his site right here will teach you how to say bad words in Tagalog, among other things.
It's a typical youtube homemade video of a song describing the conflict between Magellan and Lapu Lapu. It ends with Magellan asking for a doctor and telling his mama "don't you cry."
Now, wouldn't you want to die trying to bring Christianity to the Philippines ... or something ... and then being immortalized in a song like this? (Does anybody know who this singer is?)
Also, this history student made this video summary of the Galleon Trade for class. Love the music! Don't love the way history is taught: so that it leaches all the human idiosyncracy out of the stories and makes them a catalogue of dead numbers and dry anecdotes.
This and other unattributed photos were stolen from www.wofflehouse.com, Woff's website.
Jenifer Wofford, by name, den mother, artiste, fearless leader, unspeakable admiral, grantwriter, ruffled trade, and the one to blame for all of this.
Speak, Woff! Tell us: what is the Galleon Trade?
... if we can find some other art spaces along the west coast of Mexico ...
Indeed! And how did you come up with this project?
It was 1998 and I barely understood what an internet was.
And where do you see cultural convergences among the three landing points of the project: Philippines, Mexico, and the Bay Area?
You have an incredible love of drama in both situations ... I don't know, good dancing skills? ... A real affinity for pork and salt?
Then talk about hybridity: in general, and especially with regard to the Philippines as a place of both race-mixing and cultural hybridity.
The tricky thing about talking about the Philippines, certainly from somebody who's a halfie herself, is ... it can become very self-congratulatory to talk about the wonderful future of hybridity. It's really narcissistic, too. ... At the end of the day, for me it's less about some nationalistic Filipino thing, for me it is more about the bigger condition of hybridity or about drawing connections across difference. Doing that through Filipino arts and culture issues for me feels the most--"authentic" is such a tricky word but I'll go ahead and use it--feels like the most authentic way for me to do it. I could do it in some ways just as easily through Malaysia, since I grew up there, and in some ways I have a lot deeper connections with that place, but it's a little trickier to make that fly. There's a very small Malaysian American community here, there's less of a network to actually make these kinds of parallels happen. --Also, I'm not Malaysian.
Jeepney! Almighty Jeepney!
Everyone's symbol of the Philippines, everyone's adjective. It's impossible to explain a jeepney--you have to see one. But once you've seen one, all you need to say is "jeepney" for the full force of its symbolism--its representativeness, its jumble and joy and color--to infect whatever word you're modifying.
The word itself contracts "Jeep" and "Jitney," the latter a form of share taxi found in the US and Canada in the early 20th Century.
Where did it come from?
(The piece continues here.)
It's also impossible not to fall in love with jeepneys. I did, my first hour in Manila--exhausted from a 16-hour flight and 13-hour jetlag, inside an air-conditioned taxi trying to muscle its way through morning rush hour to our accommodations--when the rising sun picked out the brightest things on an already colorful landscape, and all the things that people had tried to tell me about jeepneys before burst visually into my consciousness like ripe coconuts onto my hard, hard head.
The brightest things were moving targets full of people and I didn't manage to take a single picture that time, nor did I manage it for the rest of my trip in Manila, despite repeated attempts. My only halfway decent jeepney pictures are from the inside of one Zak took me on to get, in a roundabout way, to the Manalos' store.
It seems almost silly to point out the Filipino-representative nature of jeepneys; it's so overstated already. But do you notice something about all these youtube videos?
Yeah, they're all made by Ams of the non-Fil variety, or other flavors of white tourist. (Let's count me among them, since in the Philippines, I'm white. That's, after all, what counted to the Filipino strangers I encountered: the American, the money, and the white. Oh, and apparently I'm white because of the loves and enthusiasms the Philippines awakened in me. Jeepney! O, Jeepney!)
Filipinos I met didn't talk about jeepneys amongst themselves, and were almost reluctant to answer my questions. A cliché? A stereotype? Fil Ams were equally reticent, and undelighted. Used to it? The only Filipino youtube videos with the word "jeepney" in them were the excessively posted video of a band called "Sponge Cola," (?) who had an apparent hit with their song "Jeepney." There aren't any jeepneys in the video, but I have no idea if the song deals with jeepneys. (Well, there were also the inevitable personal videos made by Sponge Cola fans using photos of self and drawings of unicorns against the backdrop of the jeepney song.)
