We really need to talk about Miley Cyrus’s vagina

Yes, you can and you will stop

  1. Let’s stop talking about these young girls and what they are willing to do with and broadcast about their vaginas. All the slut-shaming in the world will not change the even more disturbing fact that Miley’s vagina (like Taylor Swift’s) is technically not even hers to begin with; it may have been her we saw on stage, tongue out, grinding up against some dude dressed as Beetlejuice. But what is a pop star’s body, if not a front for the promise of sex or the thrill of the empty glimpse into the private lives of public people.
  2. If it’s a song you’re selling, all “We Can’t Stop” really has to offer is the startling clarity of how little it takes to write a good song or make good music. Then again, who still goes into the music industry to make music?
  3. All this only signifies a career so concerned with turning a profit that Miley Cyrus’s vagina becomes the precious commodity at the heart of the transaction. Watching her “grow up” only means seeing more of it.
  4. Before going into what’s wrong with Miley Cyrus’s VMA performance, it also helps to ask what on earth would that performance would look like without the tongue and the twerking. (Which is nothing.) Without any allusions to coke, without the appropriation of what other minorities have suffer through, by a white body that never has to suffer the consequences, without the usual things that get people talking, “We Can’t Stop” is derivative, overproduced tripe that sounds like it was written using madlibs and a Nokia 3210 (and it probably was). It’s not even bad enough to merit negative attention, it’s just a mediocre song that happens to be dripping with coke snot.
  5. To glamorize drug use diminishes the reality that when addiction hits, it hits like a train, as both truth and consequence. But to justify the issue–to sensationalize it through addiction alone, at the expense of reducing yet another celebrity’s life into a train wreck–also ignores the equally important discussions surrounding what drugs are without addiction, without criminality, and how without drugs, both Miley Cyrus and “We Can’t Stop” are, again, nothing.
  6. The only people who can glamorize drug addiction are those who can afford to buy their way out of getting killed by it.
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What was real pt. 2, or coming to terms with boredom

I like Hiromi Tango. As naive as she may seem when asked to describe her work of “building communities” by asking people to contribute to these crazy piles of yarn and soft stuff that her installations consist of, I admire the optimism that creates it, and that it produces in turn. And she’s adorable, so that always helps. Anyway…

I think what I was trying to talk about earlier was how much easier it is to claim to live for someone than for something. Today is Thursday, and it hasn’t stopped raining since Saturday. I haven’t been to work since last Friday, which was when I gave my students a midterm with an essay portion that would be due in a week. I got the first set of submissions today, and while I didn’t specify a word count, the answers range from one paragraph to four pages in length. Some of them are now using terms like “material culture” with an ease that I couldn’t conjure up at their age (because I didn’t have myself as a professor, self-five! Self-five?)–or maybe I could, but admitting it would mean stepping off this cloud of unreliable indicators of success brought about by an admitted lack of prior experience in the field I accidentally landed in.

It can’t be an accident anymore though because I’ve been teaching for four years, and that’s one batch in and enough time to correct previous mistakes. Prior to this I worked in retail; during my first semester, teaching, I was also competing for a post as a DJ for the only radio station worth listening to, in this country. I was just taking whatever I could get, not because I had no idea where I wanted to go, but because I had underestimated how easy it was to get there.

At the risk of sounding like an asshole, let me explain: When I was in college, I made clothes. I’d been playing with my grandmother’s sewing machine ever since she taught me how to use it, and by the time I was a sophomore at the University of the Philippines, I’d learned how to convert playtime into an actual business–which still functioned under the heading of playtime. It was called Womyn in the Kitchyn, as a jab at the fact of my belonging to the College of Home Economics, which I resented. Thankfully, no one seemed to know what it meant, and my teachers were oddly forgiving of my visible disdain. I dozed off during lectures and was late when I wasn’t absent; I did not cultivate healthy relationships with my peers, and spent more time on classes I was auditing than I did on my majors. I was, to put it bluntly, an asshole of a student, and I recognize vestiges of that self (which hasn’t even completely come to pass) in some of my current students. And I have to laugh knowing that everything will be okay (unless someone gets hurt, in which case, no).

