1. What did you do in 2011 that you’d never done before?


Two biennales! I wasn’t exactly involved in either of them. For the Whitney Biennale, I didn’t even get there in time to score tickets for Werner Herzog’s talk because bed…so…comfy…but I was more proactive the second time around when I joined the backyard camp for the Gwangju Biennale. First time sticking myself in an academic environment with I don’t know how many Koreans…a lot. A lot of Koreans. I promised myself I’d take my MA very seriously this year, and that includes the financial terms (i.e., “Have MA, will Travel”) of the whole ordeal (although ordeal isn’t exactly the word for it…), because I am only paying 60 bucks a semester for it, so this has been a very good year in terms of looking at modern and contemporary art. There was Ai Weiwei in Taipei, a Warhol retro in San Antonio, then Felix Gonzalez-Torres in Seoul and the whole of Gwangju. I think I sat through Fujiwara’s piece twice because serious daddy issues.

And I took the Greyhound from Austin to McAllen alone! Everyone I met was like, “make sure no one sticks a balloon full of coke up your ass.” BUT WHATEVER (I’m not saying “BUT WHATEVER!” because it happened, okay?)! And the random trip to Indonesia, that was lovely as well because observing how effortlessly sustainable Indonesian indie and punk rock looked only led to…

My first long-term writing project

which is a series of interviews with local artists who’ve been active in creating, performing, and producing music, which will later become the basis for a longer piece I haven’t completely threshed out yet.

Continue reading “2012”

Somewhere, Everywhere

Somewhere, everywhere, a girl is taking her clothes off. This much was true…But something else, she thought, was also true. Somewhere, everywhere, a girl was being raped. And the question was: how far away? How far away did something have to happen before it stopped being your responsibility? How far away did a rape need to be? Two streets? A country? A separate universe?

Adam Thirlwell, “Nigora”

Earlier this year while walking around San Francisco, a friend and I happened to pass a small group of men. They were just standing around, probably arguing among themselves. I don’t even think they were panhandling (and San Francisco panhandlers can get pretty aggressive), but what’s important to note is that they were minding their own business.

Once they were out of earshot though, my friend leaned over and said, “I really wish I had my gun right now.”

“Why, so you can feel all macho and shit?” I said, my futile attempt at making light of the awkwardness.

“No,” he said, his voice dropping a few notches. Paraphrasing: “It’s because if there happens to be someone out there who can make you dead, then you would need to protect yourself.” Then he went on about being in the army and learning about people. Had I been more sensitive about it, I could have called him out for his condescension or his tone of addressing me as the naive third world bourgeois hippie to his older (by a year), grittier American military man.

Whatever I had to say to that had been shocked right out of my system. Now it appears that, over time, I’d developed a reputation among my friends as something of a pacifist because I now foster kittens and I cry a lot. When I hit people (like, with my fists) they actually look hurt (they probably are), but I am altogether not a typically violent person. But there and then, I said nothing because I felt that it was no use to argue with someone whose idea of conflict resolution was possible with a bullet.

“Make you dead,” who even talks like that? That was my fifth time in San Francisco, fourth time traveling around that city alone, and third time staying in or within the vicinity of the Tenderloin, but the funny thing about fear is that you don’t actually feel it until someone else brings it up for you. There is definitely a problem with gun control, but it runs even deeper than policies and media representation. There is a huge problem with what everyday people seem to think guns are for.

But I also remember thinking about how guns were fixed into the illusion of safety I had gotten used to as a long-time resident of Metro Manila – where even McDonald’s and Starbucks branches were patrolled by armed guards. I didn’t even notice the guns until a friend from Singapore (and later other friends from New York and San Diego) pointed them out. There is unspeakable horror in having a gun in your face, but there is a comparable measure of violence in being conditioned not to notice the assault rifle hanging at the hip of the person who greets you at the door of your friendly neighborhood coffee shop.

It’s absurd and backward to think that we in the Philippines are better off because at least we don’t have to deal with mass-shootings on the scale of Sandy Hook or Columbine. Do we shoot children here? Of course we do. That we care more about “whose children” or whether the children are in the womb or in a preschool only points to how deeply fucked the situation is. This is still a bastion where feudal lords can maintain a well-greased system through private armies and coddling by public servants. (And then there are the extremes that develop when the mere fact of having a name, of being known, becomes such a luxury. The Filipino people who are known, who have the gall to say, “Do you know who I am?” not as a question, but as a threat, what the hell are they known for besides being known.) It’s in the false sense of community and it’s in the walls we erect to form the landscape.

This is still a place where we can find virtue in identifying with the anonymous multitudes, hence “maka-masa”, thus glorifying our own nameless, placelessness–or as an acquaintance put it: mediocrity, i.e. “yung simple lang”. When we see nothing wrong with anonymity, we become just as likely to play dumb when it comes to disappearances. When we fail to see the inhumanity of and in our own ignorance, it becomes acceptable not to know; thus making it impossible to talk, to engage any arguments, or to resolve anything.

This is still the worst place to be a journalist, not for lack of material, but precisely because of fear; because not only are bylines negligible in a place where people don’t really care to (or just can’t) read, but the people behind them are equally dispensable. Imagine that the people who are supposed to set the record straight are the ones who have to live in danger from day to day. Imagine the leftover evidence we will have to settle for and the kinds of stories we in turn end up telling ourselves. This results in a different kind of violence altogether, but it’s violence nonetheless; and imagine the culture that results from having to live with that, day in, day out, for decades on end.