But Americans? A post-modern, transportative, artisan-fact like a jeepney is almost calculated to make GenX travelsters wet their shorts with cum-to-Jesus. Love. LOVE! How it bleeds American pop through its chrome skin! How it bedecks, deflowers, beflowers a supra-militarized past by dragging it into a dingy military relic! How it pollutes the air (you can hardly ride one for the fumes!)! The names of the jeepneys! They all have names! Love! How unselfconscious! Just like the na-ked-tives in National Geographic! We love that shit!
And the Catholicism of the jeepneys! They're so Catholic! With their virgin statues, and saintly names, and sometimes near-evangelical airbrushed Jesus. We love the Catholic in the foreign, since the US is so fundamentally post-Catholic, post-joy, post-passion, and post-tack. It makes the Philippines almost look like those weekends in TJ, or spring break in Cabo! Only better, because, without the frat boys (much)!
And, naturally, jeepneys can also be rolling carnivals of affect, being evidence both of poverty and pluck. Although an American would never decorate a moving vehicle thus without a guarantee of praise, attention, gallery space, and the possibility of grant monies, we can appreciate the sheer cultural wastage of decorating 200,000 + vehicles to be used purely for public transport, particularly if said vehicle is a microenterprise run by an undereducated family that barely speaks English.
Okay, I'm being a bitch. Truth be told, I'm annoyed that it turns out I'm a cliché of an American tourist, so in love with the Jeepney, the Jeepney, o!
But so be it! Let this rhythm of searched-for youtube videos be my love song to the Jeepney, the lovely Jeepney, the ironic Jeepney, the joyful Jeepney, the mortal Jeepney. May it live forever!
oday I paid a visit to Galleon Trade captain Jenifer Wofford's home studio. More will be posted soon about La Woff, but there was one strangely lovely story that came out today that needs to be on this blog.
Apparently, in the spring of 2000, a southern Philippine Islamic terrorist group staged a mass kidnapping from a beach resort on Sipadan. The hostages were held for ransom for months, while the kidnappers dragged them around the jungle ahead of the Philippine authorities and added to their number with further kidnappings.
But in July 2000, one of the newly added hostages, a German woman with a complex of medical conditions that made her captivity a matter of life and death--even if her captors had not been capable of beheading her--became a minor local cause celebré, being the cause of a defingerization.
A freelance script writer named Leah Cabullo, who was on Jolo island, where the hostages had been taken, along with a passel of journalists, decided one night to
cut off a piece of her left middle finger and use her blood to write a letter appealing to Islamic extremists to free an ailing German woman among 40 hostages held in a southern Philippine jungle.
... Cabullo, a Manila-based freelance writer in her 30s, refused to leave her rented room at a retreat house in downtown Jolo and spoke with other journalists covering the 80-day standoff through a window. Blood was scattered at the lobby outside her room.
"I cut my finger as a sign of deep sincerity," she said.
The letter appealed for the release of 56-year-old German housewife Renate Wallert, ... who suffers from hypertension, a chronic anxiety disorder and other ailments.
Rosa Banagudos, a caretaker at the retreat house, said Cabullo was rushed to the Sulu provincial hospital for treatment after the bizarre act. The detached portion of the left middle finger was placed in a bottle filled with alcohol.
"I was still sleeping when I heard her scream," Banagudos said. "I rushed to her room and saw her hand bloodied. I didn't see what she used to cut her finger."
According to a friend of Cabullo, the severed portion of the finger would be sent to Robot and Susukan with the appeal letter, written in blood on white linen paper. The offering would be delivered by a courier sometime on Tuesday.
Note: "Robot" was the nickname of the terrorist commander. Delicious, no?
There's not much else to be found about this story on the internet, in any language. I even checked the Filipino Google, but no dice. Not even any follow-ups, although you'd think that the press would fall all over themselves to find out if it worked.
