When the nail sticks out

rants, raves and randomness

Defying dichotomies

There is nothing more passe than movies  full of dichotomies. Saints or sinners. Heroes or villains. Virgins or whores.

From Merriam-Webster :

di·chot·o·my noun \dī-ˈkä-tə-mē also də-\
: a difference between two opposite things : a division into two opposite groups

Some readers actually assume extremely things about me. Just because I criticize Aquino doesn’t mean I’m a Marcos supporter (or the other way around). Or that because I support gays, that I am closet homosexual. Or that, because I don’t care for Nora Aunor not getting the national artist award, I am a Vilmanian.

From TVtropes.orgf

Reality is rarely so simple, unforgiving or rigged.

Life is too rich to be defined by dichotomies; people  too complex. My favorite writers are those who can capture the complexities of human nature : Doestevsky, Oscar Wilde, Vikram Chandra. I also admire biographers that can paint the man or woman in all his or her faults and glory: Andrea Stuart who wrote the biography of Josephine, Napoleon’s wife (The Rose of Martinique) and Walter Isaacson for his work, Steve Jobs. And who can forget brilliant TV shows and movies who invested in character development (and not just CGI)? Breaking Bad, The Shield, The Wire. Here’s a quote from one of my favorite Disney films :

In the end, my kingdom was not united by a hero or a villain as legend predicted, but by one who was both hero and villain.

Unfortunately, it seems that sometimes reality is too complex, humans themselves too complicated to be understood by ourselves. In the news, people are portrayed in only two light : the good  and the bad. Black and white. The rich and the poor. One extreme embodies all the virtues and the other all the vices, as if humans, at the very core, can only be one.

To best illustrate my point, here is a painting entitled The Last Judgement by Viktor Vasnetsov :

Falling into the trap of dichotomies : The Last Judgement by Viktor Vasnetsov

Falling into the trap of dichotomies : The Last Judgement by Viktor Vasnetsov

Here is a more modern version of the painting by TV actress Alie Ward :

Falling into the trap of dichotomies : The Dichotomy series by Alie Ward

Falling into the trap of dichotomies : The Dichotomy series by Alie Ward

Here is an Asian version :

Falling into the trap of dichotomies : Yin and Yang

Falling into the trap of dichotomies : Yin and Yang

The media invests heavily in dichotomies. They thrive on it.  The most common “outside” manifestation of an evil person is a rich man ; while the “outside” manifestation of a good person is a poor man. But really, it depends on where you are. Dichotomies are well represented everywhere, in all shapes and sizes.

The Murder of Jennifer Laude

There seems to be a certain urgency for people to go to extremes : a need to turn Pemberton (and the whole US military) as the monster and Laude as an example of purity. Look at the attempts to deny that she was a sex worker ….



From Inquirer :

Aside from his marriage plans, Laude wanted nothing more but to help his family and other relatives whenever they were in need.

He never turned his back on a relative or a friend who would always run to him for help or for advice,” Marilou said, describing her 26-year-old brother who was found dead inside a hotel in this city on Saturday night.

Marilou described her brother as a “kindhearted, generous and selfless” person, saying there was not a single instance when her brother refused to help her or anyone in their family.

Macatuno, Allan. Inquirer. Laude planned to marry German BF. October 15, 2014.  < globalnation .inquirer. net/ 112588/ laude- planned- to- marry -german- bf/ >

Let’s get real : what are possible reasons for Laude to be in the same room as Pemberton? They could have just been chatting, yes. They could also have struck a monetary deal. Or Jennifer wanted to have some fun. Or all of the above. If Laude were alive and she was claiming “rape”, then I understand why her character may be in question. But she is dead, apparently, murdered by someone . Whether the victim was just chatting ,  having some fun or making a deal with  someone in exchange for sex – or all of the above – doesn’t mean she deserved to die. Or that the murderer can walk away scot-free. Oh why oh why is it that prostitutes are always being left out?

