Academic journal article Journal of Narrative Theory

The Marcos Romance and the Cultural Center of the Philippines: The Melodrama of a Therapeutic Cultural Policy

Academic journal article Journal of Narrative Theory

The Marcos Romance and the Cultural Center of the Philippines: The Melodrama of a Therapeutic Cultural Policy

Article excerpt

Since it opened in 1969, the Cultural Center of the Philippines has endured as the most prominent symbol of the "Marcos romance"-the story of the conjugal union and political partnership of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. This story takes the form of melodrama, a tale of woe and redemption that actively solicits popular identification with a victimized heroine: Imelda Marcos. Crucially, the Marcos romance reveals the poverty and deprivation that marked her early life. The story of her pedagogical formation under Ferdinand's tutelage advances a blueprint of cultural uplift and emotional-psychological rehabilitation that would eventually govern the official rationale of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

The Center was officially created for the folk, the popular classes whom the exigencies of history had consigned to the margins of Philippine society. Promoting a "people's culture," the Center worked to revalue vernacular cultural forms and to create a performance space in which disenfranchised classes may symbolically perform their demands for social recognition. The Center would thus advance a "therapeutic" cultural policy keyed to the emotional needs of the popular classes. However, this populist understanding of cultural policy often brushed up against the Center's insistence on the ethical incompleteness of cultural subjects, whom it pro- fessed to normalize into tasteful citizens. These competing rationales were farther complicated by Imelda Marcos' concerted efforts to align the Center's aesthetic programs with the regime's goal of building up a heritage tourism industry. The latter paradoxically necessitated the transformation of the folk from clients of a therapeutic cultural state to cultural providers in the regime's emerging "global city." The discursive construction of the Cultural Center of the Philippines within the Marcos romance and the Center's highly contentious instrumental operations bring into relief the mutually informative dynamics of melodrama and cultural policy.

Melodrama and Cultural Policy

Melodrama and cultural policy would appear to be mutually exclusive terrains of discourse. The former is associated with high emotionality and the personal dynamics of the private sphere; the latter, by contrast, is linked to the disinterested and universal claims of public culture. I want to suggest that the two are in fact mutually illuminating. To tease out their imbrication within the Marcos romance, we would do well to first examine our terms.

Toby Miller and George Yúdice productively illuminate the scope and breadth of cultural policy, which embraces the institutional webs that enable and facilitate aesthetic activity as well as the uptake of cultural forms in the day-to-day renewal of public subjectivity (1). Significantly, cultural policy, which implies the management of populations through the standardization of conduct and tastes, imagines individuals as cultural subjects endowed with a drive towards self-improvement. What generates this drive is the notion of ethical incompleteness, which Toby Miller describes as a determinate indeterminacy, a lack that subjects are encouraged to find within themselves and to remedy. This lack is "ethical" in as much as it is premised on each individual's capacity to draw upon moral codes as a means of managing one's conduct ( The Well Tempered Self xii).

To the extent that it offers a moral framework for the world, melodrama can serve as a potential resource for inscribing ethical incompleteness in individuals. As a literary genre, it is particularly interested in the private lives of individuals and proffers for public discussion "exemplary individual lives to be emulated (or abjured)" (Miller and Yúdice 9). Christine Gledhill flags the confluence of the personal and the social in melodrama, where the "webs of economic, political and social power in which melodrama's characters get caught up are represented not as abstract forces but in terms of desires which express conflicting ethical and political identities" (108). …

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