When chic hits the fan, chic happens

(It’s been eight years since Kitty Go’s roman a clef of a novel “When Chic Hits the Fan,” supposedly detailing the foibles of certain members of Manila society, came out in 2005. And, boy, was it the talk of the town!

(I had the chance to review it, and no sooner had the story hit the streets on May 1, 2005, when I started hearing complaints [relayed to me, of course, through unofficial channels] from certain parties who felt alluded to in the book.

(They were reportedly taking me to task for reviewing the book, unmindful of the fact that 1) I was just doing my job as a journalist; 2) I didn’t write the book and had nothing to do whatsoever with its production.

(Because of the impact the book had created, it would have been strange had no one written about it, don’t you think? Rather than continue to ruffle the feathers of some people, I was told by my then boss not to review anymore “Chic Happens,” Go’s much-awaited sequel to “When Chic…” that came out a year later.

(By then, it was already too late. Go had already earned a reputation for saying it as it is. “Chic Happens,” like its predecessor, went on to become a bestseller. In the meantime, allow me to take you back in time with this piece.

(If I’m not mistaken, both books are still available at National Bookstore. We’re all waiting for Part 3, Kitty. Read Go’s first volume, and see if you agree with me.—AYV)

“The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, sh-t detector. This is the writer's radar and all great writers have had it.”--Ernest Hemingway

“The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, sh-t detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.”–Ernest Hemingway

WHETHER they admit it or not, people who are privy to Manila’s insular and often “user-friendly” social and entertainment circles would no longer be shocked or appalled by Kitty Go’s novel, “When Chic Hits the Fan.”

It doesn’t mean, however, that while reading it, they won’t fall off their seats in stitches.

Much as it tries to masquerade as a tell-all book about the “celebrity and fashion confessions of a former magazine editor,” everyone in the know knows that the thin, paperback volume is a long series of episodic blind items filled with juicy allusions to living, breathing “beautiful” people.

TATTOOED. Kitty's Go's brave attempt to write the unprintable remains unsurpassed.

TATTOOED. Kitty Go’s brave attempt to write the unprintable remains unsurpassed.

Some are dead giveaways, while others require a bit of networking (it has now become chic to do a “When Chic” reading at parties and beat everyone else to it in identifying this or that oddball) and extrapolation to unmask the true identities of certain zany characters in the book.

Take a hint

Hint: Go sometimes deliberately misleads the reader by assigning certain characters with different genders (and sexual orientations) and swapping a person’s initials and christening him or her with a new name.

CHIC happens, natch!

CHIC happens, natch!

Indeed, the book is as close as one can get to glimpses of Go’s colorful but short-lived stint as an outspoken editor in the glossy world of magazine publishing. But high-profile reader, watch out! The book can only stay funny as long as Go makes mincemeat of the person next to you.

Since Manila’s social scene is getting smaller and (yawn) shallower by the minute, it’s not unlikely for you to stop dead in your tracks while going through a chapter as it suddenly dawns on you who the object of your amusement is. And it isn’t your labandera or your manikurista Go is making fun of.

Big-time suck-ups

Indeed, “When Chic” may be a bit jarring because of the slew of characters Go introduces in rapid-fire succession. But it somehow keeps steady by focusing on three hapless souls who are the author’s favorite whipping boys, classic examples of successful suck-ups. Big time!

But the real story isn’t about gay twins Ned and Nicky Nivera, who, with nothing but saliva and the right connections to see them through, have turned social climbing into an art form. Nor is it about how Alicia Santos-Daniels, who can hardly “fill out a Unimart raffle ticket,” much less tell the difference between “its” and “it’s,” “their” and “they’re,” has the nerve to pass herself off as a social editor and get away with it.

ARE you?

ARE you? (followpics.com)

Their, er, they’re far from unique. We’re pretty sure that every big city in the world has its share of resident social climbers, pretenders, hired hacks, home wreckers, sycophants, walking science projects, callow brats, aspiring low lifes and what have you, which Go’s book has plenty of.

Social commentary

If anything, the book can also be viewed as a biting social commentary on the shallowness of Manila society (as if we don’t already know).

