Often, in conversations about movies, sports, music, travel, and theater, the rallying cry to patronize the arts is how they are an experience. (“It’s not just about support; it’s about the experience,” right?)
Going to the theater, games, and concerts, they bring you to the heights of where the personal and the communal come together – nobody’s experience is exactly the same, but everyone will describe an almost religious fervor from the shared passion, energy buzzing throughout the air. They’re the kind that people end up telling their children about, things seen from their own eyes, seeming irreplicable through digital screens.
In a landscape where immediate consumption and digitization are increasingly the norm, romantics have long been lamenting the slow-burning death of the art experience. There’s resurgence in pockets, but industry-wide, sustainability has long been an issue.
But what happens when movements to sustain culture and the arts are thrown an obstacle that’s nearly impossible to overcome by way of a global pandemic?
Among thought leaders in culture and the arts we interviewed, a common thread is the seeming insurmountability of the problem that their communities are facing. COVID-19 didn’t introduce new issues but rather aggravated them, they said.
But they carry hints of optimism. Because for as long as the human spirit exists, art will always find a way.
In the fourth and final part of our “How thinkers see a post-pandemic Philippines” series, we talk to thinkers from the performance arts, fashion, music, sports, travel, and film.
JUAN MIGUEL SEVERO
Writer, actor, singer, and spoken word artist
Performances rooted in not just in the way things were, but the way things should be
I think it’s already a given that the quarantine makes performance artists, especially theater artists, turn to the internet to achieve anything resembling the community they are accustomed to. I’m currently developing a play that takes place in a Zoom meeting and IG live, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’m pretty sure this form will emerge pretty soon.
These are performance artists! They feed on energy through touch and contact and breath and exchange! And right now they are famished. Their attempts to reach for a semblance of those sensations while in isolation –and the inevitable failure of such attempts – will birth performance pieces that will speak to our collective hunger not just for the way things were but the way things should be.
And because hunger bares teeth and hunger is urgent, I expect these expressions to be sharp, and whoever insists on containing us will be bitten.
Filmmaker, writer, media archivist, and musician
Expanding the experience of music
I try not to judge online performances to what they don’t have – like physical mosh pits, sweat, and bar guarantees. You can do things online that you can’t do in our analog life. The internet itself offers countless possibilities for performing and experiencing music where performers and audiences can gather in a virtual environment. Live music isn’t just about what you hear, but what you experience as well.
I recently attended Club Matryoshka’s 24-hour Infinite Summer, which featured musicians from Germany, China, the Philippines, and the United States, among others, to play on Minecraft. Here, Para://Site Projects held a contemporary art exhibition using mods to embed images in-game and building structures that would otherwise defy the laws of physics. It was an immersive audio-visual experience. Friends of Alternatrip, Furball’s Mamamatay Kang Hayup na Covid Ka!, and Bayanihan Musikahan are other online music initiatives that I’ve been keeping up with too.
But making a living is a different story. Musicians are still uncertain about the future. I wonder if there’s a way to make live streaming sustainable for performers, especially those who depend on gigs for income. It’s great that performers are banding together for fundraising efforts, but just supporting a musician’s livelihood is reason enough to pay for music. Artists and cultural workers also need support from institutions, more than ever.
Editor-in-Chief, Slam PH
Our grasp isn’t good enough
I’ll say this: if there’s anyone out there right now who is saying their long-term predictions are going to happen, don’t believe them.
Whatever you do, don’t buy from anyone right now who claims to know how this will shape sports (or anything for that matter) permanently. This has so far been a once-in-a-lifetime perfect storm of a virus that makes it near-impossible to participate in or experience sports the way we know it.
As we understand it right now, it seems like testing, isolation, social distancing will all be required for any sort of mass gathering – let alone physical competition – to take place. But that’s how we understand it right now. And those most familiar with pandemics and medicine will tell you we don’t know enough about this yet.
So aside from sports video games sales increasing, throwback content, and replays filling up more TVs and devices, I don’t feel like I or anyone else (unless there is a virologist sports journalist I’m not aware of) know for certain what’s going to happen. And that’s the scary part of this.
