Thursday, November 27, 2008

"A Filipino Obama"

I've already read two articles talking about a Filipino Obama. One of them, in the Free Press, even gives advice to wannabes how to BECOME the Filipino Obama! I was wondering why the tone/structure sounded familiar, and then it hit me: Nestor Torre. Former catholic gradeschool teacher masquerading as a film critic. Always wrapping up with morals of the story, or pointing out possible lessons to be drawn.

Let's think this from the other end: What did it take to make an AMERICAN Obama? Why haven't both parties fielded Obamas in all their elections? Why didn't the Republicans have anybody that even had a tenth of the Obama's power to inspire? Why did they settle for a scary white lolo with a comatose anorexic for a wife? The answer is because it's very hard to get/become an Obama. It is especially hard for anybody already formed by and mired in the practices and assumptions of traditional politics (trapo culture) to become "an Obama." This is the equivalent of someone like Tony Bennett looking at Johnny Rotten, suddenly thinking Hey, punk is the way to go and thinking maybe he could reissue Mona Lisa with guitars. A bunch of the younger/thinner politicos could binge on canthaxanthin, and wear skinny black suits, but that's about as far as they could get towards Obamahood. Back in the 80's it seemed one in three female politicians was doing Cory hair and glasses, but nobody ever became "another Cory".

Aside from actually having studied law in Harvard, and become the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review (as opposed to, say, playing professional basketball, goofing around on noontime TV, being the son of a mayor or playing a lawyer in a movie) Obama gives the sense of having reinvented for himself what a politician could be. He has something of a prodigy's innocence. One can imagine a bunch of mentors coming up to him and telling him, "Okay, so you wanna be a politician? First you gotta get in good with this guy Daley he runs the Democratic machinery in Chicago, then you gotta please the gays, but without alienating the evangelicals, then you gotta get the black vote, but without alienating the whites..." And Obama says, yeah, well, thanks, but I'll pass, and then does something else. He has a talent for (to quote the painter Peter Schmidt) "not doing what nobody else thought of not doing before."

The phrase infuriates me because it dismisses the idea of substance itself. To think one can become anything at all with a few hints and tips and tricks is the nadir of superficiality. "How to be the Filipino Richard Feynman: 1) Try not to get hung up on doing Quantum Chromodynamics like everyone else. Visualize. Look for shortcuts. "

Just because America has one doesn't mean we can get one too. Why would we even think that? It seems to me that the only way you can think that is if you first assume that we are a copy of American reality. Are we?

I would like to be inspired too. I want the Shadow to lift, to hear someone say something that doesn't put me to sleep or make me throw up. But let's not talk like a Filipino Obama is something we ought to be able to whip up in a jiffy or something. It makes us sound like a bunch of idiots.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Documentation of the Robot Gamelan

Well, finally put together the video documentation of the interactive robot gamelan quartet --the ISEA 2008 project I was blogging about early this year. Footage is a bit noisy. I know (in theory, anyway) that for stuff like this, the video documentation should be considered the final artwork, but I have to say that thinking and dealing about documentation always seems like a huge mountain after all that physical labor making the work itself. Besides, part of the reason I got into making the robots was because I wanted to get away and make some art using physical matter instead of data and pixels in the first place.