2/06/2011
The near death of storytelling

I'm trying to make the most of the time left before QTV transforms itself into an all-news channel. Not that I particularly like most of the programs there, but I find myself enjoying the old films - the really old films - airing on Sunday afternoons. It's a shame that'll go when the channel flips. There's something fascinating with the way films look in the 1950s: a no-frills title sequence, fairly rudimentary shots, and all those scratches that inevitably happen when films of national importance don't get treated the way they should. That, or I still have a hangover from studying films for three years.

A couple of weeks back, I tuned into Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang by chance. There wasn't much to do at my grandmother's house, and somehow I managed to convince both her and my mother to watch a movie from three generations ago. Apart from the familiar faces - Dolphy and Gloria Romero anchored their respective segments, and there was, as my mom pointed out, Paraluman of Ang Huling El Bimbo fame - everything seemed so new.

Not just to me, it turns out. The storytelling part of the film - the bit where Lola Basyang gathers the children round and tells her trademark stories - was set on Christmas eve. "Hindi kayo puwedeng matulog," she told some of the children. "Hindi pa ipinapanganak ang batang Hesus." It was a new concept to my mom, who wasn't born until the middle of the 1960s. And it was a new concept to my grandmother, who's in the middle of her 70s. We all know we're supposed to sleep the night before Christmas, and wake up just as midnight strikes, to celebrate both the birth of Christ and the time when we can finally open Santa's gifts. That, or we came from a totally different universe together.

What we all understood was the fact that kids nowadays don't care for stories told by their grandmothers. In the 1950s - or, at least, in the movies - we have kids who were willing to sit around for thirty minutes while listening to a totally fantastic story about a cowardly man who learns to stand up to his fate and his love. "Ngayon puro PSP na ang hawak," I bluntly said, an obvious allusion to my brother, who was quite bored I could imagine him doing just that. "Tapos, kung magbabasa man ng libro, either napipilitan lang sila, o ang pangit-pangit nung binabasa nila." Half that statement's another allusion to my brother, who once attempted to cheat his way through a book report by relying on Wikipedia. The other half's just me being snobbish - a misplaced attempt at that, since I'm not a big book reader. But I still read books. I enjoyed my David Copperfield book report, thank you very much.

I guess nobody cares about stories anymore. Okay, sure, maybe they do, but nobody's willing to dig deep into them lest they be tagged as nerds and lose out on certain social privileges forever. I'm sure The Vampire Diaries has something juicy to bite into, but really, all we care about is Ian Somerhalder, right?

I was at the bookstore earlier, trying to dig for that Doctor Who novel I told my sister about in the shelves clearly marked "for sale". Half an hour earlier my iPod mysteriously died: it claimed to have run out of power, when it's clearly still halfway there, although I know it's starting to feel jumpy after three years of service. Thus, while digging through outdated London travel guides, I heard this kid pester his aunt (or so I think, and I have a reason why I think so) about a book.

"No, it's too expensive," she explained.

The kid mumbled a few words, probably still trying to state his case. The aunt had a pretty good zinger. "This is the sort of thing you save money for. Let tita make ipon for this, okay?"

That's when I finally looked up from the bargain books, and see the aunt hold up a graphic novel. The kid wants to read a comic book. It's a good compromise, still, since he gets to read something. He's not budging, though. The aunt shows him a wrapped copy of Watchmen and tells him that he can borrow her copy. A better compromise - it's so good it could be a novel. The critics said so. And I read it myself, having borrowed my sister's copy.

Minutes later, I heard a baby cry. There's this little kid, being dragged out (I exaggerate here, but you get the point) by her mother, who was a bit furious. "No, you can't open the book," she said, perhaps in vain, as the boy just cried and cried.

At least he's interested in stories, and in reading those stories, and, I hope, in digging through them. Well, maybe until he discovers that these books get screen adaptations with pretty stars assuming their favorite characters, and things stop being about the characters and more about the people playing them. I mean, it's inevitable. We went from fairy tales to Ian Somerhalder, or in my case, Emilie de Ravin. They'll go from fairy tales to attacking anyone who vaguely disagrees with anything Justin Bieber-related. Or maybe they already have. Oh, yes, right, they already have.

And your responses...

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