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Bob Ong as National Artist

MINI CRITIQUE - Isagani Cruz -

Last Aug. 18 at De La Salle University, I delivered (in Filipino) the inaugural lecture of the Br. Andrew Gonzalez Lecture Series. I entitled my lecture “Ang Kabobohan ni Bob Ong, o Dapat Bang Hiranging Pambansang Alagad ng Sining si Bob Ong” (“The Idiocy of Bob Ong, or Should Bob Ong be Declared a National Artist”). Of course, kabobohan is a play on the penname Bob Ong, which is in turn a play on the words Bobong Pinoy, the title of the website that started the anonymous author on the road to what has become the bestselling publishing phenomenon of our time.

I divided my lecture into four parts: The Benchmark for National Artists, The Writing Principles Violated by Bob Ong, The Writing Principles Advocated by Bob Ong, and What Makes a National Artist.

My epigraph for the lecture was this text from the children’s book Alamat ng Gubat by Bob Ong: “Nag-umpisa ang massacre ng mga hayop na mas karumaldumal at mas kagimbal-gimbal pa sa mga pelikula ni Carlo J. Caparas noong dekada 90.” (“The massacre of the animals started. It was more gross and more disturbing than the films of Carlos J. Caparas during the 1990s.”)

I used as my benchmark or touchstone for National Artistry the great Caparas, who is so good an artist that he outshines Fernando Amorsolo, Ang Kiukok, Bencab, Victorio Edades, Botong Francisco, Jose Joya, Cesar Legaspi, Arturo Luz, Vicente Manansala, J. Elizalde Navarro, and Hernando Ocampo (who could only manage to excel in one category – Visual Arts), and Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, Gerardo de Leon, and Eddie Romero (who could only manage to excel in one category – Film). Unlike these artists, Caparas has been hailed as a National Artist in two categories – Visual Arts and Film – and not just in one.

I listed the masterpieces of Caparas in the 1990s, such as The Myrna Diones Story (1993), The Cecilia Masagca Story (1993), The Vizconde Massacre Story (1993), The Vizconde Massacre 2 (1994), The Lipa Arandia Massacre (1994), The Maggie de la Riva Story (1994), Victim No. 1: Delia Maga (1995), The Marita Gonzaga Rape-Slay (1995), The Anabelle Huggins Story (1995), and The Lilian Velez Story (1995). For lack of time, I did not list all the other masterpieces that he produced before and after the 1990s. In any case, as all film scholars know, the 1990s can be called the Golden Age of Carlo Caparas.

I then talked about the books of Bob Ong, namely, ABNKKBSNPLAko: Mga Kuwentong Chalk (2001), Bakit Baligtad Magbasa ng Libro ang mga Pilipino? (2002), Ang Paboritong Libro ni Hudas (2003), Alamat ng Gubat (2004), Stainless Longganisa (2005), Mac Arthur (2007), and Kapitan Sino (2009). From sheer number of titles and from sales receipts (his books reportedly sell at least a thousand copies every week), no author can compare with Bob Ong.

I took some writing principles found in the two standard reference books on creative writing, Gusto Kong Maging Writer 1 and Gusto Kong Maging Writer 2, by Renato M. Custodio Jr. I quoted some passages from Bob Ong’s books that blatantly violate these principles.

On the other hand, I showed that, by violating standard writing principles, Bob Ong has introduced into Philippine literature several sophisticated techniques currently fashionable in the most advanced writing capitals of the world, such as Deconstruction, Defamiliarization, Transformative Learning, Decolonization, the Romantic Mode, and the Motif of Mistaken Identity.

Since he is undoubtedly loved by the masses of Philippine readers and since he has shown mastery in applying the latest trends in fiction and creative nonfiction, I argued that Bob Ong satisfied the five criteria for becoming a National Artist, namely: (1) “Living artists who are Filipino citizens at the time of nomination, as well as those who died after the establishment of the award in 1972 but were Filipino citizens at the time of their death” (he is alive); (2) “Artists who through the content and form of their works have contributed in building a Filipino sense of nationhood” (we have all acquired the same taste for books because of him); (3) “Artists who have pioneered in a mode of creative expression or style, thus earning distinction and making an impact on succeeding generations of artists” (there are now writers trying to write like him); (4) “Artists who have created a substantial and significant body of works and/or consistently displayed excellence in the practice of their art form, thus enriching artistic expression or style” (he has consistently written in his distinctive style); and (5) “Artists who enjoy broad acceptance through prestigious national and/or international recognition, such as the Gawad CCP Para sa Sining, CCP Thirteen Artists Award and NCCA Alab ng Haraya; critical acclaim and/or reviews of their works; respect and esteem from peers” (those that refuse to praise him are just plain envious).

I ended with the immortal words of Bob Ong himself: “Wala pa ring malinaw na lunas para sa sakiting bansa. Walang pumapansin sa nag-aapoy nitong lagnat, at walang gustong magbigay ng gamot.” (“There is no clear cure for the disease that afflicts our nation. Nobody pays any attention to our nation’s high fever nor is there anyone that wants to prescribe medicine.”)

I got the standard ovulation, I mean a standing ovation.










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