Thursday, June 21, 2018
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At Large

Pinoy celebrities and Jane Austen

I hope this is taken in the right spirit, but “I’m Afraid of Heights (or Why I Can’t Social-Climb)” by this paper’s Lifestyle Editor Thelma Sioson San Juan, makes for perfect bathroom reading.

Described on the cover as “profiles of lifestyle celebrities,” “I’m Afraid of Heights” is a rather hefty tome consisting of generally brief essays on personalities who populate the Philippines’ social, arts, design and show-biz world, with a smattering of politicians and business folk among them. Also included in the mix are movers-and-shakers in the international scene, most of them design mavens whom Sioson-San Juan met in the course of her travels.

Each essay or personality profile is short enough for a typical visit to the toilet, though one may choose to keep seated to finish a longer piece, such as that on President Aquino on the eve of his electoral victory. But more than the convenient length, what distinguishes the short articles are the depth of insight into each subject’s personality, the “telling details” that manage to sketch, in a few deft notes, portraits of human beings who before then had been depicted in the lifestyle press as mostly clichés and fodder for gossip.


My favorite piece, perhaps predictably, is the very first profile (they are arranged alphabetically, to forestall, I suspect, any hard feelings about billing) on P-Noy. The piece had been published previously on this paper’s front page, but it deserves a second reading. This, if only because reading it now removes the piece from the post-campaign glow, and allows one to dwell further on the glimpses it gives of a man who had faced untold challenges (his father’s detention and assassination, coup attempts against his mother) yet managed to find, amid a hectic, hastily mounted campaign, the time and leisure to dwell on what sort of woman he wanted for a life partner.

* * *

Amusing and educational by turns is the profile of another Aquino sibling, “Queen of All Media” Kris, published when Kris was only 16. At the time, she had already announced her ambitions on Dong Puno’s talk show (I can’t forget Dong’s shocked, bemused expression), but the profile details both the innocence and the craftiness behind the plan.

Today, one appreciates the beginnings of the phenomenon that would become Kris Aquino, especially the depiction of her as “refreshing, precarious, disarming, especially when she pleads her show-biz case.” Kris is one celebrity who has gone the rounds from public fondness, skepticism, scandal, and acceptance and back again—and mostly because she has adopted “full disclosure” as both a personal and professional mantra.

Another, touching long piece is that on

Eugenio “Geny” Lopez Jr., who had drawn Thelma into his orbit when he recruited her to edit the lifestyle section of The Manila Chronicle, and would then install her firmly (though not permanently) in the magazine business via ABS-CBN Publications. The portrait she paints is not just of a benevolent employer, but also of a man who felt strongly about the public service aspect of his many businesses, who made his peace with God and left a legacy of service to his family and employees. Indeed, the “Kapitan” lives on, not just in the memories of a former employee, but in the empire he helped build—an empire that continues, in its own way, to be of “service to the Filipino.”

* * *

From London comes news that a “genteel” campaign to ensure that British bank notes would continue to carry images of women has degenerated into a “counter-campaign of online harassment” including threats of rape and death.


And at the center of the controversy is—heavens!—no less than Jane Austen, the much-beloved novelist and chronicler of social life in Regency England. If she were still alive and writing, I have no doubt that Austen would have trained her sharp eye and trenchant pen on the issue.

For Austen was not only an early feminist, but a natural one, training her sights on England’s inequitable society by featuring strong heroines bucking tradition.

As reported in the New York Times, the campaign began with a blogger and cofounder of the website “The Women’s Room,” Caroline Criado-Perez. Concerned that no woman, save for the Queen, of course, would be featured on British bills after social reformer Elizabeth Fry would be replaced by Winston Churchill, Criado-Perez asked if “there were enough women of note in British history to find at least one more.” To illustrate her point, Criado-Perez led a group of campaigners dressed up as various historical female figures, including Celtic warrior Boadicea, and hand-delivering more than 35,000 signatures supporting their cause.

* * *

Initially rebuffed, the women soon found an ally in the new director of the Bank of England, who announced that Austen would soon appear in the new £10 notes.

This is when “a trickle of abuse grew into a shower of crude rape and death threats against Ms Criado-Perez at a rate of nearly one per minute,” goes the report, with others, including  members of Parliament, similarly targeted.

“I’m going to pistol whip you over and over until you lose consciousness,” one Twitter user warned Criado-Perez, threatening to “then burn ur flesh.” “I will rape you tomorrow at 9pm,” a Twitter user told Stella Creasy, a Labour Party legislator. “Shall we meet near your house?”

“If even a small thing like this, a nice middle-class debate about putting Jane Austen’s picture on the opposite side of a bank note from the Queen, causes a storm of abuse like this, what will happen when we get to bigger issues?” asked columnist Caitlin Moran. What indeed?

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TAGS: column, Filipino celebrities, Rina Jimenez-David
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