Thursday, December 01, 2005

Scuba diving are for those who can swim underwater

Among those books which my wife and I count as one of our favorites is the perennial favorite Pride and Prejudice. One of the surest ways to get my wife tingling with nostalgia is to quote to her that "[i]t is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." We loved the book; and we also loved the mini-series that BBC made... the one with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. The book was high romance and poignant fiction. I have met very few here in the Philippines that think highly of the book. I have also yet to see any local "rendition" of this book in any Pinoy movie or tele-serye, which I thought was strange. While Helen Fielding, creator of Bridget Jone's Diary, had to create different situations to make the basic plot believable, I am quite sure that an "authentic" Pinoy rendition is possible if handled correctly.

There are some who think that this would not be very easy, and I would agree with them, but I suspect that they have other reasons for thinking that it is a difficult undertaking. For one thing, I suspect that even Pinoys have this feeling that whatever the situation in Georgian England is irrelevant to that of modern Philippines, probably even more irrelevant than it is for modern Great Britain. If that is how they feel, I would disagree. If there was any place in the world that still discriminates people based on the highness and lowness of birth, the quality of connections, the power granted by owning land and having money, and the over-bearing sense of propriety, that would be turn-of-the-millenium Philippines for you, right down to the dot.

If I had a peso for every time I heard a fellow Pinoy talk about another Pinoy using the the phrase "Sino ba ang nanay at tatay niyan? Sino ba ang pamilya niyan?" I guess I'd have enough to purchase myself a really good MP3 player (perhaps I should have wished for a twenty-peso bill for every time I heard it). Of course, Pinoys may argue that that isn't the case at all and that all Pinoys have equal opportunity to get ahead in the world. What a lovely sentiment... unfortunately, so very trite. One only has to see how people get positions not only in government but in companies to see that one's pedigree is so vastly important that one has to be so shockingly brilliant in order to penetrate the "inner circle." If this were not true, there would be no political and socio-economic "dynasties" in the Philippines. Unfortunately, like the Gardiner's in Pride and Prejudice, sometimes intellect and wit are not enough to get them accepted unless one of their own would marry into a good family.

Connections, too, are very important in determining your place in the socio-economic heirarchy, just as much as it was in Jane Austen's time. It is who you know that is important, and this is a simple test. A new graduate's chances of getting a really good job is determined, first of all, by that graduate's alma mater, connection number one. If one is unfortunate enough not to graduate from any of the "ivy league" universities, there is still a chance, but one should know somebody in that company/institution one wants to join... and the more powerful that somebody, the better the position that can be offered (connection number two). I suspect that most of the jobs that people hold are not found through the classifieds so much as they are "internally" advertised to those friends, family and acquaintances of the existing employees. Even getting Ninongs and Ninangs and a batch of friends and acquaintances are based on whom you already know. Again, just as discrimination by pedigree, one must be smarter than a whip in order to be able to circumvent this, but even then, not by much.

Of course, one can get away with being rude, ill-bred and generally obnoxious if one is filthy rich. The Bingley sisters and Lady Catherine de Bourgh can afford their high-handed, high-brow attitudes only because they have personal fortunes, in the same way that Kris Aquino and Ruffa Guttierez-Bektas can get away with behavior that would have gotten severe ostracization if they were less moneyed, lower pedigreed and not so well connected. And they are just the more obvious examples. In the meantime, the poorer, humbly pedigreed and poorly connected folks must make vigilantly sure that their manners are impeccable (no matter how brilliant or talented they are) when with their more fortunate brethren, if they want to keep whatever station they currently have.

But all this is not my point. My point is that, a Filipinized version of Pride and Prejudice can be so accurately and faithfully adapted even for modern Pinoy society. I mean, those jologs who lap up "Jewel in the Palace" and other imported mini-series enjoy them, no matter how sophisticated their plots are and no matter how subtle the dramatic acting; so, why shouldn't they go crazy over a Pinoy Pride and Prejudice? Well-written and well-adapted, it can provide a social mirror to our society, much better than the over-used comedy motifs and archetypes that Philippine TV is crawling with. And the ratings can go through the roof.

But maybe I am too optimistic. My wife used to hide her love for these sort of books and suppress the natural desire to discuss social issues when she was still here in the Philippines because Pinoys, in general, hate such tendencies. If I've heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times: "Masyado kang bookish" or "Masyado kang seryoso" (I wish I had a hundred pesos for every time I heard it—it would be enough to allow me to purchase my own condominium). So many Pinoys are so bent on finding something to laugh at that they would hear the same old stale variations of "wala kayo sa lolo ko" and think it is the funniest thing in the world (one reason why I like Michael V. over Dolphy and Vic Sotto any day—because he finds innovative jokes that are also subtle satires of Pinoy society. . . now, there's a wit!). Even in Australia, where she is now, where she can express her love of books without seeming to be "wierd" my wife would have to occassionally clam up when she is with expats from the Philippines.

In fact, the more I think of it, the less optimistic I become. When Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo were made into what I consider well-made mini-series, it never broke any ratings records. Not for lack of trying, but rather because of a deficiency of "connections" and "pedigree"—it was made by PTV 4 with a low budget, almost no promotion, and with no big-name stars like Vilma or Nora. Whereas a zany series like Full House or and even the infamous Meteor Garden became a part of pinoy pop culture (down to their ridiculous haircuts and misogynism) only because they were shown on the mega-networks. If a Pinoy Pride and Prejudice were to be produced in any network but GMA 7 or ABS-CBN 2, and not starring any of the big-names, I guess one shouldn't expect it to be successful, no matter how well-crafted.

Who would want to watch Pride and Prejudice? Mas nakaka-aliw to watch Dolphy do the nth variation of his stale joke, or see Vic cavorting around as if he's as young as his grown-up son, or view over-melodramatic pilit na tear-jerkers with over-acting "big name" actors yelling and crying all over the place. Thank God that the Koreans and Kiwis are much more sensible, and create stuff that we can import and enjoy. . . and hopefully inspire some of our young ones to someday reform our entertainment industry.

So. . . what has this to do with scuba diving? Well, those who content themselves to wade at the beach will only hope to see so much gray sand and other people. Only those scuba divers who dare and are willing to go deeper are granted with the privelege to gaze at wonders and come back with stories to tell.