The parallelisms we presume to make

Consider the sort of psychology that sells celebrity magazines and tabloids. The paparazzi make their lucrative living highlighting the miseries and imperfections of famous people — writing up blow-by-blow accounts of failing relationships, personal tragedies and failures, and public spectacles. Celebrity mag “journalists” focus their telephoto lenses onto almost microscopic patches of cellulite on the otherwise breathtakingly fit thighs or abdomens of famous beauties and lie in wait underneath fluorescent lighting to get that rare snapshot of the Sexiest Man Alive walking under some bad light.

All this aims to cut down great people to the small sizes of their readers and make them feel a bit better about themselves and, in many instances, about their own wretchedness. The idea of Kate Winslet walking her dog in a frumpy tracksuit gives a bit of much-needed validation to the average loser whose wardrobe consists primarily of frumpy tracksuits. Seeing Brad Pitt’s tummy bulge out slightly in a moment of relaxed bad posture helps the average bloke impregnated by a beer gut prop up his ego. Reading about Kirsten Dunst’s drunken escapades makes the early Sunday morning walk-of-shame to the bus stop after an all-nighter in town (or in the apartment of a one-night-stand) a bit more glamorous to the average skank.

The profound reality that escapes the typical celebrity mag or tabloid reader is that beneath the bad behaviour or momentary lapses of judgment on the exterior of the people we look up to is a deep well of sheer talent, intelligence, an extensive track record of achievement, and the fanatical dedication to their chosen craft to enable this (stuff that made most of them celebrities to begin with). The fact that this substance is all but inaccessible to the average schmoe is what underpins the public’s fixation on the superficial.

In the same way, we seek to relate or associate ourselves with celebrities by dressing like them and acting like them — at least in the way that Media portrays them. This instinctive urge to emulate evidently does not go any deeper than outside appearances either for the same obvious reason that true substance is simply inaccessible to those who lack it.

The equation that describes the relationship between the consistently mediocre and the absolutely great is quite simple:

It is only through the superficial that the unredeemably mediocre get to live out their aspirations to be even remotely associated with absolute greatness.

Even at a macro scale, we see this kind of thinking in the typically apologist “analysis” made by “experts” such as the venerable Abe Margallo. The title of Margallo’s recent piece in, “Will Vicki Kennedy do a Noynoy?” by itself describes a rather laughable attempt to scrounge around for the kind of parallelisms between the proverbial fly and the bull upon which it attempts to stand tall.

The point he tries to make though can pretty much be summed up in this excerpt:

Let’s not forget that Filipinos have learned many of their democratic practices from their American mentors. But the fact of the matter is that majority of Americans still lack the sophistication in the way elites talk and think about politics. What we moreover know is that Americans in the main are not concerned with policy questions during elections (e.g., voting for specific economic or foreign policy) and more often than not, don’t even vote for “conservative” or “liberal” platforms. They vote with their guts.

If it walks like an apologist and quacks like an apologist, guess what…

I am at awe at the lengths that our “experts” go to excuse Filipinos from the reality of their dysfunction as a people.

They wrap colourful American political names and jargon around what really amount to points not so different from the following typically triumphalist assertions:

The advanced world also has its share of blights so cut the Philippines some slack..

or this:

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronald Reagan are both actors, so what’s wrong with actors running for office?

or, yes, this:

Americans vote “with their gut” [striking out the “s” found in the original text], so a candidate has no need for a platform.

Indeed, the pathos around how we look to America to both (a) seek legitimacy and (b) find reassurance that we are doing alright despite certain evidently habitual stupidities is so deeply-ingrained in the national psyche. It is not too different from the search for parallelisms I describe in a previous article, Sports fan psychology, where I cite that close cousin of celebrity magazine psychology. Ellen Tordesillas applied it when using the ouster of Manuel Zelaya in a coup in the Honduras as a parallelism to small-minded speculation of what might possibly lie in store for our own President Gloria Arroyo:

Kung nabasa ni Gloria Arroyo ang nangyari sa Honduras kahapon, dapat manginig siya sa takot.

[Translated: “If [President] Gloria Arroyo read what happened in the Honduras yesterday, she should be trembling in fear now.”]

Yet another pundit takes a more outside-the-square approach (but still framed by typically-Filipino thinking) to harvesting the Honduras parallelism:

[…] it “could serve as a stern warning” to the President and, get this folks, “perhaps an encouragement to the [Philippine] military” postulates Jun Bautista in a thinly-veiled incitement of rebellion titled “Honduras May Embolden GMA” — an article that comes across more like a lame attempt at reverse-psychology.

And so I re-iterate for the benefit of those who are wont to lapping up this latest of cringe-inducing parallelisms that we now make between Vicki Kennedy and Noynoy Aquino:

There is nothing more poignant than the sight of a people gripped by a crisis of relevance and meaning, trying to mitigate their pathos by identifying with or drawing parallels from success stories, champs, and heroes.


Relevance and meaning.

Noynoy Aquino’s claim to relevance are his parents. But as for the meaning he brings to the table? For now, we are left scratching our heads.

