transmitted have changed; no longer do we confine our literature to the published page. Online publishing occurs at an astounding rate, with countless blogs or online journals serving as sources of literary production. Even the discussions in the equally uncountable message boards sometimes give way to intellectual inquiry and deep thought. One need look no further than the UP ICW’s recent series of poetry writing contests, the Dalitext, Textanaga, and Dionatext, which encouraged the writing and submission of traditional poetic forms through the cellular phone medium. In pop culture, we have seen television series utilizing math and science, offering primetime entertainment but at the same time educating the populace, through collateral learning, about these fields. The popularity of House M.D. with its

overwhelming medical jargon and quirky medical cases is only one example. Combining the sciences with compelling drama, House has become a fan favorite and award-winning show. CSI was the first show that sought to highlight the science aspect though. It sought to take the police investigation series that we’ve seen since the beginning of television with shows like Dragnet and put the focus on the process of crime scene investigation. Again, through CSI, many people have come to know many of the scientific aspects of police work, as well as expand their vocabularies and their consciousnesses. Attempting to ride the same crest is the show Numbers which attempts to integrate mathematics concepts as its protagonists solve cases. The art form which was once seen as mindless and mind-numbing now has the ability to deliver not only great dramatic material, as it has done previously, but just in the last decade it has begun to provide viewers with an immense amount of scientific knowledge, in small measured doses. There is definitely play at work here, but that play is hardly visible, because of the medium, and of these shows’ adherence to established forms (CSI follows the detective drama format and House M.D. follows the medical drama). Pushing even further are video games, which I believe are at the forefront in the

development of contemporary narratives. Though the video game as a form began with games of great simplicity, such as Pong (you bounced a ball back and forth) or Gallaga (a 2-D game where you were in a ship shooting aliens) or Pac-Man, all of which would be put to shame by the graphics which we have access to now on our cellular phones,

the video game has evolved and at present has the capacity for telling large, sustained narratives. Even if we speak in terms of time, of telling a narrative over a period of time, we

can see that the volume of time that one would spend with a video game dwarfs most of the other entertainment forms. Books will vary in terms of time, but five hours would be well more than enough to finish a book. Films run at anywhere between an hour and a half and three hours. Watching something like the Godfather trilogy would take up about ten hours. A television series will perhaps comes closest in terms of time to develop content. It will run anywhere between six hours to 18 hours per season. The video game is considered short if it runs around seven to eight hours. The

normal gaming time would be between 12 and 20 hours. Role-playing games, the games with the longest stories and usually most intricate narrative structure, will run anywhere from 30 to 100 hours. These numbers are based on if that game were played in a relatively linear fashion, from start to end without much meandering. However, considering the non-linear narrative of games, the replayability, and the multiplayer modes that games often have, the time one would spend with a game is usually much more than the numbers given. This large canvas presents the creators with an immense amount of space through which one could tell a story, but at the same time focus on interactivity, the literal play that the gamer does. I see the video game as a marriage of technology and narrative structure, making

it a possible venue for the consummation of the play-drive. We see that play can function here on many levels, the gamer who literally plays the game, but also the play-

drive as the sciences and arts come together to create the video game. Indeed a viewing of something like the behind the scenes or making of videos of Halo 2 or Halo 3 reveal that the creation of that text is driven by narrative, by creative storytelling, but the actual output involves the work of computer science by which the game developers design the game and finally the gamer interacts and “finishes” the game. In video game language, the player/gamer, finishes a game when he or she completes all the levels. However, on a more theoretical level, we may consider that much in the same way that a book, although completed, is only truly complete when there is interaction between the reader who gives meaning to the words being read, we can say that a video game is truly finished once a person begins to play the game. There is a level of interaction promised by this medium that no medium before it in history has ever seen. The narrative possibilities are only now being explored. If on so many levels, we can see the play available in video games, then it is very possible that it may be one of the first forms that would transcend towards the play-drive, if it hasn’t attained that already. These evolved and new forms do not mean a turning away from the literary forms

that we have now, but rather an expansion of the kinds of creative outlets available to both the artist and the appreciator of the art. We see that movement towards the playdrive serves to broaden and expand these fields. In our exploration of these contemporary ideas which might be used as

inspiration to create art, show possibilities for understanding the creative process, and illustrate the kind of art that is being created and might be created soon, we see that

there is a clear trend. The divisions that Schiller saw, though still visible and everpresent in our society, can be bridged, the lines once dividing the drives are blurring, and in this blur we see the possibility of the emergence of the play-drive. This is an exciting time for us. Schiller says, “…man only plays when he is in the fullest sense of the word a human being, and he is only fully a human being when he plays.” As we see the interaction of the liberal arts and the natural sciences, we see the transcendence of the sensuous-drive and the formal-drive toward the play-drive. It is time for us to get to work, so that we can get to play.

Works Cited Adams, Hazard. Critical Theory Since Plato Revised Edition. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers. Brockman, John, Ed. (2005). What We Believe But Cannot Prove: Today’s Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty. UK: Pocket Books. Johnson, Steven (2002). Emergence. London: Penguin Books. Quartz, S. R., & Sejnowski, T. J., (2003). Liars, Lovers, and Heroes: What the New Brain Science Reveals About How We Are Who We Are. New York: Harper Collins Inc.

Dialect This, MoFo! : Oversharing Facebook Photos
(This first appeared in the Metakritiko section of thepoc.net).

I was asked by Adam David to write a critical discussion of a series of Facebook photos that is being posted by someone who is in our common friends list. This person, who for the purposes of this analysis shall remain unnamed, has been posting photographs of himself in various stages of undress. These photographs, regularly posted as profile pictures, have irked quite a number of people due to their nature. They always show the person half-naked (or more) and on a number of occasions have featured the person to a state of undress that displays his pubic hair. Given that Facebook is such a public space, this has inspired a number of vehement reactions, one of the most memorable I heard being, “P*%#@$ina, hindi ako naglo-log in sa Facebook sa umaga para makita ang bulbol ni_________.” Previous to witnessing this behavior, these people did not know how to block updates from specific people on the home page, but this has led to their learning how to do this. One is left wondering, why would someone impose this behavior on other people? Why would one subject others to such images? The “friendship” implicit in being a Facebook friend is tenuous, with our making friends left and right with old friends, former classmates, and friends of friends. But shouldn’t that mean that we are more careful of the things we say and post, because we are subjecting people to ourselves?

On the contrary, the internet has enabled all kinds of impositions. From SPAM filling our inboxes (mine regularly selling me those little blue pills) links leading us to porn sites, to pop-up boxes (which have thankfully been generally blocked by newer browsers) directing us to porn sites, to all kinds of other racy NSFW content. Just as an example, I was surfing the net in my teenage sister’s room and reading an article when an ad popped up showing a busty woman removing her top. While I am no saint and do rather enjoy watching busty women taking off their tops, this isn’t the content that I would like to partake in when in front of my sister. These kinds of impositions though, aren’t user-created content. The SPAM, the pop-ups and misleading links, and the things we don’t want to click into but get directed to when we click-through are created for a different reason though. Obviously we draw a line between these things and the kinds of things that fellow users post online. When observing user-created content, what we see is the proliferation of content that makes one question the dividing lines between what is personal and what is public. One can recall a time when people would have second thoughts about taking sexually explicit photos because one would have to get them developed. But in the digital age this content goes well beyond, as we have witnessed the various “sex scandals” caught on various kinds of recording media, from the Paris Hilton handycam night-vid shots, to the grainy Katrina Halili/Hayden Kho, to the unknown call center cellphone camera-captured sex scenes that are easily accessible online.

With the “democratization” of technology one witnesses a deluge of content. In this deluge the Sturgeon rule holds true, 90% of everything is crap. At this point I would like to make clear that “democratization,” as used here is in quotation marks to acknowledge the limited nature of this democratization. Of course the majority of people in this country have limited access to the internet, to digital media, to regular updates or Facebook. But within these limited parameters, we see that technology has enabled a more than exponential and phenomenal increase in the production of usercreated content. Of course people start out with sex, (and can’t you hear someone singing, “The Internet is for Porn” right now?) but inevitably it would be used as a way to connect with people and attempt to share one’s life and happenings with them, thus the popularity of our social networking sites, Facebook being today’s dominant. Well before Facebook and Friendster people were already sharing what was happening in their lives. People were writing in blogs or live journals. Also, people started posting their pictures online through various clients, prior to social networking. We see the near simultaneous democratizations of writing, through the blog, and photography, through digital photography. One sees here a crucial shift in photography in terms of availability, as a roll of film which once cost between PhP 200-400 for a roll of film and somewhere around PhP 250-300 to develop was prohibitive and would cause one to take careful consideration of the pictures that one would take. With digital cameras and the ever-expanding space available for pictures, one could literally take hundreds of pictures at comparatively little cost and upload these directly to the internet.

With such a movement, with the modes of production suddenly open to pretty much anyone who could create an account in a blogging service or take a snapshot with their camera-phones, we were suddenly overwhelmed with content. How many people’s blogs did we follow at first? How many people could we link in our own blogs? How much of all those pictures were really worth looking at? How much of what people were writing was actually worth reading, if that person wasn’t your friend? Further, what one could observe from the great amount of content, was, well, the content of the content. What were these people really writing about? What were they saying? How much of it meant anything beyond the inconsequential musing or the angsty ranting? The tendency then, was the movement of these things to be inward, for people to talk about themselves, their issues, and their lives. People were, given the freedom and space to write, chronicling their lives. Where previously we read memoirs and biographies of heads of state, celebrities, accomplished people, we were now reading what friends and friends of friends were thinking or doing. Indeed not only had the mode of production been democratized, but the content had been so too, as we were no longer reading about “big” people, but we were reading the memoirs of people just like us. This would have been well and good, if the people just like us were writing well, writing intelligently about their lives and providing insight into our own lives through their writing and ruminations. But one found that there was more often than not, again in adherence to the Sturgeon rule, the writing on the internet was drivel.

