Thursday, July 13, 2006

Beginnings of Philippine Animation

Beginnings of Philippine Animation

The United States� colonization of the Philippines at the turn of the twentieth century inevitably shifted the trajectory of development of the Philippine nation. Coming at the heels of victory against the Spanish colonizers, Filipinos were all too ready to seize the historical moment of defining and implementing their own vision of nationhood. However, the United States� colonization shifted the forces in the decisive calibration of the development of the nation--from a mass-supported local leadership to a rule by feudal elites and American colonizers. Since the Philippines provided for the United States its own defining moment at empire-building, the Philippines being its first colonial venture outside its own national domain, the model of enlightened colonialism was implemented.

This means that as the national resources were exploited for colonial interests, so too were the modern areas of cultural life--health, sanitation, education, and communications--also engineered to provide a conducive system for American capital to take root. Just as the American colonial period endeavored to modernize the colony by introducing the rice thresher and artesian well (1904), electric streetcars and telephone system (1905), postal savings bank and electric iron (1906), it also introduced ice cream, movies and rat control (1899), public school system (1901), and golf clubs (1902). Side by side with the economic and political circuiting of the colony, its cultural transformation was also at stake. Today�s Philippine modernity has become indelibly inscribed in and by American colonialism.

Philippine animation takes root from two major sources, both grounded in American-introduced capitalism: service businesses and print capitalism. The two sources, however, started with a similar beginning in cartooning. Antonio S. Velasquez, known as the "Father of the Tagalog Komiks," began in cartoonised advertising, creating characters that personify consumer products and businesses being introduced in the American colonial era: "Isko" for Esco shoes; "Tikboy" for Tiki-Tiki, a children�s vitamin syrup; "Nars Cafi" for Cafiaspirinia; "Captain Cortal" for Cortal; "Castor" for Botica Boie�s Castoria; "Aling Adina Comadrona" for United Drug products, "Charity" for Philippine Charity Sweepstakes, and so on. The corporate and brand mascots created by Velasquez were concentrated in the health and drug industry, a major focus of American social engineering. Even the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes was founded to primarily subsidise health programs.

Velasquez, however, was famous for creating the comic strip based on the character Kenkoy in 1928. Collaborating with Romualdo Ramos, a translator in the advertising department, Velasquez�s "Kenkoy" became a success. Kenkoy reflected the contradictions of Filipinos colonised into American rule, sporting a "gleaming Valentino hairstyle and wore baggy pants," and spoke pidgen English.

"Kenkoy" was translated in six other vernacular publications, enabling the character to reach a national audience. It also gave birth to other strips. Velasquez�s design for Kenkoy�s clothing was copied by readers. Poet Jose Corazon de Jesus, more famous as Huseng Batute, wrote a poem "Pagpapakilala" (Introduction), subtitled as "Ay introdius yu Mister Kenkoy" (I Introduce you to Mister Kenkoy). Composer Nicanor Abelardo wrote the song "Ay, Naku, Kenkoy!" (Oh my Kenkoy) and "Kenkoy Blues," a march. The character Kenkoy gave rise to spin-offs, depicting his family, parents, sweetheart, archival, community members, side-kick, children, and others.

"Kenkoy" made the Philippine komiks industry. More so, it provided both humor and a cultural idiom during the anxious period of maintaining nationalism and awaiting for Philippine independence. After the violent Filipino-American War (1899-1902) that claimed over 600,000 lives in Luzon alone, the postwar period was marked by continued resistance, specifically from the swelling labour ranks incorporated into American colonial capitalism. Education, the key to social mobility for the local majority promised by the American colonisers, could no longer sustain the egalitarian dream.

Daniel Doeppers states, "By the late 1920s, the major avenues for career mobility were increasingly constricted." However, from 1920 to 1930, increased production of agricultural products surged--sugar exports by 450 percent, coconut oil by 233 percent and cordage by 500 percent. Such economic profits, owned by local elites, bolstered confidence in the American presence in the colony. With the popular sentiment wanting independence, the Commonwealth was inaugurated in 1935, paving the way for imminent Philippine independence. By this time, however, structures of American colonial capitalism were already institutionalised and wrecking havoc in the national lives of Filipinos because of the inequitable policies enacted during the earlier period of colonial rule.

An even earlier aspect of print capitalism that provided for a more parodic introspection into the American colonial rule were the politically-oriented publications in the early 1900s--the Telembang and Lipang Kalabaw (1907). These two publications regularly featured political cartoons, commenting on the colonial figures, their policies and era. The political cartoons provided an avenue for churning social commentary at a time when the colonial set-up imposed stringent policies on the articulation and display of Philippine nationalism.

The Sedition Law, passed in 1901, as historian Renato Constantino explains, "imposed the death penalty or a long prison term on anyone who advocated independence or separation from the United States even in peaceful means." It also punished any person who would "utter seditious words or speeches, write, publish or circulate scurrilous libels" against the United States government or the Insular Government. Through cartooning, with minimal use of the written word, Lipang Kalabaw provided for an edgy commentary on the colonial condition, usually, the contradictions of colonial rule that continues even in the postcolonial times: the perennial floods of Manila, the corruption of the police, the Frankenstein-growth of politicians sporting guns and over-sized egos, the Americanised manners of the emerging youth, the death of Spanish language and culture, the captive nature of the English language over traditional values, profligate lending scandals at the Philippine National Bank, public hospitals that denied citizens basic service, the gun-happy constabulary, and so on.

Cartooning provided for a dual contradictory purpose--it reified the operations of American colonial capitalism, and it also subverted the colonial set-up. While the American colonial set-up harped on liberal democracy, press freedom, and free speech, contradictory policies, however, allowed only for their oppressive and limited articulation. Such contradiction is best embodied in the figure of the cartoonist. As Alfred McCoy observed, the Filipino cartoonists were "often the leading artists of their generation seeking survival in a colonial society with little use for their talents." The Filipino cartoonists worked for both the interests of print capitalism and advertising. Like artists Velasquez and Fernando Amorsolo, other renowned Filipino cartoonists worked for the interest of both print capitalism and advertising. They served the business interest of growing areas of the service industry, creatively providing for mascots and other advertising needs. They also served the Filipino nationalist cause, drawing political commentaries through the komiks and satirical publications, even at the expense of producing racist cartoons.

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