In more enlightened times, for example, Alicia and her ilk would never have made it past the security guard’s outpost had serious editors and discerning readers put their foot down (Go, as Giselle Cordero, is partly to blame, mind you).

Believe us, a reader who makes a career out of landing in the gallery of left-to-right snapshots every week is a minor irritant compared to the pseudo-journalist with an agenda.

It’s also a cautionary tale of how some media practitioners (especially in print) have made beautiful and/or pedigreed non-talents journalists-slash-monsters overnight.

alexyvergara and two of his chicest and dearest friends Noel Crisostomo and Roland Alzate

alexyvergara and two of his chicest and dearest friends designers Noel Crisostomo and Roland Alzate

At the rate this phenomenon is going, it won’t be long before the hard-earned byline gets supplanted by a famous person’s stilted and heavily retouched photo taken sometime during the last millennium. It seems no matter where you turn, everyone in the metropolis is a “columnist.”

Like where on earth can you find ersatz journalists who compel their subjects to answer slum book-type questions and pass off such nuggets of wisdom as columns? Duh.
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Where the topic of precious column space (have mercy on those vanishing trees!) ranges from how a personality prefers her coffee after being dead to the world all morning to how she dealt with her grief when her dog chased after the light? As if we care.

‘Dancing’ journalists

At the risk of sounding cynical, however, lifestyle and entertainment journalism as we know it in this benighted land requires practitioners to do some “dancing” to get a few things done.

ANOTHER, ahem, chic photo of yours truly taken at the Crimson Hotel in Alabang with super runner and good friend Blas Tiangco and my new friend, the kind and handsome Francis de Leon of Crimson.

ANOTHER, ahem, chic photo of yours truly taken at the Crimson Hotel in Alabang with super runner and good friend Blas “Titanium Runner” Tiangco (you should see his sexy pair of legs) and my new friend, the kind, soft-spoken and handsome Francis de Leon of Crimson.

How come? Everything you say or write is taken personally, including, say, a freaking fashion review. We said your clothes were ugly, okay, not you.

In such a personalized setup, it’s not unlikely for even the most detached journalist to find his resolve to stay objective eroding with the passing of the decades. Too bad, Go didn’t stay long enough in the media biz to show us how far she can go before she runs amuck.

To a certain extent, Go can dare say what she said because she has virtually nothing to lose. Apart from being a good writer-cum-needler, she’s financially independent (okay, rich!), ultra-fashionable (she spews out fashion-related similes and metaphors faster than the Parisian arbiters of style can say trends) and most important, out of the parochial loop that is Manila society to give a hoot who gets hit or what.

Virtual gossiping

Breezy and peppered with Go’s sharp and sometimes condescending wit (English speakers with “accents” and bomba stars who aspire to move up the social ladder by marrying a rich foreigner, beware!), the book makes the reader feel as if he’s conversing–gossiping, actually, is more on target-with the author just across the table.

We only wish Go paid more attention to proofreading and a bit of editing, as the book has its share of typos and grammar lapses (but not the Alicia Santos-Daniels variety, thank goodness).

So what makes “When Chic” a truly page-turning, “unputdownable” tome? Our innate penchant to read about other people’s foibles is one.4707_shit-for-dinner

But the book’s main come-on is the simple fact that Go said everything (and then some) about stuff we’ve all been dying to shout out to the rest of the world but were compelled to merely say in whispers for fear of offending a friend of a friend of a friend of a big person.

Getting personal

In short, Go became too personal in a city that loves to take everything you say, well, personally. And she paid dearly for it.

Getting barred from one’s magazine launch because celebrities had threatened to boycott the event if they saw so much of a shadow of you or hiring two-bit photographers from the bowels of police stations since you and your staff had been banned from this or that show-biz function was no laughing matter.

To her credit, Kitty Go makes it sound as if it was.

"CHiC Happens," the sequel. When is the next chicload coming, Kitty?

“CHiC Happens,” the sequel. It’s been more than six years. When is the next chicload coming, Kitty?

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