Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Beyond fantasy and sensibility

Beyond Fantasy and Sensibility

(Or for a Filipino Science Fiction!)

By Lualhati Madlangawa Guerrero 

It was weeks ago when this writer had read a writeup concerning the difficulty of having a Filipino Science Fiction by Dominique Cimafranca.

Personally, science fiction in general isn't based merely on American influence nor much emphasised in its sensibilities. Despite the fact that American movie producers espoused the idea of American-style sensibilities in their work including those of science fiction, it's all but a perspective being reinterpret as a basis in which Mr. Cimafranca had stated.

The American dream-model as basis for science fiction

According to Cimafranca, Science Fiction was just made merely for mass market looking for quick, cheap thrills and easy entertainment. Yes, not quite wrong with that especially in regards to modern culture that is mass produced; but earlier works seemed to be applicable for few, interested audiences particularly those whom espoused the wonders of technology through literature.

But, as this writer continue to read his post, seems that Cimafranca had rather emphasised that Science Fiction is largely based on the American model which is mainstream (with producers really making quick, cheap thrills and easy entertainment out of that genre), not knowing that there were other models from other countries such as France with its Jules Verne, or in England with H.G. Wells for example.

Here are the Sensibilities that usually depicted in the American setting, or as what Cimafranca stated, examples largely being featured in modern science fiction stories:

1.) Frontier Mentality
2.) Self Improvement
3.) Efficiency through Technology
4.) Capitalism?
5.) Independence
5.) Equality?

Well, true to fact that most Science Fiction works, particularly contemporary ones are being made in the United States, then it is natural for Cimafranca that American sensibilities is much featured in Science Fiction, and that is somehow contradicting to the outward, fatalistic Filipino setting. "Frontier Mentality" for instance, includes those of "Manifest Destiny", that served as one of the basis for American imperialism and exceptionalism. Movies like "Iron Sky" featured American exceptionalism in justifying bombing of the Nazi-occupied moon, describing its inhabitants, including civilians as "terrorists"; so was frontier mentality in justifying the occupation of the moon citing the American flag being planted by Neil Armstrong years ago.

As for this writer, in citing number 4 (Capitalism), is Science Fiction both glorify or criticize capitalism? Can be, although Jack London exposed Capitalism badly in his work "Iron Heel" with the oligarchy  ruling over the society. Russia's Alexander Bogdanov, though his "Red Star" had strongly opposed Capitalism as well. 

But how about non-American examples?

But come to think of this, if Science Fiction is just and simple American, then how about the ones made by the French or the British? Soviet Russian or the Chinese? The fact that science fiction glorifies the future, technology and even reason, Cimafranca had failed to see science fiction in general as diverse, with its exact definition remains a contested question among both scholars and devotees. Writers had afford to romanticize the wonders of discovery through literature, and to some extent, even the religious pieces of the Hindus like the Mahabharata and Ramayana had also dealt with technology prior to its actual creation as according to Wikipedia:

Ancient Indian poetry such as the Hindu epic Ramayana (5th to 4th century BCE) includes Vimana flying machines able to travel into space or under water, and destroy entire cities using advanced weapons. In the first book of the Rigveda collection of Sanskrit hymns (1700–1100 BCE), there is a description of "mechanical birds" that are seen "jumping into space speedily with a craft using fire and water... containing twelve stamghas (pillars), one wheel, three machines, 300 pivots, and 60 instruments." The ancient Hindu mythological epic, the Mahabharatha (8th and 9th centuries BCE) includes the story of King Revaita, who travels to heaven to meet the creator Brahma and is shocked to learn that many ages have passed when he returns to Earth, anticipating the concept of time travel.

Yet, as time goes by, the deep integration of science and inventions into daily life also encouraged a greater interest in literature that explores the relationship between technology, society, and the individual. Cimafranca had emphasised in his post the American way given its popularity in mainstream readers and viewers, and sensibilities such as rugged individualism and excessive promotion of technology, in which these are contrary to the Filipino psyche, particularly those of fatalism. 

