Thursday, June 15, 2006

[Essay] Demonizing People

I'm usually a tolerant person, but one thing that irks me is when people demonize other people. What I mean by demonizing people is that we label them as evil, inhumane, as if the loathsomeness is inherent in their genetic structure. In D&D, this can be equated with giving someone an "evil alignment". But D&D is a game, and people in general can't be oversimplified in that context. Perhaps that's why psychology plays an important role in society: not to serve as an excuse for deviants, but so that we may understand them better, and perhaps to some extent, lessen their culpability (but not entirely removing it).

It occurs more often than you think, and media nowadas doesn't help. I've seen the term "evil" attached to several personalities, both dead and alive: Judas Iscariot, Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden. While these people aren't exactly the best of role models, I don't think labeling them as evil is fair. To do so results in only one of two things: either we buy and propagate the propaganda surrounding them, or we are simply redirecting our dissatisfaction at ourselves or at other people. Let me explain further.

Take Adolf Hitler for example. Mostly, we blame him for starting World War II, and the attempted genocide of the Jews. For the first reason, if we take a closer look, Hitler waged war for noble ideals: for his country, for his people. Invading Poland was done not out of some desire to spread evil, but because he (and his people) honestly believed they were doing a good thing. Misguided perhaps, but nonetheless at the surface seems good. I mean who would frown upon a person who was nationalistic? Hitler merely proved Oscar Wilde's adage that "it is always with the best intentions that the worst work is done." As for genocide, everyone's guilty of that to one extent or another. I mean haven't we thought that the world would be better off if certain people were removed from the face of the Earth? Yes, it's prejudice. It could be African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and in the case of the Philippines, the Filipino-Chinese, the Filipino-Spanish, or even fellow Muslims. Or it could take the form of removing those genetically likely to fail: the handicapped, the retarded, etc. After all, in survival of the fittest, they'll eventually die out anyway. Why not speed things up? Or it could be people we think society would be better off without: the idiots, the lazy, the convicts, the criminals. That's what Hitler was thinking at the time: he viewed that the Jews were leeching off Germany. The only difference between him and most people was that he actually took steps to solve the problem (a noble act on other occassions), and conviced the entire nation to go ahead with his plan.

In the Philippines, I see this kind of thought pervading in society. A few years back, many Filipinos were appalled at some of the crimes that were being committed: the rape of children, the rape of one's own kin, etc. The country's solution? Death penalty. My qualm with the death penalty is that it defeats the purpose of jailing a criminal. Theoretically, we jail people so that they can reflect on what they've done, and they'll eventually reform. If we were bent on removing them from society altogether, we'd shoot them on sight, or sentence them to imprisonment in some location forever (note that "life sentence", contrary to what it's called, actually doesn't last your entire life). Obviously, the death penalty removes that possibility altogether. And if you took a long-term view of society in general, it would be better to reform 10 convicts rather than execute 10 of them, because the first option allows the convicts to contribute in society. I'm not saying that this is what happens (this isn't a perfect world after all) but how it should be.

But that is not what appalls me. What appalls me were the reasons Filipinos were advocating for the death penalty. Honestly, if you look at them closely, it's not because we believe it's really a deterrent to crime, but simply because we want revenge. Yes, revenge, a term which we sugar-coat as "justice". Do criminals deserve to be punished? Yes. Do they deserve to be killed? Under certain circumstances, and is a very debatable topic. But any logical person will see that sentencing a person to death because they killed someone else will not bring back the latter. Some can apply the logic that "two wrong does not make a right" but you get my point. Basically, the situation we have is that at one moment in time, a lot of Filipinos believed that a certain type of person (in our case, rapists-who-rape-their-children) should be eradicated from the face of the Earth (all in the name of justice of course). Now if we actually had the power and capability to do just that (our justice system is slow and inefficient after all), then we'd be like Hitler. Some (and I'm sure a lot would) would even see it that we're doing the world a favor. Except you know, we're all guilty of something, and in certain areas, we're all deviants from the "norm". How many of the people we thereotically executed could be reformed? How many of them are actually innocent? How many of them, while they themselves are irredeemable, could give birth to a progeny of people who will be greatly valued in society?

Moving back to the topic at hand, what I am just showing is that "Hitler's evil" is not some external force which happens once in a lifetime. It's really a monster that's within every person, and we live with it day to day. Hitler himself was human, just like the rest of us. There is nothing innately evil about him as a person. What was deplorable was his actions. And it's an action that we're all familiar with.