We can make band-aid solutions for the short term (and sports leagues have contemplated some: UFC fighters on an island, NBA Playoffs in a Las Vegas “bubble,” JBL coming back way too soon), but to accurately project what this means long term for sports? There simply isn’t enough data yet to responsibly make that claim.
President & Co-Founder, Rags2Riches, Inc. / Founder & Curator, Things That Matter
I think this pandemic, while very hard and painful for a lot of people, is also stripping away the hype and hubris that we have built around industries like fashion. There are so many good things about this industry, but there are also damaging things. I am hopeful that we’ll keep the good and replace the bad with more sustainable practices.
These are some of the trends I’m seeing:
- People will be looking for more meaningful and sustainable lifestyle products. For those who will not be too financially affected during this crisis, they may be more conscious about their purchases. They would seek out meaningful products that positively contribute to disadvantaged communities and to the planet.
- Slow fashion may get more patient customers. This pandemic led to long lines, long waiting times, and many bottlenecks. There may be more customers in the future who will have the patience to wait for a longer time to receive lifestyle products (clothes, bags, etc.) as long as they understand the process of getting these products to them.
- Loungewear and activewear. These will definitely be a direction that a lot of designers and fashion houses will go to. With the ongoing trend of working from home and learning from home, these kinds of clothes will be more in demand as compared to other categories of clothing.
- Textile innovations. There are a number of textile innovations being developed in different parts of the world as I write this. These textiles could be smart, tech-enabled textiles that could support health data of the wearers, or textiles that are processed and designed to repel bacteria and viruses.
- Local sourcing. Because of the unpredictable barriers to source from or sell to different parts of the world, sourcing may be more localized.
- Clothing and accessories that will integrate personal protective equipment for regular people
COO, MAD Travel
A renewed focus on domestic travel
At this point, I think it is clear that tourism won’t be the same as it was before. The industry will change drastically, though I am sure the traditional way of traveling will always be part of people’s choice.
I am quite certain that people will slowly adjust their behavior to having COVID-19 around, and young travelers especially might start exploring the possibility of domestic travel.
The Philippines has a big advantage compared to other countries around the world. Filipinos love to travel within their own country and explore island-to-island. The Philippines is also one of the youngest countries around the world that prioritizes millennials as the target for future domestic travel. That, of course, gives some hope to the hospitality industry, which has probably been one of the most affected in this crisis.
To some extent, it will also be a wake-up call. Tourism has become the primary industry in a lot of destinations and areas in this country, and we all now that a lack of diversity – putting all your eggs in one basket – is generally high risk.
It is and was fast money with an extreme impact on local communities and ecosystems. I believe that tourism is a vital industry to support off-the-beaten-track communities and people living in remote but often so beautiful areas of this country. Yet, the lack of diverse income streams for LGUs now shows the real impact.
While tourism hot spots – and this is coming from a purely environmental perspective – may be recovering now from the damage caused for centuries. Unfortunately, it is also leaving behind those who already have so little. I see this as an opportunity as well for local governments to diversify and focus attention on different sectors and industries to secure long term stability for communities around the country.
Technology redefining travel
I do see tech as an interesting alternative way to “travel” (if you can call it that). Already, we see how technology has changed the industry. Virtual travel and online exchange have never been as cheap, accessible, and as easy as it is today; we no longer have to travel around the world to learn more about another culture or meet a stranger. The variety of online events and possibilities to exchange with people from anywhere in the world is simple and most commonly for free.
Some of our best memories of travelers, in our vacations, are those rooted in emotional connections in interaction with people. Though limited, those face-to-face interactions are now possible online.
I am curious to see how technology will change the industry and what we once called travel might be, in the near future, an entirely new experience. Though this will be very much limited to destinations with the equipment. A bad internet connection and lack of electricity supply will keep this a privilege to those well connected.
Having said all the above, I still believe that humans are naturally driven by curiosity and the urge to explore and experience new. That won’t change, and the feeling of standing in a forest being surrounded by trees, swimming in a lagoon, diving in a coral reef, or surfing the perfect wave will never be supplanted by an online experience. I think it will only be a question of time that travel will be back to a stable level at least domestically.
