Manila in my mind
August 28, 2007 5:19 PM   Subscribe

“It seems that everytime I get a request from a western photojournalist to do a project on Manila, it's always about the slums and squatters and I am sick of it.” Carlos Celdran is well known for his chatty walking tours of Manila, and he’s tired of the one-track perception Westerners have of the city. Manila as slum gothic – low-hanging fruit for lazy photojournalists or writers? Or is a fairer perspective (in more ways than one) possible?
posted by micketymoc (18 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
There was a time when reporters went someplace to find out what was going on there, so they could report it.

These days, the reporter decides ahead of time what he's going to report, and then goes out to find supporting evidence for the story he's already written.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:22 PM on August 28, 2007

It's called an assignment.
posted by smackfu at 5:25 PM on August 28, 2007

what about the giant malls!
posted by fuzzypantalones at 5:37 PM on August 28, 2007

I have a similar problem when giving tours of Magilla Gorilla.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:17 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think it's the same reason video game settings are usually variants on the grimy gritty run-down industrial areas - it's alien and therefore novel to people who didn't grow up there (which is both the people that make the games and the people that play them).
This is possibly also related to how the damn kittens won't stay out of the areas they're forbidden, and the kids off my lawn.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:36 PM on August 28, 2007

> is a fairer perspective (in more ways than one) possible?

Well, I hope so, since I'm likely headed to the Philippines within a few years. I posted this question to askme last year and have had time to think about the answers and do further research, and I now feel like the Philippines is (if AZ is still reading, verb agrees with the formal long-form, Republika ng Pilipinas) my best bet--I've started to collect Tagalog and Cebuano web language links and carry around a stack of vocabulary cards. (Flamers will kindly note before posting that there's nothing particularly condescending or charitable about what I hope to do; I'm quite clear about what I want to get out of it, as well as what I'm prepared to offer in return, as explained in the askme link.)

Anyhow, the vibe I've picked up is that, outside of a few real basket cases like Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, or North Korea, places are just places: be sensible, don't walk into a shooting war, and offer your hosts ordinary courtesy and you'll probably be OK. I'm sure there are parts of Manila where I wouldn't want to go walking alone looking like an easy mark, but that's equally true of Boston or Atlanta or other places I know pretty well.

(Though I have to say I'll probably never see a lot of Manila itself, giant cities freak me out for reasons totally unrelated to poverty or crime or the rest of the usual suspects. I endure them well enough but don't go there if there's another choice. Places like Cebu or Baguio look more my speed; Dumaguete looks lovely--not to exclude smaller or more remote destinations, if there are any that could use the particular skills I've got.)

I'll tell you frankly what worries me more than terrorists or kidnappers or starving masses or any of that stuff: centipedes. Nobody loves 'em but I have a horrible irrational dread of these beasties. I know perfectly well that anywhere with year-round high temperatures and lots of rain is going to be arthropod heaven, and, though I can deal with a big thousand-legger in the bright light of day, if I can't find a sleeping place that's relatively thousand-legger-free I may end up living on a boat. They can't fly or swim, as far as I know, and I hope they don't do any sudden evolving of wings or jetpacks or pontoons just because they hear I'm coming to visit.
posted by jfuller at 7:07 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Congratulations on your decision, jfuller, although I don't think it needs saying that you're going against the flow.

(Hey, should you need any help building contacts or getting around or what not, I'd be happy to help; my email is in my profile.)
posted by micketymoc at 7:44 PM on August 28, 2007

All journalism is biased, photojournalism doubly so.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:48 PM on August 28, 2007

Most "Westerners" have no perception of Manila at all.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:08 PM on August 28, 2007

My aunt (uncle's second wife) was from a rich family in Manila. Compared to most pinoys they lived like princes, from what I can tell, but were just middle-class by American standards. Small houses, luxuriously furnished, with expensive cars. The photos I saw showed something that was crowded by Western standards, with chaos nearly outside the front door, but definitely not a slum and with internet and satellite TV and all the perks of modern life. But no, you never see that in the news.

