22 May 2008

Well Said!

A Meditation on the Blog that Ate Manila
For “Nine Moons” column
By- PJ Punla - ScoutAreaOnline.com

Call him the scourge of Manila society, the whistle-blower, the guy who blew the lid clear off. Three months after he opened the blog that has brought him notoriety in Philippine cyberspace, Brian Gorrell continues to write the entries exposing Manila’s rich, famous, and wannabes for who he says they truly are.
Gorrell is Australian, in his late thirties, and HIV-positive. The raison d’etre of the blog he opened on March 4 of this year, The NOT So Talented DJ Montano http://delfindjmontano.blogspot.com: to get back the US$70,000 that he claims his ex-lover DJ Montano (the blog’s namesake) stole from him under various pretenses, such as opening a restaurant in Greenbelt and a travel agency in Boracay.
The blog came to my attention the same way it did to most people: via gossip and blind items. In my case, it was the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s comments on the blog and the issues (not to mention the hell!) it was raising, which began around March 16. PDI did not name names or give the blog’s URL then; all they did was describe the blog in coy terms – but those terms were more than enough for the search engines, which promptly returned the blog’s name and address.
And what was on the blog once the reader clicked the link? Not only the details of a love affair gone sour, or a business arrangement that ended in what seems to be highway robbery – but also tons of information on what the blogger claimed were the inner workings of a certain subset of Manila’s social round: the so-called “Gucci Gang”.
If, like me, you check Gorrell’s blog every day, you’re already familiar with the cast of characters. The list of Gucci Gang members has appeared in both the main entries and in the comments. But the brunt of the blog’s tell-all tendencies is borne by Montano himself, plus alleged cronies Celine Lopez and Tim Yap. Montano and Lopez’s families have also come in for much commentary, most of it not quite what you and I would call positive (or even polite, truth be told).
While Gorrell continues to hew closely to his original reason for blogging, the recovery of his money, he has also begun to comment on other causes on the blog: HIV/AIDS awareness, lesbian/gay/transgender rights, the case of the “YouTube scandal” at the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center, and the bloody robbery/massacre at the RCBC bank branch in Cabuyao, Laguna.
In more positive entries, he talks with much nostalgia for his old farm, praises his parents and the friends who have stayed true to him, and rhapsodizes over his pet dogs.
Gorrell has said over and over on his blog that he will close it down the moment he is paid back, but not a moment before. As the blog continues to exist, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that his money hasn’t been returned yet.
Montano and his family continue to deny all of Gorrell’s claims.

Soon after its initial appearance, and the resulting explosion of hits, comments (the very first entry alone received over 380 comments), and discussion in local cyberspace, cautionary articles about the effects of blogging started popping up in local newspapers. Warnings of “blogs can ruin lives”, discussion of what comprises free speech on the Internet, and commentary regarding libel laws are everywhere nowadays.
Not to say that Gorrell’s blog started the ball rolling, of course. Other bloggers such as Brian Boy and the defunct Soozyhopper have also raised brouhahas over the contents of their sites. Socialite Kitty Go, who professes to be one of Gorrell’s supporters, has already written two books about Manila society and its many foibles. (The tales she had to tell were apparently so inflammatory that the books were released as fictionalized tell-alls.)
But what makes the blog tick? Its audience laps up the revelations and the juicy gossip about society figures; Gorrell’s sympathizers react equally well when he talks about the things that keep him going such as his family, his dogs, and his love for the Philippines. Except for the naysayers, which the blog does harbor in large numbers, the community of commenters are united in wanting to see justice done, and this shows up in the satirical photo-manipulations and even Flash-based games that show up on the blog from time to time, creations of Gorrell’s fanbase.
Technically speaking, the blog is a sensation. Hundreds of thousands of people have already visited. When the blog started, an informal estimate pegged Gorrell’s blog as receiving 40,000 daily unique hits (i.e., first-time visitors) per day, and at points to even have reached 100,000 daily unique hits – statistics that other websites, and certainly other bloggers, would kill for.
Once a bare-bones blog with no frills and very little media, the site now boasts several ad placements; a host of pictures; and a slew of links to other media that have discussed or featured Gorrell and his story, among them the South China Morning Post, Pinoy Press, PDI, and a host of others. As Gorrell has become a guest host of the Good Times morning show on Manila radio station Magic 89.9, appearing every Wednesday alongside regulars Mo Twister, MoJo Jojo, and Grace, he also posts recordings of those radio shows on his blog.

I keep coming back to the blog because one of Gorrell’s favorite topics is the difference between class and crass.
Gorrell defines people with “class” as those who have no need to have the spotlight placed on them (and, in some cases, go to some lengths to avoid it); who do charity, and do so discreetly; who live their lives simply and with dignity, no need for shameless self-promotion thank you very much.
In stark contrast, he describes the actions of the Gucci Gang as the very depths of “crass”: writing incessantly about themselves, proclaiming themselves “eventologists” and “VVIPs”, hogging the spotlight, taking credit for the work of others. He decries their endless materialism, their need for giveaways, as well as their addictions; and he particularly dislikes their conspicuous consumption, which he claims is made worse by the group’s habit of not actually paying for their purchases.
In other words, stolen style, trendsetting while simultaneously doing a runner, and the very existence, mind-boggling as it is, of the word “eventologist”. I mean, every time I type it out, my word processor complains at me; and every time I hear it, I feel like I want to shoot somebody. What in heck is an eventologist?
I find the contrast endlessly fascinating, even as the levels of crassness being described seem to sink lower with every story. In a way, it’s the metaphor of watching a trainwreck and being unable to look away, enacted to the tiniest, most excruciating detail.
There’s been a lot of talk regarding the concept of “Schadenfreude”, especially in the comments: the feeling of rejoicing at some other person’s downfall. I know it seems rather vicious, but that’s how it is; and the early outside commentary on the blog has already played up the concept and its significance in the blog’s continuing popularity.
Twinned in Gorrell’s blog with the Schadenfreude is the satisfaction, dubious as it is, of seeing other people get what they deserve, particularly when those other people were already maligned to begin with. I have no idea what the concise term for that is, but it’s just as human a feeling – and possibly failing – as the Schadenfreude.
I can’t be alone in considering these concepts as part of Gorrell’s blog’s appeal, can I?
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