Monday, June 4, 2012

What Irresponsible Journalism Looks Like

I studied journalism and practiced it in college. I am in no shape or form a journalist, but much like how serious musicians who never made it and rabid basketball fans can tell a bad song or a bad play, I can smell irresponsible journalism a mile away.

So when this story hit my Facebook timeline, I couldn’t help but read it and the backstory behind it.

The story is about a column written by Neal Cruz, a veteran, and I ask you to take note of that word, reporter, editor and now columnist who first worked for the Manila Chronicle and for many big name publications before landing in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, one of the three biggest broadsheets in the country. 

This is the story where Mr. Cruz up and left the reservation and unabashedly bashed the murals Boysen Paints and the MMDA have been hard at work on to beautify and clean the air of Metro Manila.

The story of this novel and brilliant campaign called “Project Edsa” has been shown in international and local media outlets BBC News Asia, CNN International and GMA, to name a few. It was launched in 2011 and features 11 international artists: Jose Tence Ruiz, Asuncion “Baby” Imperial and Damien “Coco” Anne, Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan, Virgilio “Pandy” Aviado, advertising agency TBWA, Erika Tan, Tapio Snellman, and Christian Grou. Now, I am not going to go full-on marketing guy and rave about the project and the product, you can read these articles and make a decision for yourself, but if there was any project that the ridiculously maligned MMDA finally got right, it’s this.

Photo from:
The one in San Lorenzo, Makati, completed in 2011, the exact one that Mr. Cruz says “shows organisms that live under the seas, not beautiful corals and colorful fish but the more unsightly ones. Some of them look like giant worms and snakes ready to pounce” paints a highly detailed marine life scene and was painted by social realist artist Jose Tence Ruiz.

Giant worms and snakes? Those intricately detailed renderings of corals (do you really not see that they are corals, yes, the beautiful ones) and microscopic fauna that supports the entire ocean ecosystem? Those are ugly? I mean, just just look at them. Please, just look at them. The color palette, beautifully going for green instead of the usual blue, is, in itself, a work of skill, playing with softer, earthen hues to give life to what people rarely see, the underpinnings, the bloody foundation, of the vast ocean life that we have.
Photo from:

Photo from:

The one in Cubao, sprawling all over the intersection of EDSA and Aurora Boulevard, was conceptualized and supervised by London-based filmmaker and architect Tapio Snellman, who’s done work for the city of Helsinki and Skanska, and Park Avenue Armory in New York. His “films and installations have featured in exhibitions at venues such as the Victoria & Albert Museum, The Guggenheim Museum NYC, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Venice Biennale and Tate Modern”. 
Notable Filipino artist commune Pilipinas Street Plan even featured him on its blog.

Yeah, ok, this skillful presentation of the underbelly of a thriving metropolis is nothing but a picture of sh*t transportation systems.

Photo by Arianna Draws

I’ve seen the mural up close, and they are beautiful, expansive so that it tells a story as you pass by it, yet linear and eye-catching from afar. Drive by it, look at it from a bus window, and you'll see progression. You'll make sense out of it. It'll make your day more beautiful. That is the power of art.

And Mr. Cruz, without lifting a finger to type Cubao mural on Google, without any sort of journalistic restraint, as if he was just posting the column on his Facebook timeline, says things like these:

“The one at Cubao shows nothing but the ugly undersides of buildings and flyovers with plumbing and pipes very prominent among them. What for? You know what those plumbing fixtures do in real life? They carry the —-, you know what, from all the residences and buildings all around.”

“Why couldn’t the Edsa muralists do something like that? I’ll tell you why. Because it is easy to paint pipes and unseen undersea creatures. People can’t compare them with the real ones. The muralists are cheating. They probably can’t paint nipa huts and farm animals and therefore chose to paint objects unfamiliar to the people. And how much is the government spending for those ugly murals? Probably nothing for the paints but plenty for the wages of the jobless muralists. Those painters can be put to work painting the beautiful Philippines instead. Why waste money on projects that make the metropolis ugly?”

Wow. Seriously. What the hell?

It's easy to paint pipes? Sure, if you're talking about a kid with a blank piece of paper and a crayola box with nothing in it but grays, blacks and whites. But to achieve that mural, Snellman had to render the image in 3D, to see how it progressed and would be seen by passers by. 

This oversimplification, nay, insult to artists all over, should not even be published, let alone seen in the opinion pages of a national publication.

As I’ve posted before, I have deep admiration for artists and am frustrated that I don’t and can’t develop skills to do visual art. I am so happy for Nemo, a friend and colleague of mine in college, someone who worked hard and is finally getting a taste of the recognition he so deserves.  So to call people who prefer to paint surrealistic images instead of the tired “Pinoy” concept of coconut trees and rice plantations “cheaters” is, at best, an archaic, tired and simply limited view on what is beautiful, and at worst, a pompous statement from someone who wants to come off as an expert without having to do the work to become one. In an age where art has come to the forefront of public consciousness, driven forward by young and old artists alike who know that at its core, art is for people to see and appreciate, a subjective experience that is more like a dalliance between artist and viewer, it is a sad occurrence for someone to call something so progressive… ugly.

My main gripe here is that this guy, a respected VETERAN, simply thrashes the project without even getting to know what it is all about.  Someone from the supposedly “golden age” of Philippine journalism should have been more careful about what he says on a national newspaper.

Such short sighted irresponsibility can hurt artists who want to beautify the country with sensible and aesthetically pleasing projects, not mess it up with juvenile graffiti.  Have you seen the many projects Pilipinas Street Plan have under its belt? They are turning Filipino graffiti back into what it should be: urban art, and not some thuggish meanderings on a wall. I have been so glad that many corporations have started turning to art to promote their products. Because with this kind of financial backing, we can truly lift art consciousness in the country.

We need projects like these. Projects that uplift us, in any small way. Well planned, well executed projects that are good, not just because they have international names connected to them, but simply because they damn well make sense.

Please, how can anyone, in this day and age, still be so caught up in one's lofty reality as to not even take a good, hard and honest look at a subject before bashing it on a national publication?

This is extremely disappointing and teaches kids, with or without journalistic dreams, that if you have the channel to say it, you can say it, no matter how infantile and blind your opinion is.

Seriously. This was a great project, with a very clear thrust, and you just what, bashed it, because it didn't appeal to your aesthetic taste? Or the lack of it?

I grew up reading PDI and its opinion pages. How low the standards have become to allow you to just spit out filth without doing what most people who commented on your article have pointed to again and again: a simple internet search in the age of Facebook and Twitterverse, that would have stopped you from writing this garbage.

You know what, sir? I think you just have it out for either the MMDA or Boysen. Or both. Is this the tired and rehashed scene where the writer wasn't given the carrot, so he decides to take out his own stick? How can we help but read into this, knowing all the under-the-table dealings of old school mass media. You know, the same image of “traditional” politicians?

Here's a comment on the article:


Which  talks about this April 2nd article. Hmm, is there something fishy here, like those giant worms and snakes ready to pounce, sir?

Biggest irony in all of this? PDI actually featured and heralded the launch of the project in a May 7, 2011 article.

Lastly, here's  Lourd de Veyra's amusing video on the impact of columnists on YouTube.

"Sila talaga ang mga eksperto, ang tunay na edukado, ang tunay na may alam tungkol sa pulso ng masa. Mga eksperto sila eh, produkto ito ng kanilang mataas na pinagaralan, kaya sa bawat salita nila nakasalalay ang sentimiyento ng publiko". Sigh.

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