The efficacy of words in a time of crisis
From a painting by IGAN D’BAYAN titled “Mr. Crowley” 2020

The efficacy of words in a time of crisis

KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - March 23, 2020 - 12:00am

This period of severe disruption is bound to produce significant literature and other works of art. So-called writer’s block will be conquered at home. And everyone who had used excuses like official work hours elsewhere have been freed for hours of stir-craziness. 

As it is, everyone on the internet also has more time to weigh in verbally on everything, understandably with mixed results. Win some, lose some, or a lot.

On one hand, some writer-editors anticipating an outbreak of literary production have already suggested a call for relevant anthologies — among them premier poet Simeon Dumdum Jr. of Cebu.

Poems brief and lengthy have been posted on FB. Here’s one from R. Zamora Linmark, which he calls a “Drive-Thru Poem for the Day,” titled “Love in the Time of COVID-19”:

“Because we might die tonight / or tomorrow / I can only afford to write you this hemojang sonnet or harakiri haiku / cuz I might run out of breath / catching up with my tropical emotion / or delirious from the sorry sight of you...” (Note: “hemojang” is Hawaiian for “out of whack.”)

Music impresario and writer Pablo Tariman escapes from Pasig with a long poem titled “In the Garden,” which ends thus:

“This morning / I decided to have coffee in the garden /
Upon learning / Tom Hanks survived The Virus / And spent the day / Doing the dishes / And folding the laundry. // A private time in the garden / Is my way of celebrating / someone’s new lease on life / while we continue to smell / the stench of pestilence and death / In private quarters and hospitals. // In my garden is also where / I come to terms with myself / Warts and all.”

Haiku poet-author Gingging Dumdum came up with this “Haiku 564”: “In this quarantine / We are caged from a raptor / Weblike in its hold.”

On the other hand, as mentioned earlier, the political divide still consumes much of the time that can be spent in creative endeavors. It’s all understandable, however, as some can’t help but hark back to dramatic history, remembering how Winston Churchill rallied his people with stirring speeches during dark times. Or relying on recent recall of how Singapore’s PM Lee Hsien Loong spoke with such authority and clarity to help resolve the crisis in his city.

A video mash-up inevitably appeared, crosscutting from Minister Lee’s simple injunctions with those of our president in his three recent public announcements aired on TV. You can guess how humor results from such a comparison, albeit much headshaking accompanies it among Filipinos.

After all, the first presscon provoked satire among writers who came up with “The Kit” as an absurdist poem. Other quips from He-who-wants-to-be-funny made it to a set of manufactured poems, such as “Duque” in appropriately serpentine form:

“But as to really / The wherewithals / of how/ This idiotic / Dreams of virus / Translated here / In our country / And to the world, / It would need— // It would need a lot. // It would save / A lot of time / If I would let / Dr Duque / Handle // Everything.”

What is blown up in this satiric exercise is the abject inarticulation of the speaker, whose thoughts are always fragmented, the bulk of them coming from left field — in what has further been impugned as a stream of unconsciousness.

If one mode of reaction has been to fall back on humor, also spawned are frustration and anger. Even if the third presser was taped, the result was the same. Sane people just gave up on this leader who insisted on being the center of attention, but couldn’t even read what he was supposed to in an orderly fashion.

The disrespect for the word is exacerbated by a persistent belief in the validity, let alone propriety, of streetcorner quips, which can only lead to irrelevant adlibs that turn crucial communication into circuitous confusion.

A sigh of relief could only ensue upon the conduct of a follow-up presscon-forum that featured sub-alterns, with Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, in particular, finally communicating concise items of clarification.

This brought to high relief the salient points earlier made by several experts in the field, including Ambassador to China Chito Sta. Romana, that crisis communications required coherence, above all.    

In place of issuing tough-guy vituperation such as “this f*cking country” or an ignorant remark that Tagalog is a dialect, or the following croppers — “Buhusan ang veerus ng kumukulong mantika. Tarages ’yan.” or “Kung di ako makalampas sa COVID, di ako karapat-dapat maging Mayor sa Pilipinas.” — someone could just have stuck to the reading script and allowed other officials to conduct proper communication that he simply isn’t equipped for.

For instance, what was handed him to read contained the following, which he did slur: “We are at war against a vicious and invisible enemy, one that cannot be seen by the naked eye. In this extraordinary war, we are all soldiers.” Now, that alone could have shown a modicum of inspirational leadership.

As it was, the consternation generated by his hopscotch delivery of directives spiced by unnecessary adlibs only drew much frustration and anger. Worse, his usual enablers went into a word war with everyone raising valid questions, claiming that anything short of silent obedience meant going negative.

They were drowned out by those who refused to be part of a mindless herd, such as Carina Evangelista, who wrote of “A public that is right now gripped with fear and disconsolate at the chaos that glaring lack of transparency and clarity has caused.” She adds that this body politic is infantilized, “as if its members’ alarm and hardship were trivial and as if its members were utterly incapable of, or have no business using, discernment and critical thinking.”

Yan Yuzon weighed in with eloquence: “Complain. Criticize. Be heard. It is civic duty to provide government with feedback. Governance in a democracy is a continuing dialogue. And democracy demands dissent…. The nation needs our civic involvement. Those who can’t handle feedback should stay out of public office.”

And yet the troll farms went on with their cynical work, disseminating copy-pasted arguments in favor of their cult god, even eventually going on attack mode against Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto whose imaginative and practical decisions won praises but appeared to run counter to mindless obedience.

The war of words will continue, with efficacy at a premium.

Now, if only officials can stop saying “skeletal work force” in lieu of the correct “skeleton work force.” Unless they mean offices to be manned by a minimum staff, all of whom might resemble the presidential spokesman.

As pundit Ed Geronia commented: “There’s been a rash of coronavirus and COVID-19 wordplay. It’s a ‘pundemic.’”

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