Thirlwell, Adam. “Nigora,” from The Book of Other People, edited by Zadie Smith. first published in The Guardian, 2007. NY: Hamish Hamilton (Penguin Group), 2007.

Girls, Etc.

Or, “Why Rigodon is my favorite movie in a year full of good movies”

A man who finds himself among others is irritated because he does not know why he is not one of the others.
In bed next to a girl he loves, he forgets that he does not know why he is himself instead of the body he touches.”
— Bataille, “The Solar Anus” (1931)

A “love team” is, by definition, never a married couple. They keep us on the edge of our seats by the prospect of whether or not they can keep it together, in a culture where marriage is considered a permanent bond. Love teams entertain us through the kilig factor of perpetual courtship; but once we’ve exhausted the discussion on what girlfriends do to maintain their post as girlfriends, we begin to look at what girlfriends don’t do. And coming up with nothing wholesome on that subject steers the conversation into what non-girlfriends do.

I don’t know why the local media finds single girls just being (and staying) single so uninteresting, thus leading to the choice to dig into this can of worms/pot of gold which resulted in this fairly recent proliferation of films about “other women”. I could be writing this now because I began the year by watching No Other Woman (2011 [Thanks Tara and Edu]), which surpassed its “so bad, it’s good” tag and just went straight into being bad. Very bad. Horrible, actually, and probably the primary reason why I can never get behind anything with Anne Curtis in it.

I remember having this discussion (with a classmate) about the archetype of Jilted Woman turned Angry Ghost/Ghoul/Bloodsucker in Asian horror flicks, and wondering if the “other woman” theme isn’t just running along the same track. It’s a very particular brand of misogyny that results in an industry producing an entire genre or segment so wholly committed to marking simplistic distinctions between women and “other women”. Women are already so saddled with the baggage of having to represent their gender, thus making it easy to get worked up about anything which oversimplifies or polarizes “what it means to be a woman”.

These aren’t even women, but caricatures defending their places relative to the men in their otherwise hollow lives. A woman can have the title role and still be another body in a bed, thus propagating this Taylor Swiftian notion that women are not allowed to reflect on their subjectivities and autonomy outside of their relationships (which isn’t even true for Taylor Swift, who tours all-year round, lives in a mansion made of solid gold, and probably gets to have sex with everyone she meets with no judgment, suckers).

These aren’t even women, and yet they are; or at least they are what women are continuing to become should the “other woman” mythology be kept up. And this is what makes a movie like Erik Matti’s Rigodon(2012)so refreshing. Forget that it was promoted as a movie that will (from the director of Scorpio Nights 2) bring sexy back; forget how easy it is to dismiss as “an excuse to show Yam Concepcion’s tits”. At its core, Rigodon is a love story, but it also reminds us of how the most brutal truth in these waters is that there is no absolute, objective, capital T “Truth” about love and relationships.

In what could be a nod to La Ronde (1950), Rigodon shows instead how easy it is for people to destroy each other without actually meaning any harm. Within the first few minutes, we see Sarah getting over a break-up, which leads her into the arms of Riki, who goes home to Regine. The success of the film lies in Matti’s careful avoidance of turning any of these characters into caricatures of themselves, neither glorifying nor condemning, thus making it difficult to lay any kind of blame or even distinguish between heroes and villains. This is a far cry from the fare peddled by a film industry already buckling under the weight of the star and studio system, in which some people are evil or funny or good just because they look the part. Rigodon is not a vehicle to introduce love teams which will jumpstart careers, but a means to tell a story. This preoccupation with narrative allows these three to each tell it their own way, deftly woven together through the soft focus of Sarah’s fairy tale, the hard edges of Regine’s tabloid reportage, and the overarching Greek tragedy drawn from the fatalistic turns in Riki’s life.

I don’t know how many love stories the local film industry makes each year (a lot?), but I do know our entertainment industry thrives on the mythologies perpetuated by what love and what people “in love” look like. We’re not watching “couples” or even “relationships,” instead we have a star system fuelled by the rise and fall of “teams”, leaving out any consideration for the nuances of narrative or the ironies of emotional truth, which arise in our attempts to actually define the terms. Rigodon’s preoccupation with these terms makes it clear that even in an entertainment industry so inundated with showing couples, we still know so little about the actual dynamics of being in a relationship, thus making it impossible to turn it into anything less than a game (or in the case of Rigodon, a dance).

The fact remains that we still don’t know what we mean when we say we’ll lie, cheat, steal, or take a bullet for someone, but we say it anyway for the sake of raising a score. Rigodon serves as a retreat from aimless, manipulative competition portrayed in the typical tandem drama, and into the nuances of literature, reminding us of how storytelling (at least in mainstream cinema) is a lost art.

Holiday Wishlist

  1. That my bike be fixed;
  2. That the insulation in the oven be replaced already because I like baking and the smell of pastry is so comforting;
  3. Backlog of articles, submitted and hopefully published (and read);
  4. Reading list wiped clean, complete with notes and reviews;
  5. That my foster cat and kitten both find loving homes;
  6. That the wall outside my house be repainted, because I’m kind of tired of looking at it. Most of it, at least;
  7. (I’m not sick of making clothes, but) can someone else finish my collection?

It looks like a to-do list because I really just want more time before 2013. And maybe a Zac Efron poster. I still have not forgotten the Zac Efron poster.