What one witnesses in reading through a lot of blogs and journals is the collapse of the sense of private and public. Whereas in older times we had journals and diaries which we kept to ourselves, texts that were written only for us, on the internet anything published was for everyone. And instead of people self-editing and selecting what they would share and what they would keep to themselves, what happened was suddenly there was no dividing line and all content was public content. People would post their most intimate thoughts on the internet, because, hey, other people had the choice not to read you. Suddenly the choice shifted from the writer, to select what aspects of his or her life should be written about and shared, to the reader, and what the reader was willing to read. This kind of thinking would lead to a glorification of the Spectacle of Me. In a self-centered bid for attention, users would create content that would rarely reach beyond the writer’s own thinking and life. Similarly, we would see the development of “vain pics” where people would turn the cameras on themselves and snap a series of pictures of themselves and post these online. A funny thing to come out of this trend is the once-common act of taking pictures of oneself in the mirror to achieve a pseudoartsy vain pic effect. For as long as this behavior remained in the realms of personal blogs and journals, then one could generally avoid these things. But with the coming of Facebook, and with almost everyone who was online joining Facebook we would see this transferred to the new medium.

Facebook utilized the Twitter-innovated microblogging by applying status updates. And wouldn’t you know it, these status updates often blurred the lines of private and public, with people describing what they were doing to such detail at times that the term over-sharing has now become a regular word. Similarly, within the bounds of user-content agreements banning pornography, people would post their photos without regard to their quality, what was being shown in them, or any real aesthetic considerations. In much the same way that because it happened, it would be written about, because the shot was taken then it would be posted. And, unless you’ve blocked the person from appearing on your homepage, you will have to see these things. Another irritating and rather obtrusive thing that people can do is tag you in a photo which you are not in. And then when people start making comments on the photo, if you haven’t configured your settings then email notifications will start going into your inbox. While this can be easily remedied by adjusting settings, what I am trying to point to here is that there are consistently a number of ways which the social networking content can become intrusive and imposing. In returning then to the original idea that launched these various observations, what are we supposed to do about the person who poses distastefully revealing pictures and uses them as profile photos, so that any interaction with him would mean having to see those photos? The quick and easy answer is just to erase the person, to block the person, to get rid of the person. But one questions not only that person, but the kind of medium

that allows for such behavior. This is not a request for internet policing. Far from it, as I believe that the internet is a wonderful medium and the freedom that it offers makes it probably the freest space on Earth. But rather, it asks us as users and creators of content to question the kinds of content that we are posting. Are we enhancing discourse, are we really adding to anything significant? One can always say that this is not their concern, that they want to just have fun, or that’s just what they like. But in much the same way that the internet is still a young medium, we as users are juvenile too, and it is reflected in the user-created content. To see whether and when our maturity will come will be something to watch out for in the coming years as we see people pushing the bounds of the internet and what can be posted there. Will it continue to be used for posting sex? Will it progress as a weapon as see in the various cases of cyber-bullying? Will it continue its current pace as marketing tool? Or will it enable a greater global consciousness, allowing a sharing of ideas as many thinkers dream of it doing? At least at this point, for me and for my attempts here to talk about it and to push discourse through Metakritiko, I hope that we progress towards turning it into a medium where great ideas are shared and a more communal sense of developing ideas and thinking can happen. There have to be better things to see and talk about. I’m not saying that I’m not guilty of posting similar status messages and photos, for I surely am (though I have managed to keep my clothes on). What I’m saying is that as we learn this medium and understand it and develop it then we can build it and make it better than it is at the

moment. Let’s prove the Sturgeon rule wrong and make a conscious effort to push things online into more challenging and intelligent and meaningful territory.

The Digital Library Manifesto
(This first appeared in the Metakritiko section of thepoc.net)

A Manifesto calling for the establishment of Digital Libraries that would give more people more access to more literature.

Laurel and Other Discoveries I’ve been doing research for a project that I’m working on. I, as do most writers, have various rackets that we work on that allow us to make the money we need, which allows us the time to write the stuff we really want to write. And so I found myself in the Ateneo Library and enthralled by a book written by Sotero Laurel, of the Laurel political clan. The book, Politics of Change and Reforms for Progress, was published in 1965. In it I found the voice of the post-WWII pre-Martial Law  Filipino intellectual. Laurel argued for the kind of political reforms that we still argue for today. And his writing about education remains markedly accurate and insightful and would be applicable to today’s Philippine educational system. The cynical among us would stumble upon this text and be depressed by the fact that these issues were addressed five decades ago and have still gone unaddressed. Indeed that is a valid and lamentable point. But I found myself excited to find such a tradition of thought, and I could not help but think that if people saw that

kind of optimism, that kind of belief that we Filipinos could accomplish so much (it’s a kind of optimism and confidence that we have sadly lost) then it would lead us to being inspired and working towards such goals. I came to believe that Laurel is not the only person who thought this way, and if more of this kind of thinking surfaced and became accessible to the public, then this could lead to a changing of consciousness. I’m sure that there are a lot of books written by Filipinos that could rouse us to uplifting our people and our country. We’re all required to study Rizal, but often in high school his witty, funny, suspenseful, and wonderfully written novels are drained of their fun as students are told that they have to like them, instead of being allowed to appreciate them, and required to memorize details for exams rather than read them as literature. Along with improvements in teaching Rizal, I think we would benefit from seeing the output of generations of Filipino thinkers. I want to discover all this writing, as I discovered Laurel’s book.

Lack of Access The problem is that we don’t have access to these books. Most books in the Philippines get one publishing run (which amounts to somewhere between 500-1500 copies usually) and if it doesn’t hit best-seller and generate another print run, then it will wither away in a bookstore before finding itself in the bargain bins at book fairs, or on the shelves of the Filipiniana sections of school libraries where, at least in my experience at the UP and Ateneo libraries, there is no opportunity to browse through

books freely. You have to fill out request forms, and this means you’d have to know what you’re looking for. And if I (or most likely we, as I tend to assume, dear reader, that you are also educated, metropolitan, middle class or upwards) have trouble getting access to these books, what more the multitude of students all over the country that have limited access to these books and other resources. It is my firm belief that if students are exposed to such literature, certain books specifically that would inspire students (and I’m not talking here of inspirational books, but of books that show great thought and accomplishment that would make students want to do similar things), and also a body of knowledge that is proudly Filipino and generally comprehensive, showing the intellectual accomplishments of Filipinos, would all go a long way towards developing our social and cultural consciousness, shaping the youth’s view of themselves, their nation, and the future of both.

The Pitch So here’s the pitch: an online digital library made available to all users though a public system, funded by the government and businesses that want to contribute to the cause, run by academics, students, scholars, readers, and anyone else who wants to help out. Vibal Foundation is doing its own work with this, digitizing a lot of publications and offering it in the already-expansive Filipiniana.net. The government funded project Philippine e-Lib  is also digitizing many libraries. And the EU has its own  similar

project which seeks preserve its heritage through digitizing. But this would be an even more massive undertaking, one that, if accomplished, could change education, access to knowledge, and I like to believe, our country, all for the better. I see two main issues here that have to be addressed: access and interest. Both of these have to be running at the same time. Access will refer to reader/user access to books and other educational media, while interest will refer to reader/user interest in partaking of books and other educational media. If you provide access to everything, but no one is interested, then you’ve just got a pile of books taking up space. And if you generate interest but don’t provide access, then readers will get frustrated and lose interest. So these have to work in concert, and I think that as these virtual libraries grow, interest can grow with them.

So how will it work? As previously mentioned a lot of literature is out of print and is lying around in either school libraries or personal libraries. These works have no more commercial value, and re-releases of these books probably wouldn’t generate enough to offset the costs of printing. Thus on a commercial level, these books are dead. But these books still have value as cultural objects, and like the Laurel book that I found, all these books still have the potential to inspire, educate, and entertain. The goal then, should be to digitize all of these books tucked away in libraries and make these accessible to readers.

This would entail two processes: 1) Making them digital; and 2) making them accessible.

Digitizing Dilemmas The main problems in making them digital would be locating all of these books, clearing their copyrights, and then the physical process of digitizing them. In locating these books, I think that librarians in universities and colleges could be tapped to do this, as well as personal collectors. What would be even more helpful is if publishers, authors, or the families of authors (if the author has passed away) offered their books for digitization. Publishers may think that this would translate to less sales, but examples from the West show that offering free digital copies can generate sales when used properly. If the author has passed away, then digital reproduction of the book would lead to prestige for their family member, and authors would benefit from the publicity and access Clearing copyrights could be complicated, but if it were made apparent that this whole project is being done for the public good, then I think it might convince copyright holders to forego legal proceedings, if not directly allowing this digitizing for educational purposes. And third, the process of digitizing these books. There are a lot of scanners now running for really cheap. And I was thinking that if this became a community effort among writers and academics, then a simple initiative like, say, each person committing himself or herself to digitizing a number of books and contributing them to

the effort would make considerable progress. I’ve written three books myself, and turning them into PDFs would only take a few seconds. With the initiative being developing culture and making literature accessible, most authors could be convinced to do the same I think. If we establish reading centers, we could have the librarians running them ready to digitize books that owners offer to the center.

