January 21st, 2009

The Work of Oprah in the Age of Disturbingly Faithful Hypercompetent Reproductions

I agree with Sharon and Boima, searching for authenticity is a good way to miss the forest for the trees. In other words, authenticity is so vague. Or as I’ve put it elsewhere (see note #2), there’s no there there.

Back to forests and trees. In the revised version of that globalization theory classic, “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy,” Arjun Appadurai argues that many accounts of globalization are riddled by “a confusion between some ineffable McDonaldization of the world and the much subtler play of indigenous trajectories of desire and fear with global flows of people and things.”

Discussing said subtler play of trajectories, Appadurai contends that “Americanization” is a “pallid term” to describe, for example, the “disturbingly faithful” Filipino renditions of American pop song (see p. 49). For those who don’t want to read the excerpt, I’ll skip straight to the kicker:

American nostalgia feeds on Filipino desire represented as a hypercompetent reproduction.

Munch on that money mouthful for a minute. Or better yet, watch this (& see also) —

CHARICE on OPRAH Show [FULL] – Charice / Charice Pempengco

The cherry on top? Appadurai brings it all back home with a Jamesonian flourish —

I would like to suggest that the apparent increasing substitutability of whole periods and postures for one another, in the cultural styles of advanced capitalism, is tied to larger global forces, which have done much to show Americans that the past is usually another country. If your present is their future (as in much modernization theory and in many self-satisfied tourist fantasies), and their future is your past (as in the case of the Filipino virtuosos of American popular music), then your own past can be made to appear as simply a normalized modality of your present.

This unleashing of the imagination links the play of pastiche (in some settings) to the terror and coercion of states and their competitors.

If you dislike that elliptical leap, I suggest you read the whole thing. And if you’re upset that I left Ramiele Malubay out of the conversation, feel free to leave a comment!


  • 1. wayneandwax  |  January 22nd, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    Whoa. Talk about stars aligning. According to this, Charice is being “managed” by Oprah, who got her hooked up to sing at Obama’s inauguration!?!

    Charice Pempengco is all-set to perform at the inauguration ball of President-elect Barack Obama on January 20, Tuesday. It was made possible by Charice’s manager, Oprah Winfrey. Oprah is close to the president, having campaigned for him. It was then confirmed in Wowowee last Saturday where Charice announced that she’s off to the inauguration of Mr. Obama.

  • 2. ghostleg  |  January 23rd, 2009 at 11:39 am

    also, Journey!

  • 3. wayneandwax  |  January 27th, 2009 at 9:39 am

    Yes! Thanks, Ghostleg. That was one of my favorite stories of the last year.

    Incidentally, I went in search of the 1988 Pico Iyer book that Appadurai references in the passage above and found some pretty interesting / relevant passages, e.g.:

    153: “And thus I absorbed one of the Orient’s great truths: that the Filipinos are its omnipresent, always smiling troubadours. Master of every American gesture, conversant with every Western song, polished and ebullient all at once, the Filipino plays minstrel to the entire continent.”

    164: ‘Usually, the songs that pounded out of the bars and jukeboxes were the latest Top 40 smashes–“Material Girl” and “Smooth Operator” and “Time After Time.” There was also a steady supply of All-American favorites like “Country Roads” and “Hotel California,” and nobody seemed to think it strange that Filipinos should be singing, “Take me home, country roads, to the land that I adore–West Virginia…” Sometimes the songs were played in the original recording, sometimes reproduced live, but with such high fidelity that it was impossible to tell if the sound came from jukebox or human voice. Either way, the sound was sunny and intoxicating. In Ermita, I felt as if I were living inside a Top 40 radio station.
         I quickly noticed too that the talented Filipinos were able to turn their voices to any style or fashion. Yet they seemed most at home with sugarcoated Middle of the Road ditties: soft, straight-from-the-heart tunes, sweetened by pleasant melodies. There were forty-seven radio stations in town, FM and AM, but nearly all of them played the same AM tunes–easy listening as a background to easy living. I heard the Everly Brothers more often in Manila than ever before, and Simon and Garfunkel too; Peter Paul and Mary and the Eagles. Country-and-western laments for lost love were everywhere too, and once, at a free concert in Rizal Park, I heard bankers perform duets from _Rigoletto_ and miniskirted secretaries do arias from _La Traviata_. But in more than three weeks, I heard no hard rock, no New Wave, no eighties pop; no Talking Heads or Clash or even Twisted Sister–just ballads of heartbreak and high spirits, decorated with sweet falsettos and silvery harmonies.’

    168: “The Philippines is not just the site of the largest U.S. military installations in the world. It is also perhaps the world’s largest slice of the American Empire, in its purest impurest form.”

    170: “…the most conspicuous institutions that America had bequeathed to the Philippines seemed to be the disco, the variety show and the beauty pageant. … In the Philippines I found no sign of Lincoln or Thoreau or Sojourner Truth; just Dick Clark, Ronald McDonald and Madonna.”

    174: “This development of musical mannequins struck me as strange, especially in a country that understandably regarded its musical gifts as a major source of national pride. I could certainly see how the Filipinos’ brilliance at reproducing their masters’ voices, down to the very last burr, had made them the musical stars of Asia–the next-best thing, in fact, to have a real American. But as a form of self-expression, this eerie kind of ventriloquism made me sad.” … “In the Philippines, anti-American guerillas drew up their strategies in Michael Jackson notebooks.”

  • 4. wayneandwax  |  January 27th, 2009 at 9:42 am

    Also, just for networking/trackbacking purposes, I want to note that this post has turned up in discussion over here, including a definition of what I mean by “Jamesonian.”


I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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