I’ve never been into “cute” guys. That is, aside from my obsession with Zac Efron (who can really, really dance! And you know what they say about guys who can dance..), I have never really been taken with guys who are good looking in the male Blake Lively high-fiving sense. I went out with one at some point, and shit hit the fan really quickly with that dude: a dude who seemed to think he was doing me a huge favor just by putting his beautiful face within the vicinity of mine, while I wondered why nothing noteworthy came out of his (admittedly very gorgeous) mouth. Except for that time he wanted to “play a game” where he would buy me “some normal clothes” and pay me to wear them. As much as I needed money at that time, what I really needed was to kick a fucker to the curb.
This is probably why I’m going to be alone. Forever. Or at least for a long while, ’til someone is okay with me badgering them for something beyond, you know, ogling his beautiful face while he spews out silly lines that are cute between non-human people-things. It’s a familiar cliche, but it doesn’t take much play for it to seep into reality, and that’s where the problem starts. Sure, we’re told through popular media to be weary of beautiful people, but that message loses its gravity when it comes cloaked in contradictions.
The harder lesson really is “How to kick a motherfucker to the curb”, best taken with “How to enjoy your own company. Forever.” Which I do, for real! While I’ve had good times in relationships where there has been love, mutual support, and respect, I am still much prouder of being able to actualize these qualities for myself, from myself. It just so happens that in the past couple of weeks, myself and I have been setting aside quality time for Ramon Bautista and RA Rivera’s TFTFZx.
So, if you, reader, will refer to the still at the beginning of this entry, you will find a lovely vista of a familiar trope: a car on the road, a classic car, no less, from the Motorama heyday of the automotive industry, blablabla, what am I talking about. Just look at that subtitle! That is, more or less, a direct translation, but what is lost is this culture of cutesy empty threats that typify Filipino heterosexual relationships and add that unnecessary, bordering on rapey, layer to what it means to “fall” for someone. Or something. In this case, joke’s on you, girl–if you don’t get out of the fucking car.
I had high hopes for this show. I watched and re-watched it, hoping that it could take the boy+girl equation further. Conceptually, it’s interesting: most of Bautista and Veron Cruz’s delivery is done as monologue voiced over scenes from a relationship that neither of them knew was doomed, and thus retains that luster of fantasy, even as it’s applied to a relic from the past. Whether we’re watching the ballad of a preschool teacher named Ines and the lovelorn Arvin, or a baker/entrepreneur of some sort named Zooey, with RB as Spanky, who goes looking for bread (back the fuck up, shouldn’t that be a red flag right there? I mean, who the hell goes into a cupcake cafe looking for bread?), it ends the same way. You feel for both of them, but none of these feelings are new. They’re just packaged better.
I’m not sure if these all belong together because the whole thing just feels like a vehicle to compose well-lit shots, better seen devoid of context on tumblr, under the empty gesture of a hashtag ready quote like “Love is not tanga” (Okay…then…?). Which I guess is the take-it-or-leave-it proposition here – because it feels as if all I’m watching are these really gorgeous stills of places in and out of Manila. It’s like…a bank commercial, or like being sold real estate. With a better soundtrack.
The thing is, I had zero intention of buying real estate or opening a bank account, and the thing with hashtags is they allow us to play dumb about things we might actually mean. And I’m not going to play dumb about how media treats relationships like a product meant to pass hands (blablabla woman precious flower) and be possessed.
And like most people who land on RA Rivera’s channel looking for some good Tales from the Friend Zone, I have come…to learn about love (as ridiculous as that sounds) from a creator whose work I respect. The cultural endorsement both Bautista and Rivera receive in the Philippines is no laughing matter. We ~love~ these guys! They’re hilarious and spot-on with delivery and timing, and here’s RB, getting and, more importantly, losing the girl! What an awesome favor to humanity to show a nice dude finish last, to give him a venue where he can earn our sympathy.
So do we ignore the fact that narrative is outweighed by whatever jokes you can crack in hindsight? Because while jokes, a peppy internal monologue, and the right soundtrack can get you into a lady’s pants, they don’t get far in unraveling what actually happens in the space between two people.
I really wanted to like TFTFZx. Before this, I followed TFTFZ‘s advice column/vlog and adored it, so for a show that floats around pseudo insightful tripey McTripe like “Breaking up is like a contest”, while claiming that capital-L-Love is not about the tripe, it’s easy to lose faith. And you need that faith to get through all these episodes, because talking about a subject as hyper-represented in media (and everything, really) as love is, frankly, mostly a language of faith. It speaks of the point of waiting, attempts sincerity without tripping into corniness, and avoids the battered cliche in favor of risking something new.
It’s difficult to write about the work of people you respect when that pool of people is so small to begin with, but after seeing all the episodes, I was left with the weight of all the usuals: at best, some cutesy collection of silly one-liners permuted into what passes for a script, and at worst, a platform for casual misogyny (which is also another way of reading into this whole “friend zone” thing), where winning can best be represented by possessing other people, rather than exhausting the opportunity to explore the mess of humanity beneath their shiny, well-dressed surfaces. Hopefully TFTFZ runs long enough to actually shed light on that murky area, the so-called “long boring journey” between boy-meeting and boy-losing girl, and maybe the girl can actually get a say in that journey for a change.
When Platitudes Become Form was the title of a 2013 solo exhibition by Christopher Kulendran Thomas, riffing on Harald Szeemann’s 1969 landmark exhibition in Bern, Switzerland.