As MLQ3 laments:

The lesson is, the political game will degenerate into merely a contest involving guns, goons and gold, unless the public can see itself capable of summoning not just leaders, but itself, to greatness. The similarity is, there is an administration that thrives on dividing, bribing and intimidating the people.

And yet this leads me in turn to wonder if there isn’t a danger if we’re perceiving things purely in terms of reenacting 1986. Karl Marx famously pointed out that “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” The repetition of Edsa in 2001 ended up a tragedy. Summoning the Spirit of ’86—only to reenact it like a bad high school performance of Joan of Arc—could end up a farce.

Indeed, a people who are sick of the usual dysfunctional politics of the Philippines need to summon themselves to greatness.

And true greatness does not lie merely in its superficial emulation, nor in inherited illustrious surnames or pedigrees, and certainly not in mindless display of symbollic colours and icons. True greatness lies in achievement. And no amount of latching on to parallelisms will change that simple reality.


Considering that this blog article was an inspired response to Abe Margallo’s “Will Vicki Kennedy do a Noynoy?“, I wrote a comment on that blog post informing Mr. Margallo that I had a detailed response to it above. The comment was deleted by the Admins of after which I posted this which would be subsequently censored but retained here:

Apparently, the admins of this fine forum of otherwise insightful and open minds didn’t like the original comment I made and deleted it (not considering that it was a comment that not only was actually relevant to Abe’s post here but also cites references that were inspired by Abe’s article above).

So I will rectify the error of my ways and instead spell out the salient points I make in said reference that are relevant to Abe’s article above so as not to breach the articles stipulated in the comment policy of FV (henceforth known as “The Policy“, specifically:

We reserve the right to delete or moderate comments that:

1. Seek to defame or malign the writer of the post, or other commenters who responded to the post.

2. Interrupt the discussion with abusive, offensive, or profane comments directed at writers and other commenters.

3. The comment is off-topic, and includes ad-hominem attacks.

4. Is spam, contains advertisements, or is commercial in nature.

We will always consider comments as a form of free speech, and as such we will exercise due caution in moderating all comments. Individuals that continually use excessive profanity, abusive language, and ad hominem attacks may be banned from commenting in the future.

To wit (and do note the compliance of the subsequent text to the above four items stipulated in The Policy), I hereby make the following comment pursuant to my interpretation of the aforementioned blog post:

To be citing similarities between the situations besetting the Kennedy and Aquino families is one thing, but to draw parallelisms from that and make a leap of logic to suggest that a widow of a great American senator is justified in exploring a possible political career on the basis of the winnability afforded her by the pedigree of her late husband AND THEN imply that son-of-a-hero Noynoy Aquino’s approach that echoes that of said widow is lent ok-ness by the interpretative speculation of the options of what an American political family embodied by said widow might explore in the near term, is just a sophisticated way of stating how the American-ness of an action or idea can lend assurance that its moronic version in the Philippine setting is ok too.

Stated this day, the 1st of September in the Year of our Lord, 2009 in form and substance compliant to the articles stipulated in the The Policy.

Esteemed author – prides itself in being a forum of insightful and open minds.

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About benign0

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8 Responses to The parallelisms we presume to make

  1. BenK says:

    Parallelisms are very selective, which is why they must be regarded with suspicion. Methuselah could have just as easily drawn a parallelism between Noynoy’s position now and his mother’s after the death of Ninoy, which might have actually made more sense. But if one were to follow that to its logical conclusion, one could say that the promise of Noynoy is another oligarchical, unstable government presiding over an economic downturn and worsening foreign relations.

    • benign0 says:

      It’s the human brain’s habit of perceiving a pattern where there is actually none — what Nassim Taleb calls a narrative fallacy. It’s also related to a saying i read somewhere: Knowing the outcome corrupts the evidence.

      Pinoys like expressing a distaste for the nepotism that infests our government. And yet we see no qualms about finding our salvation in the offspring of two revered political figures.

      Contradictions, inconsistencies, and downright sloppy thinking pervades Pinoy society. And yet we entrust so much of the power to make and break officers of the government on the so called “mandate of the people” and eat up the punditry of self-described “experts”.

  2. HusengBatute says:

    At least Blanco the cat would have inspired a reawakening of our fish industry. What do these other candidates have to offer?

  3. HusengBatute says:

    I had a female friend who actually believes she looks like this gorgeous celebrity simply for this one and only feature–their eye brows are similar. I even had to squint to see any remote resemblance there.

  4. benign0 says:

    Well, it seems to be official now. Roxas (one of the politicians who has the most highly-developed platform among them) has stepped back to set the stage for Aquino (a politician who has a virtually non-existent platform) to run for president.

    How typical is that? 😀

  5. BenK says:

    The biggest problem with a character judgment is that character is usually an informed attribute — either the candidates are saying they have good character or some supportive commentators are saying the candidates have good character. Even if people can make their own judgment, there’s so much noise that they can’t help but make the judgment from the starting point of ‘good character’, rather than completely objectively.

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