What’s up with the 90s? To pages like “Kami ang mga batang 90s” or even “Mga Maoista ng Dekada 90” I can still relate—those pages apparently for people who were kids during the 90s. But what was it like to be a teenager, or to have gone to college during the 90s?
This struck me as I go deeper into Katigbak’s Dear Distance, which in turn brings to mind other books (A-Side/B-Side) and stories (a teacher-classmate once told me about her seeing college-Eheads play at the UP Fair).
From “Sabado, 1995,” its closing words: “Santi is pointing to a contraption looming over one corner of the fairgrounds, a crazy metal king that tilts and turns and spins, and he’s announcing to the world: The octopus is cranking up for a final whirl, and I’ll be damned if I’m not on it! So we run, laughing, cursing, stumbling across a field of damp grass, a group of escaped maniacs letting loose whoops and yells of immortal joy, rushing towards the last ride of the season.”
And all these images/imaginings of the fun 90s (almost polar to the underground/pasa-bilis images and stories of 70s and the generally confused? 80s) got me to consider: is not the 90s our Pinoy counterpart to say, the 70s of the French, or any country that was radicalized in the 60s? When this radicalism (anti-dictatorships, anti-McCarthyism, Maoist hype, decolonization in much of the Third World) has waned what followed was the “academicization of the Left,” rise of postmodern and post-structural thought, incipient neoliberalism among others.
What was there in 90s Philippines? What I am familiar with, in varying superficialities and depths: Ramos’ capitulation to neoliberal policies (both the Philippine Mining Act and the Oil Deregulation Law were signed in the 90s), the “divide” within the Left into the RAs and RJs (a bit fittingly, Jesa was revisiting the book Revisiting Marxism in the Philippines). The Left’s retreat was also felt in the Philippines and maybe the fact that there was no organized political movement solid enough to “mobilize” them made the youth turn to smaller subcultural scenes and tighter groups to make sense of their own beings. Which is not bad in itself, of course.
Did the Philippines care about the “millennium bug”? Didn’t we have so many computers then to really be bothered by such bug? When Blur was saying-singing that “It’s the end of the century aahh, it’s nothing special,” with whom were they singing at the same time in the Philippines: Eheads’ diba tangina, nagmukha akong tanga? (90s ba ang Tulad ng Dati ng The Dawn?) Barbie’s Limang Dipang Tao? Bamboo’s Rivermaya’s Awit ng Kabataan?
As for a growing kid like me, I was busy with pog and tsub tsa tagilid, tumbang preso, agawan base, habulan sa bike, catching ball, Ghost Fighter, Hiraya Manawari among others, while I imagine the teenagers to be prancing in college fields, maybe curious about AIDS, or catching up too late on New Age readings, or admiring Kate Winslet in Titanic.
I think it was Lakambini Sitoy who in an essay (from the book WritHop), noted Philippine short stories in the 90s to be apolitical. I think she meant it in the sense of departing from the 70s trend to tackle big social issues such as political repression, poverty and the like. From what I can recall, she further observed that as 90s fiction tended to zoom in on the individual; it had more room to delve into issues of sexuality, gender among others. The effects of the gay rights movements—and gender movements in general—are creeping in the country. I guess the 2000s had to commence—Erap had to be ousted, the huge role of cellular phones in that action had to be appreciated, the Left had to reorganize—before social actors pondered amply and more solidly on whatever the 90s brought—social relapse? political plateau? productive openness? the influence of “identity politics” in political movements etc.
An imagination, loosely based on scattered knowledge: while principles are either being rejected or reaffirmed within the Left, Ramos is selling the country’s riches to foreign capital (to foreign mining companies foremost) while “selling” his people outside (the likes of Flor Contemplacion). I was answering questions in slum books, listening to Aaron Carter and Britney Spears while maybe the teenage college students of that time are making tusok sa fishball sa Ermita or goading a revitalized OPM scene, symptomatic of cultural flourishing even as the dictatorship has ended years ago.
From the Charnel House on Jameson, quoting from “The Valences of History”: “The experience of generationality is… a specific collective experience of the present: it marks the enlargement of my existential present into a collective and historical one.” This sense of belonging to a generation is marked, if not enabled by “hazarding a collective project” and it is such effort that imbricates individuals as active participants in history.
The bit of pessimism in Jameson (“a generational mission that may never come into being”) soothes and squares with my hazy imaginings about the Pinoy teenagers of the 90s. Was it a generational mission—in a different time and a different place—to oppose the Vietnam War, to topple the dictatorship or the military junta? Maybe the 90s just had to take a break from politics, especially as Earth’s fate approaching the year 2000 addled the entire world.
Two decades after: there seems to be not so much thinking about the notion of “generation” even as it clearly shapes many modes of understanding. Bandying about the term “millenial” for instance, is premised on such idea, as expressions like “Noong panahon namin…,” “generation gap,” “they are from different generations.”
Quite fittingly, all of this was spurred by a book called Dear Distance. So here we are, are we? ewan, pausing at yet another possibility for distances to thrive; there are gaps to be bridged, but how and how really? Maybe we just crass the bridge when we get there?