Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Bebigerls: Misguided Glorification

.:Finally, I Chime In:.

If they are free to blog and write the way they wish, then I believe I should be free to wonder about them in this manner as well.

A few weeks after the Bebigerls issue has somewhat died down, I've decided to mull things over and talk about it, now that hopefully, nobody would care that I talk about them.

For the sake of disclosure, I am an intellectual elitist, and I am unapologetic for it. I communicate my thoughts as clearly as I could, and if for some reason, I cannot express myself in English, hindi ako mag-aatubiling Tagalugin na lang ang gusto kong sabihin.

Initially, when I saw the site, and its declarations of "straightforwardness to the point of rudiness", I must admit that the grammar Nazi in me laughed and cried at the same time. It's the way I am. I find horrible grammar and spelling (In both languages.) funny and depressing at the same time. As a former English teacher, I couldn't help but facepalm, to be honest. I understand how horrible this may come off to people reading this right now, but I was brought up to respect language. If you intend to speak a language or write in a language, my implicit expectation is that you do it competently, at the very least.

So yeah, we had our lulz, and we chuckled at their poor grasp of English and even their poor grasp of the Filipino language, but a deeper trend that I noticed in them compelled me to write this post, and that's what I'd rather talk about, because as they said, "our English sucks, but the hell we care!" It doesn't really mean anything to them, and insulting them further will make me lose the point I wanted to bring up here...

.:A Trend That Bears Watching:.

In the 80's, moral guardians were upset with a lot of things in the local film industry. Sure, we had the requisite "ST" (Sex Trip) films that alarmed moral guardians, but for once, they were also disturbed by the action films that were being offered by the major movie producers. With films like "Baby Ama", "Alyas Pogi", "Bad Boy", and so forth, it seemed to be the case that these action films were glorifying the lives of criminals. Some of these so-called biopics were really just excuses for a shoot 'em up, but what moral guardians found alarming was the "bida" of a lot of 80's action films was not a hero at all, but in fact, an anti-hero. Ironically, this is one time where we were way ahead of the curve, as it took the 90's for America to realize how "cool" anti-heroes are.

Anyways, I digress. In the 80's, films about the life stories of certain criminals became the norm, and they were lionized in the eyes of the public. It communicated the wrong values to viewers, especially if somehow, an impressionable kid got to watch the film (Most of these films were PG-15, if I'm not mistaken.). The reasoning was apparent: these movies made it cool to be a criminal. As long as you have a heart, as long as deep down, you're a good person, your crimes don't matter.

But wasn't it Batman who said, "It's not who you are inside, but what you do that defines you?"

.:The Dealbreaker:.

I am not a moral guardian. Despite being an ethicist, I do not seek to impose my standards upon others if they are not within my circle of influence. In fact, for the most part, as long as they do not impose their own behavior upon me, even within my own circle, I tend to live and let live.

I do not subscribe to the Jack Thompsonesque way of thinking: blaming anything but a person for their own actions, using media, video games, or any other factors. Responsibility cannot be ignored, and these outside factors don't necessarily affect people all the time.

But that they are capable of affecting certain people given certain circumstances cannot be denied. It is not my intention to rail against these factors, but it is my intention to analyze how this has led to a way of thinking that I found alarming when I read the Bebigerls blog. It is a way of thinking that is alarmingly becoming more commonplace, when you look at it.

Like the criminal biopics in the 80's, people now find that it's cool to be a "bitch", or to be a "slut", or to be any other derogatory term they label to themselves. I'm not immune to this. I, for example, take pride in being a "jack@$$" sometimes, particularly when I find myself embroiled in an argument. I'd like to think that it's not my defining trait, though. I can be a jack@$$ at times, but I'm known more for telling it like it is, and if that entails being a jack@$$, then so be it.

So I hope you understand my consternation when I see people calling themselves "sluts' and being proud of it. I don't intend to change them. I just think there are better things to aspire for than to be known as a "slut" or a "bitch" or a "prick", for that matter.

I won't pass judgment on the quality of people the Bebigerls are. For all I know, they might be great human beings deep inside. But it is what they do that defines them, not who they are deep inside, and if their tag cloud is any indication, then there is a disturbing emphasis on "kalandian". They are defined online as a bunch of people who want to be known as "Devil Bloggers". It boggles the mind.

I don't get it. Since when have people found these things worthy of aspiring for? How is this becoming a goal in and by itself instead of a mere side effect of a quirk of your personality? Even the 80's films took the pains to emphasize that even the most hardened criminal wants nothing but to have a simple life and to be loved by someone, as incredulous as that may seem. Fame is a shallow but understandable goal. Fortune is a perfectly understandable goal. But this? Why?

I try to understand where this kind of thinking comes from. I try to contemplate how a human person's function of excellence could possibly be by being a "bitch" or a "prick". Aristotle didn't call it a higher value that the human person aspires to, but merely the fulfillment of his function. To excel, to flourish, to be eudaimon, is a goal that may take many different forms, but is ultimately a worthwhile course of action. Attaching labels like these to yourself and making it your defining characteristic is far from it.

