Category: Online


(Aaand… we’re back. After a two-year hiatus. It’s a protracted struggle, you know.)

Sutherland as President Snow in The Hunger Games movie series.

Sutherland as President Snow in The Hunger Games movie series.

The title itself caught our attention: a Philippine newspaper story on The Hunger Games’ (THG) Donald Sutherland comparing the dystopian world of Katniss and Peeta and President Snow to that of the US of A.

It’s a view not exclusive to Sutherland, as many from the left had previously claimed THG as their own, or rather, as an allegory of an evil (US imperialism) they have been fighting against. (Sutherland also had previously alluded to this interpretation in earlier interviews.) Thai protesters, bereft, it seems, of much of a militant protest culture and history, went further and used THG symbolism (namely the three-fingered hand sign) as their own protest symbolMilitant activists of the more seasoned variety, of course, must not see this a problem. As we have seen with the proliferation of Guy Fawkes masks (taken from the anarchist-themed film V for Vendetta) in Occupy protests and in other protest actions across the globe, the Thai protesters’ use of the three-finger hand sign only tells us how education systems, especially in the West, have deprived the youth today of their history (especially their alternative history, or, as Howard Zinn puts it, their People’s History) that the latter have turned to popular culture for inspiration for their resistance to systemic oppression.

What really pops out of the interview is this:

Toward the end of our interview, Sutherland recalled after he learned where I came from, “I read a book called Philippine Society and Revolution. I can’t remember the name of the author. But it must have been in 1971 when I was in the Philippines. Marcos was the president there at that time.”

The aforementioned book, written by Communist Party founder Jose Maria Sison, using the nom de plume Amado Guerrero, became the guiding book for waging the national democratic revolution in the Philippines. By the time Sutherland and fellow movie star Jane Fonda visited the country in November 1971, the revolutionary struggle was already in full bloom: a year before, there was the First Quarter Storm, while a few months had passed since the Diliman Commune of 1971 (Google these events, if you don’t know about them already).

Sutherland and Fonda came to the Philippines as part of a tour of a “political vaudeville” called “F.T.A.” (“Free the Army”, or “Fuck the Army”, depending on who you ask). “F.T.A.” was a pioneer of sorts in political theater: it was conceptualized to counter Bob Hope’s tour among US military camps to increase troop morale. Fonda, then at the height of her radical phase, produced the tour and recruited fellow actor Sutherland and other fellow travelers to perform near US military bases across the globe and contribute to the anti-Vietnam war movement growing even among GIs. The group included writer Barbara Garson, who wrote an equally pioneering play “MacBird” (a spin of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”).

“F.T.A”‘s tour was subject of a documentary film by the same name, co-produced by Fonda. I found it uploaded on YouTube, in 10 parts. Here is the parts 5 and 6, where Fonda, Sutherland and company arrived in the Philippines and found it teeming with revolutionary fervor.

Part 5 (PH leg starts at 1:14):

Part 6:

The documentary film offers renewed significance in the light of US pivot to Asia, the PH and US gov’ts’ signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA, effectively reviving the US military bases in the country) and the Jennifer Laude murder case.

As for Sutherland, he always had a leftie streak. Remember that he did play Norman Bethune. And he sorta goes for the Karl Marx look these days.356bpresident-snow-totally-looks-like-karl-marx

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Reading Natgeo

Screen cap of the multimedia presentation of a photographer's coverage of the Nepalese revolution.

Screen cap of the multimedia presentation of a photographer's coverage of the Nepalese revolution.

The National Geographic Magazine is one of those mags I really like to read and look at. The photography is superb, the writing crisp and tight.

The politics behind this magazine, of course, is liberal-democratic, which is to say, shamelessly capitalistic and biased against societies and regimes that are/were proclaimed to be socialist, anti-capitalist or (erroneously, of course) communist. It seems revealing that the organization behind the magazine calls itself the “National Geographic Society”, even as it covers peoples and societies beyond its (US) national borders. It is based in the US capital, Washington D.C.