Creating Access Points Now let’s say we’ve got the ball rolling. Authors and book owners are sending in digital copies. We have to offer access points. It’s no secret that our public libraries are shabby, if they exist at all. But if we could find places that would serve as reading centers, or even just reading rooms, then we could fill that physical space with media that would allow readers/users access to the system. Computers are cheap now, and it’s clear that digitized books and educational media won’t be needing crazy graphics processing or anything like that. All you need are machines that can read PDFs and video, and that can access the network. So we’ve got physical spaces where people can go to read. Next is having a network through which they could access all the digitized media available. I think that the whole library of Philippine literature, in PDF format, could probably fit into a few TBs worth of hard drives. And there is, for me, the exciting prospect that since all of these libraries or reading rooms would be networked, that if someone brings a book to share in one library, that book can get scanned, saved, and put on the network so that anyone else in the country can have access to a copy of that book.

I believe that the digitizing of books would be an ongoing process. As people rediscover old books, as authors come out with new books, and other content is digitized and added to the network (libraries keep newspapers and magazines for a certain amount of time, and then convert them into microfiche, it wouldn’t be too weird to hope that they provide digital copies of their publications; journals, theses, dissertations and other academic content which used to be restricted to specialists could hopefully be made available to everyone), the network would grow progressively. The compiling of books would never end, and it’s my hope that as more people gain access, they will be inspired to contribute their own work to the network.

Generating Interest As we establish access to the massive repository of Philippine thought, we must also create interest in it. I see that this could be done with a two-pronged approach: 1) the reading centers/rooms aren’t just places to read, but offer programs that would encourage reading; and 2) the reading centers/rooms would work with schools and other educational institutions to promote reading. I take the idea of programs offered by the reading centers from my own personal experience with libraries. As a kid, the public library near my house offered a reading program. You could join the reading club, and you had to finish a certain number of books per month. After reading those books you wrote short book reports about them. If you hit the book requirement for the month, you got to join in on the book club party where you’d have snacks and watch a movie that was an adaptation of one of the

books in the library (it’s how I first saw The Hobbit andThe Last Unicorn). There was a sense of community and a sense of accomplishment gained from reading. Beyond these rewards, my librarian would sit around with me and talk about the books that I read, and there was a good deal of confidence and accomplishment gained from those talks. I’m not saying that this approach would translate perfectly to the Philippine context, but I believe that similar programs can be crafted that would encourage kids to read. I know that reading has to compete with TV, movies, and video games, but I do believe that there is a way to generate interest. Each reading center would have to figure out their own projects and approaches to drawing readers. But then once effective practices are found, these can be shared and tweaked to fit in other communities, much like what government agencies and NGOs do with their projects. And we can’t stop with kids. Appealing to adults would also be important, especially if we are to develop this culture of reading and a greater value of education. Perhaps even more fulfilling than to inspire a child to have a healthy thirst for knowledge would be to find people who dropped out of school and get them to reconsider education and learning. It’s no secret that there are a lot of methods that are still employed that are detrimental to learning and actually cause people to want to stop going to school. But to offer them an experience where they could define what they learn about and how they learn might entice a lot of people to start reading and educating themselves.

We don’t have a culture of book clubs and I don’t suppose we will in the near future (nor do I think we really need one). But we have to find a way for everyday people to engage in discourse over literature, politics, society, culture, and pretty much anything else. Encouraging a culture of thinking and discourse could be one of the greatest things these digital libraries and reading rooms could accomplish.

Harnessing Cognitive Surplus I think that the network through which readers/users access books can be created with a social networking component, which would increase use and user connection. Users reading the same text could exchange notes. Students writing papers on the same topic could collaborate. The Filipino penchant for social networking, if harnessed towards intellectual activity, would generate a massive amount of discourse. Can you imagine thecognitive surplus  that is devoted to  Farmville,  Mafia Wars,  Plants vs. Zombies, and other games, if it were redirected towards intellectual/academic pursuits? And beyond the initiatives of the reading centers and digital libraries themselves would be projects undertaken with schools and other institutions that should have a hand in education, such as local government units. The linkages that could be developed would further the reach of this project. At present, this is all just a thought experiment, some ideas that I’ve had that I bounced off of friends. But if people start getting behind this and start making steps towards digitizing a library then it might be a start. Convincing government agencies or

international organizations that want to help promote education and learning, as well as local companies that would like to contribute to this cause, would be a big step towards making this a reality. We can’t establish traditional book-filled libraries in every barangay. It would just be too expensive. But we can try to make literature more accessible to more people in our country with initiatives like this. It takes people willing to share their books, people willing to supply computers and the network infrastructure, and people willing to try and make this project come alive. That’s the 20%. The 80% is getting the readers to come in and read and make the whole project matter. Consider this a manifesto that’s still in the works. Pass it around, share it, place comments, augment my suggestions and show how this could be done better. If you know institutions that would believe in and support such an initiative, then please get them to read this. Help me turn this from a thought experiment to a real, working system that could reach every Filipino.

Digital Media and a Changing Materialism
(This essay appeared in gmanews.tv. Special thanks to editor TJ Dimacali for his inputs, and to the site for its ongoing willingness to cover new stuff like this.)

A couple of years ago I was a collector. Or maybe a little more than that. I collected a lot of things. A large part of my identity revolved around the acquisition and accumulation of books. I also collected CDs, DVDs, comics and other cultural ephemera. I kept movie tickets, clippings of articles, flyers, interesting things I picked up. I couldn’t bear to throw these out because I thought that there might come a time when I might need something, like say my readings in Sociology 101 from the year 2000. Who knew when I would have to define the sociological imagination? Or when I would need to define the political dynamics and do a comparative analysis of the authoritarian leadership styles of Lee Kuan Yew and Saddam Hussein based on my studies of Politics and Change in the Third World in 2001? Oh and there were empty liquor bottles signed by friends from the early Noughties wishing me a happy nineteenth or twentieth birthday, and lord knows a situation might arise when I might need those too. My condo, small and exceedingly smaller as I surrounded myself with these acquisitions, could not hold all my stuff. I had to throw my clothes out. I had to start sleeping next to my books. I had to start storing my books in other people’s houses. And that’s when it happened, the thing that would change my whole perspective on collecting and accumulating things.

After I moved out of my faculty office, I left all of the books that I used for teaching, as well as a lot of other books, DVDs, CDs, and other things with someone who sadly fell victim to the Ondoy tragedy. I have to count myself lucky that nothing happened to my family or me, and I was generally spared in an event that took so much from so many people. Heck all it took from me was half my library. Still that loss led to a renewed sense of the temporariness of things, of the transient nature of the things that I was spending money on. Having lost half my library, I started out devastated. I had spent so many years and spent so much money collecting all of those books only to lose them. And yet I found myself wondering, how many of those books did I still need? I had stopped teaching (at the time anyway) so what did I need the manuals for English 1 for? And with things being what they are, new knowledge arising every day, new content being produced, those old materials would have been cycled out of my syllabus after a year or two anyway. And so I started going through the rest of my books. I got myself an e-book reader and I downloaded copies of my favorite books, ready to be loaded up from a hard drive or a cloud drive whenever I want to read them again (Full disclosure: I kept a lot of my old books and I have a lot of books loaded up on my Kindle, but I rarely reread books because there are so many I haven’t read yet, but I still keep those copies with the faint optimism of one who will one day have the time to return to them) or just in case I would need to reference them or quote them. And the rest of my books? I gave them away. Or most of them anyway. I’ve still got some that are in a box, waiting for takers.

After getting rid of those books, I got to work on my CDs. It took time, but I converted almost all of my music into digital formats. Sure there are people who will argue for the importance of liner notes and album art. And for a long time those things were a large part of the music buying and listening experience. But you can read those liner notes only so many times. And it’s not like I would need all of the liner notes and original packaging of all the CDs that I had bought. Sure I’ve still got some special box sets hidden away at home, collectors’ items and favorite CDs. But on the whole, and with the near 500 gigabytes worth of music that the collection turned to in digital format, the physical manifestations of packaging were far from essential. Then I moved on to my DVD collection, using Handbrake and other means to acquire digital versions of the films that I loved. And so I pretty much threw out all of the physical manifestations of the content that I consume, in favor of hard drives. How does this change things? Now when I want to find something from a book, I don’t go through the bookshelf or the closet, find the copy of the book, and then thumb through it trying to find that specific passage. Now I flick my Kindle awake, input the key phrase in the search bar, and find the thing I’m looking for, that whole process quicker than the time it would take me to stand up and walk to the bookshelf. Movies? Rather than going through the DVD collection, popping the disc into the player, and other processes, I’ve got hard drives hooked up to my PS3, and all I do is turn on the PS3 and flick through the menu to find what movie I want to watch. Ditto music. And it’s even easier to listen to different albums on a whim just because of the easy access that digital media affords.

Space, convenience, and accessibility. These are the advantages I see in digital, in the favoring of bits over atoms. I know and I understand that there’s a lack of sentimentality if not a kind of coldness when one eschews the physical trappings of things. But this doesn’t mean that the meanings, emotions, and power of the text, nor the feelings and memories that we associate to these things disappear or are necessarily diminished. A lot of it remains, and some of it is displaced and put up elsewhere in another format. Where you might have written a note on the margin of the book you now highlight the text in your Kindle and post it to your twitter feed. Where you might have taped a song and put it on a mixtape for someone, you now post a link of it on their Facebook wall. What does this mean for content? Hopefully a ubiquitousness of it. At present there are still region restrictions on books, music and films. This measure is supposedly to deter and control piracy. What escapes those implementing this region-blocking is that rather than prevent piracy, it actually promotes it. If we want to read a book, listen to an album, or watch a movie or TV show, make it easy for us to get it. We’ll pay. But make it hard to get it through legal means, or make it easier (or only possible ) to acquire it through extra-legal means and you drive people to piracy. With the transitioning of entertainment media from atoms to bits, limitations of stock disappear. We don’t have to go to another branch in another mall when one place is sold out. At best we log onto our accounts and start watching things on our preferred devices, be they tablets, phones, desktops, laptops, or home entertainment systems. So too, without the need to go through manufacturing, packaging, delivery,

distribution, and retail, the costs to acquire our entertainment media should drop. When all we’re essentially paying for is the server space, processing fees, and the content itself, then hopefully subscription services similar to Hulu and Netflix will become available to us, making our viewing selections that much greater. The same goes for our books and music. If the content comes in digital form, containers cease to matter so much (except probably for books, as I do hope that authors will innovate and make texts that take into account the properties of the page), and costs drop, then we will be consuming most of our content digitally, through digital downloads and on complementary devices. Does this mean the death knell for analog? I don’t think so. I think that the common user, and people who take their culture in a disposable manner, will prefer digital. They will consume the media and then get rid of it. That’s how it is. If you make content that isn’t meant to last (say a quickie romance novel, a Hollywood blockbuster, or a catchy yet meaningless pop song) then expect it to be consumed and then erased from someone’s ipad/kindle/music player/smartphone once they are done with it. There’s only so much digital space one can allot for that kind of disposable content. However, collectors and content that is rewarding through multiple sittings will find a way to be relevant in analog. Notice the resurgence of vinyl as a format. After having been “killed” by newer, more compact formats, vinyl’s superior sound and its collector-factor are making a resurgence. If you’re a serious music collector, these days you are collecting vinyl. It’s

part technological acknowledgement of benefits of the analog product, and part cool factor or credibility; as if to say to be a real music lover or music collector, you should have that phonograph and vinyl collection. This appreciation of the analog and the acknowledgment of analog formats as markers of commitment, sophistication, and cool will surface soon enough, depending on which form we are dealing with. We’re seeing it now with music (box sets, collector’s editions, physical manifestations of the music and support for the artists like tour merchandise) and soon enough I think with books. We will see that carrying a book around will be like a kind of badge or symbol to your commitment to books. Beyond mere badges of cool though, analog will still have clear advantages beyond the loss that occurs when transferring to digital. As tech editor TJ Dimacali explains no matter how cumbersome it is to deal with analog, it’s still easier to “decode” those than digital formats. To illustrate, we can play a vinyl record by using a hairpin and a paper cup, while in digital formats we will always need electronic equipment. This isn’t a major concern for us at the moment because of the ubiquitousness of techonology and the availability of power. But this is a serious concern for scientists. What will happen to all that digital information in the event of a nuclear holocaust? Or what if a solar flare breaks through the atmosphere and fries all digital equipment? Contrary to popular belief, the Internet —and most digital tech— won't likely survive WW3.

That's why all the information that we've sent into outerspace —the plaque that we left on the Moon and the plaque on Voyager (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Voyager_Golden_Record) — use analog technology, because it would be easier for possible aliens to decode. Historians are also concerned about our over-use of digital technology, because recording standards are always changing and digital storage isn't as permanent as analog tech. CDs, for example, have a maximum life of about 10 years. And even if the digital media did survive, we'd still need to be concerned about making sure that future generations have the means to decode them. Think of the problems we have now with the kinds of file formats we use, the pickiness of certain formats, DRM constraints, and other issues that attempt to hinder our ability to access files. Which is really to say that despit all of the glorious things that digital allow us, we still cannot escape the need for analog. This also means that in the future, as digital takes care of our entertainment needs, other things, the non-digital aspects of our lives, will be given more attention and thus value. For example, I believe clothing will become more relevant to those who did not practice fashion much before. With the proliferation of media allowing costs of content to go down, and the cultural exposure afforded to the viewers/readers/ listeners, a higher standard of dressing will emerge, and the analog thing, the clothing, will find much more value than it did for most people in the last few decades. All of this is to say, really, that what we can hold physically, in the real world,

will have more and more relevance and value as we take the majority of the aspects of

our life and world into the digital realm. I dream of having a paperless office, and yet I find that there are times when nothing will do but a notebook and some rough sketches. I wholeheartedly embrace the march of new technology, but I am left wondering how we will value the things we can buy and the things that we can hold. Will possessions in the real world lose value as people shift to digital media and the benefits of it? I don’t know, but I don’t think so. I believe that the value of commodities is based on scarcity. And so even if all of those movies/songs/books/TV shows are so cheap and accessible, we will still wind up looking for real world equivalents through which we can express our love and support of these various media. And it’s there that analog will have its resurgence and flourish.

MUSIC
Is music disposable?
(This first appeared in the Metakritiko section of thepoc.net)

What’s your format? We can usually divide people among the formats that they first listened to music on. I still remember the old record player on which I first heard The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple. Okay, I know what you’re thinking, but I’m not that old. I listened to that stuff from my father’s old record collection, some of which I ruined when I tried to copy the DJs I saw on TV scratching records. I came of age in the time of tape, and even when CDs were popular I still carried around a ratty old Walkman. But do you remember which p2p service you first used to download music? There’s a definitive thing. Though the dividing lines between formats signals great technological differences (records to 8-tracks, to cassette, to CD, a sidetrack through MD, and now digital mp3, FLAC, and other lossless formats), once we hit mp3s and digital file sharing there were no more physical limitations but rather we were limited by bandwidth only. Our access and ability to consume music changed drastically. Whereas in physical forms we had to consider money spent, whether it was P100 or P150 for a tape or upwards of P450 on CDs, with the entry of digital we only had to consider how long it would take to download songs, and them albums.

Recall your first music downloading experience. How long did it take? I remember having a newly acquired 56kb modem, to which my friends and I were thinking, that’s an awesome speed. I was running my internet through my phone line, paying P100 for a card that ran for six hours. It would take twenty minutes to download one song. And if someone called you on your phone, the net connection would disconnect and you’d lose the data transfer, so you’d have to start downloading the song all over again.

From money to minutes But how I loved it. With that you could get access to music you couldn’t find in stores. Previously if you wanted something like that, it would cost you a lot of money ordering from specialty CD stores, or you’d go to Quiapo and get those underground metal and punk albums on tape. Now, if you could wait twenty minutes, you could get that song you wanted. It wasn’t free of charge, it only cost you internet time and your own time in front of the computer. As internet speed grew, so too did transfers and the ease with which we could access music. From having to go out to your store to buy a CD or tape (or even waiting for the song to play on the radio and then catching it on tape) you could wait for twenty minutes for that song, and with internet speed at it is now, a whole album in a matter of minutes. This leads to a lot of trouble for record companies, who make most of their money from selling the physical objects. But what it does lead to is more access to

music for listeners. Granted, most local listeners are still happy with their Love Radio and Energy (did I get those right?) but more discerning listeners were no longer limited to what was available on the radio or record store racks.

Who chooses the music? When still working the music beat way back in the early noughties I remember a number of acts that I had heard of, read about in magazines but whose albums weren’t being released locally. I asked the record company PR why. She said that these artists were in their catalogs but they didn’t think that the Filipino audience would buy their albums. At the time then, it was clear that it was up to record companies to decide the kind of music that would be available for consumption. Indie recording wasn’t as prevalent because equipment was still very expensive. And local releases of foreign acts were decided based on possible record sales (as perceived by record company execs), appealing to the largest possible group of people and excluding niche markets. If you wanted something that wasn’t mainstream, you had to order it or get it from abroad. Anyone whose tastes fell out of the mainstream would be ignored. Also, music that was in the back catalog (say old Rolling Stones albums) was similarly out of reach because these could not be found in the music stores. But with digital downloads we were free to get all the music that we wanted. Want to try out this band you read about? Sure just download their track or check out

their myspace page. Remember a song that you really loved but never had a copy of? Take it from the p2p network and enjoy.

Record Store Decline Is it any surprise that music stores have shrunk, if not disappeared? The onceglorious three-floor Tower Records of Glorietta has now shrunk to a floor, and its collection has dwindled to mostly generic pop fair. It’s no longer a place for aficionados. The same is true for Greenbelt 3’s Music One, which was once voluminous, but now its store space has halved, its other half being replaced by an office supplies store. And when we talk of the best new albums we aren’t referring to the record stores but to the torrent download sites. Even when niche albums do get released locally, there is often a considerable lag. For example, I waited two weeks for stores to come out with The Decemeberists’ The Hazards of Love before resorting to finding a digital copy. They would come out with the album more than a month after its international release. A more recent example is David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s Here Lies Love which, with its Pinoy subject matter, you might think would prompt a local release. As of this writing I haven’t seen copies in record stores. And again, the prohibitive costs are ever present. Granted that our CDs cost less than if you bought them in America (our P450 price tag vs the usual $12-$15) but this still isn’t competitive, I think, in the face of piracy and digital sharing, and, well, bands giving their stuff away online.

I think that DVD pricing has it right, offering these things as cheap as say P100 each or even two for P150, which comes effectively close enough to pirated prices to make the original more appealing because of the advantages (and prestige) of buying original. CDs prices have dropped to the P200 range for local CDs and sometimes foreign CDs cost cheaper, but these come at the cost of packaging. So really, there’s an observable problem with making the physical objects more appealing in the face of digital music which is, essentially, free.

Consumption and Attention We have then effectively eliminated both financial costs and digital download times as constraints to music listening/music consumption. The only real limitation to music listening, with those constraints gone and the ability to fit your whole library in your pocket (as a comparison, I used to lug around my Walkman and anywhere between five to ten tapes in a duffel bag, those ten albums are worth maybe a gig, GB and a half?) is the limitation of attention. As Chris Anderson explains in his book Free, the abundance of one thing gives rise to the scarcity of another thing. So if there is an abundance of music, then the scarcity is the listening time that we have to devote to music. Previously, music cost so much, so when you bought a tape or CD you would listen to it until you were pretty much sick of it. It would take time before you had the cash to buy a new thing, especially if it was going at P450 a pop. My own tapes, which at the time cost P100 when my baon was only P150, were played out to the point that they warped.

Spending so much time with those albums, actually memorizing them because of playing them so much, meant that these songs did wind up burned into your memory, and that albums were whole things that we devoured, flipping sides back and forth. There was a physical barrier to listening to something new, popping it out of the tape deck and putting in a new thing, as opposed to the easy of which we now jump from album to album or song to song, at the pretty rotary motion of the clickwheel or the snappy finger movements on our touchscreens. This then brings up the question, does music mean less? In its becoming free, in its sudden abundance, is music less meaningful? A quick listen to the radio and the largely disposable nature of pop music lyricism would probably make a strong argument for the cynical music listener. But I’d argue that the pop music on the radio isn’t where we should look. Notes on disposable radio Why should we ignore radio-friendly pop? Is it an elitist decision? It definitely could be viewed as such. But then music that was prized for its artistic qualities was never prioritized for airplay on the radio (or at least not since I’ve had consciousness enough to listen to radio). Sure you’d have some great songs that would break into mainstream consciousness, and you would also have the occasional brilliant pop song that would be transcendent, but in its general structuring, pop radio programming has never been on the lookout for great artistic quality but rather obviously the consideration was

radio-friendliness. The slew of hits like “Laban o Bawi,” “Otso-Otso.” “Macarena,” “The Papaya Song,” and all of that other Euro-pop influenced pap that gets played incessantly should serve as ample proof. If it’s not that then it’s the hip-hop-influencedpop that’s got the sound but not the substance of real hip-hop. Or the punk and rock influenced pop that doesn’t have the substance of real punk or rock. Radio-friendly replaces the substance with broad-spectrum catchiness, removing those genres of their venom but maintaining the marketable aspects of them. In my life pop radio has been something like the specter of death, you’re always avoiding it but no matter where you go, it’s waiting for you, ready to blare from the nearest radio in a store or taxi when you thought you had finally broken free, reminding you that it wants, “Nobody, nobody but you.” Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of pop music that I find infectious, catchy, and fun to listen to. It’s just that the general structure of pop radio skews towards repetition and a subservience to the dictates of what people think will sell. It furthers this vicious cycle of music that appeals to the LCD, justified by what people want, and then people just wanting the music that appeal to the LCD because they aren’t ever given anything else to listen to. Let’s face it, pop radio is fad driven. And that’s why that music hasn’t ever really mattered. Previously radio might have mattered (I’m imagining a time before MTV, perhaps the days when Lester Bangs still walked the Earth, but to be honest, my experience with pop radio stations has never been musically illuminating, though I do remember when i was in high school stations like RX did mix things up and play relatively good music), but as discerning listeners have been driven to the fringes and

the mainstream has become more and more LCD-oriented, radio’s relevance in defining artistic direction and true appreciation has been diminished. In relying on fads it has promoted artists-of-the-moment without lasting value or artistic depth. What really can we come away with after non-stop radio airplay of Akon or Justin Bieber or Soulja Boy. Sure sure, people like listening to their beats, but their music is disposable, ready to be replaced by the next catchy fad. If it isn’t that, then we could probably look at Lady Gaga and how she is not mere music, but offers up an entire experience and subculture. Her music itself isn’t the most groundbreaking thing, her themes are often repetitive, and though admittedly catchy I’m willing to posit that without the “complete package” approach that she employs she would not have become as popular as she is. Granted that most artists in pop go through similar identity packaging, but we see a brilliance to Gaga’s method that is undeniable. And yet, one still has to consider that as music alone, it may not have the lasting nature of music that does not come within such a package. And we know our local trends for music, which are largely these covers of things, whether they be divas or divos, acoustic renditions, or bossa, it’s taking already existent material and generally regurgitating it to fit into a packaged artista that will sell CDs and unironically-titled concerts. How much more disposable can you get than unoriginal, uninspired covers? All of this, of course, is to say that pop music is inherently disposable. The concept of the now-laos Top 40 only reveals that, popularity dictating airplay, and vice

versa, getting a hit and just the endless process of watching that hit rise the charts and get replaced by another, equally catchy, probably as forgettable pop hit.

Zombie Music Despite my assertions at the disposable nature of pop, it’s interesting to note that old pop hits do get second lives thanks to digital media. If they were really terrible they do often stay dead. But some of these songs, even though they aren’t available in record stores anymore, spark strong nostalgic feelings in people land they wind up looking for the cheesy songs of their youth. I have to admit to a newfound affinity to Chumbawumba’s “Tubthumping” as it may not land on my list of great songs, but it serves as a placeholder to my youth and a memorable time in my life. Though kids no longer know Britney Spears for dressing up in sexy school girl clothes but rather for her crazy head-shaving, it’s her music, and the Spice Girls, and the Backstreet Boys, and other music from the 90s that has gone zombie, showing up in people’s iPods. Digital access to these songs has enabled a newfound appreciation for them. I have my doubts about whether in the intervening decade “Quit Playing Games with My Heart” can be read with a new kind of appreciation, but imbued with the power of nostalgia these songs have a new shine. Returning to my point though, pop radio has been jumping from trend to trend, and despite people returning to old songs, the majority of it all has still been pretty disposable. How many of those CDs do we still have lying around? And beyond the nostalgia, what else do we listen to these songs for?

Radio is still addressing a larger base of listeners, but it rarely pushes music appreciation beyond its limited songs lists and the drivel that passes for talking between those songs.

File Sharing, Genius, and more music options With digital music and the abundance of music through p2p, digital downloads, free downloads from artists both famous and unknown, internet radio services that skew towards music you like and are actually intelligent enough to guess at what other music you would like and cue it up for you, things are changing, things are going beyond what mere radio has to offer. While imperfect, services like Apple’s Genius and other online services try and recommend new music to you, based on music you already like. Once again we see here a movement towards accumulation of music. Music lovers have always been music collectors. I remember one person telling me, in the time when I could barely afford tapes, that you weren’t a self-respecting music fan if you didn’t own more than 300 CDs. That seemed to me a whopping amount of music. But let’s break that down into digital terms. If we average the file size of each album to about 100MB per album, times 300 albums, then that’s that’s 30,000 MB. That’s a shade under 30GB, or the size of my old iPod. I’ve got way more than that saved up in my external hard drives.

So the concept of accumulation actually moves away from digital. if you’re a true collector now, it’s not enough to have these in digital, but to show cred you wind up looking for the music in its physical forms. This means purchases of box set and special releases (which people will still rip into digital and put into their iPods anyway) and hardcore collectors going for vinyl. We return though, to the question, that with such a quick and easy way to accumulate music, does music through its being quick and easy, lose its value?

When you have everything, what is there to want? We now have at our disposal, through all these different digital media channels, near unlimited access to the majority of music that has ever been recorded from all over the world. If you want something it’s a few keystrokes away. The giving of, and even the concept of the mix-tape is an archaic thing, giving way now to the playlist, fashioned on the go, with a few taps. I felt that people who prepared mix tapes developed a keener sense of music, and I still maintain that the time and care given to making them is a craft and art in itself, an act of music curation that defines the tape the giver, and the receiver. When I received mix tapes I would sit and listen to each track, listen to every song and try and appreciate the song as a song in itself, and then the song in the sequence that the person giving it had made, trying to understand why there, at that point in the tape, and how it led into the next song. You could tell a lot about a person

when they made you a tape, if they were sloppy, meticulous, careful, what mattered to them, how they chose their song. But now, I receive DVDs-worth of music. That’s 8GB of albums sometimes. And more often I just lug around an HDD and pass music to friends. And this is where we return to the idea of scarcity of time and attention. If a friend gives you a whole bunch of music how do you know which songs to listen to? He or she says they are all great and dumps 8 gigs worth on you. That’s 80 albums, and if you figure each album at an hour long each, it would take you more than three days of nonstop listening to go through every album just once. In this sense then, music does seem disposable. When there’s just so much of it, well, you can’t listen to it all. And even when you listen to a new album, how long does it take you to start listening to something else? At what point do you feel that you’ve maximized your appreciation of an album and are ready to move on to the next thing. Here’s where things get even more interesting. If it’s good music, then each listening should reveal something new to appreciate. So we don’t necessarily ever “maximize” or “max-out” our liking of an album. We just start feeling the need to listen to something else. So then, at which point does other music start playing? Without the need to ever really erase music, due to the abundance of hard drive space, we don’t even get rid of these songs, they just stay in our players, unplayed.

How to Measure Value Now Take a look at your iTunes, media player, or other digital media playing device and check the play count for songs. You’ll probably notice that a lot of songs got a few plays, and a few songs got a lot of plays. This means that those songs that got a lot of plays were the songs that deserved listening attention (whatever parameters each listener uses to define what deserves listening attention would be a different discussion). It’s here that the value comes. If a friend gave you a few albums, you listened to a few of them once or twice, then left them to be part of the unlistened to accumulated music, then that shows their disposability, if not their being unnecessary to your listening tastes. This would similarly conform with how we treated a lot of albums pre-digital. Remember when people used to listen to CDs at the record store before buying? Now instead of doing that, we get the whole albums for our listening convenience. And if we don’t like it, we just don’t listen to it, kind of like if we didn’t like the CD, we just didn’t buy it. The key difference here is that it’s no longer the purchase that matters but the listening time given to the album that makes the album matter. This too means that in the future it won’t be mere record sales that will matter (will record sales still matter in the future?) but rather how the attention given to specific albums can be translated into financial gains for the band, producers, etc.

For us listeners this kind of future is promising and bright. We will have access to all the music we want, and if Steve Jobs is listened to, this music will be DRM free. All the music in all the world on our hard drives, in our pockets. The abundance will be overwhelming, but we will be the ones to assign value to music from now on. It won’t be record store prices and limitations of budget or access that will create a premium on music, but how we decide to value it. We could pay how much we think it’s worth, like the Radiohead model, or we could buy merchandise and watch gigs to support artists, or subscribe to any of the other new models that are created for monetizing on our music appreciation. But the bottom line is through digital, we as consumers now have more power to ascribe value through merely giving music our attention and appreciation.

Songs as Poetry: Mos Def’s “Mathematics”
(This first appeared in the Metakritiko section of thepoc.net)

In the span of two decades rap/hip-hop music has gone from a seeming fad spear-headed by the safe and commercially consumable pop rap of the late 80s and early 90s of the likes of Young MC, MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, and Tone Loc, to become the dominant commercial musical form. Even if it isn’t straight rap, a lot of today’s pop music takes its influences from hip-hop, whether it be Jay-Z, Gorillaz, or Justin Bieber, This music takes off from gansta rap (both East and West Coast) with strong doses of G-Funk, developed by Dr. Dre and a pretty clear influence in the work of the likes of Timbaland, Pharrell, and Kanye West. One of the things that has made hip-hop/ rap so successful has been its ability to appropriate various musical styles, allowing for a kind of pastiche art that mixes and takes what it wants not only from other styles but specific bits from other songs. We’ve heard what happens when rap and rock mix, with The Beastie Boys, Run DMC, the soundtrack of Judgment Day, and probably its best form Rage Against the Machine. We’ve also heard rap take specific parts from songs to create something new and fresh and amazing, whether it was Dr. Dre’s great samples from The Chronic, Kanye West’s use of songs from Daft Punk and Steely Dan, or Danger Mouse’s mix of The Beatle’s self-titled album (better known as the White album) and Jay-Z’s Black Album to make The Gray Album.

What I’m pointing at here is the potency of the sound of rap/hip-hop, how the beats, rooted in African rhythms, seem to appeal to all kinds of listeners and help to shape culture and music in general today. But one of the things that is being forgotten is that hip-hop didn’t start out, and should not just be about the sound, the attitude, the culture, and the posturing. It should say something. The word rap may have a number of possible etymologies, but I like the idea that it operates as an acronym for Rhythmically Accented Poetry. One may argue that poetry must have a sound element, hence that acronym being redundant. But when we think of rap we cannot help but think of how the words are delivered with such a rhythmic accent and how this kind of delivery matters so much to a song’s success. One need look no further than Soulja Boy to hear how catchy words that are rhythmically accented can be; the content and the very clear fact that those songs are very far from and never aspire to poetry are another matter though. But the success of Soulja Boy, among many other rappers whose main concerns when rapping are only about talking about bitches and hos, cars, money, and gold, is indicative of how little lyricism matters in today’s rap landscape. To be fair, rap’s progenitors did a good amount of posturing too, but they were doing this as part of an attempt at subverting the dominant social systems. Today’s rappers posture for the sake of it. This shows how rap has been co-opted by the music mass media marketing machine and defanged. In its earlier incarnations, in the hands of the likes of Public Enemy and NWA rap was a potent form of social commentary. Whether it was Chuck D

and Flava Flav stomping down New York’s streets enjoining its listener to “Fight the Power” or Ice Cube and Eazy E depicting gangland violence and police brutality in South Central LA, rap was not only a means of self-expression but a means of spreading awareness of these social conditions and giving voice to a marginalized segment of American society. It is here then that we enter our analysis of Mos Def’s “Mathematics.” While most people know Mos Def these days for his work as an actor in movies like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Be Kind Rewind, he is also an accomplished rapper, having made solo albums as well as collaborating on a number of projects like Blackstar, as well as appearing on others’ albums, most notably with The Roots. “”Mathematics” comes from his first, and at least as far as I’m concerned, still his best album Black on Both Sides. In “Mathematics” Mos Def runs us through a series of numbers and figures, connecting all these together to deliver a powerful piece of music that operates just as much as social commentary and protest poetry as it does ill hip-hop track. The track begins as many rap songs do, with shout outs, but through these shout outs Mos Def establishes a framing device that he will utilize at the start of each verse: One for Charlie Hustle two for steady rock three for the fourth comin’ live, future shock it’s five dimensions six senses seven firmaments of heaven and hell 8 million stories to tell

nine planets faithfully keep in orbit with the probable tenth the universe expands length

He starts the second verse thus: It’s one universal law But two sides to every story Three strikes and you be in for life mandatory Four MCs murdered in the last four years I ain’t tryin’ to be the fifth one the millennium is here It’s 6 million ways to die From the seven deadly thrills Eight-year-olds being found with 9mills It’s 10PM where your kids at? Rather than a central metaphor to drive it as a poem, “Mathematics” implements a centripetal system. When using a poem with a central metaphor, one allows the central metaphor to dictate the kinds of images that will be used in the poem. But here we have disparate images and ideas all being brought together for their value as “mathematics” or really statistics or just anything to do with numbers. It seems to play with this underlying idea that we insist on logic in the contemporary world, so instead of relating a story or a narrative, as most poems, stories, and songs do, Mos Def piles on all these various instances of numbers and their various meanings to get us to think about the things that he is referring to and trying to make a commentary about. When Mos Def proceeds with the first verse, he again begins with a rap convention. He refers to the rap that he is about to give (it’s common for rappers to

announce the year, as well as maybe throw in a dis against others i.e. My raps are so 2008, your raps are so 2000-late) and then he talks about how great a rapper he is. But beyond those conventions given, he also adds a great sense of awareness, as well as a decidedly poetic execution to his lines, “The body of my text possess extra strength/Power-lift the powerless up, out of this towering inferno/My ink so hot it burn through the journal.” We see here Mos Def seeing text as an elevation, he’s not merely rapping or spitting beats, but he is making a text that will lift up the powerless, but we see there a play of words, power-lift the powerless. Also there’s a novel image there, ink so hot it burns through the journal. He’s not merely talking about how great his rhymes are, not content to just say he’s better than other MCs, but he provides us with that distinct image of journal burning up with his words, which works both as a great image and as a statement on the power of ideas. After this he promises to “Hip-hop past all your tall social hurdles.” We see this working on the literal and figurative levels, hip-hop as an image that works with the idea of hurdles, but also hip-hop as a form of music that allows the speaker to overcome social hurdles. It’s another smart play of words, compact and delivered in the mere space of a line. And this is just the first verse! So many of these lines appear in the song; it packs in more ideas than entire rap albums, or possibly entire oeuvres of other rappers. Poetry is a violence to language, according to some poets, because it defies the norms and conventions of normal everyday language. This is of course true as we

don’t speak in iambs, though contemporary poetry has moved toward both an enhancement of the language and a more conversational tone. Observing rap we see, like poetry, the imposition of and the importance of sound. Rappers refer to it as flow, or flowing, interesting that flow is also the term used by Mihaly Czysenstmihalyi to refer to the process through which we tap our subconscious and become creative without really thinking about it. The rapper’s flow owes just as much to vocabulary as it does to sound, as it’s not only about rhyming but stringing ideas together, and the free-flow/free association way in which rappers combine metaphor, simile, imagery, allusion, and utterance, weaving these seamlessly into rhymes is often a mesmerizing act of poetry. Mos Def not only imposes his will on the language, doing a violence to it so that it serves his purposes, but he uses violent imagery to surprise, provoke, and evoke feeling from the listener, This isn’t the gangster posturing of pulling out gats and popping caps in people’s asses, but rather a violent visual imagery not in the service of the rapper’s ego but in service of the larger message that the rapper attempts to channel, a violence in service of social justice. It’s a call to revolution, set against phat beats. Notice how Mos Def discusses the social conditions that lead to crime and the ineffective way that government responds to it. When I just summed it up in that last sentence it sounded like a droll paper or newspaper article, but here’s Mos Def’s flow: Bubblin’ crack, jewel theft and robbery to combat poverty And end up in the global jail economy Stiffer stipulations added to each sentence

Budget cutbacks but increased police presence And even if you get out of prison still livin Join the other five million under state supervision… The system break man, women and child into figures We have there a compelling portrayal of the social conditions, to do with race and class, brilliantly conveyed there, and throughout the song, in packed lines that combine image and idea to convey message. He maintains all this rapping about numbers and figures and discussing social conditions, showing how people are reduced to figures and statistics. Through his flow he paints an image of great social injustice and the way that we are able to overlook this because we dehumanize all of the victims of such a global world order by turning them into numbers. But then by the end he empowers these “numbers” again and provides a call to revolution: You push too hard even numbers got limits Why did one straw break the camel’s back? Here’s the secret: The million straws underneath it- it’s all mathematics

Again we see there Mos Def operating on the level of the literal, with the idea that numbers have limits, but also referring to these numbers as people, who will one day revolt once things have gone too far. He makes use of the familiar saying, but works it into his framework of numbers and mathematics. “Mathematics” sounds cool, has a great beat and a groovy bassline with some LSS inducing-scratching, but at its heart it is a song of social commentary, an attempt

to show us the world, or at least how Mos Def sees the world, by appealing to these statistics, framing these statistics in an aesthetically beautiful package, like a Trojan Horse filled with worldview-shattering ideas. It seems a subversion as we don’t think of numbers when we think of art, and we don’t think of statistics when we think of rap. But Mos Def surprises and enlightens by his fusion of these different elements here, imbuing his social commentary with aesthetic power.