And the funny thing is, according to Woff, it did work. All the stuff I found chez interwebs about the hostage crisis never mentioned Cabullo as a reason, but Renate Wallert was released less than two weeks after Cabullo's sacrifice. This article attributes that to payment of a ransom, but her husband and son remained with the kidnappers until a month later (for the husband), and nearly two months later (for the son). It's not clear how much ransom money played a part in the men's releases.
This article from Asia Week has only confusion to report about Renate Wallert's release:
The 85th day dawned with the release of the first Westerner, ailing German Renate Wallert. The Europeans say neither they nor Libya agreed at the time to pay a ransom for Wallert. In the Philippine and German press, it was reported that $1 million was paid. Sources allege Aventajado raised $1 million through local businessmen and sent Dragon to make the payment. They also allege Aventajado asked Germany for a refund, but that officials refused. Aventajado denies all of the above: "That is not true."
The article doesn't mention Cabullo.
Well can I believe that Cabullo got Renate released ... and well, too, can I understand Woff's fascination with the story--which prompted her to center her installation Kandingan around a drawing of the only photograph she could find of Leah Cabullo ... holding up her maimed hand.
There's something inside that wants an extreme act like this to be able to affect people. I'd just call someone like Cabullo crazy to the creepyth degree. But then, if you're dealing with Islamic fundamentalist kidnapping beheaders--who risk their lives and international relations for arbitrarily chosen ransom sums, and then waste statesmen's time bickering over how to divvy up the take--how do you prove your sincerity, really, truly?
None of this stuff--terrorism, kidnappings, beheadings--is really capable of shocking anyone anymore. It's too commonplace and understandable ... or else too commonplace and permanently beyond understanding. What's shocking is that a civilian figured out how to speak terrorese from the point of view of the powerless. It seems crazy, but it also seems like she was the only who got through--or cared to get through.
Between a crazywoman and a transported, orgasmic Saint Theresa-type, Cabullo wants to strike me as the latter. Catholic redemptions are not far from the imagination when thinking about weird Filipino phenomena, for obvious reasons. Something wants there to be the closest thing we have in real life to magical realism: some kind of inspired, gritty communication, some kind of understanding-beyond-understanding, to exist in fanatical jungles and distant motherlands.
How strange and beautiful and creepy such things are. I wonder what she's doing now. I hope she hasn't been declared mentally incompetent.
Every middle class home had a piano, every working class one a fiddle, or a jew's harp. Young ladies drew each other for sport. Young men drooped from the forks of tree branches shouting, "Beauty!" Jigs were danced, and danced well, on homemade wooden heels, family theatricals taught children the fine art of crying at will, a blank wall was excuse enough for interpretive dance, and if you were lovely enough, your hair golden enough--or raven, depending on which side of the world you jigged on--your hands small and finely tuned enough to turn faces on tiny grains of rice, why then fantastical creatures of green and blue--or with wings and teeth, or scales--would do your chores, freeing up your time to make art for the Pure Joy of it.
Then came the silver age of art, when the family was no longer a haven of show tune singalongs and refrigerator-magnet galleries. Then, the youth wandered out into the scary forest and, in amongst the wolves, false breadcrumb trails, and predatory lifestyle party organizers, might be drawn by the faint, but pure, glow of the community arts nonprofit. There, our hero/ine passed a comfortable night, or three, before being drawn back out into the realm of worldly temptation.
"Look!" the reptilian tempter would cry, "look at the sophistication of yon milieu! Look at the bumpkinness of the cottage in whose doorway you stand! Whose bread is made of finer flour? Whose advocacy is going to further your career? Come hither, and rule the kingdom for your fifteen minutes!" And away the dazzled youth would go, drawn inevitably, inexorably away from the last likeness of home and family.
After the Fall, callow youths never stop to wonder if the Artyrs who kept the hearth while they were testing the jungle tread are still there, are doing okay, have suffered from neglect or abandonment.
No, this is not the Manalos' sad story, but mine ... sort of ... well, not really. Kind of. Okay, yeah, a little bit. I'm projecting, is what I'm saying.
I'll be the first to say that I found Manila a little ... challenging. More on that later (hint: small pedicabs and intestinal disorders ... okay, maybe not so much more on that later). So, after making some phone calls and getting some directions, I stumbled one day late in my Manila visit into the cool haven of the Manalos' flower and gift shop, Blue Gayuma. I just thought I was going to get a nice visit with old friends, but it ended up being a debrief on the last eight years of my life.