From Mic.com :

But in the words of black suffragette Sojourner Truth:

Ain’t I a woman?

Why are sex workers not a part of the Violence Against Women conversation? Sex workers are daughters, sisters, mothers, and community members living in your town, riding on your buses, eating at your restaurants, and reading in your libraries. Though a majority of sex workers are female or female-identified, many are also sons, brothers, fathers, and lovers. Gay, straight, black, white, tall, short, rich, and poor, sex workers come from a variety of different backgrounds, and go into sex work for a variety of different reasons. Some of them migrate across the world for better opportunity and some of them are trafficked against their will. Some of them are addicted to drugs, and some of them have Ph.Ds; those two groups are not even mutually exclusive. You or someone you love probably know a sex worker; maybe you have even loved a sex worker.

Zen, Kate. Why Are Sex Workers Left Out Of the Violence Against Women Conversation? Policy.Mic. < http:// mic. com /articles/ 30812 /why -are- sex-workers- left-out-of-the -violence-against-women-conversation >

And then there is Pemberton, the “monster”, backed by the whole US military, the epitome of evil. Pemberton, before the DNA test came out, was alleged to have known the real gender of Jennifer Laude. There were so many debates online about this, some pointing to the anal sex as a proof that Pemberton was “up for it” (note : the results tested  negative). As if anal sex is exclusively reserved for men. Laude supporters wanted to believe Pemberton knew it all along – they just couldn’t fathom the murderer as also the victim of deception. They want the murder to be an act of hate, of spite.

Dichotomy doesn’t end there. Isn’t it the case of David and Goliath, the bully vs the underdog? A senator is even pushing to cancel the bilateral because of this.

On one side, people still subscribe to the idea that if Jennifer Laude was a prostitute, then she was evil, and she couldn’t possibly be a victim. On the other, Pemberton symbolizes everything we hate about bullies : someone who tramples on our rights, kills one of us and expects to get a free pass.

But maybe  – just maybe- reality isn’t so rigid. Maybe Laude was indeed the hard-working brother, the breadwinner who wanted nothing but the best for his family; and that he may have been a sex worker who intended to deceive a potential client does not negate that. And maybe Pemberton, the murderer, is also the victim, a man violated by another man he believed to be a woman.

The Shooting of Michael Brown

From Wikipedia :

The shooting of Michael Brown occurred on August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, 28, a white Ferguson police officer. The disputed circumstances of the shooting and the resultant protests and civil unrest received considerable attention in the U.S. and abroad, and have sparked debate about law enforcement’s relationship with African Americans and police use of force doctrine.

The case of Brown has sparked protests and outrage with people holding anti-police die-ins in some cities in the US. The two opposing sides here are the black kid (good) and the white cop (evil) who shot him. There is an attempt to portray Michael Brown as nothing but a harmless teenager,   a ‘Gentle Giant’ who wanted to make it out of the hood .

From the Daily Mail :

He had just graduated from Normandy High School. His official graduation picture taken on the day he walked across the stage of the school’s Viking Hall to accept his diploma alongside 114 classmates shows him dressed in gown and mortar board in his school colors of green and red.

He looks with studied seriousness at the camera – the very model of a sober young man about to embark on the next chapter of his life.

An indication of just how tough is the fact that Michael spent time in the school’s credit recovery program so that he could graduate. But the fact that he did was an achievement and, as far as his family were concerned, it was the first step towards something better.

Eric said, ‘His mom said to him, “Okay. You’ve done the thing I really pushed for you to do so go ahead. Whatever you want to do, this is your summer to do that.

Michael had already enrolled in Vatterott Technical College to study heating and air-conditioning engineering and was due to start classes last week. His cousin Anthony Livingston was trying to get him a job at the Family Dollar store where he was a manager.