Though the group says its aim is “to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge while promoting the conservation of the world’s cultural, historical, and natural resources,” it has, time and again, yielded its pages to political stories, like that of war, famine, political conflicts–from the American, liberal-democratic, viewpoint. Thus, it does not surprise us when the magazine features political conflicts like wars of national liberation, or anti-fascist wars, and presents those who pursue liberation wars with a hint of sympathy. Examples would be its coverage of the Palestinian cause, as well as the Apartheid-era South African cause.

On the other hand, it treats with contempt and distrust nations who were/are labelled “socialist”, from the Stalin-era USSR, Maoist China (1949-1976), as well as North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam (before the neoliberal “reforms” of the ’80s)–even as these countries, before being labelled “socialist”, experienced successes in their bourgeois-democratic revolutions. Of course, the magazine covers with contempt and distrust such ongoing upheavals as that of Nepal, India, and the Philippines. In these countries, revolutions are led by communist parties–their upheavals are aimed not only at achieving national liberation from foreign domination and control, but also wresting political and economic power from the bourgeoisie to install a regime of proletarian “dictatorship” (Simply put, a dictatorship of the proletariat is a dictatorship of the working class — a dictatorship of the majority).

Like most US cultural imports, the National Geographic Magazine has an intractable, almost fundamentalist, view of capitalism, socialism and communism that cannot be subverted. That is this magazine’s tragedy.

For me, however, it is instructive to read and look at their coverage of national liberation wars, whether or not led by socialist or communist parties, like that of the National Geographic Magazine. It instructs us on how the prism of liberal-democratic ideology views the socialist experiments and revolutions, and to what extent it distorts objective reality or represses essential truths to suit its ideology.

As an example, read the Natgeo stories on Nepal’s revolution here and here.

Screen grab of McCurry's website, with a photo, apparently, of New People's Army members before a flag of the Communist Party.

Screen grab of McCurry's website, with a photo, apparently, of New People's Army members before a flag of the Communist Party.

Renowned photographer Steve McCurry, who worked for the premiere photographer agency Magnum, covered the Philippines for seven months in 1986, just before and after the February uprising that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

In his website, McCurry briefly described his time in the country. Many of the photos later came out in the July 1986 issue of the National Geographic magazine.

McCurry wrote in his website:

I spent seven months in the Philippines and was lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

I was one of the first to enter the Malacanang Palace after Marcos fled.  I called my illustrations editor, Elie Rogers, from Imelda Marcos’s bedroom and saw first hand her sumptuous wardrobe.  Looters were grabbing things.  Some were so loaded down they could hardly walk.

On the desk, I saw a communique from the White House warning Marcos against using force.  The palace was strewn with fast-food chicken and noodle containers from a final meal.  In the chapel, I saw the palace staff praying.

His photos and writeup can be viewed here.

I have yet to get hold of a copy of the NatGeo issue where McCurry’s photos came out.

(Update 11 April 2012: I did manage to get hold of a copy of the Natgeo issue. The magazine printed one photo of NPAs that McCurry took.)

Filipino photojournalist Gil Nartea makes a nostalgia trip to the New People’s Army of the 1980s, with his photo exhibit (at the Fred’s Revolucion bar in Cubao, Quezon City, PH) and article in the popular online site Rappler.com.

For a photojournalist, it was a time to make sure that the revolution will be photographed, to paraphrase that popular poem.

I would go up the densely forested areas of the mountains several times, armed with 2 Olympus film cameras, roaming the red areas of the NPA, the small isolated barrios uphill, where basic social services are non-existent and government military troops, doctors and school teachers are rarely seen.

Interestingly, Gil Nartea now works as a close-in photographer for Philippine President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

Read the entire writeup here.

Here is the accompanying photo slideshow to the writeup: