People should complain about the state of the arts in the Philippines. And this is not just an injunction for the culturally-omnivorous bourgeois who can feed both their stomachs and their souls. The arts, canalized properly, can serve as a lingua franca that fosters public solidarity, while challenging class boundaries.
Consider the perfunctory conversations between waiters/bartenders and their middle class patrons:
“How are you doing sir?”
“I’m okay bosing,” patron replies. And that’s that. Bosing watches "Wowowee," while patron goes to Cinemalaya. No use extending the small-talk when discussing bosing’s media consumption is more akin to an ethnographic engagement rather than a discussion among co-citizens and peers. So if this country oozes classism, the lack of a common cultural language is partly to blame.
In a recent article
for the Philippine Star, cultural critic Don Jaucian dared to complain about the arts, specifically the state of Original Pilipino Music (OPM), and he got flamed for it on Twitter and the blogosphere (see Shinji Manlangit
’s for a similarly critical piece).
For Jaucian, OPM’s death can be gleaned when “yesteryear’s hits” are “sung to death by variety show singers,” while newer acts “struggle to get their original material released.”
Of course, when someone raises a fair complaint, leave it to the defenders of the status quo to reproduce the logic of Norman Vincent Peale’s facile self-help books, commanding gadflies to stay positive and work hard despite the real injustices of the world.
Which is what a some bloggers and their followers did in the aftermath of Jaucian’s polemic. “You don’t go to enough gigs of bands you don’t know,” says Rain Contreras
, who says he’s been witness to “three decades worth of Pinoy music.”
“I’ve been a part of the music scene since 2002,” declares Carlo Casas
, who is proud of the fact that, among his friends from the industry, none of them think OPM is “CLOSE to being dead.”
Pulling rank, I see. Well thank you for admitting that ya’ll are insiders, whose instinct is to close ranks and defend their own.
Someone like Rico Blanco can, of course, easily say that OPM is alive and kicking, because he’s Rico Blanco. Glad to discover that Casas and Contreras share the perspective of a musical demigod, whose purview greatly differs from those on earth.
So how did “heroes” like Blanco actually make it? Simple, notes Casas; they just “put in the hard work.” And to young musicians, he deigns to impart sagely advice: “You have the Internet. You all have what all of your heroes of your teen angst years didn’t: The world at your fingertips. Share your music on social media. You have things like Soundcloud, Facebook and Twitter.”
Take the argument to its logical conclusion: if you don’t make it, poor padawan, it’s nobody’s fault but yours. Don’t criticize “the man” for making it tough on poor musicians. Rock was never about complaining anyway. The people who bitched like Dylan and the Sex Pistols were wrong. Stay happy. Surf the net. And if you lack support, it’s because you didn’t tweet enough.
Try saying the same thing to novelists, painters, and other artists who don’t receive enough support in the Philippines.
It’s in this way that Casas and Jaucian’s other critics conjure away the power of media conglomerates and distribution networks, while patronizing younger artists. It’s not like social media isn’t awash with music from young musicians who put out their work for free, or promos for gigs where you pay P150 for entrance, a beer, and five bands. The Casas musicological theorem of “internet + hard work = magic bullet to success” is fiction.
Cultural nadirs are not simply products of individual hard work, and structural factors always subtend individual and group creativity. The success of the Eraserheads and Rivermaya was a function of major record labels investing in original music, and not the derivative fauxanova or pogi rock they peddle these days. No matter how much a young indie band inundates the net with their latest demo, they will not get airplay in Barangka the way the E-heads did in the 90s. The market has segmented the audience to the extent that Internet darlings get balkanized in digital ghettoes, where they are adored by, well, the likes of Jaucian. But the possibilities for a genuinely democratic musical space were greater when both the burgis and the working class could simultaneously shout “Diba? T*ng*na!”
Consider another structural factor that affects the arts: government investment. In 1950s France, a disdain for American film and a desire to promote cultural production outside Paris led the government to invest in directors like Godard and Truffaut who would constitute the French New Wave. (This was, in fact, a common pattern in the social democratic milieu of postwar Europe.) In 1970s Philippines, the Marcos dictatorship also poured money into the arts. I despise Imelda Marcos, but we should give her credit for spending on pop festivals. In recent years, the CCP has likewise done a good job of preserving cultural heritage through archiving indigenous music. But we still need funding for sonic innovations that can’t be taught in ethno-musicology courses.
I fear the instinctive defensiveness of many old hands about the death of OPM belies a lack of willingness to have a discussion about structural issues that impinge on the arts. Of course people will always make music, but that isn’t a sign of life. Until the government and the media industries decide that local audiences deserve better, OPM will stay dead. And if I’m being whiny, sue me.