You see, I met the Manalos in the last millenium, while I was program manager at Asian American arts org Kearny Street Workshop, and they were running Bindlestiff Studio, a black box theater in San Francisco's SOMA district, that Allan and Joyce Juan Manalo had transformed into the "premier" Fil Am performance venue in SF. As fellow arts organizers from the same community, we all knew and respected each other, but were too busy sacrificing ourselves on the altars of "vision" and "community-building" to have time for each other. I came to their events and chatted, they came to ours, and chatted, we shared resources now and again (mostly them letting us use their space).
Allan giving a tour of Bindlestiff in 2000, the "epicenter of Filipino performing arts," a black box theater located on San Francisco's South of Market Skid Row. This is a lovely picture of a brief turn-of-the millenium era in Fil Am arts. Funny glimpses of many the personalities that stocked (and still do, some of them) the Bay Area's Fil Am performance scene.
You'd see Allan performing here and there, either solo stand-up comedy, or with his sketch comedy group Tongue in a Mood. You didn't see Joyce so much ... unless you bought a ticket to see a show. She preferred to stay in the background, running Bindlestiff and theater group Teatro Ng Tanan with consistent self-effacement.
Come to think of it, they were both pretty self-effacing, out there doing their thing, certainly, but doing it out of love, and happy to use their own sweat to promote unknown artists -- to make the young and the marginalized into stars for a night or two. The problem with being self-effacing is that it's a rare person who will promote you when you efface yourself ... and if you happen to be the designated drivers, well you might just not get much notice at all.
Also, nonprofit Artyrs live a pretty marginal existence to begin with: no health insurance, constantly putting your own minimal salary back into bottles of two-buck Chuck to feed the small but hungry egos of the artists you're serving ... it's a silver age for those who pass through your warm cottage, but they're not the ones who have to roam the forest, rain or shine, gathering firewood.
On top of that, the real estate politics of San Francisco are insane. Bindlestiff lost its longtime space in the Plaza Hotel for a few years while the city redevelopment agency spruced the SRO up. But from the beginning of negotiations the city started backing out of promises made, and it looks like now Bindlestiff--no longer run by the Manalos--will have to meet unrealistic financial goals to be allowed to return to its home.
For a variety of reasons, about four years ago the Manalos--as usual, quietly--left the States and returned to Manila, where Joyce grew up but where Allan, born and raised in the States, had only visited. And there they are today.
It might seem like being cast out into the dark forest, but Joyce and Allan are no Hansel and Gretel. We spent hours one night gossiping and bitching about the Bay Area Asian American arts scene, and I caught them up on four years of meltdowns they had missed. But when I visited them at Blue Gayuma, and later their house just down the street, it was clear that they'd found their way straight back home--and straight back into that nonexistent golden age where families made art at home for their own pleasure.
Joyce is beading and making jewelry, which she sells at Blue Gayuma. She's also making pottery, which is displayed at the store. Her brother, a set designer, makes small wooden theater sets/altars. (I'll post some pictures of these as soon as I retrieve them from the external hard drive they disappeared into.)
But the most delicious surprise of the Manalo/Juan family was Joyce's mother, Levi Juan.
Last year was the fiftieth anniversary of Filipino independence. In the run up to the celebrations, Mrs. Juan decided to mark the occasion by sewing a Philippine flag, her crafty way of expressing her patriotism. She decorated it with appliquÃ©, buttons, and beads. It was yummy enough, both in the making and in the finishing, to prompt her to do it again. And again. And again. And yet again.
Each subsequent flag she played more with materials, adding hand-made worry-dolls to the suns, or little mirrors into a sort of plaid pattern, or encrusting the edges so thick with multicolored beads that you want to put the whole thing in your mouth.
On one flag, tiny yellow beads collect around the edges of the sun-shapes, making the piece look like the artist was working on it in the middle of a storm of pollen. On another one, a monsoon of brown bead-chains rains down the top of the flag upon an angel of fertility. She reminds me, in both technique and exuberance, of the extraordinary vitality of artist Aminah Robinson (whose work online photographs don't nearly do justice to, and has to be seen to be believed).