A common misconception about fashion and apparel design students is that we all want to become designers. I wasn’t sure I wanted it, but it was a meaningful distraction at the time. I made stuff, delivered, then went and watched gigs. That was what I really liked – watching gigs. I just didn’t know how to get paid to do it or if I could handle the implications of turning it into a job.

Nevertheless, it worked its way into my goals–which never included things like “my own clothing line!” I wanted…to watch The Flaming Lips. And see my name in print somewhere.

Seeing my name in print came when I was 20, at an underwhelming little event called the Philippine Lifestyle Journalism Awards, held by the Philippine Star at one of the cinemas in Greenbelt. For that I got cash, the equivalent amount in gift cheques, a piece published in a nationally circulated broadsheet, and a media ID which never materialized. And as with everything else: I cared until I didn’t. Or I cared until I got a job that required me to write for money. Then I crashed my car, and had to join a contest that would trade writing for money. The point is, I got the by-lines, and of course it wasn’t enough because I was still alive after that, and still on the lookout for other meaningful distractions.

Graduation came and went while I was working a shitty job, making a little money and trying to begin a life with my boyfriend. The realization that this was not happening came in little bursts at first, then waves, then just kind of collected there along with my savings from said shitty job, which I used to buy a ticket to see The Flaming Lips.

That wasn’t a career either, and now that I have one–a career, I mean–I’m wondering what the fuck I was doing setting my life goals at having a by-line and watching Wayne Coyne roll over a crowd in a plastic ball.

Nothing and everything I guess, because that’s what life goals are for, you live them and make new ones…I guess. So what is it now, besides living and riding out a tenure-track job? When it comes to what living looks like: I spend a lot on gasoline: that’s what my credit card bill says. I have a credit card, two credit cards. My limit is low, but it’s too high for someone earning what I earn. The first thing I bought with this credit card: I can’t remember. It was probably gasoline or groceries, which by now are all burned or used up or turned to poop.

My friend Wanggo interviewed me the other week for Bia Catbagan’s documentary on whiny millenials (I’m a whiny millenial!) called Letters to the Future, and one of the questions to which I could only sputter out a vague answer was, “Would you consider yourself successful?”

I can’t even remember if it was phrased that way, because there’s a mile of difference between “would” and “do”. Do I consider myself successful? I think what I’ve been most successful at is ditching future plans in favor of actually doing the shit that it takes to get there. I’m finally living away from my parents, meat-free in a vegetarian-friendly neighborhood (which is rare in the Philippines). The by-line has been replaced by two standing offers to contribute to two separate volumes of a fucking encyclopedia, and a deal to write a book for high school kids who want to learn about Filipino artists. I’m in no danger of starving to death, the flights for vacations to be taken in the not-so-distant future are all booked, and I have fucking health insurance. I have fucking health insurance! And I pay for it! I’m free to get sick and not feel like a burden to my family or anyone, plus whenever I come home, two tiny kittens snuggle into my lap while I read, and one of them even gives massages!

So yes, I guess I have been successful in turning my life into my own, but I haven’t been as successful with maintaining the enchantment that comes with living it–and that’s terrible, because last I checked, the pictures in my facebook albums look like this:

Champagne Year

I mean, shit, get the wow, right, yay, that’s a rainbow, right? That’s a rainbow with David Longstreth’s face in one corner, and that was just from this year, and this year isn’t even over. It says, “YES!” all over it, with a subtext of “Yes to being too broke to do anything else!” But what else is there?

Plenty. There’s plenty to do, like solve world hunger and end wars and make trade fair (which could all add up to the same thing, right Miss America?), but I can’t even deal with other people’s children. And that’s okay, because I still have that book to write and that encyclopedia to add words to, and these are the jobs that came of getting things like hearing “Do You Realize?” played live and writing until I could afford to say no to it. 

