The Manila Times

Liza Soberano’s hope


THE price of fame oftentimes is loneliness. Or said differently, the loneliest place in the world could be at the top.

I don’t mean to dabble in showbiz intrigue, and I rarely write about celebrities other than when they are involved in politics or in political contestations.

But the case of Liza Soberano is different. And it is extremely political in a more existential, or ontological, way. It strikes deep into the heart of identity politics, and in the everyday manner that ordinary people are objectified.

Objectification is the process whereby human subjects are rendered as objects. In the grammar of power, subjects are those who define for themselves their narratives. They are the nouns who do the verbs in their lives. They are empowered, and they have choices, and voices. At the end of the power gradient lie the objects, or those who are defined by others, and whose stories are written by others. They are the nouns to whom the verbs in their lives are being done.

I watched Liza Soberano’s 14-minute vlog, and what I saw was an objectified woman. Many people begrudge her for speaking up. Some called her out as ungrateful, and for complaining despite her fame and wealth. Many people think that just because she is famous, and wealthy, she should just be happy, fulfilled and grateful.

Many seem to impose gratefulness as a necessary burden that should silence people and make them bear their pain privately. But this is like imposing silence on slaves and servants when we expect them to be grateful to their masters. This is a culture where debt of gratitude becomes a call for people to tolerate abusive behavior.

People expect Soberano to be grateful to those who enabled her to become the superstar she has become. Many people seem to forget that it was a two-way street. The business arrangement was mutually beneficial, in the sense that those who managed her career also reaped financial rewards from her fame. It was not just Soberano. However, there is an important difference. Those who managed her had the power to define her. As managers, they had more control in turning her into a salable talent. As for Soberano, she started at a young age, and for over a decade she carried a name that is not actually of her own choosing. She was confined inside a studio, betrothed to a single actor as her leading man, performed in formulaic TV shows and movies under a revolving door of only three directors. While she may have been afforded some voice later in her career, such as having some say on scripts, she was not in total control.

Soberano is now pilloried for sounding as if she was complaining too much when she enumerated a litany of her objectification. She responded by saying that she was just stating facts. In fact, she should not apologize for complaining, for she has every right to do so. Her fame also made her managers and her studio, those who had a hand in making her what she has become, a bit richer. But the burden of that fame, and the price she had to pay was never imposed on the shoulders of her managers and her home studio. Her objectification was hers, and hers alone to bear.

Something is indeed not right in the world of Philippine showbiz where the glitter of fame and glory masks what could be a wholesale objectification of those who find themselves circulating in its limelight. The image that we get is that these people love what they are getting, and that these are their choices. Soberano admitted that she did not want to become an actress, but was forced into it by the need to earn a living to enable and sustain her family. And she is not alone. There are others like her, young people who are forced even by their own families to enter showbiz as breadwinners. Maine Mendoza could never have been more pointed when she admonished a mother not to impose on her 7-year-old son the burden of earning a living for their family.

Mendoza did the right thing. And in the context of what she said to the young mother, I cannot countenance those in showbiz who now blame Soberano’s parents, but were participants in a business enterprise that earned windfalls of conscripting children to perform creative labor.

There is another thing that prevails in our starstruck society that effectively imprisons people like Soberano, and even Mendoza. The throngs of fans whose patronage have catapulted showbiz celebrities into fame and stardom are the very same fans that end up straitjacketing and objectifying them. This can be seen in love teams which almost everyone knows are simply part of the conjured optics within which celebrities find themselves impaled. It should be mentioned that love teams are characteristically more prevalent in the Philippines, but lesser seen in other countries. When Alden Richards, who was spun as Maine Mendoza’s “love interest” made a movie with Kathryn Bernardo, who had a “love team” with Daniel Padilla, the idolatrous fandom treated Alden and Kathryn as if they had committed treason. When Mendoza publicly revealed her affair with another actor other than Richards, she was pilloried by fans.

The idolatry toward showbiz celebrities is but another manifestation of the tendency of Filipinos to blindly worship famous personalities, including politicians. But unlike politicians who end up occupying positions of real power in the halls of Congress and in Malacañang, showbiz celebrities become mere characters in movies and soap operas, even as they take on personas that may not necessarily be who they really are. The internal conflict raging in them is not easy. Imagine being famous, good-looking and rich, idolized by thousands, even millions, yet are imprisoned by the very fame they have, and by the expectations of the fans who made them.

Soberano declared that in her private life her name is Hope. Others may not see the symbolic power of this. But for Soberano, it could be precisely that — her only hope.

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