It would be easy enough to call this a Jeepney aesthetic ... and it would be largely true: a folk art, unironically declaring its affiliations, and drawing in colorful scraps of plastic materials and popular culture to redraw, over and over, a standard utilitarian form. But I'm still not sure what it means to call something jeepneyesque, jeepneyfied, jeepneyized. I don't know what exactly it means for the jeepneys, much less for unpretentious "folk" art.
It doesn't seem, this work, to be about meldings of pop culture and traditional culture, or turning the weapons of war into street art, or any of those clever things I and others say about jeepneys. It doesn't seem to be about much more than joy in materials, profusion, and a delight in color and texture.
Which is why this was my favorite art in Manila: the unexpected, the purely joyful, the unapologetically, unmodifiedly Filipino, the domestic, the folk, the personal-fulfillment, the unblaring, the unadvertised, unframed, and unpresented ... art.
(The details you see sprinkled throughout this post are details of the flags. Click here for a flickr photo set of all five flags she showed me, including views of the whole flags. The pictures suck, because I took them, please excuse.)
y excuse for so far not really posting very much about art on this art-centered blog has been that I want to start with posts about artists, including their sound files, and I'm having trouble transferring their sound files. And this is true.
I've also been silent because I've been processing everything. Also true.
However, those are not the only reasons I've found it difficult to talk about the existing work.
Before I went to Manila, I did stop to consider if the work the artists were bringing was going to be big enough. Most of the Galleon Trade artists work relatively small in any case, and had deliberately chosen cheaply transportable work--Christine Wong Yap even going so far as to make her work out of standard sized shipping boxes. I somehow had it in my head that expanding horizons meant BIG galleries.
That turned out not to be the case. The galleries were, if anything, smaller even than typical storefront community spaces in the real-estate-starved Yay Area.
Despite all of that, the work was still too small. By this, I don't mean that I hold it in any disdain, or that, after moving into an international context, I suddenly saw the poverty of the artists' point of view. It was rather that the work was made by artists who hadn't been on the Galleon Trade trip yet. The work wasn't triangulated to three points. It worked in its context, and out of its context it became ... well, not trivial, but almost beside the point. (Two possible exceptions are Megan Wilson and Mike Arcega because they made their work while in Manila, but I'll talk about that in other posts.)
Because the trip, the exhibitions, weren't about the artwork actually, at all. It was about the artists themselves, about their waxing, their ebb, about their arc through Manila. The artwork they brought was by way of credentials, yes. It was their gauntlet thrown down, a bit. It was their conversation piece, the thing that got the kids in the neighborhood talking to them.
But also, it was--or it will be--a growing mark on their doorposts, against which everything they make subsquent to Manila will show significant growth ... significant expanse.
But hey, no pressure, right?
A concentrated gaze is to an artist like sunshine to anything vegetable. (Well, the artist has to be ready. I've noticed that really green artists experiencing their first public success are far more likely to be stopped in their tracks by the attention--by the combination of fear and ego--than to flourish under it. But more seasoned, yet still emerging, artists who have cut their teeth, filed them, and had some fillings put in as well, know how to use the energy-concentrate that attention offers them.)
Just as plants in a greenhouse grow faster and out of season, I'm expecting a more radical growth in Galleon Trade artists within a short period of time. Because they have just been placed in a greenhouse.
Observe the picture at the top of the page, the one with the artists in a row, half-surrounded by an attentive local crowd. I went through our trip photos looking for one of these to symbolize the artists' experience in Manila, only to discover that it wasn't symbolic at all. It was literal. I have dozens of such photos, because the artists were in tons of such situations. Of the six evenings of Galleon Trade events, three were about attention to the artists' work and three were about attention to the artists. There was an opening, followed by a panel discussion, followed by another opening, followed by an "artists grill" Q & A, followed by another panel discussion, followed by another opening, followed by another Q & A.
A full week of nothing to do but talk about yourself as an artist.
