Sunday, September 16, 2012

Of Blind Items and Critics

Of Blind Items and Critics
by Francis Joseph A. Cruz

You eventually get used to it --- the hate, the fear, the derision, the awkward pleas for niceness, kindness and understanding from producers, directors, and performers prior to watching. The adverse repercussions of critiquing are absolutely not commensurate to its economic rewards, which are more often than not non-existent. However, you still do it. You do it for the same reasons the makers of the works you critique hopefully do it, for the love of it.

You then rationalize the negativity towards what you do. You start imagining yourself as a parasite whose art relies on other people’s art to exist. You start hearing stories of house and car mortgages funding productions, of workers who have mouths to feed who work for reduced rates, of producers-in-sheep’s-clothing demanding artistic compromises. You begin to understand the plight. You begin to believe the littleness of your efforts compared to theirs. You begin to grow a heart. It’s definitely not a heart that is forgiving of mediocrity, but a heart that would take the bullets of anger and frustration shot back by the artists who might get affected by your exercise of your right to free speech. You understand where they are coming from.

It was Alexis Tioseco who first noticed the importance of proper film journalism in the Philippines. In his essay in his blog post entitled “Journalism vs. Criticism,” he said that “as I’ve attempted to write criticism on a more frequent basis, I’ve come to realize the importance of good film journalism as a starting point on which film criticism can stand.” See, Filipino film-criticism, unlike the much-revered Filipino film industry which observers have been claiming to be in its extended deathbed for a couple of decades now, has seen many deaths prior to maturation. The reason for this is the wrong impression that the public, and more importantly those involved in film, as to what criticism is for.

In the Philippines, where artists are as sensitive and mercurial as the weather, criticism is only valid when it has a commercial purpose. Negative criticism is worthless. It is but an irritation, an itch the filmmakers can simply ignore or repel with vicious gusto. Negative criticism in the form of random discussions among friends whether online or offline is considered even more offensive, worthy of loathing. However, when the piece of criticism has a few phrases worthy of being extracted to become blurbs in posters or DVD covers, the critic becomes the heroic champion, the saviour’s aid to the ailing national cinema. Critics are either free P.R. machines or enemies who deserve to be told off for being hindrances to the cinema’s recovery.

The irony of it all is that while critics are being lambasted for exercising a constitutionally mandated right, there exists a twisted form of film journalism that abuses the right. In fact, it not only exists, it has become an indelible detail in present pop culture. The blind item skirts the responsibilities of real journalism by blurring the lines of fact and fiction with clever misrepresentation of certain details like the names of the personalities involved. It is cowardly, since the function of its cleverly crafted sense of mystery is more as a defence against criminal libel than actual artistry or creativity. Even more than that, the intent is really not to inflict positive change by exposing faults but to entertain the masses, and to quench their need for gossip. This practice is sadly within the realm of the country’s unevolved state of film journalism. It peddles the affairs or the reputations of stars, celebrities, and other entertainment personalities as pieces of puzzles to be unlocked.

There is a real problem when a culture responds more favorably towards such irresponsible journalism over honest criticism. In a way, it makes you wonder if the real reason for the poor state of film criticism in the country is because of Filipinos are generally oversensitive and thin-skinned. There is no way a country that celebrates blind items as perpetual participants in both its written and spoken culture is populated by oversensitive and thin-skinned citizens. When one takes pleasure in the ingenuity of a piece of blind item, one celebrates the cowardice of its crafting. And all for what, for the fleeting delight of having the perception of oneself being more morally upright, more intelligent, and better than the subject of the veiled libel?

Again, commercialism is at fault here. Blind items are sellable. Serious criticism is not, unless it becomes an unwarranted part of a specific P.R. campaign. The functions of both forms of writing have been molded to suit the demands of the status quo. Blind items have dumbed down the culture, reduced it to a cross-word puzzle whose prize is in the solving rather than in the knowing. Criticism, on the other hand, will remain marginalized and in the fringes of culture, at least, until it serves the market some favors. Like in our real society, the corrupt live in palaces, those who do it for the love live in bungalows.

(First published in Supreme, Philippine Star, 15 September 2012.)

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