Thursday, September 01, 2005

The naked truth ...UP Oblation Run...

SMART-ASS kids, I thought when I saw the front-page photo in another newspaper. "Naked truth," the caption read, referring to a rally at the Chino Roces (Mendiola) bridge where 15 young males ran naked around the University Belt. A spokesman of Alyansa ng Nagkakaisang Lakas ng Kabataan, which organized the University Belt(less) run, explained that the protest action was meant to "symbolize the naked truth on the difficult education in the country due to poor investment resulting in 13.4 million out-of-school youths."
From the statement, you can see why we should protest the state of the educational system.
Seriously, the protest clearly takes off from the University of the Philippines' (UP's) annual Oblation Run started many years ago originally as a protest against censorship during the Marcos dictatorship. If memory serves me right, that was also a time when, in the West, there was a streaking fad, streakers being people who'd suddenly pop out of nowhere and make a mad dash, while stripping down, through an area with many people.
The Oblation Run was a modification, using the Western streaking fad but also using UP's famous (or infamous) Oblation statue, minus the leaf, as a role model. Frat neophytes volunteered (I think) to streak as part of their initiation and all for a good cause, meaning publicizing burning issues of the day. A few years back the naked UP fratmen ended their run by forming a line in front of Palma Hall, baring their backs and butts to spell "ERAP RESIGN."
Shock and awe
In this age of saturated mass media, it's become more and more difficult to launch advocacy and political action events. Catching the public's attention requires a strategic combination of timing with eye-catching visuals and ear-catching sound bytes.
The animal rights group Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is well known for using skin-baring shock (and maybe awe) tactics to grab the public's attention. To protest the slaughter of animals for fur, they've had celebrities (and non-celebrities) parading naked with signs, "I'd rather go naked than wear fur." Actress Pamela Anderson pose for a poster that read, "Give fur the cold shoulder," showing off her shoulder and more. A local Peta poster has model Raya Mananquil wearing little more than angel wings while cuddling a cute little piglet, urging people: "Earn your wings. Go vegetarian."
The student activists' bare run was meant to shock, but also drew on an interesting metaphor of baring the truth. The metaphor's actually more Western, this idea of disclosure, sometimes described as baring one's soul to bring out the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth -- naked, that is.
The word "naked" shocks because it is so bold. Motion adds to the shock value of Oblation-like runs, birds flying in the air, and I'm being metaphorical. With the University Belt run, there was an interesting use of non-motion. According to one newspaper report, at one point the protesters "lay down on the scorching road, some spreading their legs, before a throng of photographers and TV cameramen." A photograph in a local Chinese paper, World News, captured that moment of self-sacrifice, some protesters face down, others face up. Goodness, hot buns and hot dogs.
'Hubad, hubo'
I've wondered at how effective these skin-blitzkreig tactics might be. Language reflects the way we think and really, we don't actually think of truth as having to be bared. The University Belt protesters used the Tagalog "hubad na katotohanan," a literal translation of the English "naked truth." But "hubad na katotohanan" doesn't have the impact that the English term has. I hear the word and I think of lumpiang hubad. Now you'd need a pretty wild imagination to think of a naked spring roll as phallically erotic. Maybe, albeit tiny, the "lumpia" shanghai but not a naked "lumpia."
We're more nonchalant about nakedness maybe because in a tropical country like the Philippines, bared skin is pretty common, especially with men, who have no qualms about walking around half-naked in broad daylight. Think of a typical Pinoy and you see a pot-bellied man standing on the corner in short pants and sando, pulled up of course as he scratches away at his blubber.
It's intriguing how in Tagalog we differentiate hubad and hubo. Hubad is undressed from the waist up so more accurately, "hubad na katotohanan" is "shirtless truth." Hubo, on the other hand, is undressed from the waist down. Mang Ambo, standing on the street corner scratching his belly, is technically hubad since he has his pants on, about as sexy as the lumpiang hubad.
So, why not "hubong katotohanan"? Truth without pants? It falls flat, too.
Emperors and empresses
But we shouldn't abandon the metaphors around truth and nakedness. Remember the story of the vain emperor who paraded around convinced he had the finest new clothes when in fact he was completely naked? Apparently, his sycophantic advisers were able to convince him he had special clothes and if the public could not appreciate the finery, it was because they were, well, not smart enough.
In many ways, we have a government with our own emperors and empresses. They don't exactly walk around naked; instead, they deck themselves in the finest tailored statistics. All's well, they tell themselves and us, citing the "strong" peso. All's well, they tell themselves and us, pointing to statistics of districts free of the illegal numbers game "jueteng": Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Northern Luzon ... goodness, the entire country is now jueteng-free. All's well, they tell themselves and us, poverty levels are rapidly dropping. I've lost track but two years ago it was something like 38 percent and the latest figures are about 26 percent.
Can people tell what the naked truth is? Maybe not as well when it comes to macroeconomics, for example, about how speculative investments in our casino stock market have artificially boosted the peso or about the Asian Development Bank's warning our government against "poverty reduction through statistics."
But people do know about their shrinking pay checks and how thousand-peso bills rapidly disappear with each visit to the grocery, gas station, pharmacy ... and these days, schools. Sure, tuition's free in public schools but it's amazing how much "extra fees" add up to.
People know, too, of the friendly neighborhood jueteng "kubrador" [bet collector] and of the cop on the take from drug dealers. If the public doesn't seem as interested in the congressional hearings these days, it's because they've always known about the corruption...and have lost faith in having anything come out of those hearings.
So maybe the naked runs serve some purpose. In a way, the smart-ass kids are like the innocently honest children who dared to shout, as the emperor strutted around, "He's naked! He's naked!" Hubad na, hubo pa. Shame, shame!

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