MHO: Friendly and Shady

I have a cousin who married an American Citizen and lived there together with their child for more than a decade. When they decided to return to the Philippines for a two-week vacation, their schedule (as expected) was fully packed: few day trips to Boracay, Baguio and every inch of our province visiting our relatives. One of those trip is a day trip which includes ALL of the first degree cousins, the titas and titos. (Is there any official term you call somebody for being your 1st cousins offspring?). Long story short, the trip was lovely: nice view, nice lunch, nice weather, nice amenities, we did something new and we bought nice pasalubongs. But there is this little thing that stayed with me for all these months that passed by that I think should be pointed out and discussed upon.

The famous view which tourist flock of which is also the scene of this specific ‘crime’. (Tagaytay Picnic Grove, Tagaytay City, Cavite)

I have been to the first place we visited at least twice now and it has been a long time since the last one. Like most longstanding popular sloping tourist attractions, there are zip lines now that tourist can enjoy. My balikbayan cousin’s child wanted to try it on so we went near the platform area and queued in line. The zip line is actually quite popular with a mixed of local and foreign tourist. There are two, Slavic(?) speaking Caucasians queued who can be described as ‘pudgy’ (okay, of course they are a little taller than a typical Filipino, the man can be more accurately described as buff and the lady who is larger than him is the obese one #truth). When the lady foreigner hops in the zip line, you could see the guides snickering and talking in vernacular questioning about if the zipline can even ‘carry the load’. My tita, upon seeing that lady ‘decided to watch’ the whole thing with gusto as if expecting a disaster. When the zip did actually start, the other crowd and my tita decided to cheer (which aside from the kapamilyas of the other riders were noticeably absent before) and there are faint laughing sounds you could hear in the (mid altitude) air. When she returned, the guides then said once in vernacular “Kinaya” with a sense of triumph from his voice.

I actually felt sorry for the lady. Even if she can’t understand (in face value) what we are speaking; the snickers, the cheers and the faints of laughter are already enough clues for anybody to deduce that they are making fun of them. Body language is almost universally understood by anyone. Put yourself in her shoes for a minute you will know they are talking about you and you will not like it.

One of the things that our tourism campaign banks upon is the fact that our country is a friendly society as highlighted by a commercial which I frequently see in CNN. Yes, we are friendly but I also notice (as I’ve notice before) that we are also shady: throwing subtle digs whenever we see something we don’t like (just look at any social media). Another angle at play is that we have stereotypes of foreigners and yes, we will comment (verbally or otherwise) on it whenever we see it as well. The thing that for me makes it weird for me is that we are also ‘pikon’. Even the slightest unflattering thing or stereotyping that is pointed out will garner a universal dislike from us to the point of again stereotyping or saying unflattering things to the other race concerned.

How to end this? This might be one of those traits that is already so ingrained in our psyche, the only thing that will end this is for all of us to collectively decide to end it or to be imposed to us. We can however start small. I for example am not immune to thinking about certain stereotypes but I keep my mouth shut. I also try to not think of anything about certain group of people in any way. It is hard and I fail sometimes but it is a first step. If we want any progress then we should start within ourselves.


MHO: ‘Alyas Robin Hood’ and the Unoriginality Criticisms

Update (10/3/2016): I decided to delay the posting of this article and try to watch the pilot episode. Unfortunately this did not materialize for personal reasons but I searched online for a review and found this one from a reliable unbiased sourced (for this story).

In this edition of MHO, we will delve into the recent ‘Alyas Robin Hood’ controversy and we will touch upon the concept of originality or the perceived lack thereof in the Philippine Entertainment Industry.

I was about to write something in the vein of my first ‘My Humble Opinion’ when the internet-verse exploded on early September when Stephen Amell (Arrow lead actor) reacted about Alyas Robin Hood series that will air on GMA and the reactions and the hashtags that followed suit. (PS: I am contemplating on alternating between lighter topics like this one to the more serious ones on MHO.) Reading the comments section is an emotional roller coaster exercise but the most common thing that was being stated goes something like “the Philippine entertainment does not have any originality” and will go on to give examples like how ‘Captain Barbell,  2006 series’ has copied Smallville, ‘Encantadia’ remake has certain elements of ‘Game of Thrones’ thrown in and the endless comparisons of our daily dramas to those of every Latin Country-produced dramas.

