In praise of Dolphy

Four TV broadcasters are among the top 10 senatorial preferences of the public, says the latest Asian Research Organization (ARO) based on its survey of 1200 respondents conducted in March this year.  Noli de Castro of “TV Patrol” ties for 1st place with Senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr., Korina Sanchez of “Balitang K” shares 3rd place with Senator Sergio Osmena III, Dong Puno of “Dong Puno Live” is in No. 8, and Ted Failon of “Hoy Gising” is tied for the 9th place with former senator and Agriculture Secretary Edgardo Angara.

If this is not the power of television, more specifically of ABS-CBN, I do not know what it is.  Less than two years ago, Loren Legarda of the long-running “The World Tonight” and Rene Cayetano of “Companero y Companera” rode on the same medium to clinch the first and second places respectively in the 1998 senatorial elections.  Six years earlier, TV comedian Tito Sotto set the norm for all broadcasters aspiring to become politicians by topping the 1992 senatorial race.  Realizing the source of their magical feat, they would not give up their television shows no matter how demanding their duties in the Senate might be.

Maybe this is the only way to counter the power of name-recall associated with venerable political names like Magsaysay, Macapagal, or Osmena.  Perhaps there is no other way to neutralize the power of patronage or money politics to determine political choices.  If so, then there is a lot of sense in the decision of former presidential aspirant Alfredo Lim and former vice presidential aspirant Oscar Orbos to invest more time in hosting their own television shows than in forming political parties.

Rightly or wrongly, however, with the shortcuts afforded by media, much less attention will now be given to the more tedious work of political organizing, political education, the formation of durable constituencies, and the recruitment and testing of leaders via the route of multi-level party caucuses and conventions.  Electoral entrepreneurs will more and more rely on the surveys to determine who to support.

The entry of mass media celebrities into politics used to be regarded an aberration.  People laughed when the movie matinee idol Rogelio de la Rosa contested the presidency in 1961.  The public could simply not get used to actors running for elective office even after TV noontime host Eddie Ilarde became senator in the ‘60s.  In fact, some people would still manage to laugh even after Joseph Estrada became senator in the first post-Edsa election, and vice president in 1992.  But from that time on, a celebrity status nurtured on TV or the movies became the surest route to a political career.  People finally stopped laughing when Erap became President of the Philippines.  After Erap, everything was possible.

It is perhaps a testimony to the level-headedness and sense of realism of a Dolphy that he has so far resisted all efforts to draw him into the world of politics.  He seems to know where reality begins and where illusion ends, and the difference  between image and experience.  He appears to have a stable sense of his limitations, and to take seriously the nature of his responsibility to his adoring fans. This is the responsibility to amuse, or to inform, or even to inspire or give their audiences hope.  Not to lead them or solve the problems of the nation.

We can hardly blame the public for not being able to tell the difference.  Media’s power is precisely to dazzle, to project figures bigger than life.  It is the power to create heroes, to confer charisma. It is the power to define the truth, and to determine what is important. Thus, it is not an accident that those who are favored by media’s resplendent light loom large in the public mind.  They acquire an aura of grandeur that is difficult to resist or demystify.

The wise and courageous men and women who tell us the truth about the world everyday, and who take up our forlorn causes against the powerful and the inaccessible, will ever be the object of public worship and adulation, but they may not always have the qualities needed to govern a nation.  We should not expect the public to have the sophistication to know that the “good guys” who are able to solve problems in the world of fantasy are not necessarily equipped to do miracles in the real world.

The restraint must come from the camera-anointed themselves.  It is not always easy, especially if one is surrounded by flatterers, to disavow fame.  It requires a lot of self-knowledge and humility for those singled out by media to be skeptical of their own capabilities.  In a highly unequal society like ours, with so many desperate people asking for help, media celebrities will always be tempted to indulge their vanity and run for office, justifying this as a summons to public service.  But worse, they may start believing their own charisma, genuinely imagining it their duty to their conscience to represent the downtrodden.

And as Nietzsche said, “It is more convenient to follow one’s conscience than one’s intelligence, for at every failure conscience finds an excuse and an encouragement in itself.  That is why there are so many conscientious and so few intelligent people.”

Which is why I admire the intelligence and humility of Dolphy.  He knows where his talents lie and where he must be in the scheme of our society.  He will not mess up with politics.  He will not imagine himself a savior just because he is popular.


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