Was this a product of upbringing? Was this a product of an internet culture that finds fans for even the least laudable causes? I'm not a sociologist who can look at the bigger picture and see what factors could possibly lead to this kind of a net culture. Do they recognize this about themselves? Or is self-awareness too much to ask for?

I am not here to tell the Bebigerls that they're wrong, or that their English sucks. Been there, done that, and doesn't help them one bit. What I am doing here is trying to understand how our culture has gotten to the point where such shallowness and triviality has become pursuits for people to aspire for. To me, this is ultimately a pursuit for understanding.

Your life, your rules. It's easy to say that there's more to you than this, but when this is all you show for public consumption, does it not make sense to feel a tad concerned?

What do you think? Is this really a trend? Or just an isolated case?


Laya said...

It's a trend. If you've browsed friendster profiles, especially those belonging to teens, you'll notice the prevalence of this attitude.

Kel Fabie said...

@Laya, which does lead one to ask... why? Why is this becoming a trend? Saying "mass media" is taking the easy way out.

Nino Gonzales said...

I saw this post, plus another one, which piqued similar interests of mine, so apologies for the copy-paste comments on both blogs.

Apologies as well for the long nerdy post. I have been studying this for five years, and this is basically all I post about.

(This reminds me of that quip that Americans always start with a joke and Asian always start with apology... anyhow...)

What I'm really surprised at is your surprise on the language of Bebigerls (mr vader) and the crassness of of iFM (indoloent indio). It reminds me of what a mainstream columnist wrote about Edsa Tres: “Isn’t it amazing that in this day and age there still exist undiscovered islands in our archipelago? In early May we discovered one such island: a colony of smelly, boisterous and angry people. They are the poor among us.”

The columnist, perhaps like you, lived in an environment that laid the ground for this surprise. These people have been living beside you all your lives, but Manila, being what it is, prevented you from getting in real contact with them. It is only because of a disruption of normalcy—a “revolution” and the information revolution—that you are brought face-to-face with them. The forces behind Edsa Tres brought the great unwashed (who have always been there) to the consciousness of educated Manila, exemplified by our columnist; and the internet brought the Bebigerls (who have always been there) to educated online Manila. (If your surprise is a misreading on my part, these guys certainly are surprised:

The Bebigerls are perfect examples of kids who grew up in the poorer (but not dirt poor) areas of Manila, who studied in third- or fourth-tier highschools, and who provide the livelihood for all those artistas that make you cringe by the mere mention of their names. Back in the less enlightened pre-internet days, people bunched them into an anonymous stereotype: bakya, jologs, etc. Those labels were sort of a symptom of the lack of real connection between the labeled and the labeler. Ask yourself: have you ever had a friend who is an April Boy Regino fan in a totally sincere and non-ironic way?

If you had at least one, then you would have been prepared for their seeming glorification of what you consider bad (eg, kalandian). The text in their sidebar (as of this writing) gives you a key to their stance as they come face-to-face with you: “Maari dito magtagalog kasi bawal ang mga pakonyo konyo dito, pero maari pa rin mag-english kung gusto niyo huwag lang masyadong konyo.” Who else is this aimed at except Tagalog-speaking online citizens whose primary online language is English (that includes me and you guys). They are not shooing-off (bawal dito) English-speakers; they are shooing-off the “konyo,” whose identifying characteristic, in their POV, is good English. With konyo, they have likewise created an anonymous Other, an abstraction of their superficial contacts with your side of Manila.

to be continued (it turns out that blogger only accepts comments with less than 4,097 characters...)

Nino Gonzales said...

With their crassness, they are raising a figurative middle-finger at you. In their dealings with the more polite, more educated side of Manila, they have learned that this gets into your nerves, and the fuss around their crassness confirms this. Kalandian, I suspect, also has a (perhaps ironic) meaning among what seems to be the world of former fans of the Sex Bomb Girls, in the same way LOLcats and “interwebs” has in the world of the blogosphere. If you had a friend from their world, the humor of “kalandian” would not have been lost to you. It is the same humor that iFM appeals to with its tagline, “kajerjer,” as reported by indio. Being Cebuano, I can authoritatively say that the best English translation of this is “f**k-buddy” (the ** tells you something about my own values). This is typical lowbrow humor. GMA: of one heart. ABS: family. iFM: f**k-buddy. The undeniably subversive fact that this is aired all over Manila must appeal to some sentiment of antagonism (in a typical non-confrontational Filipino way) among the predominantly first-generation-immigrant-Bisaya listeners of iFM.

Please don't think that I am accusing you of anything, because mine is a purely pedantic interest. This has nothing to do with morality.(I had to put that disclaimer because you both seem to be good egalitarian souls who practice preferential option for the poor, particularly indio, who says he's an Atenista). (That's not entirely true—I'm ALSO interested in this because I'm trying to make sense of my experience here in Manila—the experience of being an outsider and insider to the different worlds here. But still, that still has nothing to do with good or evil.)