Collins, Laura. The Mail Online. Who was the real Michael Brown? The kid from a broken home who beat the odds to get into college, the rapper who sang about ‘Feds’ and smoking weed, or the robbery suspect caught on video minutes before cop shot him dead…AUgust 22, 2014. < http:// www. dailymail.co. uk/ news/ article-2730153/ A-kid -broken -home -beat-odds -to -college -A-rapper-san g-smoking-weed -feds-A -violent-robbery -suspect -caught -shocking -video-just -real -Michael-Brown.html >

But there is another side to Michael that is harder to reconcile with his family’s portrait of him :

But, according to those who knew him best, all Michael really wanted to do was play video games and rap.

He didn’t drive and didn’t even have a license. He sneaked the occasional Bud-Light or brandy with friends but he chose to stay with his grandmother that summer because he’d made a makeshift studio at her home.
He wrote lines of lyrics as they occurred to him and kept them in a jar in his room and he began uploading his raps online.

That summer his confidence grew with each track he uploaded and each positive comment he received. Half kid, half adult he rapped at his grandma’s house voicing his ambitions, his frustrations and his influences.
In his rap persona he shed the Teddy Bear version of himself that family knew – the quiet, self-effacing figure who, for all his vast size was often barely noticed as a presence in a room – and took on that of Big Mike Jr.
It is impossible to know how much his lyrics were drawn from his own experiences and how much was posturing, mimicking rappers he admired with talk of sex, drugs and guns.

He rapped in matter-of-fact tones about smoking weed at 9 and having sex since 12. He rapped about all the ‘baby daddies who don’t pay child support‘ and do jail time. His own father was prosecuted for being more than 12 months in arrears on child support in 2012 and in 2007 plead guilty to a drugs possession felony for marijuana that carries a sentence of 5 years in jail.

When asked for his views on the footage that shows the teenager and his friend Dorian Johnson (a key witness to the shooting, now revealed to have a history of making a false police report) robbing a nearby convenience store, Pastor Ewing denied that the grainy images show Michael at all.

A lot of my nieces and nephews are into rap but knowing me as a minister I don’t endorse some of the lewd language in there. I never knew Mike to even swear
– Uncle Pastor Charles Ewing

Michael’s cousin Eric was more pragmatic. He said, ‘Being very honest with you it was shocking. It was very shocking because I had never seen that type of behavior from himI just can’t understand it. There had to be something…It was completely out of character form what I know of him. Completely out of character.’

The footage, confirmed as being of Michael, shows him steal a box of Swisher Sweets cigars. When the store-owner attempts to stop him from leaving Michael grabs him by his shirt and pushes him back roughly into a display rack.

Collins, Laura. The Mail Online. Who was the real Michael Brown? The kid from a broken home who beat the odds to get into college, the rapper who sang about ‘Feds’ and smoking weed, or the robbery suspect caught on video minutes before cop shot him dead…AUgust 22, 2014. < http:// www. dailymail.co. uk/ news/ article-2730153/ A-kid -broken -home -beat-odds -to -college -A-rapper-san g-smoking-weed -feds-A -violent-robbery -suspect -caught -shocking -video-just -real -Michael-Brown.html >

People are split between the two Michael Browns. The good or the evil? The hard-working son or the  grocery robber? If he was indeed the grocery robber on the video, would it be more justifiable to kill him? And if he wasn’t..?

They don’t have to be contradictory. God knows I’ve done both good and bad things.  Who hasn’t?  True, Michael Brown may not be the poster boy everybody wants him to be; he wasn’t the ultimate good. But neither was he the ultimate evil. Why can’t we accept that humans beings are complex, both good and bad and everything in between? That Michael Brown could have indeed been the hard-working gentle giant AND the  convenience store robber is not “out of character” or..least bit surprising. It’s being human.

And yet again, the media is quick to emphasize  how he was killed by a “white cop”. Ahh.. the pulls of dichotomy. As though being killed by a “black cop” would make his death any less tragic. What about white cops killed by white kids? And what about Asians killed by (insert color here) ?