It is also a good time for all of us to reconsider what travel means to us. How do we want to travel? What impact do we want it to have, and why is it important to us?
Is it that Instagram picture that makes me want to go, or is it the people I will be with or might meet along the way? Or could it be the scenery I will experience? Hopefully, COVID-19 becomes a wake-up call for mindful travel, make us realize the freedom we once had and how much that was, and is now all the more a luxury!
Film critic / Assistant Professor, UP Film Institute / Author, ‘Break It to Me Gently: Essays on Filipino Film’
Futures and erasures
This massive migration of cinema consumption to the smaller screen, via Netflix, streaming, and other online models, isn’t entirely new, or exclusively brought on by the pandemic. It’s only emphasized now because of the evident lack of traditional options, with small and large movie houses being closed, and all major film festivals postponing their events for the year.
But let the hurtful truth be told: People are no longer watching movies at the cinema. It’s been happening gradually for years, decades even, along with the development of technology, as movie-going becomes less and less appreciated as a physical and public experience, and people, on this unprecedented level of media saturation, are being made to consume more and more and think less and less. This pandemic is not the transition, but a period that highlights how film is now being thoroughly engulfed – in flames, if you will – by capitalism.
In recent years even big producers like Star Cinema and Viva Films, often ready to put out millions in every release, have been rendered powerless because of the fast-changing attention economy. Audiences just wait for things to be uploaded online, whether legally or not. Movies are treated as dispensable content, marketed for views, memed for hits and likes – that’s how they become culturally relevant, for a fleeting internet moment. It no longer makes sense to discuss films and issues; there’s just no time for it if you have a thousand more items in your queue or if there’s another celebrity to cancel.
People no longer value critique; they have become disinterested in the enormous effort required in thinking. How can artistic works be enriched without the political discourse surrounding them? Since the movie industry has constantly been shadowing the fast food industry, this present will also be its future.
I have stopped feeling upset whenever my film students in the university confess that they rarely go to the cinema. I have started listening. Going to the movies, they imply, is costly, inconvenient, and unattractive. It’s unthinkable how these grownups would take so much trouble. The smaller screen appeals to them more as it is the platform to which they are most exposed. Older-generation romantics and purists like myself, and those familiar faces I routinely encounter at local screenings of non-commercial films year in and year out, have long accepted the fate of the movies: We know the old ship is sinking.
But we are here until the old-fashioned, projector-dependent, allegory-of-the-cave custom remains, until every movie house has closed down, until every option to see anything on the big screen is gone. Multiplexes will exist only to show franchises and blockbuster films (not a futuristic premise), and the personal, creative films will be present only in personal, creative spaces (as it has always been), outside the purview of common access. The restrictedness of art cinema will always be decried. This is the present of our cinema as well as its future.
Those changes in the industry that people expect post-pandemic – more direct-to-small-screen films and series, more stories addressing the collective trauma of Duterte and COVID-19, the smaller and smaller number of audiences willing to pay for Filipino movies, and the film development agency continuing with its misplaced priorities and questionable political motivations – aren’t exactly changes but expansions of current situations.
What is heartbreaking about this? One is that people have grown tired of demanding accountability. Another is seeing every bastion of resistance come down, from the last standalone theater being demolished for parking space to the audience who has stopped asking and caring. Another is seeing modest film artists, in a gesture of generosity during the pandemic, share their work and conduct workshops for free, aware that art cannot solve our social problems and everything being done this time is unsustainable; whereas the big owners of multiplexes and corporations that exploit filmmakers, raking in billions every year, cannot offer anything – they do not have creativity, they do not have empathy, they do not know any other ways of living than making money.
Capitalism, clearly, cannot and will not help us at all. It would rather see us die. Yet it will remain dominant, for now, for ever. Perhaps this is when cinema can finally serve a collectivist philosophy, when makeshift microcinemas, online and offline, can become the backbone of communities, when moving images reach the grassroots, when profit is everyone’s least concern. Cinema will continue to be redefined by our actions and inactions.
Read more Hustle stories:
- How do these thinkers see a post-pandemic Philippines? Part 1
- How do these thinkers see a post-pandemic Philippines? Part 2
- How do these thinkers see a post-pandemic Philippines? Part 3