With the intense cheapening of Internet services that began in the 2000s, I had fervently hoped that the intellectual landscape of the Philippines would finally, finally, finally-please-Universe-help-the-Filipinos change for the better. The millenial generation, my generation, is officially the last generation to experience informational scarcity. Everyone born in the mid-nineties onward had access to the search engines and everything that came with the Internet. I say this with a sense of deadpan certainty because capitalism is like that: it leaves no part of the market unturned. This simply means that the telecom giants knew that if they wanted to extract as much profit as possible from this benighted, information-starved land, they had to let customers from all social classes in, and not just the annoying, social climbing ingliseros who had parents who drove cars with names I could not pronounce.
But no. Things didn’t exactly play out as I had imagined them when the gulag of dial up Internet (I’m looking at you Mozcom Internet, you dirtbag) finally ended. Like any sensible lad who loved reading but grew up in an economy where books continue to be a luxurious upgrade for the moneyed, I envisioned a country that would at least be more aware of itself with access to information like never before. This may sound strange to folks who grew up with the Internet, but to me and those from my generation, the fact that we can finally hold a halfway decent video call using Yahoo Messenger was nothing short of miraculous. My generation only experienced truly usable Internet came when we were already in college, and even then, many of us were still using dial-up prepaid Internet cards like ISP Bonanza that provided roughly 22 hours of Trip to Jerusalem internet with a high risk of not connecting to the ISP after several redials. My ears rang with the continuous beeping pattern that roughly translated to my old modem begging the ISP to open the doors because I wanted to use the mIRC chat program. My first ever interaction with YouTube in the mid-2000s was watching a clip called “Ortigas elevator scandal.” The fucker took half an hour to load, and apart from some vanilla smooching with a shy lady in a generic blouse and skirt uniform, what I really got was a generous helping of awkwardness as the guy in the video repeatedly mashed the elevator control panel to keep the machine moving from floor to floor. It didn’t help that the guy carried an umbrella half his size in one arm as he barely ‘got it on.’ Why this damned clip made it to YouTube in the first place, I could only attribute to two possible things: the security department of the building gets its kicks from picking on lovelorn employees swapping spit or the uploader probably had a voyeurism fetish. Whatever the case may be, consuming the video back in the day was akin to getting your tooth pulled out by a cheaper alternative to a dentist.
It was late night talk show host Conan O’Brien who alluded to the slow death of TV because people were spending more and more time on YouTube. In 2017, Forbes magazine reported that globally, people were already spending more than a billion hours watching YouTube daily. This mind-boggling figure might convince people that YouTube killed the TV stars, and that we are solidly in the era of the personalized digital native experience on the Web. However, a 2018 report by The Atlantic also states that the Internet has cut on average, only a measly hour off of people’s regular TV time in the USA. Then there’s Netflix and Disney+, too, which we could count as the bastard children of overpriced cable TV programming and equally overpriced, hyped up, but mostly empty, Internet. Conan (or “Coco,” a name he used for a time to convince people to watch his season premieres) may have mistook falling TV ratings as a sign that people were losing interest in TV because they had YouTube or any other video streaming service on their laptops or phones. But now we know that’s complete bull, and as expected, people found a way to cram in even more digital time into their lives. So no, Conan, your show just took a beating on cable TV because there are just too many late night talk shows to begin with.
Growing up in the cassette tape era meant I had the (mis)fortune of being exposed to strange and often fantastical tales of censorship attempts from here and abroad. One particular attempt at pop culture censorship was particularly memorable: the years-long crusade to get the rapper Andrew E. banned from local airwaves. Artists like Andrew E. made mincemeat of public and private school GMRC and Christian Living classes with bombshells like “Maggy” and “Banyo Queen.” Songs like “Maggy” were particularly cruel to the religious and conservative folks:
Maggy akin na (Na-na-na-na)Andrew E., “Maggy” (1999)
Kakainin na (Baby ang alin?)
Ang iyong food
Maggy akin na (Na-na-na-na)
Didilaan na (Baby ang alin?)
Ang iyong ice cream
I can almost hear the screams of pain and anguish of the conservatives as they chanced upon the random Andrew E. song on the FM band. I can also imagine their teenage sons wearing baggy shirts and Breakdown amulets, sniggering and imagining what Maggy actually looked like.
Of course, the masses simply loved Andrew E. The same way that the masses loved Vic Sotto, Dolphy, Siakol, Eraserheads, Parokya ni Edgar, Magnolia Ice Cream, and San Miguel Beer. While Andrew E. is unabashedly macho and often sexist with his rap, it can also be said that those who tried to censor him more than a decade ago were also guilty of being repressive and hypocritical. After all, when exactly is the right time to think or talk about sex? Behind closed doors? On your honeymoon after the wedding? While seated on the throne, where no one else can see you stroking your meat or rubbing your oyster? It’s not as if adults didn’t dawdle with sex themselves. In fact, I think they dawdled more because having six, seven, or ten children after World War 2 was quite common. How can anyone, with a clear conscience, stop teenagers from exploring their sexualities and expect them to be knowledgeable adults? Where would they source the dialogues, the hits and misses, the funny moments, so they can make sense of the birds and the bees?
The bomba movies of the seventies and all the R-18 flicks in the eighties and nineties are indicative of this hypocrisy. Flesh flicks didn’t exactly serve twelve to eighteen year olds; they’re made specifically for earning adults who lined up for a chance to see the likes of Stella Strada, Pepsi Paloma, Rosanna Roces, and Joyce Jimenez on the silver screen. Don’t even get me started on pirated VHS rental shops where the majority of these adults get their cheap thrills by renting bootleg copies of these movies just weeks after release. Adult movies don’t assemble themselves, you know. There was a rabid, testosterone-fueled market driving the film studios, and cashing in on the demand was dead simple because there were plenty of old-timers who watched these flicks before or after Sunday mass. Even with old school piracy, where VHS rental shops manually recorded camcorder copies of movies unto blank tapes, the studios still made a killing until the early 2000s, where interest in soft-core Filipino porn began to wane.
I would say that this era’s contour can be summed up by remembering parental blockbuster hits like “gawain ng walang pinag-aralan yan!,” “punyeta ka!,” “bakit ang tigas ng ulo mo?,” “basta makinig ka!,” and the all-time summer romance favorite, “wala kang papel dito bata ka lang!” Whenever I heard grown-ups speak these one-line zingers as a kid, I felt an intense urge to smack someone hard or break a chair on someone’s face for trying to reason with me this way. I’d rather listen to Andrew E. all day. And perhaps this was the reason why so many others did, even when Andrew E. was being tagged as a sex peddler-slash-youth corrupter.
Who exactly is corrupting who again?
Marius D. Carlos, Jr.
Marius D. Carlos, Jr. is a storyteller, essayist, and journalist. He is an independent researcher focused on transnational capitalism, neocolonialism, empire, and pop culture. Contact him for writing projects. Visit Marius’ profile on Minds, MeWe, and Twitter. Email Marius: firstname.lastname@example.org.