The case of Ingco and Adriatico

A couple of weeks ago, a mauling incident of MMDA went viral on FB.Top Gear Philippines was quick to condemn it :

Falling into the trap of dichotomies : A Maserati driver mauling a traffic officer has no place in our society

Falling into the trap of dichotomies : A Maserati driver mauling a traffic officer has no place in our society

And again, the netizens were outraged, calling the Maserati driver names. The more I read the comments, there more  the hate seemed directed to the fact that he was driving a Maserati than to the actual scuffle. We don’t need a great deal of imagination to see the great divide between him and the MMDA officer.

Step back a little and think if the man was driving a tricycle, and they got into a fight, would it even be a big deal?

The media as well as the bloggers and netizens, all of us are guilty of this : dwelling on the stark differences between two opposing sides. The rich and the poor.  The abuser and the abused. I mean who wouldn’t feel sorry for Adriatico and his broken nose?

Falling into the trap of dichotomies :  Adriatico and his broken nose

Falling into the trap of dichotomies : Adriatico and his broken nose. Image from the internet

But there is a whole story behind one image (or video). We weren’t there.

Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino, for his part, gave full support to his employee, saying he’s had no complaints filed against him. So far….

But after Ingco, some more “victims” surfaced.

From Inquirer :

The female victim, who requested anonymity, said in television interviews that Adriatico spat on the road, insulted her and cursed in front of her after she sought the enforcer’s help when her car got hit on Banawe Street in Quezon City.

The woman also said that Adriatico took a video of her as they argued—similar to what he did with Ingco that irked the 39-year-old businessman.

But based on the account of the MMDA, it was the law student, whose illegally parked vehicle was hit by another, who hurled invectives at Adriatico.

The MMDA said the law student got impatient when Adriatico told her that she had to wait for the driver of the vehicle that bumped her to settle the accident.

De Jesus, Julliane Love. Inquirer. MMDA chief: Law student muddling issue vs Maserati owner.December 1, 2014 < http:// newsinfo. inquirer.net/ 653884/ mda-chief -law -student -muddling -issue -vs -maserati-owner >

And then a third motorist appears :

In an interview with GMA News on Tuesday, motorist Ira Panganiban claimed that the traffic constable pounced on him, and forcibly tried to get his identification card.

Adriatico also challenged the motorist to a fistfight, and also tried to get his video, Panganiban added.

“‘Bakit mo [ako] sinusunggaban?’ [Sabi niya] gusto niyang makita [ang ID]. [Sabi ko,] ‘Ayan, tignan mo, huwag mong agawin,'” he said. “‘Yabang-yabang mo, gusto mo, bumaba ka na lang diyan, magsuntukan tayo.'”
Fernandez, Amanda. GMA News Network. Another motorist claims run-in with MMDA constable Adriatico. < http:// www. gmanetwork. com/ news/ story/ 390801/ news/ metromanila/ another-motorist-claims -run -in -with -mmda -constable-adriatico >

So far, we’re seeing different sides of the “lowly MMDA officer”.  Some Adriatico supporters still insist they were just bribed by Ingco to discredit Adriatico. The usual tactic of the rich is to buy people – because anybody can be bought, right?

Finally, a reporter for a giant network decided to ask around his (Adriatico’s) area. After all, if there is smoke, there is fire, right? And voila, street vendors, who at first hesitated to speak out, finally did.

Ngayon, dalawang tindero naman sa may Quezon Avenue sa tapat ng Sto. Domingo Church na madalas makakita kay Adriatico ang nagpatotoo sa umano’y hindi magandang pag-uugali ng MMDA enforcer.

Salaysay ni “Arnold,” madalas manigaw ng motorista si Adriatico.

“Ang ginagawa niya ‘pag may mga pasahero na humihinto, binubulyawan niya, wala man lang siyang paggalang… Pwede naman niya sabihin na, ‘Sir, Ma’am, pwede ba dun tayo sumakay?’ Pinapagalitan niya, ‘Hoy dun nga kayo!'”

Pinatotohanan din ni “Noel” ang paninigaw ng MMDA enforcer. “Sinisigawan niya ‘yung mga commuter na naghihintay.”

