WE have barely thanked the past year for witnessing our survival when the first days of 2022 exposed a new sport—passing judgment on anyone, anytime, anywhere.
Most of these events were carried over from the old year, beginning with the tragic revival of a fabled film festival down to declaring two personalities as persona non grata.
The first issue was the film festival, which did not gain significant audience and turned into a losing enterprise. The conditions for such a failure were obvious and there was no need to intellectualize the collapse. But, recriminations took over simple observation (the pandemic was not over; the people were scared to go out yet; the ticket was expensive etc.). The debate scaled the heights of quality and Culture. We simply, according to observers, were not good filmmakers. To make things shamefully dumb, postings reeking of nostalgia for the conjugal dictatorship as behind the once-upon-a-time renaissance of this country’s cinema crept into the forum. We know what direction this forged sentimentality can bring us to. Suffice it to say that any good memory about martial law and restrictions is suspect in this land where data distortion is a viable cottage industry.
What is the failure of a film festival amid a season when new variants are threatening the arrival of social and economic freedom?
And so it came to pass that as the moveable feast of the Three Kings passed by us without our knowledge that we are left with the unwanted gift—this government coping with the absence of coping mechanism. The kings may have followed the right star but our health czars (our beloved label for special tasks related to anything problematic like the pandemic, dolomite doomed to decorate a polluted seashore, and open-pit mining) are here to stay star-crossed, uninformed.
It is true what they say: calm the crowd and declare how silence is golden then the brash, loudmouthed person becomes the king. And so in the elegance of the vanishing days of the last month of the year, a woman is caught skipping the quarantine and partying as if there was no virus tomorrow. She is announced tongue-in-cheek as the face of the new variant. Her photos flood the Internet but so do the photos of those other individuals who shared a space for her. The government goes ballistic or those loud enough to come across as authorities online. In this age of new media, it is difficult to determine who are talking and who are listening. It is difficult enough to spot who is right and who is wrong. It is easy to sense our glee as we celebrate this woman’s fiasco.
The online transactions have blurred identities and ideas. One never knows if those whose online tongues are resolutely toxic are really different people or just the same three or four individuals hating the guts of the girl now named Poblacion girl, her crime geographically referenced. Before you can throw more stones at or defend the girl, another woman gets identified because she had a massage instead of going into meditation alone. But, isn’t this poetic: massage, a private consensual act between two people, is brought into the open and reveals a crime—that of eluding quarantine?
What is the latest? People are shouting for the head of the quarantine truants. Declare them personae non gratae! Or singular, persona non grata.
Declaring a person as unwelcome sounds theatrical but social norms that facilitate such expression of utmost disgust exist.
What do Elvis, Gunter Grass, and Alec Baldwin have in common? At certain historical points, they were declared persona non grata. And if my online source is correct, Baldwin, the Hollywood actor, received that dubious distinction from our country no less because he made disparaging remarks about our women.
The declaration can be a bit fuzzy. In regular life, the fact of being a persona non grata is a symbolic condemnation. It is in the world of diplomacy that the verity of a person unwelcomed is dramatic. Online, there is a citation pointing to the Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which articulates how a State about to receive a diplomat may “at any time and without having to explain its decision” declare any member of the said body persona non grata. Given the status of the individuals involved, this can be embarrassing and could even lead to ruining the relations between two States.
In the case of the Poblacion Girl, what does the refusal bring her to?
In another domain, sports, the issue between pole vaulter EJ Obiena and the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association has escalated to the point that the Philippine Olympic Committee, it has been written, has declared Patafa chief Juico a persona non grata. Another unwelcome person?
Where does this lead us to?
Condemnation has come easy to us. Judgment is rash and traverses always a dead end. Something about how this government has handled the pandemic must be one reason why we resort to murderous means. The isolation and masked existence, which appeared during the last days of the old year as easing out, are back. People are hearing again of community lockdowns being revived. How much of the mythical resilience is still with us when feng shui divinations have been eclipsed by a growing list of paracetamols and antitussive marked out-of-stock?
Forget Nostradamus. We are our own prophets of doom, less dramatic but original in being unforgiving and misguided. I have not even considered here the catastrophe called politics.
Image credits: Jimbo Albano