Conversely, or comparatively, I live in a downscale neighborhood in my home town, a small Midwestern city, that has a few crime problems but isn't a slum by any urban standard. The elementary school here has at most 10% black students. Guess which ones always end up on the cover of the paper when the photog takes a trip to the school? Yep, the smiling black kid with gleaming white teeth eating ice cream (or whatever).

I'm undecided whether this provides a sufficient counterpoint to news stories about the other black kids in the neighborhood who are gang members, wannabes, and just generally delinquent. Similar, I guess, to the gratingly familiar 10 o'clock news story about the promising young black kid gunned down by errant bullets from a drive-by. Yes, it's news, but what story does it tell? What action does it prompt? Is there a communication of views from one community to another, or a depiction of one community by another?
posted by dhartung at 9:14 PM on August 28, 2007

harlequin - you grew up in a videogame? Cool.
posted by Artw at 9:15 PM on August 28, 2007

dhartung - it seems to me like there's a cultural shorthand at work: journalists covering your community (and mine) seem to have decided beforehand what symbols would best represent their subject in a few seconds' worth of footage. Most of the time, the actual residents get no say in the process.

I might be tempted to call it laziness, except that these guys are probably working under extremely tight deadlines. Why not just resort to the usual cliches, or shallow subversions of those cliches, and get the job done so they can get to the next hurriedly-executed hack job?
posted by micketymoc at 9:45 PM on August 28, 2007

These days, the reporter decides ahead of time what he's going to report, and then goes out to find supporting evidence for the story he's already written.

No stereotyping here, no siree!

Anyhow....before we do the usual thing and lazily slag off all lazy journalists (who for their stories will have at least actually been to Manila) let me offer what I know about the place.

I've spent about ten days there (I'm a journalist, but was on holiday at the time) Manila isn't exactly the most charming city. For starters it was bombed flat in WWII. It is polluted, sweltering and there are slums all over the shop.

There are some pleasant pockets, but you have to look pretty hard. It's not like Bangkok, Hanoi or even Mumbai in those respects. That said, the people are some of the friendliest and most polite I've met, western sex tourists aside.

The point is, if you actually went to Manila, you're correct impression would be that it is a pretty slummy place. If you tried hard enough you could probably write a story about how lovely it is, but the lazy stereotyping hack's version would be truer than than any rose tinted panegyric on your blog.

Incidentally, as others say, it does have OK shopping malls, with security guards to keep the impoverished out, natch.

I think it was when I saw these that I realised that Manila is what America would be like if America was a third world country.
posted by rhymer at 2:25 AM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

sorry - "your"
posted by rhymer at 2:26 AM on August 29, 2007

Not exactly on point, but I thought some folks would like to know about an art project one of my friends collaborates on: The Galleon Trade, which documents current and historical connections between the Philippines and the Americas, and maybe, just maybe, points the way to a possible "fairer perspective?"
posted by deejay jaydee at 8:18 AM on August 29, 2007

It seems like every time I see something from Manilla on it's freaky religious types nailing each other to things - is that a recognised cliche as well?
posted by Artw at 8:30 AM on August 29, 2007

I wrote a piece about cockfighting in the Philippines. That's a big old cliche for sure. Fun though.
posted by rhymer at 9:27 AM on August 29, 2007

Artw - that's not even in Manila! But yes, every year some guys in the provinces get themselves nailed to crosses. It's a cult Catholic thing.

rhymer - I'm not in favor of covering up Manila's slumminess. It's there, and we have to deal with it realistically. I disagree, though, that slums are all the city has to show international journalists. (I'm in no position to judge how far you got around in only 10 days, and I have no idea how long ago that was.)

Cockfighting. Uh-huh-huh-huh-huh-huh. [/butthead]

deejay - funny you should mention that, the aforementioned Carlos Celdran hosted the Galleon Trade in his Living Room series of talks. The first time I went, I met Jennifer Wofford. She a friend of yours too?
posted by micketymoc at 3:22 PM on August 29, 2007

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