Songs as Poetry: Ash’s “Shining Light”
(This first appeared in the Metakritiko section of thepoc.net)

I’m a fan of the three-to-five-minute pop ditty, and it’s a real joy when these kinds of songs have aspirations to poetry. Definitions of poetry are always changing but at least for our purposes here we see songs as poetry when they apply certain poetic devices to convey meaning and enhance our appreciation of the song. I think, further, that pop music operates and is effective when it combines the familiar and the new, giving us something that we know, feel like we’ve heard, but at the same time giving us something fresh and surprising. And I think that I appreciate poetry in the same way, with those same two expectations. Ash’s “Shining Light” is a song that is bursting with images both familiar and surprising, and it’s all framed and expressed in a tight verse-chorus-verse-choruscoda-bridge-chorus that, in its simplicity of form, allows for further appreciation of the melodies and images at work. I’ve mentioned simplicity, and I think that this is where the song operates and becomes powerful. It works with a simple melody repeated over and over, employing a familiar image (light), to convey a simple familiar theme (expressing one’s love for another). And yet that’s where it’s deceptive, because embedded in this simplicity is a good amount of crafting. One of the great measures of artistry is not only in the execution, but in the ability of the artist to make things seem simple and easy, when in fact he put a lot of work into it.

The song opens up simply, its first stanza: Roman candles that burn in the night Yeah, you are a shining light You lit a torch in the infinite Yeah, you are a shining light Yeah, you light up my life There’s nothing too striking in the images in the first stanza. Pretty run of the mill actually. It establishes the central metaphor that the song/poem will be employing, the connecting of light and the “you” that is referred to. But what one can read from this first stanza is that in establishing the repetition here, the song/poem employs a classic poetic form, the litany. Mass and other similar religious rituals employ the litany, this process of repetition, to instill a sense of belief, and as can be stated philosophically, if we repeat something enough times then it becomes true. Thus, we see then that this isn’t simply the expression of love, the mere act of saying, “I love you,” but rather this involves a repetition, a litany, a kind of courtship, in the hopes of convincing the “you” of the love. This identification of the “I” and “you” who are the characters in this song/poem brings us to another point of analysis, another place where we can find meaning. This comes in examining the point of view, or the POV. The song is written in the second person or “you” perspective, but as it is a song and we think of certain songs as speaking for us, or addressing us, or we can dedicate songs to each other, this brings into play certain dynamics. When we listen to the song, which do we consider

ourselves to be the “you” whom the “I” is trying to convince, the “I” who is addressing the “you” or and invisible listener eavesdropping on two lovers? Each stance that we take can evoke different potential meanings. If we are the “I” then our love hinges on these words reaching the “you,” convincing the “you.” If we are the “you” in the song, and are being addressed, then we are asked, is this song powerful enough to convince us of the “love” being expressed here? Are we convinced? To paraphrase Akon, do these words make us “want to make lover right na-na-na?” And if we take the voyeuristic eavesdropper approach, how does this song make us feel about the idea of love and how it is expressed through music and lyrics? The second stanza sees a seeming misstep, as it opens with, “You’ve always been a thorn in their side,” which is an image that falls outside of the “light” central metaphor/framework, but then in the next lines the song recovers with “You arrive and the night is alive” and this works as an image that works on both literal and figurative levels. It evokes a very simple sentiment, which all of us have felt I think. When someone that we like shows up, suddenly everything is better, and indeed, things come alive. It also plays into the light metaphor as the “shining light” brings the night to life. This then makes the “you” something of a star, if we are to proceed with the idea that, on a figurative level, the “you” brings the night to life. The song follows through on this image, with “A constellation once seen/over Royal David’s city” and in the song’s bridge, “The north star in the firmament/ you shine the most bright.”

This shows how the “you” is a star, making full use of the referents of stars as not only things that punch holes in the night, providing light, but in these two instances also showing how the star/”you” provides direction, orientation, shows the “I” where he is supposed to go. This is also shown in the lines, “An epiphany you burn so pretty,” which works on a number of levels: the idea that the “you” leads to a realization, or that the “you” can be consistently showing something bright and new to the “I,” and not least of all it works rather well because, hey, who wouldn’t want to be compared to something as poetic and life-changing as an epiphany? With the image of the constellation over Royal David’s city, we have the introduction of the idea of the “you” as a messiah or savior, the allusion being quite hard to miss. This allusion is echoed later in the song, “I’ve seen you draped in an electric veil/Shrouded in celestial light,” the elevation of the “you” to near messianic status by the “I” as the “you” which is a “force and a constant source” provides the “I” with power and strength, to the point of near fanatical devotion as expressed late in the song, “these are the days you often say there’s nothing we can’t do/Beneath a canopy of stars I’d shed blood for you.” All of these meanings are embedded in the litany, “You are a shining light,” which in itself works as an image because we have heard it before, we have heard songs and poems and movies and TV and all other forms play with concepts of light and with the idea of a person being “the light of my life.” In fact one might consider this a cliché, had the other parts of the song not applied such striking visuals and played with the different levels that light can operate

at. The song sidesteps becoming cliché by its use of devices such as metaphor and allusion, these things playing into the song’s framing concept of light. The song plays with the familiar but presents it in a new way, and that is poetic. It is also deceptive in its simplicity as it deploys a simple guitar riff repeated over and over, with very little variation throughout. But this allows for the focus on another element, the repetition, the catchiness of the melody. Even after hearing this song twice you can start singing along to it. A good pop song makes you want to listen to it over and over (hence all the overplayed songs which give us LSS). A great pop song rewards you with each listening. And I think that’s what one can get from “Shining Light.” You can listen to it for its catchy melody, its groovy bass line, its ultra-simple yet lifting coda. And you can keep coming back to it, unlocking the little things in each of the images that the song piles up.

The Importance of Not Censoring Cee Lo When He Sings “Fuck You”
Censorship is and always has been a concern. What we can allow in film, television, music, print, and other media is always something that is negotiated by social norms and mores, values, and usually what we would be willing to expose others to. There are some things, I believe, which will always be wrong and taboo (snuff, child pornography, other similar things) and then there are other things which are commonly available but based on my aesthetics and personal values I find disgusting and would much rather not ever see. Despite my own acknowledgement that there are things I believe are better not seen or heard, I respect people’s liberties to choose their content. Thus I would rather that instead of external censors, we help people to develop their own aesthetics so that they can decide for themselves what is appropriate.  While we try to develop that (something quite utopian really, but we might as well set our goals at the level of utopia and fall short, than to be bound by what are “manageable expectations”) I believe that we have to differentiate between content that is blatantly sick, disturbing, or offensive, and that which manages to use certain images, acts, or language for artistic effect. It is thus that we move from censorship in general to the censorship of profanity or what might be considered improper language. We must acknowledge that profanity, swearing, cursing, or whatever we may want to call it, is part of our daily lexicon, that though we may not use these words ourselves, we hear them used. Now if you are a

writer and you want to capture a specific kind of character, or a filmmaker and you similarly want to portray a character, it is essential that you deploy the kind of language and manner of speaking that the character would. Sometimes writers have to work around limitations of the form which they are working in. For example the television series 24 was on American broadcast television network Fox, and thus could not use profanity. So while it would have been more realistic for Keifer Sutherland’s character Jack Bauer to say fuck or shit, he would only use the word dammit. In music, particularly rap and hip-hop, there is a good amount of profanity. It has reached a point where parental advisory warnings no longer suffice and there are “clean” versions of albums released, while the “dirty” versions are only sold to buyers over eighteen. Of course this is easily subverted in the digital age, but the principle exists. And more telling, that a “clean” version exists which means that you can understand and appreciate the album with all its expletives replaced with more acceptable language, or merely rubbed out. This does not bode well then for the usage of profanity in rap and hip-hop, because it shows that this language is unnecessary, and the song’s artistry does not suffer by its deletion or replacement. It is here then that I would like to differentiate Cee Lo’s “Fuck You” from all those other songs and point to how essential the profanity and use of the word fuck is to building the song’s meaning. While it sounds crude and crass to say fuck, without it the song loses a power that is created in the usage of profanity We must understand the way that profanity operates and how it is accessed in our brains. Sure we pepper our language with it sometimes, and you don’t have to be a

rapper or a poet to know the various ways that one can deploy the word fuck, employing it and its conjugations as different parts of speech. But when we use profanity inadvertently, it points to our neural processes and how the use of profanity traces back to something primordial and instinctive. Consider this: You’re walking along and you slip. As you’re falling you don’t think about it, you just scream out an expletive in response to the surprise of your falling. Or: You’re hammering in some nails and you accidentally hit your thumb. Without stopping to think, an expletive issues forth from your lips. Or: You see your ex-girlfriend in the arms of another. A, “What the fuck?” comes out rhetorically before you have had the opportunity to process what you are witnessing. The explanation is this: Though we do sometimes consciously use profanity in our language, when things like the examples above happen, we respond instinctively, with profanity bypass the thought and language centers and just getting blurted out. When something happens which we respond instinctively to, it is the Amygdala, the old reptilian part of our brain, where reside the instincts, that is activated. Thus even the most modest-spoken person can at times say the most profane things, when this instinctive reaction is provoked. We cannot stop or control this, we just respond automatically. Again, instinct comes into play, thus without thinking we resort to profanity just as much as our ancestors would have responded in yelps. Sometimes well-considered, well-chosen words and proper language fail to express what we feel. Though we could be more eloquent, that eloquence might not

suit the situation, and it might not even be available to us because we are responding in an instinctive, automatic fashion. This is where the brilliance of Cee Lo’s use of profanity comes in. There are things that cannot be expressed with anything but profanity. Cee Lo uses different words and metaphors in his song, yet the core of it, the deepest, most real thing he wants to say can only be expressed by saying, “Fuck you.” We understand then that sometimes we cannot express ourselves except through profanity, because the raw power, the unmitigated meaning of it is there. It isn’t merely the word, but its being profane, which gives it power too. Cee Lo invokes this power to convey the anger and hurt of the persona in “Fuck You” for powerful dramatic effect. It is not a mere decision to use profanity to sound cool or strong or street. Rather it becomes clear that there is no other way to say these things than through the use of profane language. He sings, “If I was richer I’d still be with you/ Now ain’t that some shit,” and here we see again the deployment of profanity furthering the depth of emotion that the persona cannot convey through any other word, and can only show the hurt and feeling of rejection by invoking this profanity. When we consider the cleaned up version, forget you, we cannot help but feel how hugely the meaning, the impulse behind the sentiment, is gone. It is not merely replaced, but the feeling is smothered and lost. How far is a fuck you from a forget you? Sure it’s only a few letters difference, but we all know how much more powerful and evocative the one is over the other.

