On Ethel Booba’s '#Charotism': Are we ready for satire?

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There is nothing dumb about Ethel Booba, whose tweets refrain from protest or angry analysis, nor rouse a crowd or carry any visible agenda. What she does — as compiled in the book “#Charotism (The Wit and Wisdom of Ethel Booba)” — is entertain.

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Are we ready for satire? Not yet, but it appears that we’re ready for Ethel Booba: actress, comedian, and — political pundit. Born Ethel Gabison in General Santos City, the breakout Twitter superstar has been a singer, a “Pinoy Big Brother” celebrity housemate, a Laffline Comedy act, and an erstwhile co-host of noontime show “Wowowillie.”

Her road to stardom has been slow and unsteady, one peppered with spats involving entertainment bigwigs, and one known sex video. She is moderately pretty and moderately lucky. Her stage name suggests ample endowments where they count, or where she might believe they count: Ethel Booba. A bastardization of Boba, like in the Ruffa Mae Quinto film. A redundant stupid boob, or, if you will, a local dumb blonde.

But there is nothing dumb about Ethel Booba. Ethel is self-aware. Ethel is not pretentious — pretension, as Dan Fox says, never self-identifies — and Ethel clearly knows what she’s doing. She is making glorious fun of herself. And her milieu. And the nation’s unpredictable political weather. Her medium isn’t a column in a paper, it’s much more immediate than that and much more damning. When she has something to say, she says it on Twitter:

“Kapag nagmura kaya si Mayor Duterte magpapakyu sign kaya ‘yung nag-sign language sa TV screen? Charot!”

Like good political satire, Ethel Booba’s tweets refrain from protest or angry analysis. Ethel will not rouse a crowd or carry any visible agenda. What Ethel will do is entertain:

“Question: Ano ba talaga ang nauna: itlog o manok?

Answer: Mayor ang dapat mauna. Charot!”

Body.jpg What “#Charotism” achieves is dimension. It is artless and amusing, and it knows it is being artless and amusing, and this is as good a definition as any for camp.

Ethel also capitalizes on the singularly untranslatable “Charot!,” for which there is no equivalent English interjection. “Kidding!” is a five-year-old’s translation; “Joke!” is a half-assed cop-out. “Charot!” is a self-reflexive joke. It’s about making a pronouncement, and calling one’s self out for making that pronouncement. 

So wildly popular have Ethel Booba’s pronouncements become that they have been compiled into a book called “#Charotism (The Wit and Wisdom of Ethel Booba).” At once the least erudite book I have read in recent years, and the most erudite, depending on how you look at it. It shows campy sophistication, and these are campy times.

The toxic level of social media debate has never rivaled Chinese smog as much as it does now. There are camps and there are camps — “Dutertards” and “Yellowtards” know this better than anyone, and the road less travelled seems to be the middle rubble between rival factions. Which is exactly where Ethel Booba has positioned herself, at a time when counterpart acts either bitch and moan about the current administration, or incite social media revolutions. So rabid are these camps that they have grown tiresome and old. And one-dimensional.  What “#Charotism” achieves is dimension. It is artless and amusing, and it knows it is being artless and amusing, and this is as good a definition as any for camp.

Filipinos have been accused of being too unsophisticated for satire. We are decidedly pikon and thin-skinned. Higher-ups issue death threats when their feelings are hurt. Even higher-ups hire apologists when criticism proves too scathing. Issue a dissenting opinion against the current administration, and you’re clobbered on social media. It would appear that we are either inexperienced with our political feelings, or have forgotten our old sophistications.

Other threads on like-minded social communities make the shortsighted proclamation that the “masses” aren’t ready for satire. But it stands to reason that neither are elitists. These days, everyone is especially thin-skinned.

Under the search “Political Satire in the Philippines,” a local visitor to Reddit wonders if a satirical show, or a satirical book about the country can be “accepted.” We can hearken back to the glory days of Pol Medina’s "Pugad Baboy" comic strip, or any of the political comedies from the 80’s to the early 90’s to answer the question affirmatively. But how do we answer the question today?

Other threads on like-minded social communities make the shortsighted proclamation that the “masses” aren’t ready for satire. But it stands to reason that neither are elitists. These days, everyone is especially thin-skinned. These days, we are serious. What remains promising, however, is Ethel Booba’s rising popularity. We may not yet have room for a Colbert or a Stewart, but we can take a charotism any day:

“Pwede maging basketball player si Vice President Jejomar Binay kasi magaling naman siya mang ‘steal.’ Charot!”

And who can’t help but laugh at that? Or, barring laughter, who can’t manage a secret snigger? “#Charotism” can withstand any kind of comic scrutiny. The book won’t change your life or swing political thought any which way, but in these interesting times, let it do what Ethel Booba does best, and entertain you. The book leads me to misquote Brecht: In the dark times, will there also be laughing? Yes, there will also be laughing. About the dark times.

“#Charotism (The Wit and Wisdom of Ethel Booba)” is available in bookstores.