The most interesting question here is not really who or what is evil. The most interesting question is WHY this thing is happening in Manila. My interest has led me to explore this question in the past few years. Let me copy here my post to a thread in PEx entitled “why ba may conyo?” (

Hello, uberman and PEX folks. I don’t know if you were seriously looking for an answer when you posed this question, so I’m not sure if it is appropriate for me to try to answer this seriously (perhaps my excuse is that the act of taking seriously such a frivolous topic is in itself a joke… in any case…)

I’ve been contemplating about this question for years, ever since I moved to Manila. A few months ago, I wrote an essay entitled “The Conyos of Manila.” It’s more than 2,500 words. But it essentially proposes the following ideas:
1. The social construct of “conyo” had racist origins but changes in the demographic landscape in Manila made it evolve into a (mostly) class-based stereotype (see Carlos Celdran’s essay on the decline of the Spanish mestizos of Manila: )
2. The model of Manilenyo society is “Intramuros,” which is to say, one’s status is defined by being “in” or “out” of a multitude of barriers. Gated communities and the VIP room of Embassy are just reincarnations of Intramuros.
3. Conyo-speak is merely a manifestation of being “in” certain barriers, thus signaling a certain status. It’s a universal phenomenon:
4. The Manilenyo’s ideas (including aspirations and insecurities) about race, exclusivity and status are useful for marketing folks to understand, so they could sell products better (eg, connecting whiteness to popularity or exclusiveness to prestige.)

I have also been asking what the origins of this social phenomenon are. Years ago I actually did a “study.” It is actually about the “Jologs Phenomenon.” But they are just two sides of the same coin. The origins of the jologs is the same as the origins of the conyo. Here’s the “study”:

to be continued...

Nino Gonzales said...

It has three main theories on the origins of Jologs (or conyos)
1. Large concentrations of people promotes “outgroups” and stereotypes like jologs (or conyos). Manila is a very large concentration of people.
2. Immigration. The jologs are the sons or daughters of the bakya. They have been urbanized but they are still “out.” I would also argue that the conyos are also an outgroup (although a prestigious one). WWII decimated the population of Manila. So everyone is practically an immigrant (how many people do you know who’s family have stayed in Manila for more than 3 generations?) The “newness” of families means that one connection that spans across class barriers is absent, thus making the creation of “outgroups” more likely.
3. Manila is a hierarchical society (it shows this with an examination of the language and the history of Manila). This is also supported by the Intramuros argument above.

This brings us to a similar meme that appeared more or less at the same time as Bebigerls: Helium Club

The central idea which opens up our understanding of Bebigerls and them you, is that stereotypes like “konyo” or “jologs” are abstractions from encounters with a certain “class” of individuals. The creation of an outgroup is a collective agreement on what characteristics define a class of individuals. Helium Club is an expression of the creator's idea of the “Manila upper-class.” That many people thought this was phony shows that there has been a failure either in the conception of the idea of “Manila upper-class” or in its execution. Either the creator's idea of Manila high society is not shared with a lot of people, or he just failed in properly delivering that idea.

Interestingly, his idea of high-society also involves a lot of kalandian (in a wholeheartedly un-facetious, un-ironic way). Brian Gorrell, Bryanboy and Gossip Girl has undoubtedly contributed to this idea. Perhaps the creator's own encounters with people he considers upper-class reaffirms this.

I think Gossip Girl, Orange County and The Hills work in the US because their world is so big that a representation of the New York and California young high-society is met by agreement (that that is really the world of high-society) by a large majority of the American audience vs. the minuscule number who think they really know what high-society is. This is practically impossible in Manila, where authenticity will easily be questioned, and where there are real encounters with the “konyo” that will evoke some feelings of antagonism on many viewers (remember Lip Gloss?). The most cutting remark about the show, I think, is from Star columnist Paolo Lorenzana, who probably has a better idea what an acceptable representation of high-society would look like:

It’s the right attitude to have in an online arena where absolutely nothing is sacred. Where a middle class kid “fascinated with the upper class” can go ahead and churn a web series out with the birthday cash his mom gave him, using Facebook to promote it.

That's cutting the creator where Lorenzana thinks he belongs: the middle-class. Again, I am absolutely amoral here. I don't think there's any good and evil in what we are discussing, in the aspect we are discussing. What I'm really interested in is who will be the first to represent Manila high-society in a way which is generally accepted, and how the upper-class characters would look like. Because both the failures and the success of that representation gives one a lot of insights on the beautifully complex world of Manila.

Btw, congrats with the winning the bloggie (shouldn't we invent a shorter name for "Philippine Blog Awards Award"?)

Kel Fabie said...

Thanks for the long but insightful comments, Nino. It goes a long way into understanding this phenomenon better.