The videoke as refuge from traffic woes
Ever so often, you face the challenge of sorting out your accumulated baggage because you have to move to another residence. As I was going through my voluminous files, I chanced upon a copy of a column I wrote on Feb. 25, 1999, more than 20 years ago, for the same column, On the Move, and the same newspaper, Philippine Daily Inquirer. The continued relevance of the piece is uncanny. Indeed, the Philippines is a “changeless land”!
May this piece also serve as a reminder, now that we have a lot of foreign visitors because of the SEA Games, to be extra patient, good-natured and forgiving in public places. Here’s an almost verbatim copy of that piece:
The evening rush hour traffic is horrendous as usual and your group of officemates or schoolmates decides to duck into a videoke bar and wait for the traffic to ease. Good or bad move? It depends on how prepared you are to deal with the deadly dynamics in many videoke bars.
Videoke bars have been the frequent setting for violence. (See “Music, passion, a dangerous mixture in videoke bars,” by Volt Contreras, PDI, Dec. 31, 1998, p. 15). In Makati, a 16-year-old boy is stabbed dead for criticizing a videoke singer’s voice. A man is hacked in Pasay City for blocking a videoke singer’s view of the song lyrics on the screen.
Videoke bars can be life-threatening. They attract people from all walks of life who normally do not interact with one another, let alone interact intimately. Videoke customers are artificially put together in close quarters to partake of an activity as personal and sensitive as singing — a soul-baring activity usually reserved for family and friends. A videoke bar is not like an ordinary bar, where each table can be considered a private space. The only person who intrudes into that space is a waiter, or a professional singer and band.
Amateur singing in public is a sensitive matter. Unless exceptionally talented, you put your face on the line. Only a sympathetic audience can make you feel secure enough to take jokes or comments good-naturedly.
While Filipinos instinctively accept comments from their in-group as appreciative, they readily impute ill-motives to comments from an out-group. Their antennas are in the air for any rude or untoward comments from strangers. A mere side glance can communicate venom. Videoke bars put together such an assortment of strangers who are out-groups to one another that they almost guarantee trouble.
The videoke forces customers to compete for space, time and songs. The videoke is one indivisible place. One cannot be oblivious to the songs rendered, often in atrocious regional accents. A customer may feel a sense of ownership over a particular song. Or two or more persons may have requested the same song. Who is going to preside over this “jump-ball” situation?
Many customers may already be primed for violence even before they arrive at the videoke place. They are stressed by family and work situations and they mean to “unwind” in the videoke bar. They easily transfer a grudge they nurse against a family member or office worker to what appears to be an intrusive or obnoxious fellow customer in a videoke bar.
It is not that Filipinos are not aware of these dangerous situations. They know well enough to be respectful and circumspect when they listen to even the most outrageous vocal interpretations of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley or the Beatles.
Unfortunately, the videoke bar is designed to wear off the customers’ psychological guard. Customers often have an illusion of security because they come with friends. Second, their inhibitions are loosened by beer or wine. Third, trouble is hard to avoid because it often develops surreptitiously through subtle kantiyawan (heckling) that makes violence palpable.
In a videoke bar, trouble can be easily triggered. Any member of any group can start trouble for an imagined insult. He will not “consult” his group before provoking trouble. Yet, members of his group would automatically come to his aid or defense when trouble erupts.
The bottom line is, there is explosive chemistry that is brought into a videoke bar by unsuspecting customers. Highly educated people are sensitive to psychological concerns involved in videoke interactions, but construction workers, office clerks, taxi and jeepney drivers and mataderos will not be similarly forewarned.
So, when you take refuge from heavy traffic in a videoke bar, you may be jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Sometimes, to stay alive, you just have to keep your song to yourself.
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