How about Saddam? Bin Laden? Well, they're treated as leaders, even heroes in their own circles. That should say something about their state. They're not evil, and I think that they believe that what they're doing is actually good. Besides, who here doesn't want to retaliate against the big bad bully which is the United States of America? Some of you might even think that Bush is the real evil person here, but guess what, again, he's simply echoing the sentiments of (some of) his people. Many people condone Bush's actions as much as many are against it. What they are doing are products of human emotions, of human frailties, or human beliefs, not because they are some paranormal force of maliciousness.

Oh, and with regards to Judas? Many people are biased against him because he betrayed a messianic figure in religion. But the question was, did Judas really believe the person he was betraying was really a divine entity? Or, playing devil's advocate, let's say he did. I imagine Judas taking a Machiavellan position, reasoning that the end justifies the means. If he didn't betray Jesus, God's salvation would never come. Yes, he's stuck with the unenviable position, but somebody's gotta do the dirty work. He might love Jesus, but he'll damn the world if he doesn't go through with what Jesus has planned for him. And in the end, Jesus didn't tell Judas "et tu Brute?" but rather to go on with it. It's like Wolverine killing Jean Grey when she was possessed by the Dark Phoenix. What would you have done?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

[Essay] An Anime Fan's Take on Cosplay Culture in the Philippines

One of my passions early on was my love for anime; even before the "anime boom" hit Philippine shores, before anime shows replaced telenovelas on primetime slots, I was already watching anime in foreign languages, and reading manga even if I couldn't understand what the text was saying.

I believe that 2000 was the year anime reached its peak in the Philippines. Yes, it's true that a year before that, we were experiencing an onslaught of anime from various directions: from TV, from toys, from word of mouth. But what made 2000 special is the fact that it was the year where the first real anime convention started. I say real because while in previous years, there have already been conventions of one sort or another, this was the first time that we had a convention that was solely dedicated on anime and its subculture: no more sharing booths with other fandoms like Star Trek, Star Wars, or simply hobby collectors of cards, toys, or basketball.

One by-product of such an event was the rise of a cosplay community in the Philippines. Again, yes, people have dressed up as their favorite fictional character (be it anime or otherwise) from time to time, whether it's Halloween, a small anime screening, or perhaps a kiddie party, but that is different from what arose from anime conventions. It was several elements combined together: lots of participants, a huge crowd, and more importantly, some sense of organization when it comes to cosplaying. What I mean by organization is that well, there's a body judging the merits of a person's costume and how they act (since cosplay means more than simply wearing a costume), and rewarding it, whether with tangible prizes, or simply cheers from an audience. And while some cosplayers are close friends with each other, during that first convention, fans met strangers who shared the same passion as them. Cosplaying was a group of people united by a common bond, a common passion if you will. Not all of them had to be friends or close buddies with each other, but they belonged (and remained) to the same community.

The cosplay community would eventually evolve and become a culture of its own. Whereas it was initially associated with anime/manga fandom, I'd like to think it eventually stood on its own. I mean nowadays, there'd seldom be a convention (not necessarilly an anime/manga convention but whatever fandom you can think of) where there isn't a cosplay involvevd to one degree or another: it might be a video game release, a Lord of the Rings gathering, or a meeting between Trekkies. Whatever the case may be, the word "cosplay" has made the transition from fandom jargon to mainstream slang. Cosplaying is still in the sphere of fandoms, but it is no longer limited to the anime/manga sphere that it was once associated with, at least here in the Philippines.

As an anime fan, what bothered me was the fact that I couldn't really talk about anime/manga with the cosplayers, or at least the circle I was in (I'm sure there are lots of cosplayers who are interested in manga/anime), at least back then. I remember talking about a particular show and there was simply a lack of enthusiasm in the topic. Cosplayers didn't talk about their favorite anime or manga with each other, but they talked about various cosplaying techniques, which fabrics to use, where to find such and such props, etc. This was the point that I realized that the cosplaying community here stood on its own rather than solely depending on the fandoms they were dressing up as. It would come to the point where cosplayers would simply cosplay for the sake of cosplaying: they'd attend an event not because it's being hosted by their favorite fandom, but simply because they were having a cosplay event.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying this is wrong or that it should be otherwise. It's simply an observation, at how the community has evolved in the span of seven years. Nowadays, I see some cosplayers going back to their roots, watching their favorite anime, reading their favorite manga, and talking about it with their cosplayer friends. Be that as it may, the cosplay community remains an independent entity, a child that has taken a path different from its parent. How this will play out in the years to come remains to be seen. And hopefully, people will be watching.