Friday, February 13, 2009

Unreality Shows

As the reality show Pinoy Big Brother hits yet another season, we are witnessing something that is more than a media flick that manages to successfully distract Filipinos from their country’s socio-economic and political woes. It is morel likely to be an indicator of the low level of personal esteem and integrity in the general audience and consequently greater appreciation for distasteful forms of behavior.

Avid followers of reality shows, as well as hopeful candidates of these programs, may disagree. They may claim, and they are correct to some extent, that such shows actually give people the opportunity to be discovered and become successful. Granted that this is true—at least for the lone winner who takes home all the cash—we may ask ourselves if success or fame is justified when these are attained at the expense of the person’s dignity?

The origins of the Big Brother reality show dates back to 1999 when the Dutch media had the idea of hosting a program to pay tribute to George Orwell’s novel “1984”. The T.V. program recreated Orwell’s concept of the “Big Brother” where the participants’ every move are scrupulously watched and controlled. Since then the concept of reality shows was born and immediately copied by other producers worldwide and fashioned to the idiosyncrasies of their culture.

This was a most ideal show whose unlimited variations assured that the viewing public will never get bored. The setting, the topics, and the people involved did not really matter much as long as –aside from making money roll– the public had their fair share of entertainment. But what form of entertainment?

The idea was to amuse the public by broadcasting real life situations taken from every possible setting such as houses, buses, elevators and even hospitals. But aside from these, reality shows also projected real life situations revealing the most intimate things about the participants. These ranged from talent search for budding artists, match-making situations, real-time coverage of heart attacks, surgeries, interviews with people about their most weird experiences from sex to assassination attempts, etc. All these were meant to give the audience a real dose of life. But again, what kind of life?

A closer scrutiny, however, of reality shows reveals otherwise. In the first place, its producers are not only interested in broadcasting just any particular life setting or individual, but impose a series of rigorous selection processes to come out with the desired “reality”. And it has to effectively catch the audience attention. More often than not this key ingredient is found in the revelation of what is most intimate to the person.

Thus, aside from being disposed to doing or saying anything, the candidates are also chosen from backgrounds that would make them stand out from the usual John Doe or Juan de la Cruz. In other words, if one has traits of deviancy in his or her life, say coming from a dysfunctional family, or being a single parent, a college drop-out or a reformed drug addict, etc. These crucial ingredients of almost every reality show can innocently pass as another unique way of entertainment. But these shows are actually hiding from the audience a bleaker and more disturbing reality: man who is interiorly empty of personal intimacy.

Now, among many of man’s unique traits given by God is his capacity for interior awareness. Only man has the ability to look into himself, and become conscious of a treasure called self-possession. This gift allows him to possess, what we often call an “idea of himself” from which arises his personal identity and dignity. This possession of self also becomes the core of personal intimacy, to which only the person has a right to.

The mass following for reality shows reveals that man is hungry for intimacy, but not what could be found within himself and develop his personal integrity. Instead, he fills his inner void within with the intimate but deviant behavior exposed by some candidates of reality shows. In the process, man becomes emptier than ever because he does nothing more than absord the emptiness of other persons. Moreover, it isn’t just other people’s shallow intimacy, but a distorted intimacy that paves the way for the deconstruction of individual character and identity.

In no time a great multitude of young people who are seeking a piece of something meaningful for their inner selves, are only led to swallow the subtle but deforming examples communicated through reality shows. Thus, premarital relations, indecent speech and behavior, violent gestures and reactions, and the “congratulation of first experiences” of vices such as gambling, masturbation and even drugs, etc. are held to be acceptable forms of indulgence for the youth.

It’s about time for Pinoy Big Brother, as well as any other reality show, to get real by fostering the values and dignity of our Filipino culture! Otherwise viewers are immersed and drowned by the unrealistic portrayal of man’s original dignity and intimacy that God created him to enjoy.

Friday, February 6, 2009

“Spiritual Dictation”

“Father, what is spiritual direction?” the young college engineering student asked.
I rummaged through my mental archives looking for a quick wiki definition. “Well, I guess you could compare it to some sort of spiritual curriculum.”

“A spiritual curriculum…,” he ruminated on the phrase as though trying to digest it as he mumbled to himself.

“Yup, a spiritual curriculum towards a specific identity or make-up that will help you to personally claim ownership over your baptismal vocation.”

“Wow, you mean towards graduating towards my heavenly degree?”

“Well, I couldn’t put it better than that,” I was happy to see that he was catching with the analogy I put forward. “But it shouldn’t straightjacket the Christian into some sort of a dry or dull spiritual life. On the contrary, it serves as a guide which one can personally enrich when he gets familiar with the basic ingredients necessary for his spiritual life.”

“Basic ingredients?” he seemed a little lost. Then without taking his eyes off mine, he pulls out his cell phone from his pocket.

He may have set his device on vibrating mode. I paused in order to give him some space to check his cell. I was, however, impressed that he only glanced at his cell, clicked a key, and looked to me again as his fingers dexterously texted a message.

Having regained his attention I continued. “It can also be compared to wanting to learn how to paint.”

“Paint…,” he muttered. He glanced at his phone again, then immediately looked back at me as if not to say that he was all ears again.

“Yes, paint…,” I said. At this point I was feeling a little uneasy with his cell. But I felt it was more important to get my message across than to allow myself to be irritated with his texting someone. “Let’s say if you wanted me to teach you how to paint, then you wouldn’t expect me to provide you with the canvas, the brush and the paint. I suppose, being the student, you should provide them yourself.”

“Right…,” he said as his fingers stopped texting.

I was quite relieved to see that he can now pay more attention to what I was about to say. “The canvas can be compared to your life, the brush and paint are the means to draw out your spiritual life. The priest has the role of teaching the person the basics: the right symmetry, proportion, combining shades and hues, etc. combining the paint of prayer, sacrifice and the sacraments. All with the end of painting the portrait of Christ in one’s entire existence.
“Super!” he exclaimed. His fingers were once again zapping out a text to someone.

Interiorly, I couldn’t help feeling annoyed, especially when he always seemed to start texting someone after I had just made an important point. But I held my cool and continued, “That isn’t all! Once someone has learned the basics, he can now work on acquiring his own style and form in painting out the fruits of faith, hope and love in his life.”

“That’s really ubertastic, Father! I really never saw spiritual direction in this way.” He again looked at his cell, and started out to text another message.

“That’s it!” I said to myself, “If he does it one more time I’m going to teach him to have more manners when having a conversation.” But I guess I didn’t have to say that when I saw him slowly pocketing his cell phone. [WHEW!]

“This, however, doesn’t mean that one can just forego one’s director or spiritual guide even if one has gotten quite a good hand in living his spiritual life. Since the end towards which our spiritual life is headed for is Someone, and not something; Someone infinitely powerful, knowing, merciful and loving, it means that we will never reach a point of being satisfied with our progress. We will constantly need clearer points of reference and guidance, so as to come out with a more refined way of loving and serving God and our neighbor.”

As I ended he took out his cell again. That was the signal I was waiting for, but not wanting to extinguish his interest to spiritually grow, I tried my best not to sound irritated, “Jed, who have you been texting all this time, while we were talking?”

“Oh, no one, Father! I forgot to bring my notebook, and was simply jotting down everything you were telling me so I wouldn’t forget it,” he said with a wide smile.

[SIGH] “Lord, What will the youth think of next?” I said in silent prayer.