Saturday, February 04, 2006

Bread and Circuses

This morning's news broadcasts brought the grim story of a stampede at the Ultra Stadium in Manila. People were lining up for tickets at 6:00am and -- either someone pulled a prank about a bomb or the crowd just surged forward -- the stampede occured. Death toll as of tonight was at 79.

The story is tragic enough but it would not have been nearly so tragic if the reason behind it weren't so pitifully absurd.

The 30,000 people in the stampede were lining up for a popular noontime game show. They had been camped out at the stadium gates for days, just waiting for tickets. All for a chance at winning a million pesos.


Of course, the reactions in the aftermath are all too predictable. Government will call for an investigation. ABS-CBN, the television station that runs the game show, will pledge assistance to the victims. Showing their total lack of decorum, they will nonetheless proceed with show but dedicate the proceeds to the dead and the injured. Wowowee, indeed.

The media giant will most likely disclaim responsibility for the accident. This, despite the fact that their guards are poorly trained at crowd control. This was an accident that was waiting to happen.

Whatever they might claim, ABS-CBN is responsible; and so is GMA. So are all their organizers and their sponsors. In fact, we all are, because we've allowed something like this to fester and grow.

The matter goes beyond simple crowd control measures. It has to do with noontime game shows in general and the weakenesses that they prey on and perpetuate in the Filipino psyche. The noon time game shows promise the chance of a big bucks for one chosen from among the crowd. All this without any supposed effort, with the simple expedient of fun and games at the expense of their dignity.

These shows are deliberately cruel. For entertainment, they inflict psychological terror on the final contestant. Would you choose this sure P80,000? Or would you choose X, which could either be P1,000,000 or P100? Back and forth, back and forth it goes, the hosts threatening to reveal the prize then withdrawing it at the last moment. And the poor contestant, probably earning no more than P60,000 in a year, is placed in a moral vise and wrung out for all to see.

The game used to be fun, back when it was played for fun. Then the networks upped the ante, and the advertisers followed suit.

Sometimes, the shows can be physically cruel, too. Once, I saw a show where they encouraged the audience to toss around a big box containing numbers. A prankster tried to run off with the box. The studio guards swooped down on him, beating him down with sticks. No one complained. Wowowee, so much for human dignity.

ABS-CBN and GMA have become masters at arranging these mass spectacles, drawing crowds in the tens of thousands. In fact, they revel in it, using it as ammunition in their network war. And the nation whoops along gleefully, enjoying the spectacle.

No wonder we can't get our act together: we're too busy waiting for that golden ticket; we're too busy savoring the suffering of others. All in the name of entertainment.

Wowowee, indeed.

It's high time we put a stop to these game shows. Not just for the physical danger that they present, but for the moral decay that they purvey.

Ban game shows now!

Also read Oli Mercado's comments.


  1. Here's the scariest thing: I heard that after the stampede, people who did get in were disappointed they didn't go on with the show and give the money away. After all, they risked their life and limb already, why deprive them of even desperation's try. What good would it do the living or the dead to cancel the show. The Filipino has given a whole new macabre cast to the old saying the show must go on.

  2. Sad, that's what it is. What has the country turned into?

  3. Thanks, R and Z, for dropping by.

    You know, we had a fire here in Dumaguete some months ago. When things looked to be under control, one guy (of the same sort, I think, who would demand entrance after the incident) sighed loudly: "Sayang, hindi natuloy!" That's the material that we're working with here.

    It's not what this country has turned to; it's what it is and what it's been. The Ultra incident only serves to open our eyes to the dark underbelly of the nation.

    The tragedy is that we haven't turned it into something better.

  4. I hate how everyone's asking who is to blame. Right now, the government is trying to blame Willie Revillame, while others are blaming the government. They're like a bunch of kids playing pin the blame on the donkey.