Sunday, February 22, 2015


KAMAGAYAN, the most plebeian of Cebu’s red light districts, is little known for one virtue: generosity.

Former colleagues washed away the day’s tedium and stress by ending up in the darkened alleys, engaged in one of the oldest forms of human intercourse: talk.

I don’t know how the pimps worked it out but the girls sat down with our boys during what should have been peak hours of the street trade. I’ve heard of the short stories and poems, even the outlines of a novella, emerging from all that street intercourse. If you can guess how media workers slog through some days, you would be impressed by that fecundity.

Kamagayan is not just generous with nocturnal seekers. When I recently had to print a manuscript, I went to a one-printer outfit that charged half the rate asked by Internet cafes. I turned up early. There was one customer: a young woman wanting to print photos from Facebook.

Waiting for my turn, I noticed all the images in that tiny space: digital poses of the girl on Facebook, the flesh-and-blood version bending over the keyboard, her short, tight dress riding high at the back each time she fussed with her digital images, the computer wallpaper that was a crazy quilt of photos pairing the male operator with a plethora of girls.
When the young woman finally chose a portrait of herself, I silently applauded. Underneath the makeup her thin face was sloughing off in the morning light, she might have been in senior high school.
But it was as a pro that she conversed with the men and the ladies working for the money changer. After clinically dissecting the foreigner who left her side that morning, they moved on to her prospects of finding another tourist bursting with pension-fueled fantasies (“my happiness will only be with a Filipino”).
Meanwhile, since this Filipino knight remained scarce, she was on Facebook. When the coeds showed up with their USBs, the young woman left, saying the students’ homework was “more important” than her photos.

For the next hour or so, while the students and I waited for our works to be printed, the computer screen was just full of text. Unless you’re in the academe or the media, words have little value.

Images are different; nearly everyone trades now with this currency. When the first plane plowed into the first tower on 9/11, terrorism plucked out a weapon straight from the movies: great visuals trump words every time. The quickest way to push a grievance is to have a “death video” on social media: Islamic State (IS) militants with their ritual beheadings; Netizens uploading and sharing the Mamasapano execution video.

Images have little “deniability”. Yet, is there anything more slippery than an image? Caricatures were viewed as artistic license, part of freedom of expression, by cartoonists meeting on Jan. 7 at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. The same cartoons lampooning Muhammad was tantamount to the artists’ death sentence at the hands of Islamic extremists. Who’s to say what the message is, just by looking at the image?

We are new age Neanderthals, sitting in the dark caves of social media and raising our stick drawings into the high art of oversimplification. Or we could listen to each other, engage in what distinguishes the human: intercourse.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s February 22, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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