Let this be stated already: this post is not about Mr. Amell’s comments. What I’m weary about is the constant throwing of the word originality in this discussion. Originality as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “the quality of being new and different in a good and appealing way”. I am not in any way a literary expert nor graduated in any related course but I have this hypothesis: It is very hard to come up with an original programming in this day and age where there are thousands of studios pumping out contents with much more writers with their creative minds. Through the years of watching TV, I always notice that shows can be broken down into the following narrative story-wise:  Genre, Sub-genre (if possible), Main plot, hook (trademark pending) and sub plots. To explain this further, observe the table below:

American Television Program CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS; 2000 – 2015) Criminal Minds            (CBS; 2005 – present)
Genre Procedural Drama Procedural Drama
Main plot Catching a suspect (usually) by an episode’s end Catching a suspect (usually) by episode’s end

Hook (its distinguishing gimmick)

Forensic Science Behavioral Science.
Sub plot (prominent ones that I recall)  CSI Grissom and CSI Sara romance. Agent Rossi unknowingly had a daughter with his ex-wife.

Now, the two programming at a quick glance seems identical: Two hour long dramas on the same network, trying to catch a criminal. What sets them apart and distinguishable from one another story wise is that they use different methods of catching criminals and of course the sub-plots.

Now applying this to the shows in question, yes both shows are inspired by the legend of Robin Hood (I mean look at the Green Arrow’s debut look back in the 40s). If ‘Alyas’ were really inspired by Robin Hood then we know that the main plot will revolve on the lead character stealing from the rich to give to those in need. Comparing that to Arrow’s plot from the first episode about righting the wrongdoings of his family (specifically his father). Since we know nothing about  Alyas’ subplot, we can never really claim that they are exactly copying Arrow story wise.

If I’m saying that there will always going to be literature somewhere that can be similar to a show, is there anything else a studio can do to differentiate them? Yes, and that is the aesthetics. When creating any programming, the aesthetic is an integral part of its production. Everything should be carefully crafted through the guidance of the creator’s vision and the script: Do they want to use sepia tones or gray tones for an action scene to be more dramatic? What’s the right background music to highlight a dramatic scene? Do the costumes really need to be expensive to match the wealthy earls in the 1920s or can they do it at a budget by employing other creative means? This matters to attract greater audiences which  (unbeknownst to themselves) are looking to find hints the show being realistic no matter how preposterous the stories are (Think ‘The Walking Dead’ and its gore content). The main reason that ‘No Other Woman’ was a success despite having a very tired concept of cheating is the combination of the writer’s memorable one-liners and the fact that the characters are affluent and not relying on cliche of one of the ladies is the ‘poor true love’ of the male protagonist.

This, in my opinion is where GMA and its production may have drop the ball a bit. Below are a collection of pictures that sums up my criticisms:

This sums up my thought on this topic (Screen caps collected from YouTube)

In the title card both shows have a somewhat blurry smoky background on it; the color schemes for ‘Alyas’ is mostly green with hints of violet which can be associated to another DC Property: Suicide Squad; Why there is an arrow which is prominently visible in Arrow’s title card; Both trailers’ aesthetic is dark with undertones of green (the ‘Alyas’ has an additional violet); The leads’ faces are shot and lighted so that they are indistinguishable to the audience. It didn’t help either that there are ‘fan creation’ artwork floating around that looks similar to Arrow posters. Sure if the two shows are inspired by Robin Hood the costume and the arrow can be inspired from it but the nighttime aesthetics and the title card of both shows makes me pause a bit and think.

There are personalities who are saying that the trailer posted on GMA Network YouTube Page is fifteen seconds long and wait for the show and then judge. That assessment is both right and wrong: Right in that trailers represents a very small fraction of the whole series and wrong because the same trailers are the audience’s first impressions’ which will dictate if they will watch it and in this case, if a lot of audiences are saying that it is a cheaper Arrow then it is concerning and if history is to be consulted, this will most likely flop (remember the Glee inspired Sarah G. series?).

These personalities are also criticizing commentors who ‘apologize’ to Amell on his FB post and claims that it is common practice here ‘to be inspired by foreign shows’. Looking in our industry’s huge output, they may have a point: there are instances of works of whether being copied / inspired / or paying homage to other sources. ‘Starzan’ may have gotten its roots on Tarzan; our local Batman & Robin movie are said to be homage to the 60’s version; ‘Gagamboy’ are said to be the local counterpart of Spiderman; ‘Darna’ is set to be based from Wonder Woman and many more. A large section of the vocal internet savvy Filipinos are craving for something more than just the ‘sampalans’, ‘ahasan’ and the formulaic comedic stuff we see in TV and movies. But the counteract to these vocal netizens are the ratings and box office returns of these kinds of local outputs. In the end, the entertainment industry is an industry: they need to earn and will not thread to other avenues when returns are not 100% guaranteed. For every ‘General Luna’ out there there are a lot more sadly who were flops.

