Commentary: In defense of Frankness


A metonymic play on names is perhaps uncalled-for to start this piece. Heck, there is even the likelihood that I am misusing the word “metonymy.” And to this lack of sureness, let me add the common folly of forgetfulness but someone, I am not sure if it’s Marjorie Perfloff, Kenneth Goldsmith or any of the conceptual artists, said something that an art that does not offend is not worthy of the name.

Following this, if art—any piece of writing, any piece of installation, or green peas put in a Tupperware and then displayed on a gallery—wants to establish some self-respect, it must at least be imbued with a critical spirit. Doing away with bashfulness, art must interrogate traditions, question its location, attack the powerful and the system they maintain.

Via a poem, Frank O’Hara sang in the following manner: “Don’t be bored, don’t be lazy, don’t be trivial, and don’t be proud. The slightest loss of attention leads to death.” A public official was recently slighted by a Baguio journalist’s social media post, what I read as the latter’s way to combat boredom and laziness, perhaps triviality and pride as well. Triviality is tricky because one can easily argue that social media posts should not be taken seriously. But does that not only reinforce acquiescence to divisions instead of questioning them? Social media and traditional media, blogging and journalism pitted against each other as if they have no overlaps.

The funny thing is that the public official took the Baguio-based journalist’s post seriously enough to charge him with libel. To this gesture, I do not think we should retort and say, Come on people, make up your mind! I thought you belittle social media content, and now you are taking something to court just because of a Facebook post? I think the more appropriate response is to utilize the seemingly disproportionate gesture—filing a libel case—in order to reveal the hypocrisy of those who underestimate the power of social media. Social media may be prone to the dissemination of fakeries but that is not the entirety of its story: social media can, and is shaping public opinion and directing public discussions. Frankness has just obtained a new venue for its display. It becomes a novel threat then to those in power who can now be lambasted in all the more ways. As public officials, no mode of defense can be better than good and honest work.

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I first encountered Ser Frank as a name than a person who laughs and drinks and possesses a body. I know of him as a Baguio-based writer, sometimes a poet, sometimes a journalist. I think I first met him face-to-face during an informal gathering of some Baguio-based journalists arranged by the Baguio-Benguet chapter of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines. Incidentally, that meeting was organized to discuss the libel case of the former Editor-in-Chief of Outcrop, UP Baguio’s student publication. That case was similarly filed by a public official.

The first time I really got to converse with Ser Frank was during a writing workshop’s night-out. I remember tipsiness talking for me as I ventured to do what I would otherwise balk at doing. I “approached” a writer and tried to get into talking. I remember asking Ser Frank if he reads Zizek and all the other famous contemporary Marxist references. He said both with his tongue in his cheek and with Rumours swiftly falling asleep that Yes, oo naman, anong tingin mo sa min? Those were not verbatim. And if the exact words I hardly remember, let me try to recapture the spirit engulfing the manner of his response: blunt and not mincing words, spirited and intoxicated beyond the literal sense. He spoke of his previous editorial stint at the Northern Dispatch and the other forms that his political involvement took in the past. It was a sobering exchange, however short.

In the same writing workshop, anecdotes about Ser Frank were bandied about gaily. One stood out for me—he refuses to be identified as a Baguio writer. Maybe it has something to do with the vagueness of the tag, or the way it indirectly limits and frames the way a writer’s production is understood. Viewed in terms of grounding one’s writings and attributing fleshly involvement to what one writes, localization is a good thing. But when its geographical affinities reign, it becomes mostly problematic. I see Ser Frank’s refusal to be boxed in terms such as geographic space as cousin to his refusal to be bored and lazy and inattentive to the point of dying. If journalism, art or writing are to be meek or ensconced in souring safety, they might as well be dead or not exist. When they score public officials, especially those whose performance of duties is questionable at best, then journalism, art and writing can have a lease of life, at least for now. Frankness is best reserved for matters of interrogation, questioning how things are presently done. #


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