But since Science Fiction was and is all about the American model, then  how about countries that are traditionally command societies? China, Japan, Korea are tradtionally command societies with emphasis on benevolent paternalism in the guise of the so-called "son of heaven", yet at the same time they also had done Science Fiction without harming their sensibilities. How come reformers Liang Qichao and Yang Kouwei, as well as the the social critic Lu Xun had also been influenced by Jules Verne? They had even translated Verne's works with the latter used science and realism to invoke revolutonary aspirations particularly under the May 4th Movement. 
There's even a Wikipedia article about one of the earlier Chinese Science Fiction that explore both yearness for change as well as adventure and the use of technology. However, it had been left unfinished yet least provide idea for Chinese Science Fiction writers to create more:

The earliest work of original science fiction in Chinese is believed to be the unfinished novel Lunar Colony (月球殖民地小說), published in 1904 by an unknown author under the pen name "Old Fisherman of the Secluded River (荒江釣叟)." The story concerns Long Menghua, who flees China with his wife after killing a government official who was harassing his wife's family. The ship they escape on is accidentally sunk and Long's wife disappears. However, Long is rescued by Otoro Tama, the Japanese inventor of a dirigible who helps him travel to Southeast Asia searching for his wife. They join with a group of anti-Qing martial artists to rescue her from bandits. Deciding that the nations of the world are too corrupt, they all travel to the moon and establish a new colony.

The work may had been influenced by the west such as Verne and even Thomas More, that the writer had also yearned for a utopia wherein righteousness being prevailed not just the use of technology alone being featured. He, as Long Menghua had sought how most nations had became corrupted and hence his wife with a group of martial artists decided to travel to the moon, establish a colony, and show an example to the world a society people may idealise, if not described as "perfect."

Those works may had been crude in today's standards citing the use of clockwork mechanisms, Dirigibles, steam engines, diesel-powered machineries rather than today's nanotechnology; on the other hand, it recognizes sensibilities such as love, filial piety, and promotion of virtue as well as freedom. Most people may think of Mahabharata and Ramayana as religious, of not early Indian literary text not knowing about the presence of space and aircraft used in the story, much more that the Hindus had also researched about space travel centuries ago. The Chinese, particlarly during the pre-Qing periods had even been well known in the sciences despite having Science Fiction introduced in the late 19th century, the legend of the Ming-era scientist Wan Hu, known for his attempt to reach space by means of a chair filled with rockets, can be considered as one of China's scientific attempts and perhaps be classified as fiction.

But how about the Philippines? 

Despite presenting a facade of modernity like those of Makati, Ortigas and Fort Bonifacio, contemporary Filipino culture is all but a mish-mash of past and present, especially with the former with its sensibilities predominating. 

And according to Cimafranca, these are the age-old sensibilities Filipinos usually manifested, and somehow contradicts the usual sensibility of most Science Fiction novels:

1.) Relationships
2.) Loyalty
3.) Cheerfulness
4.) Industry
5.) Ingenuity
5.) Faith in divine providence

Contradicting indeed, but most of these sensibilities are similar to other Asian countries like China with its Filial Piety and the Industriousness of the Japanese, yet most Filipinos would likely to emphasise the first and fifth part, incorrectly speaking would likely to call it as fatalism, citing the Filipino "Bahala na" (Come what may) attitude as one example. 

Much more that, as according to Cimafranca, that these sensibilities are inward, than outward looking, invoking accomodation and cooperation than confrontation and conquest; Filipinos, even in preHispanic times had lived off through trade with Indian or chinese goods used by the Datu and the Maharlika class, these showed accommodation, and even the Spanish colonizers like De Goiti and Legazpi experienced accommodation and cooperation with Raha Tupas, Matanda, and Sulaiman. But, on the other hand, how about others? Such as the Moros with its rido? The Cordillerans with the tribal war? These meant confrontation and conquest although they do have Bodong and arranged marriages to signify accommodation and cooperation between contested communities and clans. 

In short, the ones Cimafranca had featured are the ones presented thoroughly by the system itself through mainstream media, and most writers are felt contented to making fantasy, heavy drama, and romanticizing those sensibilities for most stations gain profits in it; and with the fact that the Philippines is a Semifeudal-Semicolonial society, writers in the mainstream scene rather focus much on romanticism with producers showing heavy drama if not fantasy for children. Right as what Mr. Cimafranca in his writeup to say that most writers are difficultly writing science fiction and instead dabbling on fantasy or heavy drama. Realism? Unless you are attacking the system there are writers who dabble with realism like the late Directors Brocka or Bernal; but again, mainstream viewers been stucked up in just fantasies, idealizing anything particularly those of love and relationships with loveteams created out of a certain drama series or a movie.

And as for Filipino sensibilities, the system chose to cultivate in it in regards to literature and the arts rather than going beyond. The typical Filipino being presented by the system rather emphasise heart and conscience, fatalism than mind and rationality to justify things, matters, issues surrounding its own and the society belonged, and most Filipino fiction, even those of trying hard science fiction end up emphasising the usual Filipino psyche instead of lessening,  although there were few writers, artists who had least going beyond the psyche or picky enough.

