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Unfunny mimicry

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I have been a follower of @superstarmarian for a while now. Her tweets most certainly amuse. That’s why I was surprised when, scrolling down my feed weeks ago, I noted that her tweets were unusually sad.

In her intentionally mangled English, she expressed disappointment at those who criticized her purpose, or lack thereof, for mimicking popular actress Marian Rivera on Twitter.

But why do some people take her seriously when that is the least of her intentions? Isn’t it obvious that she’s just trying to be funny? Apparently, if you’re one of her followers, you either hate or love her. You think she’s funny, or you think she’s cruel. You can’t be on the fence, unless you don’t give a damn altogether.

I’d like to shed light on this matter by first saying something about where I came from. Despite my family’s woeful financial status, I was educated in some of the best schools in the country. I had the privilege of being taught by persons sought by TV networks for their social commentary. I shared classrooms with heirs to larger-than-life properties and children with big shoes to fill. I became friends with the erudite, the overachievers, young women and men who wanted to change the world.

My situation tells me that social status is no longer determined by net worth alone. We have an entire lot of far more intangible and context-based determinants for it. Social status now heavily depends on the repository of cultural symbols a person has access to.

Tito Sotto, for instance, probably has a fan in a dutiful, well-meaning mother who sells tinapa in the public market every morning. She must have spent her younger years listening to his low-pitched singing on radio, and, upon learning of his plan to seek public office, must have been first to secure the votes of other vendors. Thanks to his fans, they now have “Tito Sen” juggling the duties of a senator, a noontime show host, and occasional movie star. This very nickname connotes affection. This is why to other people, he is not “Tito Sen” but Tito Sotto, just balancing successful careers in politics and show business—nothing new in this country—and someone appallingly gutsy to those he managed to offend recently.

A probinsyano attending a highly esteemed university on scholarship might at first find it difficult to mingle with his English-speaking classmates whose problems involve not getting a good parking spot or the sluggishness of campus Wi-Fi. Over time, though, he grows comfortable with them as they collectively bear the burden of being mentored by legendary professors. He may not be able to afford studying every night in posh cafés where things are sold at stupendous rates, but he surely can hold his own in a debate on the merits of Socrates’ arguments.

Those who want to get into the inner circle of Manila’s elite can learn a thing or two at this point, one of which is that it’s never just about how much money one has. It isn’t even just about one’s taste in shoes or bags. Bonds can be maintained by less visible symbols. Failed social climbers made the crucial mistake of overlooking the elite’s heightened sense of smell when it comes to opportunists and pretenders.

The evolving landscape of social status determinants means both good and bad news. Symbols, more than financial wealth per se, have the power to unite and equalize. Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, whose greatness in many aspects I cannot even begin to describe, transcended social barriers and inspired Filipinos from wildly divergent backgrounds. When it was announced that his body had been found in deep waters, there was an outpouring of love and gratitude from every nook and cranny of the country he so loved and believed in.

Another transcendent symbol is the game “Pinoy Henyo,” which was popularized on the noontime show “Eat Bulaga.” The game is a staple in big or small gatherings held in highly dissimilar terrain, whether high-end subdivision or rustic village.

While these symbols have proven their might in affirming our solidarity, equally potent, however, is their ability to create gaps. When I clicked “expand” on the select few of @superstarmarian’s cheerless tweets, I noticed a handful banging at her gates, spewing curses and insults, demanding not so much a reply from the online persona as an opportunity to pin her down. And, we think, what ridiculous lengths some diehard fans will go to! The truth is that most her followers find her hilarious. I find her hilarious. But what we find more hilarious is why some people don’t find her the least bit hilarious.

As much as we are at pains to admit it, underlying that is an assumption of our own superiority. In @superstarmarian’s mockery of the soap opera princess, she aligns herself with the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Pugo and Tugo, and Willie Nep at his best. This is quite telling of her background: The person behind this account is intelligent!

Satire demands a certain level of academic sophistication to be understood and even appreciated, lest it become mere pamimilosopo to those who have no inkling how philosophy is defined in the first place. Satire was made for the intelligent audience. People who appreciate @superstarmarian are educated or intelligent enough to laugh at her jokes, regrettably at the expense of the real Marian Rivera. The case of @superstarmarian and her haters tells us that symbols can put a wedge between people from varying social classes.

This observation is nothing new. This is class struggle, in Marxist terms. It exhibits our age-old tendency to be antagonistic toward one another. It is the real pamana of the Americans when they handed to us the educational system and form of government we are stuck with. It is like the well-off losing their appetite for Friendster when penniless tambay in Internet cafés began to carve their niche in it. It is our deriding those who misspell and type in sticky caps. It is our condescendingly calling others “jejemon.” It is our poking fun at them by commenting “ajejeje” instead of “hehehe” on witty Facebook statuses. Some of us will even dare a friend to walk in public wearing a “jeje” cap. No one seems to be apologetic about it. This wedge is the reason some people don’t find @superstarmarian funny.

Laughing at “jejes” and calling them such are acts of other-ing, a feeding of a hateful disposition toward those we deem less privileged. When we donate money for causes that will benefit the less privileged, chances are we are helping families to which those we call “jejes” belong. More important than simply helping is adjusting our views to accommodate them as real persons; otherwise, our deeds become less loving and more mechanical.

We learned in kindergarten that name-calling is a bad thing. Being truly peaceful with one another, regardless of social class, may begin with the simple but radical act of shedding the use of labels whose implications we haven’t really thought about. Maybe only then can we consider ourselves intelligent in the truer sense of the word, and that is something we should aspire for as human beings, @superstarmarian-lover or not.

Maybe the next step is to rethink this fondness we have for @superstarmarian?

Faye Monchelle O. Gonzalez, 22, is an Ateneo de Manila graduate, a former Jesuit Volunteer, and a planning officer at the Philippine Commission on Women under the Office of the President. She dedicates this piece to the late Jesse Robredo, whom she calls “a real champion of the ordinary Filipino.”


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Tags: @superstarmarian , Class , Faye Monchelle O. Gonzalez , jesse robredo , opinion , Young Blood



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