Friday, July 31, 2009


I find it difficult to put a coherent thought together at the moment, so I just have to hope that this message comes through.

My writing world has seen two straight issues come about lately. First, there's the Hugo Awards issue: A writer named Adam Roberts has seen fit to express his dissatisfaction with the nominees in a very well-publicized blog post. That his creative tendencies have seen fit to express this displeasure in a letter addressed to the Science Fiction reading audience can be seen as either interesting or arrogant (depending on which side of the fence you occur) is just an aside; the main point to take into account is the fact that Adam Roberts is displeased.

On the heels of this international issue comes the list of those individuals named to the list of Philippine National Artists this year. One of the aforementioned individuals, a man named Magno Jose Carlo Caparas, is now a National Artist in the area of visual arts and film. The local artistic community seems to have taken offense to this, and suddenly the web sites I frequent are suddenly filled with catcalls and hate mail.

Both of these issues revolve around a similar premise: Worthiness. A first group of people have seen fit to grant certain awards to a second group of people, and a third group of people suddenly decides to challenge the merit of such nominations. There is one issue at the core of these two events, and that is the simple fact that different people have different opinions about other peoples' work.

Muddying up these waters, of course, are our own elegant methods of expressing our feelings. Some of us attempt to dissect the situation, wondering how circumstances converged unto this final decision. Some of us feign indifference, nursing the conflict within their own minds. And some of us attack the controversial winners, asking how it is that something they despise can gain so distinguished a recognition.

I feel that the third aspect of our expression has been outnumbering the first two so far. And I refuse to join this growing mob.

Kvetching is not a new concept. We can't expect all opinions on a single work to agree with each other, after all, and we're bound to run into situations where that movie or song or novel or painting or comic that we despise suddenly turns up on the winner's pedestal with a nice blue ribbon affixed to the frame. We can probably fill entire shelves with works that we dislike, yet which have likely won countless awards, or sold innumerable copies.

It's not inconceivable that a selection committee somewhere will come up with a winner — or even a list of nominees, mind you — that we think deserves to be buried somewhere and forgotten for centuries. We can't agree on these things all the time.

What I'm saying, however, is that this sort of thing happens. It's been around since the first time one man decided to compete against another in the opinion of their own peers.

Adam Roberts most likely has his own opinion of what should go on the Hugo shortlist this year... but frankly speaking, that's his opinion. It's for him to decide. If he's not on the Hugo selection committee, then it's entirely his problem if none of his choices are recognized. I'm not going to pander to his complaints if he's the one who has issues with the Awards organization, lament or no lament. Roberts can complain about how Science Fiction concentrates on old-fashioned concepts, but again, that's his opinion. I don't see why I should be drawn into his argument.

For the purposes of this writing, I assume that the people running the Philippine National Artist nominations have followed their established procedures to the letter, and this is why I don't necessarily question Caparas's ascendance. I neither like nor dislike his work, to be honest, but it's not my place to figure out who should be National Artist and who shouldn't. I leave that to what I presume to be an honest and open-minded selection committee. If people question his title just because they don't like his works... then, well, that's not something that I feel is worth arguing about.

If these assumptions are wrong, of course, and if there was something wrong with either of the two distinguished panel selections this year, than that's worth arguing about. You can question greed. You can question selfishness. You can question whim or indifference or domination or unmitigated power-mongering, especially when it comes on the heels of a competition that you once assumed to be fair. I feel that action is justified in these cases, if only because integrity and impartiality is obviously at stake.

But questioning a writer's accomplishment just because you yourself don't like his work? That's a really low blow.

So watch what you say. Watch what you do, and ask yourself where your motivation lies. You may choose to investigate the situation further, perhaps to see what redeeming value lies in these winners and find out how their judges were able to notice this when others did not. You may choose to throw in the towel and work on that potential award-winning work of yours for next year.

You may also choose to take up the poison pen and spread your vituperations across the World Wide Web. That's your choice, really. Just bear my words in mind: Look at yourself first, and ask why you wish to piece such an argument together in the first place. Check your awareness. Open yourself up. And most importantly, figure out why you're willing to throw yourself into the fray in the first place.

Otherwise you're just going to be part of the mob. And the mob eats its own young.


Dominique said...

As I understand it, the final list was longer than the list of nominees. It turned out that way due to GMA's discretion.

banzai cat said...

