18 OCTOBER 2006
i R E P O R T A N O U T S I D E R L O O K S I N
THE CONCEPT of entitlement or knowing "what the hell is going on" emerges as a particularly critical component of usyoso, as practitioners are part of a system of information dissemination that is motivated primarily by the desire to be "in the know." Thus, usyosera/os aren't entirely malicious in their intentions they're largely perpetuating a system of gossip in order to affirm a Filipino role that encourages being ahead of the curve in terms of social news.
"It's precisely because things are withheld from us [that promotes usyoso]," says Banal, who admits that he wasn't all particularly offended by the "what's the problem?" attitude he received from the peeping tom in the hallway. "It's normative, he adds. To make usyoso doesn't really happen here to help people out. It's only when more people are coming will others check it out. It's part of being 'next'..."
Similar sentiments echoes with Paredes: "Being usyoseros makes us feel connected to an event/situation even if we're not directly involved."
Unlike other social systems that are built upon conventionality and normativity, the power of the usyoso lies in its ability to act as a system that binds communities, rather than disintegrating them, with the usyosero as a representative of universal longing for human connection and community spirit.
"No one wants to negate, points out Banal. No one wants to say, 'I don't know, I'll just keep on walking.' The pressure to be a part of a [curious] crowd is so strong. But I don't think it's coercive. People just want to be together."
Usyoso, as a communal adhesive, can be read as undertones for progressive social change. Banal observes, "usyoso is a way for people to articulate themselves against the powers that be. It's the disenfranchised's way of speaking out, by using a flippant, vernacular form in a productive way. [It is a] space of possibility, rather than [being] detrimental."
He points out how common it was for people to feel socially pressured to attend the People Power demonstrations, and how the trickling gossip about the gathering mass only served to inspire more and more people to join their countrymen in collective political demonstration.
Paredes disagrees somewhat, saying, "It's sad because Filipinos have so many opinions about so many things, but rarely does anyone actually do stuff to make things happen. Ideas remain to be ideas. Reactions remain to be reactions. Nothing really happens."
But she offers some hope, suggesting that, broadly speaking, the concept of usyoso might provide a way for larger networks of community and cultural belonging to be formulated: "People like being part of something, be it a community, a relationship. [We] like to feel connected because, in a way, it makes us feel like we actually have purpose."
IN COMPARISON, gossip circles in the States don't really have the same effect. The closest example I can think of is the American colloquial phrase "keeping up with the Joneses," arguably one of the most prominent expressions of American life. It emerged out of the suburban social dynamics I talked about earlier. The "Jones" family is the stand-in for the quintessential American neighbor, whose social prominence and affluence make him or her the object of envy, and whose status must, at the very least, be duplicated by one's own family. The expression carries with it many popular images of gossip and rumor mongering that might be familiar to many practitioners of usyoso, including the chatting housewives eagerly exchanging revelations about their neighbors' "dirty laundry," officemates gathering at the water fountain to share in the weekend's most scandalous events, etc.
But, as Banal points out, usyoso in the Philippines and the ubiquitous "Jones" saying are uneven comparisons: while the former is about constant negotiations of one's place in within a carved-out group dynamic; the "Jones" family's mysterious and seemingly outsiderly accumulation of cultural and material capital make them objects of eternal competition, with gossip serving to slowly alienate people and wedge divides between members of the community.
Consequently, my American relatives, who are guilty of spreading gossip and competing in the "Jones" family manner, tend to be relatively disconnected from members of their community in a way that's not socially formalized. Inversely, many Filipinos in the American diaspora have been swept up in this attitude: numerous dilettante balls I've attended have degenerated into collective gossip about the purchase of new cars, prestigious colleges or majors that people's kids have studied, unwanted pregnancies, criminal behavior, adultery, etc. But while most Americans would look at such behavior as worthy of public disdain (the contradiction of participating but also discouraging gossip), Filipinos seem to think of gossip as critical to their identification as a community. It's an usyoso that fits their situation: a little bit Filipino, a little bit American.
In the end, the concept of usyoso is revealed to be at once a unifying but also a fleeting moment. The people that make up the crowd in Kubrador will eventually return to their homes, the film will be over, the audience leave the theatre and emerge back into the shuffling mall populace. People Power faded, rumors and presidents come and go. Across the sea, the Joneses still sit inside their home, provoking much gossip and speculation. As Banal puts it, these social systems are a "fun way" of being a part of something that connects one human being to another, even if it's "talking about other people, talking about things that usually aren't talked about."
Edward Basse is originally from the United States. He holds a degree from the University of Washington - Seattle and is currently pursuing graduate studies in the Philippines, where he is also getting acquainted with the art of usyoso.
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