By AA PATAWARAN
The downside of my celebrity is that I cannot go anywhere in the world without being recognized. It is not enough for me to wear dark sunglasses and a wig. The wheelchair gives me away. — Stephen Hawking
A few years ago, while I was in Vienna, I chanced upon this 24/7 TV station that seemed to play nothing but the icons of pop culture from around the world, from every field of the performing arts, whether theater or music or dance or film, or even the visual arts — I mean Da Vinci or Vermeer, as in The Girl with the Pearl Earring.
Forgive my vague memory. I did keep the TV on, but I was in Vienna and, of course, I was in and out. I stayed in a very modest hotel, too modest for my taste, but as I discovered after a brief walk around the block, it was just down the street from the Belvedere, so I guess I was happy enough to stay in this hotel for when I felt too cramped or miserable in it, I could just walk out of my room and voila — I was in the Belvedere complex made up of two Baroque palaces, the Orangery, and the Palace Stables set in a Baroque park landscape.
And of course, there was this TV station that I found not only entertaining, but also informative and inspiring. There was no serious programming. One moment it would be Maria Callas performing the soprano aria “O Mio Babbino Caro” in Puccini‘s opera Gianni Schicchi and then it would be The Beach Boys doing “California Girls” the very next. Or it would be Baryshnikov dancing with the Royal Ballet and, immediately following his performance, it would be some kind of a collage of Marilyn Monroe photos and videos along with her singing “Every Baby Needs a Da Da Daddy.”
As I was in Vienna, needless to say, there was Mozart, lots of Mozart, and many snippets from the world’s best orchestras — the London Philharmonic, for instance, or the Bavarian Radio Symphony, if memory serves me right — in concert at the world’s most revered venues, like the Sydney Opera House or the Hungarian State Opera.
What ties everything together, though, is a kind of playfulness, if not irreverence, especially with bits of trivia flashed after each segment, some of which were focused on the flaws or the faux-pas or the misadventures of these iconic personalities.
There’s a nonchalance toward historic figures that I think we need to learn, as the West has long mastered it, that can give even high brow culture some mass appeal, whether it is Shakespeare or Einstein or Edith Piaf or Da Vinci or Nietzche or the Plaza in New York.
I mean in British author Gyles Brandeth‘s six works of historical fiction, The Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries, he turned the Irish poet and playwright into a sleuth working with both English writer and biographer Robert Sherard and Sherlock Holmes-creator Arthur Conan Doyle to investigate the death of male prostitutes around London. Oh and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith! Or his Pride and Prejudice and Zombies making a parody not so much of Jane Austen as of her romantic novel.
I wish we Filipinos wouldn’t find it too blasphemous to poke fun at our heroes and our scholars and our favorite celebrities who have reached iconic status and whose memory, as well as enduring legacies, could go on forever, if only we knew how to keep them interesting, especially after death.
I know that maybe we have started to be a little relaxed toward our National Hero Jose Rizal, updating his look, for instance, by giving him a pair of very dark wayfarers. Sure, all great journeys begin with a single small step, unless for every step forward, two steps back are taken.
With our unhealthy attitude toward criticism, our tendency to take any criticism badly, whether literary or artistic or political or social critiques, whether we are criticizing a former president or the memory of his dead mother, we are, I’d say, taking 10 big steps back for every one small step forward.
As a result, we have many great people who are forgotten, buried in scholarly works such as in the history books in which nobody cares about them, except for when there are grades at stake.
If we could turn some of them into zombies, if we could dig up some skeletons in their closets without their estates (or their managers or road handlers) crying foul, if we could turn Juan Luna‘s fate into a detective story gathering clues as to how, seemingly in top shape at 42, he suddenly died of heart failure, then we maybe we can start talking about these great characters of our history over breakfast the way we would talk about a tycoon abandoning his wife for a girl no older than his daughter or a socialite running away with the help or our neighbor who, kind and harmless in the day, turns into a manananggal at night.
Ok so gossip is evil, but did you know that Socrates was severely lampooned not just by Aristophanes in his comedic play The Clouds but also by comic poets Callias, Eupolis, Telecleid, Mnesimachus, and Ameipsias and it wasn’t because of anything serious like his philosophy but because he was untidy and unkempt, even ugly?
Oh and, of course, we remember Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine as fantastic French poets, but they were also tempestuous lovers, too much fire between them. Not something we should poke our noses into, but the French did, as in literally right up Rimbaud’s ass (to find proof of sodomy), and so did the 1995 Leonardo DiCaprio-starrer Total Eclipse.
Even Stephen Hawking fell in love — twice, but that’s all we know so far, and he believed in parallel universes.