"But questioning a writer's accomplishment just because you yourself don't like his work? That's a really low blow."

Isn't that what you call criticism? And anyway, what's wrong with the questioning?

Sean said...

Dominique: I'm aware that there were suspicions to that effect as early as the original release. That gives us a clear avenue for investigation, I think, that does not open up the capacity for personal attacks. What galls me is that few people are pursuing this logical argument in favor of generating as much hate mail as they can.

Banzai Cat: No, criticism implies that there's a single work that has been presented to an audience for reaction. Criticism is an expression of opinion that (presumably) enables artists to improve, while at the same time draws them into a community of people who work and improve the same way.

I feel that neither the Hugo Awards shortlisters nor Caparas are the subject of criticism here. Instead, I feel that the words against them are more in the vein of personal attack, a tidal expression of "you-don't-deserve-this" that is the hallmark of kvetching on the Internet.

I have nothing against the questioning if it's done to rectify misleading matters (i.e. "How can Caparas be named for Visual Arts if he barely drew any of his own comics?"). However, I do have something against any questioning for no reason other than the fact that we don't personally hold a creator's works in high esteem (i.e. "How can a director of massacre movies be placed in the same league as Lino Brocka?"). Caparas is a clear example, because people seem to be petitioning for his removal simply because they don't like his work.

We're writers and artists, for goodness' sakes. I feel that we're more than capable of avoiding backbiting, mudslinging and personal vendettas. But from the looks of things, we're approaching that dangerous line right now.

happylittlegirl said...

I don't know which blogs you've been reading, but the ones I've seen that mention Caparas' unworthiness are all pointing to valid points (in my opinion), that he's not a visual artist, and should at least therefore not be under the category of "Visual Art". And that the rule is that the President can add only one name to the list, if she/he wanted to, but in this case, GMA added 4 names, some of which weren't even in the original list of nominees.

Personal tastes aside, I do think the protests against CJC being a National Artist are valid.

Sean said...

Ida: I was looking at some of the first knee-jerk reactions to the National Artist list, the posts that came out within one day of the original announcement. My attention was also piqued by quite a few comments for those posts (particularly those by users named "Anonymous"). Since then, I imagine that cooler heads have begun to prevail.

Don't get me wrong - I believe that the protests against Caparas being a National Artist are valid. However, I wish to point out that there are better avenues for doing this aside from methods that imply that we're picking on the guy. Saying that "Caparas is a bad filmmaker" (as some of Anonymous's comments have stated) is a far more petty reason than saying "Caparas was not originally a shortlisted choice". It seemed to me that people were all too willing to argue against the issue without arguing against it in an intelligent manner.

banzai cat said...

"No, criticism implies that there's a single work that has been presented to an audience for reaction."

But what's being criticized here is the artist's body of work. Likewise, I'm wondering if we have different definitions of "personal" attacks. Are these anonymous attackers calling him an a**hole or his mother p*ta? If they are, then that's definitely wrong as these statements are of a personal nature.

But if these people are only targeting the artist's work then I do think these are still valid opinions on the matter.

As for expecting writers to be more, but that's what we are: we're writers and we express ourselves through our writing.

Sean said...

Banzai Cat: The general reactions to the issue now focus on the subject's body of work. But the original reactions were a different story altogether.

The first posts I read did not target Caparas's work at all, actually. In fact, they didn't state anything beyond some form of outrage at the National Artist Awards - outrage for which no distinct reason was given.

You'll want some examples, of course, so I'll bring up three posts here. These were written by Gerry Alanguilan and Jonas Diego, two bloggers for whom I hold quite a lot of respect. Moreover, these were the first posts on their blogs pertaining to the issue:

There was nothing in those posts about Caparas's "skill" with his chosen media, only an implied sense of disgust at the award. The introspection - and the intelligent argumentation - only came later, having presumably taken a backseat to the initial reaction.

The comments were most likely the trigger to my own reaction, if only for the fact that they seemed more in the vein of personal attacks. Yes, there was a general lack of foul language in these comments, but when Alanguilan accuses you of coloring your nose "presidential brown", then I'm pretty certain that that's not a helpful bit of professional criticism you're looking at.