But all artists have similar--if not so concentrated--experiences like this if they push on through. What made this special was that these were mostly "minority" or "ethnic" artists who, regardless of their success level in the mainstream, were always conscious, or made to feel conscious, of their otherness. Additionally, many are "1.5s," those who immigrated as children and are therefore neither fully immigrants, nor fully second generation American-born. They are transnational, but in a way peculiar to 1.5s: their connection to their birth culture being that of child, even though they are now adults.
All Some of the Fil Am Galleon Trade artists had only ever visited the Philippines with their families before--as children, or as adults still stuck in a child's role. This trip was their introduction to their, or their family's, country of origin, not only in an adult role, but in their chosen profession as artists.
Visiting Manila for this cultural event was profound enough for those of us with no other connections there. But visiting Manila with this pile-up of passages was earth-shaking for the Fil-Am artists of our group. I expect there to be a pause. Then I expect there to be new work: very different, very rich new work.
Am I expecting too much?
Left to Right--Top: friend of Mike Arcega's, Mike Yap (Christine's husband), Camille Wofford, Christine Wong Yap, Dad Wofford, Mom Wofford, Jaime Cortez, Johanna Poethig; Center: artist friend whose name slides out of my head, Rick Silog, Mike Arcega (with flowers and balloon), Woff (with flowers and balloon), Emily Sevier; Front: Kenneth Loh, Stephanie Syjuco, Chris Brown, moi.
The photo above is from Jenifer Wofford's and Mike Arcega's combined birthday party, held at Johanna Poethig's house in Oakland. Both were born on August 19, but a year apart. It's rather appropriate that our first gathering stateside since the trip was to honor these two, since Woff is clearly the head and heart of Galleon Trade, and Mike arguably its hands, being the artist who actually created a galleon long before the project was thought of.
Much basketball was played, and phallic balloons twisted.
As if the world was conspiring to think of our exploits, two articles followed our return. The first, from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, is simply reportage about Galleon Trade. Click on the image to get a high-res photo where you can read the text.
The term "brain drain" connected to their migrating parents is no longer applicable to these Fil-Ams. "Galleon Trade" proposes instead the use of the word "integration." It's amazing that the project took off despite the lack of government funding from both ends.
"Integration" being of a different form than the melting pot type. Too bad the article didn't go into it. Also too bad that they find grassroots community fundraising "amazing."
The other article, in the The Art Newspaper, is about the Manila underground arts scene, not about Galleon Trade. It lists a number of artists, curators, and art spaces we got to meet and hang out with and in while we were there. Have a quick gander, because some of those names will come up again.
It won't make you sleepy.
So posting will have to start again later this week, once I've gotten over my own idiocy and settled back into my dayjob. Yes, I'm back in the Bay Area.
In the meantime, please enjoy the send off filmmaker Romeo Candido gave us in the last days of our Philippine sojourn. If you're attentive, you can catch a flash of me sitting in chair at the beginning:
And here's a more formal version of the same song:
It's not just because I got a $1 copy of The Bicycle Thief, either. I'm (somewhat) convinced now that third world pirating is the great cultural equalizer ... and actually makes it possible for art to have an impact on da masses, whoever they are.
Our artist hosts for the day, MM Yu and Poklong Ananding, took us to the Muslim area of Quiapo, near the mosque, to eat Halal chicken (mmmmmm) and we ran into Romeo Lee near the pirate DVD shops. Romeo, a regular there, helped us get some smokin' deals on a surprising selection of classics and experimental films.
Of course, the newest Hollywood crap was there, but so were Discover channel nature docs. In the shop depicted above, we ran into painter Manuel Ocampo, as well as Galleon Trader Christine Wong Yap, who was touristing with her family that day. Apparently, the pirate DVD stores are a scene, and people run into each other there because people hang out there.
The DVD shops we went to sat along a small, relatively untrafficked street (for Quiapo), bookended by the district's mosque. There were a lot of blue interior walls in this section of the city, beautiful, elaborate details in occasional corners (as above), and a sort of sober quietness that I would normally associate with being near a place of worship ... only in the Philippines, no such soberness accrues to the areas around churches (more on that in the Quiapo post). I also saw signs for a Muslim police force and volunteer fire crew (all firefighters are volunteer here, which sounds suicidal until you consider that we're in the tropics.)