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Movies, such as "Magic to Love" for example, had used both science fiction in the form of Martin Nievera as Zerox and storybook fantasy of Matet de Leon as Twinkle, but its emphasis seemed to be those of love of Zerox, fell in love with a Mannequin named RTW (role taken by Pops Fernandez), and brought her to life by a crystal an extraterrestrial had brought. The movie seemed to be had a cult following especially with the Quezon Memorial being turned into a rocketship, and like any other 80s cult classic includes a song and dance number, and a series of comedic skit.

But, there were movies that aren't really too emphasised on Filipino sensibility in regards to Science Fiction, but instead adapting both western and Filipino ideas with the former much being used a la "The Twilight Zone", "GodZilla" or "Ultra Q"."Tuko sa Madre Kakaw", which was made in 1959 was influenced by western science fiction novels and movies, and even adapted the Mad Scientist type with Vic Diaz taking its role. There he had created a serum that could increase animals its size into giant-like, one of which was a tockay gecko that had scared people, a monster made by a mad scientist hell bent in dreams of world domination.

To most people, these two may consider as science fiction although this writer, personally may think of the latter as much related to science fiction citing the usual suspense, and emphasis on science used by the west. Much more that the Filipino back then, leaning to the west as an inspiration, had tried to emulate western sensibilities "with a touch of Filipinoness" like rural settings, traditions, even animals that are being used by Vic Diaz. The former, on the other hand, was all but typical in most Filipino movies citing song and dance numbers, love affairs, comedic skits, anything in common with others taking "children's interest" as alibi for most producers, or all as but a continuation of Filipino cinema, particularly those of comedy as same as those of theatre during the old days with songs, dances, love teams largely being featured.

"So this is why Filipinos prefer to write fantasy? 
To dwellth in an imagined past?" 

Both scifi and fantasy are idealistic, based on man's vivid or exaggerated imagination, that in turn inspired by the realities brought by mysticism or technology. The Philippines and experienced both based in its comic books, movies and tv shows being shown, but Cimafranca seemed right to say that Filipinos are more contented in fantasy, that most Filipino sensibilities are inclined with the past than those of the future, of myths rather than machines, of conscience rather than rationality. 

But despite the message, does it mean people had to content on what is usually being shown? Particularly those of heavy drama if not family-oriented brouhaha? The west had afford to bring modernity to the world yet the Philippines, despite having modern this, modern that, façades of glass and steel, rather content in its age old idea (since it is inherent "allegedly"), if not acquired ones such as submitting to the wishes of the west and its so-called wonder (actually, it is!) How wonder that this writer sees people contented in wholesale westernization and yet in regards to making Science Fiction still having much difficulty, much more that they fail having efforts in emphasising technology, industrialization, and innovation to hasten certain major changes in the society.

But come to think of this, does it mean that in showing such programs in national televsion everyone is all but contented in those programs and genre? Does it mean science fiction is incompatible with some, if not all Filipino sensibilities? Not all things shown in mainstream media (and presented by the system) are idealizations, but merely an exaggeration if not a negation of an idea supposedly espoused particularly based from an existing reality such as haciendas and peasant struggle. Coco Martin's "Ikaw Lamang" is far from Robert Arevalo's "Sakada" despite having the same setting and idealization of social reality as widened gap between the rich and poor. Mainstream media, actually, had emphasise an idealized past as writers of long ago had romanticized those being borrowed from the west and having it adapted into Filipino setting, why on earth Francisco Balagtas romanticize the Greeks and Turks, Persians, instead of Filipinos in "Florante at Laura"? No offense, but the inherent culture of the Filipinos had leaned towards an idealized past where aspirations are full of, but those aspirations are also the ones ought to realize in a supposed future. Tuko sa Madre Kakaw is also another example of applying then-modern SciFi into Filipino setting, a mad scientist formulating serum and had it applied on a tockay gecko that made the latter turned into a giant.

But again, some, if not few people in the field of arts and culture have the idea, willingness, imagination to make something that is geared to the future if not to the present itself. Realistically speaking, some, rather than all Filipino sensibilities would be applied if there's a Filipino Science Fiction that has to be done. Furthermore, it takes a lot of time, maybe days, weeks, months, years for the people to understand the ideas geared for the present and the future, or let's just say "break away with old ideas" in pursuit of marching towards supposed progress. 

Anyways, like others concerned, this writer also loves science fiction the way he likes fantasy and alternate history.