No sense of history?

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

January was an eventful month for Philippine sports. Just look at all that transpired: the Philippine Olympic Committee Hall of Fame Awards, the Philippine Basketball Association Finals, the start of the Pacquiao-Bradley promotional tour in the US, the passing of Caloy Loyzaga, and several other stories worthy of attention. However, this begs the question: what palpable mark will all these have left behind, what evidence of their taking place will we be able to find 10, 20, 30 years from now? How are we preserving all of these milestones for the reference of future generations?

Filipinos are a very emotional, sentimental people. It is reflected in our music, our theater, our television and other arts. But we seem to have a very short memory when it comes to events and persons that matter or should influence us. I was saddened to note that, as early as 15 years ago, very few Filipino youth even knew who Flash Elorde was. And he only passed away in the 1980’s. Where do we start repairing this ignorance?

Sport is, by nature, ethereal. It creates moments that are paradoxically fleeting and transcendent. It would be a great service to us to preserve these moments of greatness as treasures for our children and their children, a way of giving us more in common with them. The advent of all these new technologies has also fractured the communal experiences that people used to have. We can now watch anything we want any time we want, and don’t even have to sit through the whole thing. Going to the movies and, to a lesser degree, live theatre are the only mass communal experiences left. Games are shown on endless loops and always distilled into highlight form for the impatient fans seeking instant gratification. Why sit through two and half hours when 90 seconds tells you everything important? But tell me, how many highlight reels do you remember? Now think about how many games you actually remember in stark detail, mostly because you sat through them and soaked it all in.

I was amazed that our production team was the first to produce a documentary on the history of the PBA, to be honest. But I also understand how challenging it must have seemed. And in 40 years, there has never been just one broadcaster covering the games. The great tragedy of most of these major sports leagues is that nobody has a complete archive of every game. Many broadcast franchisees in the past would only save two to three years’ worth, simply to save space. The old U-matic videotapes were about the size of a hardbound book, and it took three or four of them to record one basketball game. Given that the PBA used to play about 110 to 120 days (multiplied by two games) a year, then you’d have enough tapes to line every wall in your office. And the league plays many more games now.

Even international sporting events covered by Filipinos like the Olympics, Asian Games and Southeast Asian Games are not in great shape. Magnetic tape is simply a lot of magnetic dust clinging to spooled plastic filament. Over time - particularly in an environment without dust-proof, constant temperature control - those particles loosen, and the images fade. That’s why the video on the cable channels that show old sporting events in this country look pale and ghostly. On the other hand, who really sees the value of preserving all these old games, anyway?

Even the print medium is in peril. Worldwide, there is a looming crisis in libraries everywhere. After a certain point about a hundred years or so ago, the type of paper and ink used in newspapers and books was changed. But the new combination also had its own chemical reaction, causing the paper to develop acids that ate through it over time. The result is that millions and millions of great original books, old magazines and newspapers are all crumbling into dust. And to think that the Philippines does not have a comprehensive Library of Congress where everything is preserved digitally or on microfilm. The time will come when we will have to try to reconstruct significant bits of our history from memory or oral recollections.

The advent of digital technology is a boon to those of us who love history. But it is also a double-edged sword, the durability of which is largely untested. You could record and keep all your favorite sports moments on a hard drive, but do we really know how safe they will be? An alternative would be sending it up to the cloud. But always keep a back-up. You never know what could happen in the next few years.

The painstaking task of reconstructing history, particularly sports history, is one reason why I started doing documentaries. Sports changed my life. No, to be totally honest, sports saved my life. It has always held a richness and color of its own, as well. If I can save some of that time in a bottle, so to speak, I will have something to leave to my children, so they can better understand me. You can remake music. You can translate books or make them into movies. In both cases, you can even waste time arguing which is better. But you cannot remake a game-winning shot, a knockout punch from an underdog, a come-from-behind win, a record-setting performance. These are the kinds of moments when you were either in the building, or you remember where you were when you saw it happen. That is history.

As a people, we are so proud of how we embrace technology. We send out billions of text messages a day, and are hailed the selfie capital of the world, silly title though it may be. But I think we are taking so many pictures of ourselves as witnesses, we are forgetting the significance of what we are witnessing. Last year, I fired a cameraman partly because he had the temerity to take a selfie while shooting WBO world champion Donnie Nietes’ hand being raised in victory. He totally missed the point of being there, and missed the money shot, as it were. There was no second take.

Time was when people took pictures before and after an event to commemorate its significance and document the outcome. We have been infected with a false sense of urgency about that, about posting pictures as quickly as possible, to the point that we almost totally miss the actual moment we were there to appreciate. We compare notes about events we were not really paying attention to a hundred percent. It dulls the impact and lessens the significance. In the end, we will have a lot of pictures of us, but won’t remember why those moments were special. In the end, we will have a self-centered, watered-down experience of our own history, which we ended up recording instead of actually living. And we end up casually pressing “delete”.












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