from The Beginning
What they brought was a holy child or infant. After all, a baby could mean no harm. The twelve inch figure from Belgium was code for empire; the child armed in a velvet robe holding a gold globe in it's left hand and right hand raised in benediction as if to say "you can be saved by the monarchy if you let us destroy you." The tiny figure just kept multiplying from Prague and reached the Visayas. Just imagine Humaway, after being crowned queen, receiving this most sacred code meant to annihilate; a ticking bomb that would keep exploding for the next several hundred years in the form of feast days or quietly in the mind.
They went to an underground river tour in Palawan to feel some finite darkness inside the earth. The feeling could be rented for 45 minutes with strangers. As the plastic orange canoe moved further into absolute darkness, reality stayed bright outside. The underpaid tour guide yelled from the back of the canoe and pointed out concrete projections as a way of communicating with the tourists; the ability to be relatable as a banana leaf motif of emotional labor. Stalactites and guano accumulated into bratty amorphous figures that resembled a food market, cathedral, movie star, hot dogs, Pegasus. Regardless of how far into the darkness they went, an audience remained inside them, wondering if they got their money's worth. When they returned to their Airbnb, they read philosophy and watched The Butler and Julia & Julie from the dvd library. "The thinking mind ... is that work which produces reality, that is to say work as projection" summed up the underground river perfectly.
The screen was small enough to imagine actually being here. There were no photos of this island, only a nipa hut deep in Surigao del Sur surrounded by unrecognizable hues of green. On this mangrove beach, there's a white raft that could become a façade of a house. Local children play house on it. Who knows what they imagine. But without façades, in what direction would paranoia go? Would it go back home or to a grave? Between the screen and raft is a kind of heterotopia - not entirely here nor elsewhere too.
A village shares a portable videoke machine. You must slip pesos into the coin slot to turn it on. You must pay to partake in a journey of culturally specific repetition and mimicry. No one can tell you which song to sing, only you can choose which one to lend yourself to. Like your Filipino father, you give yourself over to a distant yet present empire: Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, The Beatles. (Mimi)cry is maybe an intimate relation to an object, one step removed from becoming that object. This is why impersonators are so powerful; they get to marvel in the space between relation and becoming. Their becoming is continuous and meant to never be fulfilled which is why the machine is full of money.
Here there are no communication machines to "assist relations" between family and friends but there's a sari sari store filled with decades old computers and television sets. Media relics undergo slow and continuous makeovers to unknown ends. Direct cognitive enslavement hasn't begun. Reflected from the dim and lifeless screens are young men hammering local trees into boats and those boats will have blue painted windows to imitate a reflection of the sky or sea.
What happens to the code of beheadings or dick pics that have been scrubbed into nothing? Does it disappear forever or take up foreclosed space in the mind of content moderators? Here is one kind of emotional labor. Here is a different kind of erasure. Human invisibility in the Philippines is a requisite for the production and flow of palatable images on US screens. Eat you green beans, it's good for you. Finish your rice, its a sin to waste food.
feliz lucia molina is based in los angeles.