It’s that time of the year again and while a lot of us are busy with preparing for Christmas, I’m busying myself with creating Halloween stories to tell for those who may want to listen. As I’ve said many times before, my year simply doesn’t feel complete without a period of fearful stories and mysterious noises in the night. But enough about me, because this is less about me and my preferences (at least mostly anyway) and more about how our culture seems to have changed over the years which is all too often influenced by our media.
Let’s begin with another memory of my late grandfather…
It was Halloween that night and my biological grandfather was around to drink beer with him. My biological grandfather was from the province of Ilocos and wasn’t all that good with speaking English and was why I asked to translate for them. Of course, since alcohol was involved, it wasn’t long before their conversation took a turn for the weird and they began discussing folklore and scary stories.
My American grandfather told of old Native American myths that were all too common in his hometown since it was not at all that far from a Native American reservation. He spoke of the dreaded wendigo, a spirit of cannibalism who either took the form of a frostbitten giant who hungered for human flesh or simply existed as a great blizzard that drove people to commit acts of violence and depravity. He told tales of skin-walkers, creatures that could change their shape and appearance at will and deceive people into thinking that they were simply birds, squirrels or even another human being until they could attack and tear their victims limb from bloody limb.
My Ilokano grandfather then spoke of our own brand of myths which were both frightening and beautiful in their own right. One such creature was of course the tikbalang, the horse-headed monstrosity that hides in the woods, waiting for hapless victims to come its way and spiriting them away into the woods. Another would be the demonic karkarison which was a plague cart pulled by a headless carabao with an equally headless driver and, sometimes, if you were really unlucky, the cart would also be full of headless passengers.
The night went on and the two drunken old men laughed at old legends such as the “backless woman” who, while beautiful, simply lacked a back when you walked around to look at her from behind. They debated on the nature of vampires and whether or not the aswang could be categorized as a local flavor of vampire lore. They also briefly talked about the giants of folklore such as the European ogre, the Scandinavian troll, the Filipino kapre and the Japanese oni and how similar all of them seemed when stripped of cultural differences.
The next day, when my grandfather finally recovered from his hangover and we were having a picnic at the local cemetery, we spoke of the conversation he had with my biological grandfather. He laughed that he had had fun with the conversation he had and that he learned much from the other old man. Then I asked whether or not the stories frightened him or if he actually believed them. He only laughed and said that he never really believed in spooky stories, even his own, but they were great fun he said and that a nation’s folklore often shapes its culture in subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle ways.
When I asked him to tell more, he told me that every country has its own identity which is often manifested by its culture. Note, he said, how the Japanese have such a strange culture compared to that of our own and that it is their belief in honoring their ancestors that make them such a determined people often to the point of selflessness. Another thing to consider would be how the Scandinavians are so adventurous and that their tales of trolls, giants and dragons not only fail to inspire fear but instead imbue them with a sense of adventure and discovery.
I didn’t understand it at the time, being just a young and selfish teenager but, after putting two and two together as I got older, I came to understand what he actually meant. That folklore and perhaps even urban legends are a part of a country’s culture which is as close as one can come to a nation’s very soul. After all, is it not the scary tales of ninja-like tengu darting amongst the trees that forced Japanese children to huddle together and at the same time learn more about one another? Could it be perhaps the tales of dragons and their coveted treasures that inspire a sense of curiosity and adventure in Swedish children? Germans tell tales of industrious dwarves who become wealthy for their troubles and does this not teach their children to be just as industrious so that they too may become wealthy and comfortable later on in life?
Now, I am glad that Filipino folklore continues to endure both in the tales we tell one another as well as that of a portion of the local media. Just recently I got to see a series about a boy who had tikbalang blood, actually and while I didn’t like the show proper, I will say that at least the legend of the tikbalang lives on in the hearts of the Filipino people. Unfortunately, it’s more than a little sad to note that while our legends live on, their legacies, sadly, do not.
What do I mean?
While yes, our legends live on in stories and the like but, I tend to think that our media dilutes them to the point that they too are twisted by the reverse Midas-touch that is inherent in just about all mainstream shows in the Philippines.
I mean a lot of shows aren’t bad but could certainly be better in some ways. Now, it doesn’t matter whether the show is based on local legends or a foreign one altogether, what happens is that there is too little creativity in the works of the local mainstream media that it comes off flawed and forced in some respects.
At the end of the day, they come out less like the creatures of legend and have to take a backseat to often ridiculous teleserye clichés or sometimes unsavory elements added in for the sake of popularity.
For instance, I’m willing to say that Alyas Robin Hood would probably receive less flak if it simply drew on the lore of the original character from British myth. As some of you may know, the original Robin Hood is often shown wearing a feathered cap instead of a hood. It would also be more enjoyable if the creators of the show simply added in modernizations of the characters depicted in the legend such as the Sheriff of Nottingham who can instead be a modern-day corrupt police chief and Prince John who can instead be a modern Vice Mayor Juan who is ruling in the place of a sick or comatose Mayor Richard who is a clear analogue of King Richard the Lionhearted. But no, the creators went on to just straight up ripping off DC comics with villains that look like Deathstroke and Heatwave.
Encantadia is another show with considerable potential but sadly eschewed it for the sake of popularity. I once said that imitating another work isn’t always bad and, as an example, I could say that the show could certainly gain some improvements by taking inspiration from books like the Dresden Files series or the game books of Changeling: The Lost. The idea of amoral fae or at least fae trying to be moral despite finding it difficult seems interesting as it creates the potential for character development and more engaging plot twists. Unfortunately, again, that was not what happened. What happened instead was that they just rode on the coattails of Game of Thrones and went for the tried and tested formula of the teleserye with love triangles and other such nonsense.
Truth be told, I could name a lot of other shows with plenty of potential, especially those that draw inspiration from local folklore. These shows too have great potential were they to be explored properly and could quite possibly gain international acclaim with enough support. But then, these potentials are rarely even commented upon, and we get the usual garbage inherent to just about every teleserye either.
It’s little wonder why the Philippines has become dominated by the weak-willed and ignorant as their own legends and the sense of wonder that goes with them have been mostly forgotten and replaced by cruel lies disguised as “moral lessons”. It’s more than a little sad to note that while one can always claim that old stories and myths are nothing more than what they are, the children of today will probably remember nothing asides from melodramatic stories of mistresses and slap-fests in their childhood.
- Isang Mensahe Para Kay Mocha Uson, Ang Bagong Myembro Ng MTRCB - January 6, 2017
- 3 Steps To Finding Success And Happiness In One’s Life - December 24, 2016
- How Pinoy Over-Romanticism Destroys Us As Persons - December 19, 2016
- Why I Think The Catholic Church In The Philippines Is Doing More Harm Than Good - December 6, 2016
- No More Nonsense Films For This Year’s MMFF: Why I Have Some Hope For The Media - December 4, 2016