Also, brief hijab-and-veil sightings at the Halal chicken restaurant, where a group of women sat upstairs in hijab, eating chicken. I didn't think anything of it (although I took a surreptitious picture) until they had finished. Then they put their veils back on and I felt that I had witnessed something intimate. (That's also why I'm not posting their picture here.)
All in all, though, a quiet section of Quiapo. Quiet, slightly exotic, with DVDs.
Later that day, when accompanying us around on our studio visits, Romeo buttonholed me and told me that the Muslim section of Quiapo used to be so scary he wouldn't go there. Shootings every week, nearly, between Muslims and Christians, tension tension.
Then, the pirated DVDs came in. People started braving the crazy-ethnics section of town to get cheap flicks, but that wasn't the deal. The deal was that everyone in that part of Quiapo suddenly had access to films: Hollywood, art films, kiddie flicks, documentaries. The shop owners watched movies incessantly, as did their neighbors. The cultural savvy of the entire neighborhood leapt upward. Suddenly, upper/middle class artistes like Romeo could talk about the great European masters with Quiapo shop owners because the latter had gotten in a series of BBC artist biopics. Christians and Muslims could argue about camera angles, rather than shoot each other. (Well, not really, but imagine!)
According to Romeo, everyone chilled the fuck out and the district became relatively safe.
"So art really does make the world a better place?" I asked. We laughed at that, but Romeo came back with an earnest "Yes."
Allan Manalo, whom I hung out with last night, concurred. He told me that the indigenous Filipino film and tv industries are outrageously bad and condescending. The level of the entertainments there offered were low, an expression of Philippine media's contempt of the Philippine "masses". The pirated DVDs, Al said, did a run-around the monolithic Philippine media and raised the bar, almost without the media's knowledge. Now the public demand for intelligent, high-production-values media entertainment is rising, along with the sophistication of the audience.
Which is why, clearly, upper class artists and intellectuals hang out around pirate DVD stores, but also why they can stoop to converse with shopkeepers.
The EFF and the like don't think of class war when they protest and sue test cases. American cyber-libertarianism is uniquely upper-middle class, a rebellion of the privileged individual against the corporate juggernaut. And, although its notions of philanthropy have altered since Borsook wrote the linked article a decade ago, not much else has changed.
As a result, lower-class consumers and potential consumers outside of the US are left out of all calculation. I'm sure digital libertarians would be happy to find that their efforts had positively impacted third world downtrodden, but that's not actually on anybody's agenda. This complicates my feelings on the matter because, just as I believe a successfully regulatory and servicing government needs its due, I also believe that private corporate entities providing needed (and/or culturally desirable) goods and services in a way that stimulates economies deserve their due as well. The fact that history has never seen such unmitigatedly benign corporate entities is occasionally beside the point.
The point is, I'm not knee-jerkedly against The Man, whoever he is. Let them get richer, as long as others don't get poorer as a direct result. Boy, that was a detour. Where was my point?
Oh. But then again, Filipino working class will never in their lifetimes be able to afford legit DVDs. Ever. And, of course, no one cares, because no one is worrying about selling to them anyway. So why not pirate? As in the Napster argument, it creates a market, from which everyone benefits ... and that is absolutely true. Also, as in the Starbucks argument,--where Starbucks, once they had gone into cities and set up a store opposite every indie coffeehouse and driven them out of business, then went into towns where there were no coffeehouses and created a market for them, so that indie coffeehouses began springing up opposite the local Starbucks--pirate DVDs create a market for sophisticated artflicks which stimulates local producers--i.e., local artists--to produce, or produce more, or produce in a manner that can supply this new demand.
Completely aside from the whole what-is-good-for-the-corporation-may-sometimes-be-good-for-us argument, pirating arts and entertainment products is good for the arts scene. Obviously.
But that the arts scene can chill out political tensions in a high tension neighborhood? That I hadn't foreseen, and I'm even more optimistic and bleeding heart about the potential of art than most.
(A small, barely related side-note: our student guide at the elite University of Santo Tomas, the president of her student literary society, was named Ayn, as in Ayn Rand. I'm just sayin'.)