A candid and personal examination of the Philippine comics scene from a social, cultural, economic and business point of view.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Celebrating Saturnalia

Wow. Was that another Christmas day that had just gone by?

It used to be that you heard Christmas songs played almost everywhere, unconsciously humming the same tune over and over in your head as you went along doing your thing. And that’s in early October.

In the evenings, enterprising children would group together, ingeniously manufacture their makeshift musical instruments out of tin cans, cover the top with plastic, seal the edges with rubber band, look for a wooden stick, collect bottle caps stringing them together in a wire, then go on caroling from house to house—sometimes accompanied by their parents. What happened? Where are they? Nowadays, beggars have replaced the carolers.

Then there’s the “parol” or Christmas lanterns dexterously made out of art paper, sticks, cellophane and electric lights, either displayed proudly in front of every home or sold in every street corner. Or how about those vendor-hawkers who used to ply the middle of the street in droves selling the latest smuggled toy from China?

What about the usual tradition of neighbors and friends exchanging food viands then the next morning, returning the glass bowls, saucers, plates and Tupperware? And of course, those firecrackers that anxiously, if not prematurely, went off in early October? Nowadays they all go off in unison on December 31.

There are others but you get the idea. Austerity has certainly left its mark. It has made people stop and think. Take for instance Christmas day.

Before, it was widely thought that this was the birth date of Jesus Christ. No one knows when Christ was really born, yet December 25 has without question, been universally accepted as his date of birth. Nowadays, with the advent of various sources of free information, the internet among them, a growing number of spiritually enlightened people believe otherwise.

In ancient times, December 25 was actually an annual holiday of gift-giving and revelry held in honor of the Roman god, Saturn. It was only after Christianity became a religious-political force, and Emperor Constantine was forced to reconcile pagan, pantheist religion with Christianity, that it was decreed that Saturn be replaced by Jesus Christ as the new celebratory deity and December 25 as Jesus’ birth date; maintaining the tradition of public celebration, commercialism and gift-giving to appease the Roman pagans. This tradition was maintained through the centuries by Judeo-Christian institutions, particularly the Roman Catholic Church.

Of late, Bible scholars and astronomers have determined the birth date of Jesus Christ to have been somewhere between April 20 to 22; a good eight months prior to December 25. If this is the case, then why persist in doing something wrong and justify it as tradition?

And its not just Christmas day. Austerity has made us think, be aware and question what we have been doing; asking whether or not our premises, customs, traditions, and way of thinking have brought us into the present mess we’re in right now.

Relating that to the context of the subject matter at hand, many Filipino comics creatives right now have begun to be aware and question the present state of the Philippine comics scene. What has gone before, why it happened, what’s been done in its place by the new elitist, globalized “indie” custodians and backward thinking veteran traditionalists, why they’ve miserably failed for the last 15 years or so, why they’re still in a state of naïve, mass denial… it’s a guilty open secret. We don’t need to repeat THAT again. So in this season of hope and joy, is there any REAL reason to celebrate?

Awareness and destruction always precede change. The awareness phase is still ongoing. It is difficult and it musn’t let up if the kind of change some out there aspire to, is to arise. If you consider that as a sign of hope, then that is probably enough. Commence the rejoicing then. Celebrate Saturnalia if only for the briefest of moments and for the right reasons.
May God be with you.


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