There was obviously some impulsiveness involved there, something that comes from innate human character. What I feared was the emergence of some "movement" on the strength of these initial reactions, which we've seen at previous points in the past. I wanted a more intelligent take on the matter, and I'm not entirely certain if we've reached that point yet; it's all too easy to bash Caparas for the quality of his "award-winning" works.

Dawn said...

You seem to think that people aren't capable of having both a visceral reaction and an articulate expression of the said reaction at the same time. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong but you misrepresented Gerry Alanguilan. Yes, he did publish that post you linked but you neglected to point out that he also published this WITHIN THE SAME DAY.

Can you say in good conscience that he didn't present a cogent argument there?

Yes, there was a general lack of foul language in these comments, but when Alanguilan accuses you of coloring your nose "presidential brown", then I'm pretty certain that that's not a helpful bit of professional criticism you're looking at.

You better try to seek out folks from the comic book industry because the "alleged" brown-nosing has been talked about within the industry for years. Sure, rumors aren't worth a hill of beans, but neither is the National Artist title these days, apparently.

You have to remember that it isn't just a "title" that's at stake here. All National Artists are eligible to have monthly pensions (read: taxpayer's money) and miscellaneous grants for projects that they mean to undertake. So there's a concrete thing that we are fighting for here as well.

But more than that, the title of the National Artist in the Philippines' declaration to the world: "This is the best that the Philippines can offer." Can you really say, whether objectively or subjectively (as much as you denigrate subjective opinion), that Carlo J. Caparas is the best that the Philippines can offer?

I voice my disgust not because I'm a "professional" but because I'm Filipino, and for better and for worse, Carlo Caparas et al represent me now.

banzai cat said...

Uhrm, I kinda figured Gerry Alanguilan took the news badly because of previous bad experience with the guy. (I read that somewhere in Gerry's blog about the Panday comics.)

Anyway, you can't blame a person if they start shooting from the hip-- especially if they know a little more about the person involved or the situation. Especially if they know more than the average lay person.

As for starting a movement, I seriously doubt anything in the Internetz burns that hot. Look at the book tax movement: it all started hot but it was cold calculated strategy that won the day.

Sean said...

Let's get this clear first: I am not - I repeat, NOT - arguing that we shouldn't question Caparas's inclusion within the National Artist list. I am arguing that there is a more intelligent line of argumentation that should be followed here.

Dawn: Mr. Alanguilan presents a compelling argument, and it was a mistake for me not to refer to his second, more enlightening post. I apologize for making it seem as though both he and Mr. Diego did not provide any intelligent argument about the whole deal, because they did, and I respect them for that.

That said, I still feel that derisive comments (such as the aforementioned presidential brown-nosing) have no place in the argument if no backup evidence is presented. I have little or no knowledge of any "reputation" that Caparas has within the local comic-producing community, and the chances are that the general population doesn't hold such knowledge either. The result is that it looks like a random insult, which hurts the anti-Caparas case. It makes it look as though Mr. Alanguilan is only out to get Caparas for some sort of personal dislike or vendetta, and it might even end up being seen that way in the long-term. I don't want that to happen.

While I do have an opinion about Caparas's ascension to the title of National Artist, I leave that out of this discussion because it's not about whether or not I'm against this person. All I wish to do is to point out that there are better ways of presenting an argument here. The number of people signing their names on the anti-Caparas petition is increasing each day, but just how many of them can give a reason to bump him off the list other than "I don't like his work"?

I'm sorry if you feel that I've insulted the efforts of the anti-Caparas lobby, and this was not my intent. Neither does my writing reflect any desire to raise Caparas above all others. All I wish to note is that I feel that there is a right way to argue about this, and a wrong way to argue about this.

Banzai Cat: The revelation that Mr. Alanguilan has a more intimate knowledge of Caparas is relatively new to me, actually. If anything, it does explain his reactions.

I've been through the Digital Pinay fiasco and the Malu Fernandez issue, to be honest, and I feel that both of them were far worse than the book tax movement. What appalled me about the two of them was that we ended up with a mob on our hands: a crowd of people who threw insults, made threats, and coerced actions that resolved those issues through force (rather than mutual agreement). I was happy over the resolution of the book tax issue because there was a far smarter response involved - instead of name-calling and surface petitions, we had consultations, interviews, and book giveaways.

What I fear right now is that the National Artist issue can go either way at the moment. Caparas's name just brings up such a hateful response that people are willing to discard reasonable argument in favor of pelting the man with stones. Moreover, our dear government (*rolls eyes*) has more or less stated that it's not likely to give the majority of our artists any ground on the issue, so I dread the prospect that further reactions may be ill-informed.

The bottom line, I think, is that we can rip on Caparas all we want, but simply stating a negative opinion on his works will not get him off the list. We'd be assuming that our dear government would care about what any of the people there have produced, to be honest.

I feel that a better method would involve pointing out what certain people (Mr. Alanguilan included) have already pointed out: That Caparas shouldn't have been on that list in the first place. Maybe if somebody came up with some compelling evidence on Caparas's connections, then Mr. Alanguilan's "brown-nosing" comment wouldn't seem so random. But the question still remains - just which mode of argument are we willing to follow?

banzai cat said...

i do think that time is a major factor here. as time passes and no action is seen, cooler heads prevail. i don't know what the digital pinay issue was but the malu fernandez issue ended up that way because the said writer was quick to respond and hence the battle was joined. since bloggers were going up against the gov't took far more than the usual outcry-- and far more time to move at a gov't pace-- to resolve that.

personally i don't think the internet furor really harms anyone(unless thin-skinned) so all the so-called threats and insults are just sound and fury. as obviously seen, caparas doesn't care what others think anyway.

as for alanguilan, it does seem that he may have evidence that can back up his statements based on his experiences. but then again, who knows and can we really judge him for that?

Sean said...

Banzai Cat: I don't think it's Caparas who's at stake here, really; it's the potential that we're one day going to rise up against somebody who won't necessarily deserve the virulence. Caparas the man can go drink himself into ignominy for all I care.

And as much as Mr. Alanguilan has something substantial against the Purveyor of Massacre Movies, the National Artist issue is less his case and more our case. I just feel that there's a better way to argue this from a public standpoint, that's all.

happylittlegirl said...

If it helps any, I've met and talked to and have read the blogs of many other artists, some as popular as Alanguilan, and some just starting in the industry, and most of them pretty much have the same low opinion of Caparas ever since his "Ibalik ang Komiks" propaganda started a few years ago (or maybe even before that).

A lot of them seem to have bad experiences with Caparas, the same way Alanguilan has. It's just that Alanguilan happens to be the most outspoken about it now, and he's one of the more famous artists in the industry, too.

I don't know if anyone has any evidence of Caparas being a brown-noser to the president either, but there have been issues here and there about his using his connections to get ahead of the others in the industry, unfairly. There was news before about his having convinced a newspaper to drop three strips (by three different artists) from their usual spot in the funny pages, to be able to accommodate just one strip of his own comics. It seemed like a small thing to give effort in protesting to, so I guess it didn't garner much reaction. But as this National Artist Award is worth a lot to the industry (or at least it used to, if it isn't anymore now), I guess some people can no longer hold their silence.

So it seems like a big mob-like onslaught now, but I think that for the others privy to what's been happening behind-the-scenes in the industry, this outrage has actually been a long time coming.

Sean said...

I've caught Mr. Alanguilan's video response recently, and it looks pretty good. It does a lot to put a cap on the outrage, I think, although the sentiment is probably still floating around. I regret that I was not able to see the ABS-CBN panel discussion, although from what I've heard, Caparas is being stubborn about the whole bit (as can probably be expected).

The argumentation is obviously on, and I think I can close my concerns that it's going to be mobbish in nature. I suppose I should have thought better of the artistic community in that regard.

happylittlegirl said...

Actually, now that Caparas and his supporters have given their statements/opinions about the criticism towards them, and they all exude the same kind of childish stubborness, and even worse personal attacks than the ones that have been aimed at them, I'm more afraid that the more level-headed members of the artistic community will be the ones mobbed.

And because I'm a little jaded, I think that maybe all this protesting will not change anything or even matter in the end and that we will just be forced to accept that the National Artist Award is now nothing more than something that boosts artists' publicity. :(

banzai cat said...

true that.

Sean said...

Ida: As much as I wish that that wouldn't be the case, it looks likely.

Despite the name-calling by the pro-Caparas side, the fact is that the issue is stalemated right now. These people know perfectly well that a stalemate favors their side; I only wish that we could trace the source of Caparas's nomination so that we can find out exactly which group named him to the list. (The government claims that it was a creative artists' group who named him, although they haven't noted exactly who this was.)