The Philippine Imaginary

01 Oct 2009 (Thu) at 9:17 pm 4 comments

The sexy and silenced Filipina.

The sexy and silenced Filipina.

Take U to the Philippines
Artist: Apl.de.Ap
Director: Andrew Lo
2009

Take U to the Philippines is the latest project of the Philippine Department of Tourism, now in collaboration with The Black Eyed Peas’s Filipino member Allan Pineda Lindo aka apl.de.ap. The video is literally an imagined Philippines. Unlike previous government tourism campaigns which make use of spectacular cinematography, the Take U to the Philippines video is completely rendered in computer graphics. Every element is a construction.

The music video rehashes the age-old image of the Philippines as rich in natural—and female—resources. Coconut trees and rural beauty are always at the literal foreground; the city’s skyline relegated to the distant horizon. Development and urbanization are eschewed for a decidedly nativist approach, banking on the imagery of nipa huts, exotic flora, and natural formations.

Historically, it has been this image of unspoiled and naïve beauty which has lured foreign interest in the Philippines. The only difference now is that the propagator of this image is not an American colonial governor, but a Filipino musician. This merely reflects the neocolonial context of the nation today, where a Filipino-led government continues to forward an imperialist agenda in the political, economic and cultural spheres.

Somewhere in the video, apl.de.ap enumerates various (mostly Luzon-based) travel destinations, ending curiously with Subic. As recent memory would show, Subic was the setting for one of the country’s biggest scandals of late: the Nicole rape case, where a Filipina was raped by a gang of American soldiers led by Lance Corporal Daniel Smith. A landmark case in the history of US-RP relations, the incident became emblematic of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and how foreign interests were valued more than Filipino patrimony and welfare. (Smith was convicted but repatriated; out of trauma and desperation over the much-prolonged and highly sensitive issue, Nicole has since settled, recanting the case with a dubious retraction and choosing to start over in the USA.)

The image of the Filipina in Take U to the Philippines is an alluring lass who dances seductively, and let us emphasize, is completely voiceless. This, in fact, is the exact description that the Smith’s lawyers used to portray Nicole, whom they labeled a slut. That this new tourism campaign panders to this image is a disservice to Filipinas, whose international image varies from maid, mail-order bride, and sex worker. It is worth noting that The Black Eyed Peas’s other Filipina-themed songs like Bebot and Mare also adhere to this ogling view of Pinay pride.

“Everybody’s working, they’re surviving/ They want peace, no more fighting,” raps apl.de.ap. Ironically, for a government video, these lines go against two major projects of the Philippine government: charter change, and the VFA. Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s charter change proposal, for example, allows for foreign ownership of media and business—a definite blow to a nation where local job opportunities are few, and transnational companies ruthlessly crush workers’unions in order to contractualize labor. The VFA, on the other hand, is a clearly lopsided agreement, allowing the USA to use the Philippines as its Pacific outpost, permits US participation in local wars against insurgency which terrify and displace the civilian populace, and, as seen in the Nicole case, lets US marines rape Filipinas and get away with it. To add to the irony, apl.de.ap himself is a product of the VFA—he was born in Angeles City, Pampanga to a Filipina mother and an African-American airman stationed at the Clark Air Base.

Save for these two phrases of token humanism, the video is pretty much consistent. Apl.de.ap and the Department of Tourism definitely take us to a certain imaginary of the Philippines: a quaint and beautiful land which strangely resembles Hawaii, where the women are sexy, submissive and silent, a land which is largely rural but urban in the right places. “Pinoy pride!” says an enthusiastic YouTube comment to the video; while apl.de.ap is certainly a figure worthy of Pinoy pride, Take U to the Philippines is a generally backward picture of the nation, merely reinforcing an image which has long been peddled by our colonial masters.

This, however, is precisely why the video will work. Take U to the Philippines follows a time-tested colonial formula, sways to a cosmopolitan beat and is rendered in hip and contemporary visuals. How can it go wrong? In the final analysis, the video is another success in the imperialist project for the hearts and minds of the Third World. #

Apl.de.ap and Tourism Secretary Ace Durano peace out.

Apl.de.ap and Tourism Secretary Ace Durano peace out.

Entry filed under: Edgar Allan Paule, Filipino films, Music videos. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. john  |  27 Oct 2009 (Tue) at 6:41 pm

    Excellent points. It stings to have fellow Filipinos doing the perpetration of the stereotypes. What did you think of Apl’s “Bebot”? That one took some flack from the Fil-Am community.

  • 2. Edgar Allan Paule  |  27 Oct 2009 (Tue) at 11:21 pm

    Hi John, thanks for dropping by! Hmm, about ‘Bebot,’ well, I think it’s a hip mix of kanto-boy catcalls, Pinoy pride, some nativism and migrant struggle narratives. It’s like a macho Pinoy version of “don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got/ I’m still, I’m still Jenny from the block.” And Filipinas, as “bebots” are reduced to being malambing and maganda–pretty much the same old chauvinistic tones not uncommon in commercial hip-hop in general. But the shallow (yet danceable and LSS-friendly) professions of Pinoy pride kinda blur everything into the background. Hehehe. I thought his remake of Asin’s ‘Balita’ was more interesting.

    Overall, the beats are catchy, and it’s a Filipino song from an internationally-known band, so to put it down would probably be interpreted as “the-usual-Filipino-crab-mentality” or something. No one messes with Pinoy pride, after all. Right? Hehehe.

    It was fun seeing it on that Ugly Betty episode though. The strange thing was that it was used to suggest Japanese-ness. Certainly some pan-Asian thing going on there.

    I wasn’t aware of the Fil-am community’s reaction to the song. How did people react over there?

  • 3. john  |  08 Nov 2009 (Sun) at 10:17 pm

    Ed, thanks for your thoughts on “Bebot” and sorry for the late reply. I only found out the objections to the music video from the editorial columns of a Fil-Am newspaper. The only thing I can remember is an argument about misrepresenting Filipino Americans. For a more in depth story about it, I recommend the link: http://www.asiaarts.ucla.edu/article.asp?parentid=52374

    I do feel bad for the director. It was a labor of love to get the video done and attempt to get it on music channels.

    As for Apl, even with his flaws, I’m glad someone in the mainstream US music business is putting out Filipino songs. I’ll risk being called a “crab”, but “international” Filipino musicians only seem to sing English songs already made popular by someone else. With that in mind, Apl deserves credit for what he has created.

  • 4. Edgar Allan Paule  |  08 Nov 2009 (Sun) at 10:24 pm

    Thanks for the very interesting link! It’s certainly a very sociopolitical video concept for a not-so-great song.

    I agree re Apl. His new indie music project in the Philippines is quite exciting for up and coming talents!

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