Monday, October 23, 2006

Wanted: Many kinds of madness

"Impressions," TV Times, 6-12 November 1977


Decapitated or intact, the stories on our local TV drama series are close kin to travesty. Their pretense of seriousness is often empty of either substance or depth, and empty stories are at best ignored. How much longer can we take this? That crude tone of fable through the fiction, never really honed, is beginning to rankle to the point of disbelief or, worse, disgust.

Here are the all-too-familiar themes: love, suffering, love, suffering, love, suffering. Were we not brought up on precisely that stuff, from the days of radio soap to the nights of TV sob? Witness the storylines I caught during two weeks of viewing local television dramas.

The daughter of a jeepney driver gets raped by the operator of the vehicle her father drives and, in the ensuing marriage, is unable to find real love and understanding from husband, father, or friend. A street-corner bum brings his mistress home to wife and baby; the wife suffers in silence until, goaded to the limit, she kills her husband. Orphans maltreated by the aunt under whose care they were left by their parents suffer quietly until concerned neighbors decide to take a hand.

The ongoing local soap offers the same formula. Will Luisa ever gain the affection of her mother-in-law, retain the love of her youthful husband, and find true happiness? Abangan! in next week's installment of TV's local tear-filled blahs.

The frequency with which these same themes--and the stories woven around them-- make it to the small screen is truly annoying. There must be other themes that make the world go round. There must be other basic relationships about which man and woman can agonize--if the Filipino must always and forever agonize. There must be other concerns to spice up even just one day in our lives, apart from the ubiquitous other woman and the simpering wife. Must we forever be fed with the pap of unrequited love, with crimes of passion, with extramarital affairs?

Every day, novels and short stories are being written and published all over the world about man, about what Saul Bellow, Nobel prizewinner for literature, described as "a kind of person, one who has lived through terrible strange things, and in whom there is an observable shrinkage of prejudices, a casting off of disappointing ideologies, an ability to live with many kinds of madness, an imminent desire for certain durable human goods--truth, for instance, or freedom, or wisdom."

This kind of person, formed by the unending cycle of universal crises that began with World War I, must surely reside too, even if only in a limited degree, in the Filipino. The Filipino psyche cannot remain chained to the primary concerns of a single insular existence, can surely aspire to that "diversity of existence" that springs, not only from his need for physical and emotional love, but even more extensively from his need for emotional, mental, and spiritual fulfillment. The Filipino, we are proud to think, has imagination and ambition enough to know prejudices and understand ideologies, to experience "many kinds of madness."

Surely, the world's literary treasures are open to Filipino scriptwriters to mine, to explore, to adapt to the Filipino setting. And is not the Filipino milieu itself rich with such materials, just waiting to be translated into scenarios for television dramas?

For a while, Lino Brocka had plans of tapping literary classics for occasional materials for his weekly dramatic series. Unfortunately, Lino Brocka Presents is no more. Katha, in the past, put on teleplays adapted from Palanca Prize-winning stories. But the series was unable to keep it up.

For a start, why don't producers think of a real honest-to-goodness Palanca series? If they have to use name stars to attract viewership, then do so. The important thing is to come up with dramatic stories that satisfy and last, stories that are veritable testimonies to the complexity of human experience, not to travesties of it.

-- NBT

No title in original published column

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