Saturday, November 3, 2007

TV Heaven

[Note: This piece was written in December 2004 and published in Sun Star Davao.]

This semestral break, my parents flew to Cambodia, leaving me and Julie, our household helper, home alone. Naturally, when the cats are away, the mice play. These cats, you see, had been ‘depriving’ my brother and me of TV since elementary, afraid it would turn us into anti-social freaks. Four years after college graduation, my parents felt we were old enough to finally have a TV set without getting brainwashed by it. But before we even could jump for joy, my father removed the antenna so that we could only use the TV to watch VHS tapes, DVDs and VCDs – only during weekends.

Now that my parents were finally far far away, Julie and I had a blast watching TV every day. The problem was that we had only four measly channels to choose from: GMA, ABS-CBN, RPN and ABC.

That’s how we ended up watching Marina turn into a human by day and a mermaid by night. Her mother’s mortal enemy, Victoria, is a witch and the mistress of Marina’s father, but in the end he chose Marina’s mother which made Victoria so mad that she turned Marina into a mermaid. To make a long story short, all the bad characters in the movie eventually become good and help Marina fight Victoria. It predictably ends when Marina succeeds in killing Victoria who falls into the sea and turns into foam.

The teleserye’s special effects and the props and costumes were obviously fake. Even the story is not new: poor oppressed girl versus powerful and cruel enemies. The more dramatic, the better: a low profile food server uses a diamond stone with a fairy in it to turn herself into a superhero and fight off the villains (Krystala). My favorite is a Mexican teleserye with a cast of gorgeous Latino men and women who, despite their perfect bodies and faces, always seem to be chasing each other in vain (Gata Salvahe).

In one TV program, teams of movie stars outdo each other in scaling down skyscrapers, lying in caskets, butchering wriggling fish, scrubbing giant statues, and crawling under barbed wires (Extra Challenge). Most hilarious of all is that show where movie stars scandalize each other: “Why don’t you admit right now that your boyfriend is a macho dancer? I saw you two!” “I swear she asked me to have sex with her. Just ask my friends who heard her on speaker phone.” Blah blah. (The Buzz).

These programs would all have been more pleasant to watch if only we viewers didn’t have to sit through 10-minute commercials every 10 minutes. Heck, I get to go to the toilet more than five times every hour!

Prime time television news is no different: Police bust a sleazy bar that prostitutes minors. Police arrest a woman of stealing canned powdered milk for her baby. A boy’s father is beaten up by his neighbors because he beats his son all the time. A military general is accused of being too rich. There’s plenty of sensational incest and rape, bloody murder, and violent robberies and kidnappings with always the same commercials flashed during the breaks. (We get the message already: Brush your teeth! Wash your hair! Wash your face and body! And girls, use feminine hygiene protection!)

Oh yeah, there was the over-hyped visit of Jasmine Trias (who looks very Filipino but when she parts her perfectly formed white teeth, she suddenly becomes so unbelievingly slaaang.) We watched Ara and Joma try to convince us between sobs about who loved the other most unselfishly. Then we watched how Zsa-zsa and Regine’s ‘too sexy’ dresses ruined their role-model-to-the-youth images. The current favorite news is still Saranggani’s Sto. Nino that miraculously sweats oil that when put on a sick body, miraculously cures it.

In between channel surfing to avoid the ads, I watched a couple of award-winning documentaries. ‘Bowling for Columbine’ is about why America is the unsafest country in the world because almost everybody there owns a gun. (It sure made me think twice about studying Nursing just to end up wiping the butt of a senile gun-wielding Kano.)

One of the highlights of ‘Farenheit 9/11’ is when the two planes crashed into the Twin Towers, all flights were canceled in airports across America, stranding thousands of people – including Ricky Martin! Britney Spears does a cameo too including several Senators who run away from Mr. Moore as he chases them and pleads with them to send their children to Iraq.

