Friday, September 25, 2015
66. Art and Propaganda
Somewhere in my old stacks of books and magazines is a quotation that goes, "All art is propaganda, but not all propaganda is art." I mention this because a friend of mine is concerned that "Heneral Luna" is officially entered to the Oscars, and the film ends with the American generals laughing at the Filipinos. The implication to the "amor propio" of the country, especially so that it is Hollywood's most prestigious awards, couldn't be more alarming. In other words, Heneral Luna may arguably be good art, but it is definitely bad propaganda. The political reading of Heneral Luna, as far as Fil-Am relations are concerned, puts the Filipinos in very bad light. As the film lifts Luna, it puts down Aguinaldo, Mascardo, and the rest of the Kawit command, most of whom were shown to have lacked the discipline demanded by the war. I told my friend the historical consequences after Luna's death may not be altered, and those American generals laughing may not have happened but the statements were quoted accurately. Still my friend asks, "Why do we have to do this to ourselves?" Well, we did it already, and we would do it again and again as the Luna story attracts more followers while our young nation matures. We would only stop once we find a way to reconcile Luna's death and that of Bonifacio's with our continued patronage of Emilio Aguinaldo and his brief stint as the first president of the Philippine Republic. That is only possible if we downgrade the status of Aguinaldo and put him on the level of Andres Bonifacio and Antonio Luna, the other heroes he had killed or allowed to be killed, that would necessitate us marking Manuel L. Quezon as the first president of the Philippines, which is a historical fact. Manuel L. Quezon is another one of Aguinaldo's men in the Fil-Am War, and he beat Aguinaldo in the first presidential elections after Quezon hammered in on the issue of Bonifacio and Luna. Yet, of all the generals in Aguinaldo's army, my personal favorite is Artemio Ricarte who up to his death never gave up on the revolution, even as he suffered many years in prison for his persistence. After serving sentence for his refusal to pledge allegiance to the American flag, Ricarte was asked to make the pledge, and he refused again. This prompted the Americans to have him exiled. As luck would have it, Ricarte found his way to Japan, and he would return to the country during the Japanese invasion collaborating with the Japanese and its politics of the Great East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Artemio Ricarte's stature as a patriot is thus mired by the stigma of his Japanese collaboration, notwithstanding the historical reading that his return as a Japanese collaborator was him carrying on with the Philippine-American War and the Philippine Revolution. Nick Joaquin and F. Sionil Jose both posit this political line, but whether it will make good art is another question. I hope some indie producer finds Ricarte's story worthy of a decent and well-funded film production, as that one has better possibilities as art and propaganda than Luna's.