Dagdag pa ni “Arnold,” “barumbado” at “laging galit, parang galit sa mundo” si Adriatico.

“‘Pag may nakaparadang sasakyan… kinakalabog niya, ‘yung jeep, ‘Hoy umabante nga kayo!'” bahagi rin ni “Arnold.” Nagmumura rin anya nito.

Datu, Dennis. DZMM News. December 1, 2014. Nabugbog na MMDA enforcer, naninigaw ng motorista at nangangalabog ng jeep – vendors. < http:// dzmm. abs-cbnnews. com/ news/ Metro/ Nabugbog_na_ MMDA_ enforcer,_naninigaw _ng_ motorista_at_ nangangalabog_ng_jeep_-_vendors. html >

Why was I skeptical towards the “lowly MMDA” officer? Because if you’ve driven in Manila, chances are you must have  at least one unpleasant run-in with a traffic enforcer – threatening, impolite, mayabang. I mean there must be a reason why videos of abusive traffic enforcers started sprouting left and right after the Adriatico-Ingco incident.

Besides that, I find it incredibly unfair how private car drivers are always being vilified by the media very quickly, even before any evidence comes out. Actually, let me correct myself – not just drivers, but ANYONE obviously from the middle class is perceived to be in the wrong by default, if pitted against a poor person. We are guilty automatically. Must we really hate the bourgeoisie?

Remember Amalayer and the guard?

People were quick to cyber-bully her and call her demeaning names,  almost leading her to suicide. But we don’t know the real story.

On the one hand, many were quick to condemn Salvosa for shouting shamelessly at Casinas, who appeared meekly silent throughout the minute-long video.

On the other hand, more calm-headed observers reasoned that the video didn’t tell the whole story —a theory apparently borne out by Salvosa’s later claim that it was actually Casinas who initially talked down to her and even allegedly grabbed her arm.

But as the week went by, more than just these two sides to the #Amalayer fiasco came to light.

Some observers, for example, pointed to Gregory Paulo Llamoso, who took the video in the first place and was singularly responsible for the video becoming public. Wasn’t that, in itself, an invasive act? And what good did it do, anyway?

TJD. GMA News. The many sides of the #Amalayer issue. November 20, 2012. < http: //www. gmanetwork.com/ news/ story/ 283016/ pinion/ feedback/ your- say -the -many- sides -of- the- amalayer-issue >

Let’s not fall to  manipulation easily and be more critical of things that we see – even videos, which in reality, capture only a fraction of the whole incident.  Context is important. Human beings are not constants. We have to have more imagination: it’s not good vs evil all the time. It is wrong to attribute all the vices to Maserati drivers (or white cops or US soldiers or middle class folks) and the virtues to MMDA officers (or transgenders or black kids from the hood or poor folks). We are a whole spectrum of colors. A rainbow and more.

From one of my favorite movies of all time , Donnie Darko:

Defying dichotomies : Life isn't that simple

Defying dichotomies : Life isn’t that simple

Donnie: Well, life isn’t that simple. I mean, who cares if Ling Ling returns the wallet and keeps the money? It has nothing to do with either fear or love.

Kitty Farmer: Fear and love are the deepest of human emotions.

Donnie: Okay. But you’re not listening to me. There are other things that need to be taken into account here, like the whole spectrum of human emotion. You can’t just lump everything into these two categories and then just deny everything else.

Defy dichotomy.

Unless you’re a Sith.

Falling into the trap of dichotomies :  Only a sith deals in absolutes

Falling into the trap of dichotomies : Only a sith deals in absolutes

2 comments on “Defying dichotomies

  1. Joe America
    December 12, 2014

    So well said. The world is rich with grey and this incessant neediness to find black and white reflects a certain laziness or derangement. 🙂

    • ikalwewe
      December 12, 2014

      The media (both Philippine and American) tend to be so polarized, and as a consequence,the people too. There’s more to us than “either-or”, good or bad, plus or minus.

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