But these are merely the icebreakers in a serious documentary that puts the biggest blame on the Bushes for the absurdity of America’s war against in Iraq. One American solider writes, “Dear Mr. Moore, words can’t even describe what the movie did to me. You made me realize that we aren’t as free as we think. You made me really understand the propaganda that is fed to us. How arrogant we are.” So much with just one little movie indeed. Watch it.

‘Baraka’ is a breathtaking documentary shot in 24 countries in six continents. According to the description on the box, ‘Mere words don’t do the film justice.’ Well, that’s because there are no words. The film is all pictures, music and natural sounds and is so grrr... slow. Certainly no MTV but a feast for the eyes nevertheless.

David Attenborough’s Nature Explorations renewed my interest in the thousands of crawling, leaping, flying, swimming, and swaying living things that I, the superior human being, usually ignore. The camera zooms in on one species at a time and shows how they court, have sex, give birth, bring up their kids, hunt, eat, fight their enemies, build their houses, sleep, and finally die (not necessarily in this order).

I also had a blast watching Lost Ancient Civilizations – e.g., the Mayas, the Incas, and the Aztecs. These people were already making colossal buildings, mummifying their dead, monitoring time with their exact mathematical calculations, painting, crafting, sculpting amazing works of art while Europe was still in the Dark Ages. And every now and then they’d pierce their tongues and genitals - or simply sacrifice each other - to offer their blood to the Gods. The Royal family had to pierce themselves most often because their blood was the most powerful. Just imagine how less corrupt our government would be if only we’d require all our leaders to pierce their genitals too!

‘Osama’ is a touching documentary about a little girl in Afghanistan who disguises herself as a boy so that she can work and bring home food to her starving mother and grandmother. (FYI: Women in Afghanistan aren’t allowed to work much less be seen in public unless they are with a close male relative.)

‘The Fog of War’ is full of shocking revelations too. It’s a documentary about ‘eleven lessons from the life of Robert McNamara,’ who, during his term as the president of Ford Motors, was one of the world’s highest paid executives. When Kennedy became president, McNamara was appointed Defense Secretary and got paid ‘only $25,000 a month.’

Now that he’s over 85, he admits: “With the massive destruction caused by the fire bombs that flattened Japanese cities, there was no need anymore for America to ‘atomic bomb’ Hiroshima.” (Wow. This is almost like Pope John Paul II saying sorry only 300 years after the Church prosecuted Galileo for insisting that the earth is not the center of the universe.) And for good measure, McNamara adds: “You see, if America had lost World War II, we would have been treated as war criminals.”

Now that he’s over 85, he admits: “With the massive destruction caused by the fire bombs that flattened Japanese cities, there was no need anymore for America to ‘atomic bomb’ Hiroshima.” (Wow. This is almost like Pope John Paul II saying sorry only 300 years after the Church prosecuted Galileo for insisting that the earth is not the center of the universe.) And for good measure, McNamara adds: “You see, if America had lost World War II, we would have been treated as war criminals.”

And since most Americans get no from of exercise, Spurlock limits himself to just 2,000 steps daily (approximately one mile). But first, he visits a cardiologist, a gastroenterologist, a general practitioner, and a dietician who confirm that at 6 feet and 2 inches and weighing 185 1/2 pounds, his health is excellent.

However, after Spurlock gorges on 5,000 calories every day for 12 days, his physicians start to panic. He has gained 17 pounds! Soon after, Spurlock complains of a funny whoozing feeling in his penis. He feels pressure on his chest and he is often depressed for no good reason. He reveals, "It's not hard to eat this food all the time because it tastes good so it makes me feel good. I noticed how I eat some then just a little while later, I’ll be hungry again, and I’ll want more – more, more, more."

At the end of his 30-day ‘experiment,’ Spurlock has gained an astonishing 24 ½ pounds! He says, “My liver turned to fat, my cholesterol shot up 65 points, my body fat percentage went from 11% to 18%. I doubled my risk of coronary heart disease and made myself twice as likely to have heart failure. I felt depressed and exhausted most of the time, my moods swung on a dime, and my sex life was nonexistent. I craved the food more and more when I ate it and I got massive headaches when I didn’t.”

