Uncanny how an artificial environment like television reveals truths about our culture.
I saw three "talent shows" this past week, Pilipinas Got Talent, and Showtime, from ABS-CBN (Channel 2); and then, switching channels, I also caught Talentadong Pinoy, from ABC (Channel 5).
As the shows progressed, one common thread started to connect them all together - even across channels. And no, it's not the talent - that is debatable, which is why there are judges on the shows to weigh which ones are "worthy" of the cash prizes.
What was repeated over and over, was the propensity of all the contestants to make themselves pitiable (in the vernacular, kaawa-awa.)
One contestant had to stand in for his parents' deaths as the breadwinner, and performing magic tricks is what he does to put food on the table.
Another one, a female student, was "waitlisted" by the judges, so she informed the host that she was deciding whether to wait for the judges' decision or go to school for a function she was supposed to be present for, and then when the cameras are on her, declares with all conviction that the teachers will understand if she stays at the TV station. (Wink, wink.)
A group of young female gymnasts start crying on camera, declaring that they have no space to practice, and so they do it in a public area, where the concrete gives them sprains, bruises and cuts.
Then there's the mestiza ("mixed breed"), part-Pinay and part-African-American, who says her power in singing comes from the memories of all the racist remarks and acts she has had to endure until that very point in her life.
Everyone's got a sob story. Which is not to say I don't believe them, or that I am belittling them their "struggles" and "pains". What I find suspect is the timing.
They always give these teary-eyed melodramas either before they start to perform, or long before their scores are given, and the judges are still waiting to make up their minds. In this regard, I'm almost certain the shows' directors or writers are also to blame, most probably needling them for these same stories to make them more "human" and "interesting", equated as "triumphing over all struggles". Which the contestants are only too happy to oblige.
And this, I observe, is something ingrained in our culture.
When you see a traffic enforcer pulling over a motorist, there's always some sorry excuse given by the violator as to why s/he was forced to break the law. Whether it's buying medicines for an ailing relative, or rushing to an examination, there's no shortage of excuses as to why they should be allowed to go free.
My personal experience: In line for an international flight, a group of extremely late women tried barging in front of the lines for immigration, exclaiming loudly they would miss their flight, and that people "had" to give them way. Their flight was leaving around 7PM, and they were still in line at 6:45PM - obviously they have never heard of the three-hours-before-your-flight reuirement. Or, more plausible, they were just late. Period.
We (our travel group) were lined up for at least 45 minutes already, and when I was next to be served, the "leader" of the late group stood beside me, and with no introductions, suddenly twisted my hand to see what time I was leaving in my travel documents, and when she saw I had a good 2 hours before our flight, exclaimed - loudly again, not by coincidence - "Ang tagal mo pa naman pala, eh! Mamaya ka nalang, paunahin mo na kami, male-late na kami, oh! 7PM ang flight namin, eh!" ("Your flight isn't for now yet. Just line up later, let us go first, we'll be late! Our flight is 7PM!")
I replied - and to those of you who know me, this is no surprise - "That's not my problem. If your flight is 7PM, you're supposed to be at the airport at 4PM. Precisely because of all the procedures you have to undergo, like this line we're at, one of many. It's now 6:45PM, so obviously, it's your fault for being late. Line up. Go to the back of the line."
What followed was not pretty, involving airport police. (I get a smile everytime I remember that incident.)
But just like that uncouth woman at the airport, Pinoys love using the awa (pity) card, just to get ahead. Or to escape judgement or punishment. As long as it will bring us closer to the goal, everything's fair game in love and (the crying) war.
In the case of the contestants, it's used as an insurance policy: In case the judges aren't "sold" on the dog-and-pony show, they might be moved by the fact that I have 4 life threatening diseases and I'm still here performing for them. Or that video showing how I have to feed my 7 other siblings, that might clinch the 2 million pesos prize.
And before you pooh-pooh this as just mindless commentary about some TV shows, think again.
Didn't we just witness a former President - coincidentally - having to undergo major surgery, right when there was heated talk about finally being able to charge that President for anomalies that occured under that Presiden't adminstration?
Or how about those witnesses being called in for legislative and judicial hearings, who "suddenly" get heart attacks, or hot flashes, or have to be rushed to the hospital, and the day after, they "have" to be confined - doctor's orders, just when the facts of whatever case they are involved with are starting to surface?
And the PR people of these Suddenly Sick Susans or Sams come out and say it directly in their press conferences: "Di lang ba kayo naaawa?" (Don't you even feel pity at all?")
Like I said, the timing is always suspect. But then again, we have always touted ourselves as "the happiest people on earth", and if we are to claim that, then we have to be cognizant of one sterling fact that all comedians know by heart:
Timing IS everything.