Mama was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in August of 2005. Since then, our family, my brother and I, particularly, have been knocking ourselves out, trying to make sense of what pseudo-sympathizers call “rich man’s disease,” looking for doctors (now Mama has five-a neurologist, a psychiatrist, an internist, an ophthalmologist, and a rehab doctor), caregivers (struck out four times, the fifth, our current one, is now Mama’s soulmate, so she’s good), funds (no weekends for my brother and me), and answers (???). PD is already a big bad force to reckon with, but Mama’s recurring depression, brought on by a childhood of isolation and self-doubt, and more recently by family tragedy, is the whammy that’s most difficult to challenge.
There are happy changes, though. The trembling, drooling and choking are now a distant memory. Her voice is now audible, her speech patterns, less repetitive. Her once-69 pound frame must have doubled in the last 11 months, thanks to a steady, physician-approved diet of wheat bread, Koko Crunch, milk, white meat, rice, mixed vegetables, papaya and pears. Though wheelchair-bound, she shoots hoops every morning, plays Scrabble and Upwords, writes song lyrics from memory, and scribbles wrestlers’ names as though they were her best friends.
Her hectic day isn’t complete without the roster of TV programs waiting to be pressed on the remote control. She’s a certified “Kapuso” (GMA 7 network fan), starting the TV marathon with “Sis,” (lifestyle/showbiz talk show) followed by “Eat Bulaga,” (noontime variety), and “Daisy Siete” (afternoon soap). She crosses over to the rival network (ABS-CBN) for “Game Ka Na Ba?” (game show), then to sister network QTV’s live broadcast of “American Idol”, then it’s back to GMA for the primetime shows, the highlight of which is the wildly popular Pinoy version of the trendsetting Mexican telenovela, “Mari Mar.” Curtains are set to fall on the series by March 15, after a record seven months on the air. But Mama feels no remorse. She has tons of other programs to choose from, including the testosterone telenovelas that “WWE Raw” and “Smackdown” provide on weekends. Yes, she can relate with my cousins’ five-and-six year-olds when they talk wrestling.
“Mari Mar” may have moved my mother to tears on several occasions, but it is the likes of Jeff Hardy flying off ladders, Rey Mysterio doing his patented “619”, and Triple H spewing forth water and hulking over opponents that really captivate her. I remember we were in the hospital, March of 2007, and Smackdown was on. In her semi-drugged state, she recognized the Undertaker amid montage clips of graveyards and tombstones. My aunt was aghast at the morbid images, frantically switching channels before Mama hallucinates again. But before and since then, television has never done any harm to Mama and her state of mind. She’s smart enough to know that television is just an elaborate illusion, an inexpensive (okay, so cable subscription can be pricey) way to be entertained for hours on end. Once a movie buff who can sit through “double-features” in cinemas, she has learned to accept that TV shows are now her best ally against boredom and immobility.
Mama’s love affair with TV programs is her antidote to a physical and psycho-neurological condition she cannot control. I would like to believe that she’s not the only one, as network ratings wars indicate. For the average Filipino technophile, a portable DVD player and seasons 1 and 2 of “Heroes” or “Prison Break”, pirated or otherwise, are bound to satisfy his daily fix for missed episodes. For the low-income Manila resident, TV is the one thing that knits his family (and TV-deprived neighbors) together, as they cheer for or squabble over Manny Pacquiao delayed telecasts or squander their prepaid phone credits trying to win SMS text promotions concocted by noontime programs. For millions of Filipinos, TV is not just an antidote, but an anaesthetic that numbs their pangs of hunger and fears for the future, if only for a while.
TV has also become instrumental in bringing politics to the Filipino household, whether its members like it or not. Jun Lozada is now a household name, the latest in a string of whistleblowers who blew their shrill whistles on live television. “J.Lo” has since instigated a mass media frenzy that has led the University of the Philippines to launch a book entitled “Corruptionary,” and the country’s catholic bishops to be divided on the president’s fate. Who needs telenovelas when the plot thickens everyday in the Senate, in Malacañang, and the streets of Ayala?
Let’s switch back to “Mari Mar”: Sociologists have analyzed the success and mystique of the title character, the people around her, and the world she lives in. Mari Mar, the giddy, beach-loving, illiterate provincial lass who rose and fought her way to the top, is seen as the poster child for feminism. Sergio, the brooding, indecisive love of Mari Mar’s (and every other female in the story) life, and Angelica, the evil sister, are the two main characters that tweak the heroine’s most raw emotions. The themes of true-love-never-dies and good-triumphs-over-evil are no-brainers. It is the preoccupation with just one source of evil that has made the Mexican remake a study in socio-political relevance. Case in point: Angelica has practically killed off every minor character in the series, all in the name of hatred, revenge, and narcissistic love. No wonder everyone blames her for their misfortunes. A hauntingly similar scenario is playing out in the political theatre, where everyone’s misfortunes are blamed on the Madame in Malacañang. This is no longer feminism, but a fascination for someone-to-blame. We Filipinos can put our finger on that, besides the remote.
As for televised wrestling and boxing matches, cockfights and word wars, we are no different from the global, bloodthirsty voyeurs who will keep the beer flowing until someone is pinned to the mat. Mama has said it eloquently and robustly, when perennial troublemaker Edge taps out in agony after three seconds with his neck in John Cena’s vise grip: “Buti nga sa’yo!” Now I am a true believer in the healing power of television.