Saturday, November 15, 2014

The other soap

WHY do happily married women follow the TV lives of unhappy wives?

My sister and I often start and end our day commiserating with Yvonne and bashing Victor. Yvonne and Victor are the Guevarras, not really our neighbors except by way of television and the internet.

In the television series, “Two Wives,” the Guevarras were happily married until Victor moves out and lives with Janine, unmarried but with a daughter. Since it started last October, the teleserye about awry domestic lives has also upset ours.

My sister works four days a week in Sydney, keeps house for a family of four, organizes her “free” days around cooking, cleaning, washing, marketing, driving her daughters and husband to appointments, and lately, spoonfeeding the family dog with a slipped disc. Yet, she finds time to follow the teleserye on the net or walks to her in-laws to catch the episodes on cable TV.

My husband comes home earlier so he can eat dinner before the drama starts. (I always thought he came home late so he would be too tired to analyze my meals.) When he couldn’t escape the Guevarras, he switched off the TV set twice and placed it once on mute. Even from the sanctuary of our room, he complains he can still hear me hiss at Victor or roll my eyes at Janine.

When I retorted that one had to imagine the sound made by a pair of rolling eyes, he said I was up to this feat because I could muster fake sympathy for fake characters driven purely by a TV formula for making money.

According to the late Emil Rizada Jr., a pioneer in Cebuano radio dramas as “Sebyo the Boy Wonder,” soap operas began as continuous radio programs sponsored by multinational soap companies. Since its real purpose was to sell soap, the radio soap opera then was written for women.

Today’s women have more on their mind than soap, but TV serials seemingly still appeal to a predominantly female audience. Given the power of the soap opera format—one proof being that TV networks will invest in local productions rather than feature only foreign imports—cannot audiences demand better scripts and empowering messages?

The character of the feckless, faithless husband is probably indispensable in a format that has to show the dichotomy of good and bad within half of the allotted hour (commercials, like villains, being necessary evils in mass entertainment).

But why the depressing overpopulation of spineless females in soaplandia?

A recent episode in “Two Wives” has Yvonne and her friends chipping in to buy her a bikini and a cover-up. The objective: wrest Victor from Janine. When a friend questions this tactic (of course, Yvonne is deaf to the bellows of enraged wives from all over the world and the blogosphere), the “good wife” explains that she has to win back her husband for the survival of their son.

Why toy with the power of the subliminal message? After the writers and director put her up on the pedestal as the blameless victim, Yvonne resolves to get back “her man,” the same lowlife who sexually, emotionally and financially abandoned her and their son.

If the same network producing “Two Wives” can include “relationship experts” in a reality show involving real couples, why cannot they conjure up a social worker to help Yvonne with the Battered Woman Syndrome, which keeps the victim in thrall of her abuser, even at risk of death?

If my sister and I could rewrite the teleserye, we would entitle this, “Solo parents”. It will be about coping: how Janine tells her daughter why she is unmarried (much simpler and saner than paying a man to stand in as the father); how Yvonne and Victor assure their son that although they’ve ceased to become a couple, they remain parents to him (don’t lie to children or assume they are not as intelligent and sensitive as you); and how Yvonne finds work, gets government aid, starts an enterprise, or goes back to school (sleeping with the enemy is not the only option left for those going solo).

In the early days, radio could make listeners believe anything. Noy Emil told me he met radio fans who could not believe the young man he was then was Sebyo the wonder boy.

If the teleserye dignified women, I, too, would become a believer.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu's November 16, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, "Matamata"

Sunday, November 09, 2014

The fallen

HOW many fell?

In Oscar C. Pineda’s Nov. 5 report in Sun.Star Cebu, there is a detailed list of the trees felled to clear space for a P67-million sports oval in Naga City.

Cut down were 15 agoho, 12 mahogany, five neem and two narra trees.

The report quoted Eddie Llamedo, spokesperson of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

What sinks like a stone in the Sun.Star Cebu report is not the destruction of 43 trees. It is not even the same fate ordained for the 45 trees remaining at the Naga City Central School.

It is the realization that only a handful witnessed the passing of the trees. Would a student of Naga City Central School notice the missing trees and remember their names?

Two of the witnesses were there for the job. Llamedo’s is to document the process started after the DENR issued a cutting permit to the Naga City Government.

Pineda is another chronicler. The veteran journalist covered countless stories, at least a dozen of which must be more exciting than the death of “heavily leaning and sick trees,” as described by Naga Environment Officer Obdulla Lescano.

Yet, in the fifth paragraph of Pineda’s account, there is a roll call, a tolling of the names of trees that ceased to be part of our world last Nov. 4.

We keep a tradition of calling out names. At the start or end of class, a teacher calls the roll to determine who is present or absent. In prison yards, calling aloud names exposes who escaped.

According to the wisegeek, honorary roll calls list those who made their mark through distinction or death. In military tradition, a soldier steps forward upon hearing one’s name and submits to his superior’s inspection.

Why do we make a roll call of trees? Because we cut them.

The Aborigines of Australia pass from generation to generation the Songlines, sung by their ancestors as they crisscrossed the land, naming all the animals, trees, rocks, streams and feature they came across.

Bruce Chatwin wrote about this “earthbound philosophy” in his book, “The Songlines”: “The Aboriginals were a people who trod lightly over the earth; and the less they took from the earth, the less they had to give in return.”