What I wasn’t prepared for is that after working the big things out (especially if you’re kind of shallow, like me), you’re left with the logistics and the mundane details that are really kind of boring and sometimes take forever to get through (especially if you’re very impatient, like me). No matter how much you talk about the magic of travel, things like waiting in airport terminals (especially Philippine airport terminals) are fucking boring as hell. Also, beer in airport bars is expensive and you’re not allowed to bring your own. Raising kids, although I have no plans to, probably gets boring, but even this depends on who you ask. We keep talking about the miracle of life but are at a loss when it comes to describing the drudgery of our own.

The big things however resulted from honestly admitting what I wanted at the time – a job I enjoyed, my own place, a vacation, on top of the writing gigs and…The Flaming Lips, live. The last thing I got was my own place, and by the time it came around, it came with all these other extra things, like Berlin and museum work and My Bloody Valentine, as well as the unforeseen consequences like becoming single and a lot of cats (HAHA, right?!). Now the only thing I want is my MA and a flat tummy, and it turns out that both of those come with a disproportionately hefty side dish of boredom–especially the abs. But the MA, which comes with disillusion and the inability to write short sentences and talk to people, other than myself, is the real gift that keeps on giving.

So given these two future prospects, “Would I consider myself successful?” Yes and yes. I do not know a lot of people with double degrees in apparel design and curatorial studies–who have abs.

“Do I consider myself successful?” I’ve had a bad cough for a week, and I feel sad that I can’t get excited about watching bands anymore; but there is such a thing as Claritin and Allegra and I have a home! That means a lot when somewhere, everywhere, people are getting stranded in the middle of floods and don’t have anything dry to come home to.

What was real

Jun Yang, A Short Story on Forgetting and Remembering (2007)

Bands I saw play live in my twenties:

A lot of the bands I saw play locally in my early twenties just happened to be playing the same gigs my exes were playing. Once that ex was a band–we saw Brass Munkeys, Mobster Manila, Neighbors, Brownbeat All-Stars, Sugarfree, Imago, Sandwich, Indio I, Cynthia Alexander, Twisted Halo, Narda–I can’t remember who we followed, though. It took a while to figure out we all liked different things (and for me to get over the fact that no one liked Sonic Youth). Then the band broke up and we all went our separate ways. When the exes were boys, the same thing happened–Up Dharma Down, Razorback, Sugarfree and Twisted Halo (still), Loquy, Radioactive Sago Project…I don’t know why a lot of the names just kind of faded because, a) I’m not that old, b) this wasn’t that long ago, and c) as silly as it sounds, a lot of living went into going out and seeing these guys play.

What I do remember though is that whenever I saw a band without my boyfriend, there was always this feeling of committing some inexplicably illicit act, as if I wasn’t supposed to like something that he didn’t like–which I knew was moronic, but I felt it anyway. What on earth would a twenty-year-old girl being doing out at night, without her boyfriend? The few gigs I remember seeing locally without him: Sheila and the Insects with the Purplechickens and Ang Bandang Shirley, Arigato Hato, Tao Aves, and a Rockestra series with The Dawn (I think?) and Up Dharma Down. The dates kind of run together the way the gigs do, and they all look the same and even kind of feel the same. But I did chase that feeling around like a drug, until it started feeling more like I was dragging my heels and just maintaining my share of the commitment.

Being in a relationship, for me, meant dealing with the pressure of perpetual interest in another person and in the goal of building a life together. I think we went out a lot. I’m not sure if we were distracting ourselves from ourselves, or genuinely interested in the same things–especially now that we rarely run into each other. If we were, then why can’t I remember any of it? I think we ate out with his family a lot.

Notes on having a boyfriend

I have not been in a relationship since I turned 24. I’m turning 28 in a couple of weeks.

The year I turned 24 was the year I threw in the towel with working somewhere because the pay was “good”, and it came with the vague hope of moving up the corporate ladder and wresting some semblance of control over what I wanted to do. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and by then it was becoming clear that it wasn’t enough for me to know what I liked. I had liked my boyfriend, but somehow the thought of a deliberate permanence with him, permanently liking and disliking things together filled me with dread. I traveled a little, then a lot. I told a friend once that “It’s not as if I’m escaping from the fact that I don’t like where I live,” and he asked, “Then what is it?” And that shut me up, but now it feels more like an exercise in building tolerable distances.