And thus when Cee Lo describes the scene, and he sings, “I see you driving around town with the girl I love and I’m like fuck you and fuck her too,” we get that real, powerful emotion that could not be expressed in any other way than to evoke this kind of language. We must not censor this, lest we lose that which Cee Lo has chosen to express. His decision to use expletives and deploy them as he has is an artistic and aesthetic choice. Thus I believe we must admire and appreciate this decision, because it conveys a meaning more powerfully precisely because of that choice. More importantly, no other words work as well to illustrate and express what the persona feels. After all, when taking the dramatic situation presented in the song, what else can one say, really, to express all the pain, hurt, anger, rejection, betrayal, loss, yearning, regret, and hatred, than, “Fuck You?”

OA, Senti, and Emo
(This first appeared in the Metakritiko section of thepoc.net)

I was sitting back, listening to a song with my eyes closed. When I opened them, the girl I was with asked me why I closed my eyes. I said that I felt the song was so powerful and that I kind of just wanted to go with it. I told her about the song’s structure, how it developed from one part to the next, how the thematic movement, lyrically, was matched by its musical movement. She nodded, then said, “Ang emo mo naman. (You’re so emo.)” Needless to say I was frustrated by this response. Emo, as far as I understand the term, once referred to a subgenre of punk, emo-punk, which eventually dropped the punk (and a lot of rebelliousness that goes along with punk) and became emo. It was then further reappropriated not merely to define that subgenre of music, what with its weepy mascara-clad frontmen screaming sadly about some girl or other who won’t talk to them or won’t love them anymore, over wailing guitars and way-too-active drumming, to come to define a state in which a person is “emotional.” I find the use of the word in this way, and the way in which the way we understand emo vis-à-vis emotional, something that’s worth stopping and thinking about. What we are referring to here, of course, is what might be called an overflow of emotion. These are usually good when you’re trying to create art, if you believe Wordsworth. But in real life, to be called out for showing a little too much emotion in a culture that revels in its overflows of emotion means something.

My parents, in their time, had a term for it, and it’s the term that I generally relate to people who were being overly emotional or maudlin. They would call you OA. I take it to mean that OA was an abbreviation of “overacting.” This was used thus: when a person has an overly emotional response, or is too sensitive about something, you say, “Ang OA mo naman.” Of course this seems like a misuse of the term overacting. I assume that overacting would actually refer to actors and their hamming it up. I’m thinking, say, the screamy Al Pacino of the last few years, or well, most of the work that Nicholas Cage has done. That would be the proper use for the term OA. In the context of how it was appropriated though, I believe that it was deployed to mean over-reacting. Like for example, if you crack a joke and then someone can’t take that joke and walks out, you could be called OA. Or a celebrity walks by and someone starts hyperventilating and blabbering, that’s OA. This term was also employed when people were getting overly emotional. I saw it used often, when someone of my parents’ age would get ready to say something emotional, someone else would just cut him or her off and say, “O tama na ‘yan, wag kang OA.” In this sense the word was meant to prevent an upcoming fit of melodrama, or to stanch a bout of the maudlin. It called to attention an outburst of emotion that would lead to awkwardness. When I was in high school another term was being used to refer to fits of the maudlin, and this was “senti.” I think that this term sprang from music as well,

particularly what were, at the time, being referred to as “senti sounds.” I think that people still refer to the particular brand of songs being sung by, say, Richard Marx or David Pomeranz as such. I distinctly remember a couple of Chicago songs that fell under that classification, “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” and “If You Leave Me Now.” While those are two tracks that probably won’t rise to the top when I compile a Chicago mixtape, they are the band’s songs that get the most airplay. Similarly, a number of songs from hair-metal bands fall into the “senti” mode, such as “Two Steps Behind,” “When I See You Smile,” and “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” Heck, even Guns N’ Roses get thrown in with songs like “Patience.” I don’t exactly know how or at which point “Patience” came to fall on the same playlist as “It Might Be You” but it happened. And I would think that the sentimentality, as well as the sentiment, was what came into play. I feel it’s important to look at the difference between the two. Sentiment is feeling and emotion. Sentimentality is too much feeling and emotion. Which is to say that Sentimentality is sentiment made OA. And that’s what I feel we sense in those songs which we have branded as senti, an unabashed display of emotion, not held back or tempered by anything, but rather just all out there. The lyricism of the songs is direct, often too direct in the expression of emotions. They seem like the listener is being bludgeoned with a blunt instrument with the kinds of emotions that they attempt to convey. The music is similarly direct, meant to evoke as much feeling without any kind of layering or tension. These songs appeal to us because of their simplicity, their directness. I’m not indicting these songs as bad, as there are a good number of senti songs that I like. I

like some of their arrangements, I like how direct the lyrics are. I wouldn’t classify them as great works of art, as they are a bit too blunt and direct, but some of them are definitely great songs, or just stuff that’s really enjoyable to listen to. What I call attention to is the idea that we are drawn to these songs because there is a sense of honesty and sincerity in their directness, but also, because of the blunt approach, we are at times repelled by the rawness of emotion. Emotion, when filtered through art, becomes more powerful and meaningful. But when the sentiment goes the way of sentimentality, it has the possibility of being kitschy. And while in the throes of high school passion and love, it makes sense to try and play these songs to possible significant others or to dedicate these songs and name them “theme songs,” becoming a step removed reveals how irretrievably corny these songs, and such behavior as are dubbed senti, can be. And lest you think that I feel that I am being judgmental or acting as if I am above everyone else who has done these things or something similar, I will admit to my own cringe-inducing better-left-unremembered moments in relation to Aerosmith’s version of “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing.” We see then that often, when someone says senti, they are referring to sentimentality, and it has reached a point where people have forgotten, really, what sentiment means, how it is important. Sentiment is the emotion and the feeling filtered through art. With the right restraint, emotion becomes even more powerful. And yet we’ve forgotten about sentiment because we have been surrounded by sentimentality. I feel that juxtaposing sentiment and sentimentality is analogous to when we pair up emotion and the now vogue term “emo.” Sentimentality is sentiment gone OA, so

emo is, similarly, emotion gone OA. OA to the point of screaming and crying in front of a crowd, as the emo frontmen are wont to do. And in the same way that I hold on to the importance of sentiment, I hold to the importance of emotion, and even to the intense overflow of emotion. What happens with emo though, is that it fails to be recollected in tranquility. It is channeled pre-tranquility, into songs, or blog entries, or tweets, or status posts. It’s this direct, blatant show of emotion, untempered. And it’s the ubiquity of such sharing of emotion that has led to the use of emo as a term to label not only a brand of music, but a way of sharing one’s emotions blatantly, without any filtering. What is more troubling is that the line between being called emo and referring to something that would reflect emotion is disappearing. To show emotion, to think about something deeply and to respond in an emotional manner, will get you called emo, regardless of whether you are, in fact, being emo or senti. In much the same way that expressing sentiment might get you called senti, expressing emotion means you’re liable to be labeled emo. But I feel that it’s important for us to recognize the difference between these things and to encourage one and not the other. I would love it if more people expressed their feelings, emotions, and sentiments in a manner that was artistic. Perhaps we would have a much more productive, healthier, and richer culture and society if we encouraged people to express their sentiments and emotions through some kind of artistic filter. I’m not asking that everyone’s tweets or status updates become lines of poetry, but that they veer from sentimentality and express sentiment,

that they temper their emo so that they can express their emotions artistically. I realize that this sounds like something that should be filed away under some utopian project, as there are way too many social ills to be addressed to worry about making people’s thoughts artistic. Seeing as to how this is all a thought experiment anyway, hey, why not try to shape consciousness through expression? Why not try and build a social consciousness that won’t easily dismiss deep thought about emotions as emo or the other, quite ubiquitous term applied to deep thought, “nosebleed.” I understand that we are playful with language in our culture. I know full well the Pinoy penchant for wordplay and punning. And it’s clear to me that we create our language by appropriating and re-appropriating and defining and re-defining words to suit our needs and purposes. But when we look at OA, senti, and emo, we see words that can be used for social control: “Ang OA/senti/emo mo naman.” They stop people from expressing over-reactions, sentimentality, and emo. But they are also making us forget the words and the concepts behind them. And they might be stopping us from expressing genuine feeling, sentiment, and emotion.

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