Throughout watching Spurlock eat his Mcmuffins, Mcfries, Mcburgers, Mcsundaes and becoming Mccrazy in the process, viewers are bombarded with shocking statistics: Every day, one in every four Americans eats out. There are 30,000 McDonalds joints strategically located in 100 countries in 6 continents! Yup. McDonalds in-your-face approach is so successful that it now feeds 46 million people worldwide daily!

Does this have anything to do with the 100,000,000 million or 60% OVERWEIGHT American adults? Does this have anything to do with the 400,000 Americans that DIE YEARLY of obesity-related diseases? You bet!

Obesity is the second major cause of preventable deaths in America - second only to smoking. In fact, in 2000, a surgeon declared obesity a national epidemic. A senior editor of a magazine muses that in the future, instead of hectoring only smokers about their addiction, wouldn't it be fair to also publicly hector fat people?

I hope not. "American families eat out all the time and they are paying for it dearly - with their waistlines." But hey, let's not rub it in. We can't expect a super power society that's busy keeping up with the rat race and playing cop all over the world to have time to cook breakfast, lunch and dinner too.

In one interview, a man says that 90% of his solid diet are Big Macs. When he got his first car, the first place he came to was McDonalds where he ate three Big Macs. He liked them so much that he came back at 5 p.m. and ate three more. He came back at 11 p.m., just before McDonald’s closed, and ate another three. He says that that year, he ate 741 Big Macs!

One funny scene shows a group of American grade schoolers guessing the identities of famous people shown on flash cards. They correctly guess George Washington and of course, Ronald McDonald but they are clueless about the identity of the feminine-looking man in the red and white robe. One grade schooler timidly asks, “Is he George Bush?” Nope. Good guess though. It’s Jesus Christ! (- the most famous person in the Philippines!)

The best scene happens when two doctors surgically reduce an obese patient’s stomach to the size of a small apple. While classical music is being played in the background, viewers see the doctors poke metal tubes into his stomach and slowly suck out the heaps of glistening fat.

The patient has hypertension and is a diabetic because he used to drink three to four gallons of softdrinks a day. Lucky him, he won’t have to take insulin anymore after the surgery. He’ll also lose his fat and his high blood pressure.

Come to think of it, I personally know only one ‘obese’ Filipino who is as obese as the obese Americans in ‘Supersize Me.’ I know some fat Filipinos. And I know lots of chubby Filipinos. But obese Filipinos?!

Apparently, they do exist. It’s just that obese Asians don’t look as obese as the obese Americans because Asians have naturally smaller frames. I didn’t know this cultural weight difference so I was quite surprised to read in Time Magazine’s November 8 issue that the number of obese Asians - especially among the urban poor - is steadily increasing. And it’s certainly not because of the food of McDonalds that is fat-laden (but more expensive than America’s McDonalds joints.)

According to Time Magazine, it’s the cheap, tasty and filling and easy to make and to pick up processed food that’s making Asia’s urban poor FAT. They simply can’t afford to buy expensive fresh food that’s why “poor shoppers are more likely to for instance, to end up with unhealthy hot dogs than lean beef, as the sausages are less pricey.”

I noticed however that even if there are vegetables around, we Filipinos usually overcook them and put in lots of carcinogenic Ajinomoto. Or we simply don’t buy vegetables because we were probably spoiled rotten by parents and grandparents who didn’t force us to eat anything we didn’t want to. As long as there’s rice and beef, or rice and pork, or rice and chicken, or rice and fish - vegetables are always our last pick. Add to this the fact that jeepneys drop us of exactly where we tell the drivers to stop because we hate walking even short distances under the scorching sun.

So you see: No exercise, no vegetables, just processed food and fatty food. Laugh at the obese Americans all you want but take a good look at yourself when you’re thirty-five and all your fats come out of hiding.

No comments: