FILIPINOS have once more revealed how bad they are
at taking a joke or opinion about themselves and their country as dished out by foreigners.
As you all probably know by now, the new Claire Danes (remember her and her off-the-cuff remarks in a magazine interview of how Manila stank and crawled with cockroaches?) happens to be best-selling American author Dan Brown through his latest novel “Inferno.”
It’s funny that Brown is being raked at the coals, with no less than the earnestly pathetic Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Francis Tolentino joining the fray, not for his opinion, but for his work of fiction.
Gates of hell
If you just crawled out from a cave, Brown, through the eyes of one of his “Inferno” characters, likened Manila to the “gates of hell” for its filth, poverty and thriving sex trade. I haven’t read the book yet, so I can’t comment on its context. But if you, like me, were born and bred in Manila, you would know deep down in your heart that there’s a semblance of truth to what Brown is saying.
But like any other city, Manila (and I’m referring not only to our political capital and Erap’s latest playground and cash cow, but to the entire megalopolis we now call Metro Manila) has its bright spots as well as its seamy underbelly. In fact, the more these two forces collide and push and pull each other, the more interesting and alive a city becomes.
So, why pick on Manila and, say, not another supposedly Catholic city like Mexico City, Managua or Milan?
I’m willing to hazard a guess. Since Brown has made no attempts to hide his dislike for the Roman Catholic Church by demystifying its rituals and dragging it to the muck with all sorts of absurd conspiracy theories, he has chosen a huge, predominantly Catholic city whose onion-skinned inhabitants are known to cry foul at the slightest provocation.
Perhaps, in Brown’s mind, not only would he be able to
inflict some damage on the Church by hinting to the world how a supposedly devout Catholic country like the Philippines fails to live by its faith (by their fruits ye shall know them), and instead is wallowing in material and spiritual squalor, he would also get a publicity bonanza from a huge group of people whose collective sense of self is inversely proportional to its propensity to play victim.
(And that exactly, perhaps to Brown’s and his publisher’s delight, is what’s happening right now as you read this.)
Not even the most seasoned PR firm on Madison Avenue could probably match what Brown did. With just three short words—gates of hell, he was able to push his new book among the ranks of America’s best-selling works of fiction in less than a week. Talk about marching into hell for his own heavenly cause.
Either that, or Brown is simply exercising a writer’s
prerogative, and there ain’t nothing Tolentino can do about it even if he writes him and his publishers a complaint letter or turn the thesaurus upside down to come up with a cheesy description of his beloved city as a “portal to heaven.”
If heaven to you is having sex with one of the city’s supposed sex workers, then Manila probably is, but I digress.
Fact vs. fiction
It doesn’t matter whether Brown has set foot in the Philippines or not, as Tolentino asserts, because he’s a fictionist and not a freaking journalist or travel writer. And even if he were the latter, he’s entitled to his opinion.
Of course, Tolentino, is also entitled to his. But debunking Brown’s depiction of Manila, no matter how untrue or unfair, by making all sorts of noises betrays not only the Filipinos’ insecurity and poor self-esteem. It also speaks volumes of how Tolentino and his ilk, under the guise of defending national dignity, have started to set their sights on bigger office.
And what better way to gain national attention than to hog the evening news for several nights no matter how fleeting? Only heaven knows the extent of not a few men’s seemingly hellish intentions.