Beauty and Madness

I have a favorite story from the dark days of the dictatorship.It was before the Manila Film Festival, and Imelda Marcos was asked by a reporter what her role was in the life of the country. After all, Apo Ferdie had earlier likened the country to a home, and it was his job to make sure that the four walls were sturdy and the roof did not leak. The Imeldific replied that four walls and a roof alone did not make a home. These four walls and a roof needed beauty.

Of course that was totally missing the point but that didn’t stop her from building massive white concrete walls to hide Manila’s slums from the prying eyes of her VIP guests. Out of sight and out of mind, or so it seemed, and it worked. In fact it worked so well that I think the Imeldific still does not know that the words “poverty” and “Marcos” were once closely linked to each other.

Eventually the walls came down, and now our foreign guests know just how dirty Manila can be. In fact, we invited foreign studios to film in our jails to show how modern we are.

Unfortunately, the producers of the film had another thing in mind, and that was to show the squalor of an ordinary third world jail cell, and boy did they get it right. They got it so right that Claire Danes, the actress they had hired to be the eyes and ears of the Western world was said to have called it the worst experience of her life.

Crying foul, slander, and injury without even bothering to check the facts, the Manila City Council promptly banned Danes’s films.

Today, Manila’s jails are as crowded and ugly as the time Danes was “incarcerated” there, if not even worse. It’s not just the Manila City Jail, but it’s the entire penal system in the country.

Just ask Al-Ghozi.

Danes, however, has a thriving career and two movies in the pipeline. After all, she is Juliet, according to Baz Luhrmann.

There’s something wrong with what that story, and I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you what it is.

***

I stumbled across a blind item one day that said the Prietos were cutting their ties with the Philippine Daily Inquirer founder Eugenia Apostol over the hiring of society columnist Maurice Arcache. Arcache had been fired earlier from the Philippine Star after he said that the Inquirer was read by more people.

The rift was brought about by Apostol’s apprehension that the newspaper was headed toward a more Marcosian setup, where the exploits of Manila’s hoity toity was what filled the papers. Events of national significance were glossed over or given superficial treatment.

For those readers who have no idea about what I’m talking about, read the Manila Bulletin and skip the paid press releases (you can tell the press releases from the regular articles because the press releases usually don’t identify the author of the release even though it looks like a regular article).

Anyway, it seems like the shift is happening, especially if you’ve seen the other sections of the Inquirer. I might be saying it like it’s a bad thing but people actually want this to happen. If anything, and according to Raul Palabrica, most Inquirer readers are tired of the newspaper’s attraction to “bad news”.

“Don’t shoot the messenger,” or so Palabrica says. Unfortunately, most of these irate readers have threatened to stop reading the Inquirer for more sanitized fare. It is my guess that they’d rather have blinders than see the truth only because it’s easier to swallow. Anything else would be downright depressing.

So the Prietos did hire Maurice Arcache, and now they have Arcache and Tim Yap, and should these whiners complain again about the front page, there’s always the back page where they can see their amigas and their kids partying away like there’s no tomorrow, much like they did with Louie Ysmael in the 70’s, running around town in their Ferraris and Manolo Blahniks. Pretend everything’s fine. Things will right themselves in the end. You’ll see. I’ve got my blinders on.

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