Thursday, August 4, 2011
A Theory On The Christopher Lao Phenomenon
By now, this video must have made it to your radar - it's going viral in YouTube and all the social networking sites. (The video above is courtesy of http://www.wheninmanila.com/, which was shown last night on the evening news program of local station GMA 7.)
Let's break it down.
Christopher Lao (the driver of the car) goes along Mother Ignacia Avenue in Quezon City, which is one of the areas perennially flooded (in some portions) owing to the up-and-down terrain. (I've lived in Quezon City for more than half of my life, so this is something I know firsthand.) Inexplicably, he drives his car into the flooded area, and suffers the soggy consequence.
Upon getting out of the floodwaters, he is interviewed by Jun Veneracion of Channel 7. (Admittedly, not the very best time to be having one, but I guess Mr. Veneracion knows a story when one, er, floats by.) Mr. Lao proceeds to lambast certain public departments for not "informing" him of how deep the waters were, insisting that there should have been blockades set up to prevent people from going in to the waters further.
When the reporter makes the (obvious) point that no one was going into the area, Mr. Lao then begins to repeat his "no one informed me! I should have been informed!" line.
Which set off a firestorm in all social media.
Many Facebook pages are being set up to commemorate this "event", with less than flattering descriptions of what transpired. Twitter is all abuzz with comments about IQ levels. People have dug up Mr. Lao's academic record (Reportedly, he is a UP - University of the Philippines - graduate with the highest of honors in academic excellence and is a law student in the same university. This was confirmed because one of his teachers at UP Law defended him online. See http://www.gmanews.tv/story/228346/nation/ex-up-law-dean-defends-student-who-drove-car-in-qc-flood.) When you read through people's comments, you get the feeling that this is a combination of a comedy show with a lynch mob and a disaster.
That's because that's what this really is. I learned this in Literature class freshman year, in, yes, UP also. The term my professor used for how people are now reacting to Mr. Lao was schadenfreude.
Here is how Merriam-Webster defines it: "enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others." (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/schadenfreude) It is German in origin, from the words schaden (damage) and freude (joy).
And, Mr. Lao, if you're seeing all these comments and reactions, you are witnessing it firsthand.
It certainly doesn't help that Mr. Lao came off as a rich, spoiled brat, incapable of taking responsibility for his actions. In this country, having a car automatically defines you as being "better off", so that's another item against him. Then the level of indignation that he exhibited, blaming everyone else around him - he even included Mr. Veneracion in his tirade - well, it suddenly became a gloves-are-off situation. The fact that he was educated at the country's top university makes the schadenfreude cake that much sweeter. (To quote my favorite character in Will And Grace, Karen Walker: "This is so rich, it's GOT to be fattening!")
It's human nature, and it always will be. That's because deep down, in the recesses and in the corners of our minds where we aren't supposed to linger, we really are jealous of other people's successes. We don't need a constant reminder of how someone is doing so well. As I mentioned in a previous post, in this country, what's on the surface is what counts the most. So those who have it made show it off as ostentatiously as they can. And those who hate those same facts must hide their envy with the most dazzling of smiles and pearly whites. (http://theguywithablog.blogspot.com/2011/07/wisteria-lane-philippines.html)
Vicariously, this incident just mirrors how we all feel: finally, someone who represents "having it all" stumbles. And in full view, on national TV.
Netizens have been busy making commentaries on how "lawyer-esque" it was of him to try to blame everyone when he should have used his head and not proceeded on his route. Or how arrogant he was to react the way he did, expecting someone to "inform" him that the road was not passable. There have been many "posters" in FaceBook, all for the purpose of "informing" Mr. Lao what not to do and where not to go/pass. And you can't pass by any of the commentaries without seeing the word "stupid" at least a million times.
In truth, any one of us could have done the same mistake he made. I am not defending him, or the way he reacted - that is something he has to defend alone. But we all do silly things because we weren't entirely focused on the task at hand - I've personally left my keys at the dining table and gotten to the parking lot before realizing I have to go all the way back for them. How many of us have "chanced" not bringing an umbrella on the probability that "it won't rain, it's just makulimlim (overcast)"? Or because we insist on using our cellular phones while driving, we end up in a ditch (or close to being in one)?
But the combination of Mr. Lao's mistake, coupled with his apparent arrogance and propensity to blame anyone but himself, the disclosure of his highly regarded academic record, and the appearance of coming from a well-to-do family (his Chinese lineage and name only fuels this some more, as most Chinese families are seen as financially successful in this country) makes this the perfect brew for a schadenfreude picture perfect moment.
Hey, if we seem to be relishing in his misfortune and how he is now being treated in public fora, that's perfectly acceptable because it's only human nature, right?