Can't believe I never posted a picture of Turkish Wedding Band because these guys really killed it.
Can’t believe I never posted a picture of Turkish Wedding Band because these guys really killed it.

What does any of this have to do with concerts I saw in my twenties? I remember everything I’ve seen without him, because they all came with not having to wait for someone else to say yes. And while I do talk a lot about wanting someone (at least in my head, I do), maybe it isn’t a matter of wanting someone but wanting something else.

Other notes on having a boyfriend

When guys hit on me, it often feels like a deliberate attempt to bring out the worst in themselves. Telling them you don’t want to be bothered or to please go away does not work. Saying “I have a boyfriend”, sadly, does.

An Attempt at Exhausting a Place on the Islands

How to Disappear Completely (2013), dir. Raya Martin

Kimsooja, A Needlewoman (2012)

I still feel bad about only having seen two of Raya Martin’s movies, the second being How to Disappear Completely (2013), his most recent work which was screened just last night at Green Papaya Art Projects. Anyone who’s been to Green Papaya probably might already know that screening in a room no more than 50 square meters in size sets an unstable binary upon which to base any definition of “alternative cinema.” If the alternative to this country’s studio system is the equivalent of a family affair, then what kinds of prospects are we left with in the development of Philippine cinema?

Yet, it’s too easy to talk about how much catching up we have to do in the development of a medium, case in point: there isn’t a single screening of Porno (2013), at this year’s Cinemalaya film festival, that isn’t completely sold out. There’s development and then there’s expansion, but there’s also development without expansion, and vice versa. In this case, there are options besides My Lady Boss and that thing about Kim Chiu not being hot (but we know she’s hot, because what else could possibly happen), but expansion…is…money…Anyway, I wanted to watch Porno. But nope.

I guess I should be happy that independent cinema, or what qualifies as the alternative, is being received so well; but this could just as easily shed light on questions of accessibility, in the most mundane sense of the word. Despite the impossibility of there not being enough of the film to go around (because HOW is that even possible in a country that blocks off full theaters for…Man of Steel), and even with perfectly evident demand, the product simply isn’t available. The economics of Philippine cinema, independent or otherwise, are completely illogical, but I was also told to “be patient. We’re trying to do this slowly,” by a prominent media person whose name may or may not rhyme with Bopez.

It may be assuming too much to claim these seemingly petty inconveniences have anything to do with How to Disappear Completely, and I could begin talking about it with a play by play account of what happens, with no spoilers. But nothing really happens in How to Disappear Completely: a viewing experience that is about as fun–and just as necessary–as having a tooth extracted. And I’m kind of a masochist, so there.

“What happens when nothing happens?” was a question posed by Georges Perec in An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris – the result of an “experiment in the everyday”, which Perec carried out by spending three days in Paris’s place Saint Sulpice doing (what else) nothing. A similar trajectory is explored by Martin with this seemingly incoherent, yet oddly captivating, account of the casual loss of subjectivity, illustrating the unlikely similarities between first world boredom and the stagnancy that comes with literally being surrounded by water.

Aside from the title and the requisite setting of the stage, aka “The Islands. About a year ago.”, no other text is edited in to further clarify or tie the loose ends of How to Disappear Completely together. The rest of the film plays out as rural folklore, prayers, overheard conversations, and dreams, seen through the eyes of a surprisingly small child. We don’t even realize how small she is until we see her standing next to other children. At the beginning, we watch as she plays out her own death in a small, choreographed funeral–then somehow convinces us, for the next hour and a half, that she’s still alive.

It is through this resistance to narrative that Raya Martin is able to speak of the incomprehensibility of being everywhere and nowhere, dislocating his characters both spatially and temporally without losing the particularities of isolation. There is something both cruel and unsettling about having to see this through the perspective of a child, until it becomes apparent that everyone in this movie is a child.

If this sounds bleak–like another brittle thread to plait into the narrative of hopelessness and resignation that characterizes Philippine independent cinema–it’s because it is. Like in Shireen Seno’s Big Boy, we know that we’re just watching people slowly easing into death, but there is an exuberance and a playfulness to Martin’s storytelling, showing how having nothing can also mean having nothing to lose.