Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Weight, not wit

"Impressions," TV Times, 8-14 October 1978


I harbor quite ambivalent feelings toward Kaluskos Musmos that, in a sense, probably means it has distinct possibilities as a children's show. In fact, it is a children's show. It has the largest and cutest cast of children ever assembled for a local show: children acting, children hamming it up, children speaking major lines, children just being children. In this aspect, it is undeniably the only local children's show around.

Still, one must, I submit, distinguish between a children's television show and a television show produced for children. And it is here where my ambivalent feelings spring from. I have watched at least two episodes of Kaluskos Musmos in full. One had, for its major theme, the Maria Makiling legend; the other, the Olympic Games. In both, I applauded the appeal to the children's sense of imagination and fantasy, the conscious effort to instruct as painlessly as possible. I also liked the "Ay, Mali!" portion, which I consider particularly funny. And the theme song must be really catchy, or why should my two-and-a-half-year-old sing it as if she were to the melody born?

But much of the humor is still unadulterated corn, many of them recycled Gary Lising jokes I used to hear when I was still in school and very eager to attend those shows put up by students from the boys' school across the creek. Which is to admit I am that old. Which is also to admit that humor in local television, like local television itself, has hardly moved with the years. I have watched Gary Lising since his resurrection in the local entertainment scene. I have laughed heartily at some of his one-liners. But the humor in Kaluskos Musmos, especially in the Maria Makiling episode, often fell flat because it was too heavy, too forced. Perhaps keener attention to scripting and stricter processing of gas?

Then again, television for children must, I believe, contain one basic element: respect. Respect for the child. Respect for the child's world. If we must parody everything else, let us at least respect the figures and roles that give a child's world its own semblance of substance. At the risk of being labelled a traditional mother, I would like to see the teacher figure in Kaluskos Musmos given more authority and respect. As it is, she is weak and ineffectual, incapable of asserting authority, a discouraging and colorless personality, both funny and a little sad to watch. It is a cruel commentary on teachers, and I remember many of my own with affection and gratitude.

Part of my ambivalence toward Kaluskos Musmos may spring from the ambivalence within the show itself, reflecting the conflict between the adult irreverence of the show's production staff (and which I recognize and enjoy, irreverent soul that I am) and their adult responsibility to provide children with enjoyable instruction.

The show's production staff probably hopes their kind of humor will effectively bridge the conflict. Unfortunately, humor--when forced to do a job rather than flow freely--assumes more weight than wit.

Precisely what is happening to Kaluskos Musmos.
Almost in pain, we watched Hilda Koronel's face writhe in awkward anticipation of the tears that had to be summoned. It was the only time we were to see her cry in that second and final part of her episode on Mga Kuwento ng Pag-ibig. But why, indeed, must Hilda Koronel's face--already so intense and pure in repose--be made to contort and shed tears when, without tears, with only a glance, she can already convey all the melancholy in the world?

It is not, perhaps, the fault of the people behind Mga Kuwento ng Pag-ibig. Somebody who writes scripts for TV dramas was in the office last week and he was telling us that Filipino televiewers want--in fact, demand--all the rituals to their sorrow, down to the last sigh, the last tear, the last scream, the last drop of blood, the last breath.

Is it really an essential part of the Filipino psyche--this lust for scooping out our actors' guts to the final spoonful? Do we really want madness pounded to absolute craziness, wound bleeding to death, wretchedness pulverized to complete nothingness? All in front of us, on the screen, visually? Do we really prefer overstatement to understatement, emotional largesse to artistic control? Would we really rather destroy the poetry and rhythm of a good script in order to feed our hunger for the sight of blood oozing out of everybody else's guts?

And why? Now, this should be a good subject for a rainy-day column.

-- NBT

No title in original published column

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