In their version of Genesis, the story of creation, the Dreamtime narrates how man and all species came from clay. A clan took as its totem a species; for instance, a man from the Wallaby clan believed he descended from a universal Wallaby Father, who begat all Wallaby men and living Wallabies.

Related to all Wallabies, human and animal, a man with a Wallaby Dreaming found his way across Australia by singing the Wallaby Dreaming-tracks, “a trail of words and musical notes” scattered all over the land and serving as “ways of communication between the most far-flung tribes”. A traveler took only what he needed for survival; to “scar” the earth was to dishonor the Earth Mother.

After the Land Rights Act gave the Aborigines the title to their ancestral land, any project that potentially “wounds” the earth, such as construction of a railway, requires consultation with Aboriginal owners to avoid destroying a sacred site and severing a Dreaming-track.

Chatwin interviewed sources that said the law was noble but “rash”. From the viewpoint of Aborigines, the “whole of bloody Australia’s a sacred site”. It is easier to “visualize the Songlines as a spaghetti of Iliads and Odysseys, writhing this way and that” than to convince surveyors that “a heap of boulders were the eggs of the Rainbow Snake” or that a “featureless stretch of gravel was the musical equivalent of Beethoven’s Opus III”.

Critics say that respecting the Dreamtime is hallucinating that Australia can return to the days of hunting and gathering. Advocates say that at the root of the law is respect for the Aboriginals’ “most essential liberty: the liberty to remain poor or… the space in which to be poor if they wished to be poor.”

Should we be comforted that, instead of “singing the land back to the days of creation,” we routinely call the roll for our desecration: “15 agoho, 12 mahogany, five neem and two narra trees” down; 45 more trees to go; a P67-million sports oval in the future?

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu's November 9, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, "Matamata"

Monday, November 03, 2014

True horror

GOING home late, I took a second look at a neighbor’s gate. What I took at first to be a dangling head was a jack-o’-lantern in full regalia: corkscrews of spiraling cobweb and midnight-blue barrettes of bats.

You don’t have to be a kid to smell it in the air: first, Hallowe’en, then Christmas and the Sinulog are just beyond the corner. When I was just this high, just anticipating the holidays was like giving myself a good hug.

Being older complicates the holidays. Christmas also brings in another level of stress, specially for victims of domestic violence. Social workers and advocates even have a name for it: “holiday domestic violence”.

In 2012, CBS News reported that the number of calls to the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline drops traditionally during Christmas because of the social pressure to keep a fa├žade in keeping with the holiday cheer for the benefit of family and friends.

A post on the FindLaw blog also pointed out that holiday stress makes couples flare up more than usual, leading to confrontations. A FindLaw post written by Andrew Lu lists down tips for preventing or escaping from a violent confrontation.

Some confrontations are overdue, though. One wife informed the bosses about her husband’s infidelity. The reason for coming out into the open: long deprived of his financial help in raising their children, she wanted to make sure that his Christmas bonus and other yearend incentives won’t also be going to the mistress.

Some who were privy to the case were harsh in their judgment—of the wife. Mostly men, they said it was imprudent of her to “rat” on him. After all, he could be suspended. Their family would lose more if he lost his bosses’ favor or became the butt of gossip during the office Christmas party. Her husband’s “straying” should be an opportunity for her to be “more Christian,” not “vindictive,” specially for the children’s sake.

Not too long after the wife reported her husband, he became the subject of a customer’s complaint on a serious breach of ethics and professionalism. Looking back, the red flags were up in this case: a mistress, financial abandonment of the children. So why did she wait until the holidays to speak out against the abusive husband? It might have alerted the bosses and prevented the husband from committing one wrongdoing after another.

Later, I learned that the husband had been involved in a previous affair. She endured their union and even had more children after the first infidelity. So it took deep reserves of courage for her to out her husband after he became unfaithful again.

According to the Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS), serious abuse leads to a mental disorder. Victims acquire a coping mechanism called “learned helplessness”. This condition paralyzes victims, prevents them from seeking help, and even absolves the abuser for their “punishment”. Many victims suffering BWS believe that the abuser will eventually realize their mistake and love them back.

Based on domestic violence online resources, it is in the “honeymoon” stage when the victim pardons the abuser and rationalizes the violence. The cycle of abuse continues.

Like the wife who complained about her philandering husband to his bosses, Josefina Tallado broke the cycle by speaking out about her fear of her husband, Camarines Norte Gov. Edgardo Tallado. She left him after he reportedly confronted her over uploaded photos showing the governor intimate with a woman alleged to be his mistress.

Facebook and the rest of social media have become the court of last resort for some seeking swift “justice”. Yet, for victims of domestic violence, specially those suffering from BWS, the online portal can easily worsen abuse.

If we know of anyone who is battered emotionally, sexually, physically, financially or otherwise, we should direct them to the authorities, who can issue a restraining order to prevent an abuser from threatening or harming the victim, and non-government organizations that will sustain them in the long road towards recovery and self-reliance. Family law attorneys counsel victims about their rights and legal remedies.

For the rest of us, our greatest usefulness to victims of domestic abuse rests on our capacity to listen and suspend disbelief. Disbelief that the holidays can be the worst times for others. Disbelief that the “more Christian” act is to escape from your abuser and get justice for yourself and your children.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s November 2, 2014 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column