So what do we think GMA are thinking/doing now? Well for one, they posted this proudly so the series will continue. A real scenario that I think occurred is that there are discussions and someone will review everything that is already written / produced and will try to tweak things here and adjust stuff there. They are now too deep in this to back out now. They can always rely on fan sectors who will surely watch it either by loyalty to the network and/or to the attached leads plus the audience sampling that will surely happen in at least the pilot episode.

How can we sum this up? First is that there are clamors for a different type of show than the norm as evident by the extensive amount of commentary from this controversy. Secondly, networks / studios should be extra careful during production as people will notice if you try to blatantly gather ideas from another source (whether it is true and not it does not matter and history is not the show’s side in most cases). To end this and be totally fair to them, GMA has been known to produce good shows like ‘Amaya’, ‘Encantadia’ 1.0 and ‘Indio’ plus ‘My Husband’s Lover’ which may not be original story wise but is considered a revolutionary local soap (which sadly limped at the end IMO). What I’m saying is be more inventive and encourage everyone (not just GMA but everybody within the industry) to strive for something out of the box. It may be 100% great results wise all the time, but no one will claim that you’re unoriginal.


My Humble Opinion: PH Election 2016

In this series of posts that will run throughout this blog, I will give my honest, critical and analytical opinions on certain hard hitting topics. In this inaugural installment, I will talk about this upcoming Elections in this country and what I’ve observed and my takeaways from it about the possible outcomes on the next few months. 

This year, we as a nation, will exercise one of our fundamental rights that were given to us to participate in every three years: Voting. But this time around it is very different from the two previous election that I have voted to. This post will try to dissect my observations this election cycle and try to dissect what might happen next.

Note: I must reiterate that this is not an endorsement of or for any candidates as this policy of not publicly supporting anybody is a personal thing of mine.

Whether due to the novelty of the first few elections worn off or that I am now more aware of the happenings, this election cycle to me seems different. As I watch television, listen to AM radio or read online, I notice a few things that are happening and I will try to give my reactions to it in details.

  • I have seen and heard comments that this election has very slim pickings. While I don’t necessarily 100% agree on that statement, I will say though that most of the prominent candidates do have an almost equal amount of positives and negatives in them (some have definitely higher negatives than positives in them based on who you ask). A certain commercial by a large-ish company here really captures this essence of the candidates having good and bad points for them (And they’ve used children!). I’m sure that somewhere out there is someone that seemed fit to be a government official but for now I think we shall buckle our seat belt as we will go into the next point which is…
  • A somewhat random but relevant observation of mine is that it is fascinating to me that both the Philippines and USA are having their presidential election in the same year and there are some parallels: It seemed like most people are disgruntled by the President who both generally run on a platform of hope. The second one it seems is that candidates seems to exchange petty tirades including comments on physical appearance and their sizes (?). Sure, we as a nation is not entirely unused to having dirty tirades to other opponents but this year have been exceptionally bad and somewhat downright ugly (And let’s not start on the supporters…that will be too long to discuss).
  • Vague platforms. Now this observation specifically targets national candidates. Every time there is debate or any other chance for them to speak at a national level, all I here are some grand plans to do this, to stop that but the substance on how that will happen are always vague or sometimes lacking for my liking. Some of their plans are already bordering on preposterous and they always seems to be making a point of not explaining it (To be totally fair, the second vice presidential debate did offer some glimpses into what they will do as VP so kudos to the private broadcaster for that unofficial debate).

Based on what I’ve written above, what could the future be like for this Republic (Again, I’m not going to mention the Candidate’s specific goals here).

  • We will have a “Minority President”. Now, if the surveys are to be believed, the winners of the top two positions will be declared by having being chosen by about 25% of the electorate. Today, almost all of their supporters are fiercely loyal to their candidates and I feel that the new leaders will not be able to dent that support even if they do their things right. They will just find the next opportunity to slam them or worst.
  • As proven by our current President, running on one or few platforms is not enough for us. I feel like Filipinos will easily be unsatisfied if their immediate or medium term problems will not be totally solved and that can cause chaos.

 This post might have seem pointing at negatives and while I already know that the art of politics is mostly dealing with negatives; I just hope that whoever wins, we as a nation, will at least try to be open minded and optimistic that the elected officials will do the right thing and I believe that by us thinking really, really hard about who we will vote and not be persuaded by other unnecessary factors is already a step in the right direction.