‘Basagan ng trip’

By: Ambeth R. Ocampo - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | November 11,2020 - 09:00 AM

Suspension of disbelief allows us to enjoy works of fiction, novels, telenovelas, or movies. Without it, we cannot enjoy the heartwarming Disney Christmas campaign to support the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

While most Filipinos the world over are teary-eyed over the three-minute Disney video and the nostalgia that binds a lola with her granddaughter, I have read some social media posts calling Disney out for cultural appropriation. Unfortunately, I don’t agree with a move that’s as inappropriate as the click-bait campaign that led a group of white dudes to drop “Barkada” as the name of their Washington, DC wine bar some months back.

These online guardians of Filipino culture fail to suspend disbelief and insist on historical accuracy. Some said, and rightly so, that there were still no jeepneys in the Philippines in 1940. A simple Google search, however, will reveal that the jeep shown in the Disney video is not the postwar Sarao model, but the “Auto Calesa” that was plying the streets of Manila from the late 1920s. Another “mema” (may masabi lang) post said the Mickey Mouse stuffed toy being marketed by the video is anachronistic, a modern version, and not the 1940s Mickey. Another Google search would show that this assertion is false, proving that a little knowledge fuels arrogance from ignorance.

Suspension of disbelief allows us to enjoy the Disney video at face value, to appreciate it as the sum of its parts. It is unfortunate that issues of cultural appropriation have afflicted some people outside the ivory towers of academia, the same people now stoking Pinoy oversensitivity to induce online outrage. But the Disney Christmas video used Pinoy cultural elements, the parol and mano po, effectively and positively. There is no intent to insult or reinforce negative ethnic stereotypes. No element or symbolism sacred to our culture and values was utilized. Walang basagan ng trip. It’s a Disney video, not a doctoral dissertation.

As an academic, I often endure discussions on “Orientalism,” wondering what ordinary people in everyday life would make of it. I remember the alarm my aunts caused in Disneyland many years ago when they exited from the “It’s a Small World” ride crying uncontrollably. When Disneyland staff asked what drove them to tears, they pointed to the Philippine doll in the midst of other dolls representing other nations. My aunts then took the ride four or five times more to wave at the Philippine doll in a terno and cry each time. I’m sure any discussion on the “imperial gaze” or the “spectre of comparisons” would be lost on them.

Nick Joaquin’s essay, “Culture and History,” reminds us that we are the sum of our cultural borrowings. That “in the process of becoming,” some of our borrowings from the foreign may be negative, but many are positive. How many of us stand to lose happy childhood memories if Italians called us out for appropriating spaghetti? Worse, mangling it into a version completely our own with limp pasta, covered with sweet banana ketchup and ornamented with hot dog slices. And what would Japanese cuisine be if the Portuguese did not introduce deep-fry in the 16th century, which gave us tempura?

While culture must be shared, the borrower must engage with the culture beyond the surface level. I remember a dance scholar railing against National Artist Lucrecia Urtula for appropriating elements of obscure Mindanao dances and transforming them into the riveting, world-class “Singkil,” which became a staple of the Bayanihan Dance Company. How would dance progress if Urtula was limited by ownership of each dance movement or gesture? Urtula’s choreography, like those of fellow National Artists Francisca Reyes Aquino and Ramon Obusan, preserved the old and enriched the new.

What would Pinoy food be like if we had not appropriated toyo? Where would our food world be if we did not get, during the 16th-century galleon trade, fruit and vegetable immigrants from Mexico — singkamas, talong, sigarilyas, mani, sitaw, bataw, and patani, enshrined in the nursery rhyme “Bahay Kubo”? We presume these are native to the Philippines, like other plant immigrants from Mexico with names ending in “te”: kamote, sayote, achuete, zapote, and tsokolate.Since cultural appropriation is inevitable in our global and globalizing world, we must come to terms with it, or risk preserving culture in suspended animation like the static dioramas at the Ayala Museum.

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