Stainless Longganisa
Review by Apa Ongpin
Adobo Magazine
November 25th, 2006.



Is Bob Ong the future? And if so, of what?

     The success reaped by the author whose pseudonym is Bob Ong should come as no surprise to the readers of this publication. If you are surprised, or if you have never heard of Bob Ong, you may be out of touch with Filipino popular culture.

     Bob Ong, by his own telling, once held down a number of typical salaryman jobs. At one point, he put up a website, which he originally called “bobongpinoy” (translated, dumb pinoy). The website, which debuted during the Erap Estrada era, was a political rant against the stupidity of Filipinos for electing morons and thieves to be their leaders. He got a lot of response to the site. Some of the funnier responses involved mistaking the website’s name, bobongpinoy...for the name of the author, as in Bob Ong, Pinoy. So he adopted this persona as his online identity.

     A few years ago, Bob Ong decided to quit his job and become a writer full time. The reasons for this are revealed in the book Stainless Longganisa. So he sat down and wrote ABNKKBSNPLAKO?, which, in case you haven’t figured it out, is a text-language style cipher for the phrase “Aba, nakakabasa na pala ako?!” (Oh, I can read?!).

     The book is about Bob Ong’s experiences as a student. He recalls incidents from the very earliest grades, all the way to college, from his classroom blowing apart during a typhoon to games that can be played with ballpens and paper. It is written in a style that is a cross between a personal journal and an improv stand-up comic. It is a very entertaining read, and has since snowballed into a big (by local literary standards) hit.

     Bob Ong has done for Filipino literature what the Eraserheads (the irreverent and wildly popular band) did for Filipino popular music a decade ago—he has revolutionized it. Here are four things Bob Ong has done:

     1. Bob Ong writes his books in street Tagalog, the kind of language people speak right now, right next to you. It is not the turgid prose of Balagtas nor the intellectual precision of Virgilio Almario. Most importantly, it is not the media Tagalog of sitcom scripts or noontime variety hosts; it is not the cloying “pa-uso” of agency copywriters, inflected by showbiz gayspeak and fad. Bob Ong’s language is REAL.

     2. Bob Ong writes about real things and real people (mostly himself), everyday experiences, and makes them not only entertaining but somewhat philosophical. What he writes about is ACCESSIBLE.

     3. Bob Ong’s books are not unduly clever (although they are often cleverly written). Nor are they intellectually demanding, which is a good thing, in that it has brought him an audience wider than the usual circle of UP, Ateneo and La Salle professors, who consider it their life’s work to keep Filipino literature alive by making their students purchase the books for class. Yet, Bob Ong’s books are not pulp romances or insipid entertainment. Bob Ong’s writing is for people who THINK.

     4. Bob Ong has something to say. Almost everything he has written is about “The System”, more specifically, the tragically flawed set of values that makes us Filipino. Bob Ong is quietly, but truly SUBVERSIVE.

     I was once told, and I’m not sure how true this is any more, that once upon a time, the bestselling book in any language in Philippine history, aside from the Bible, was Dekada 70 (The 70’s) by Lualhati Bautista. When I asked why this was, the answer given to me was that, quite apart from being a pretty good piece of writing, Dekada 70 is written in Tagalog, which simply makes it accessible to so many more people.

     Media in this country has been subject to elitist bias, which is to say that if anything seems clever or sophisticated, it is believed to be suitable only for a small, English-speaking audience, while anything meant for mass consumption is automatically done in Tagalog, and consciously “dumbed down.” It is a widely accepted belief in media circles that the masa audience is simply stupid.

     It thus seems like simple na´ve ignorance on the part of Bob Ong to write books for a thinking class in Tagalog. Actually, anyone who agrees with the foregoing statement is suffering from na´ve ignorance far more than Bob Ong. The fact is, the great majority thinking classes of the Philippines today are far more at home in Tagalog than English. For this we have to thank, not the pathetic educational system (delightfully skewered by Bob Ong in “ABNKKBSNPLAKO?!”), but, ironically, mass media itself, notably the recently deceased Filipino film industry, and the TV stations, particularly ABS-CBN, who led the charge into high-capital local production two decades ago.

     There is no question that there is far more room for intellectual growth in the Filipino-language media and literature. The culture is finding its voice. The question is, like in the case of the Eraserheads, will there be enough other real talents to fill the gap?

 

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Once a celebrated man about town, Apa Ongpin is now a writer, project head of Maxim and assistant manager of ABS-CBN Publishing.

 

 

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