So after a three-month sojourn into the belly of the beast, i.e., Philippine showbiz, I emerge relatively unscathed and only a little bit disgruntled. What we really did during BB Gandanghari's first three months was calibrate a media campaign. Now BB is transitioning to an honest-to-goodness talent management agency, which hopefully will give her the professional opportunities she needs in an entertainment industry that so far has remained skeptical of her bankability, if not her talent. Rustom was a certified matinee idol and he could be counted on to draw in the crowds. BB is untested. At the moment she's considered a novelty act, interesting by virtue of being 'unusual.' People gravitate towards her as they would gravitate towards freak shows and miraculous apparitions. I have this image of BB being paraded around provincial towns and barangays, with people reaching out to touch the hem of her Miu Miu robe in a morbid parody of the religious procession of saints and votaries.
BB believes that she has masa appeal, in the same way that the most popular Filipino celebrities like Nora Aunor and Fernando Poe Jr. have masa appeal. But I think she's tapping into a different epistemological framework. Nora Aunor, Vilma Santos, Joseph Estrada and especially Fernando Poe Jr. embodied certain cultural archetypes that transcended their personal failings and tragedies, the smallness of their own lives. But these are archetypes that are rooted in the common ways of living, embedded in history and reality. Fernando Poe Jr. was a solidly realistic hero, even when he was fighting aliens as Panday. He did not dwell in the fantastic. Panday, in the end, was a very pragmatic blacksmith who simply wanted to get rid of the ugly monsters, marry his sweetheart, and send his children to school.
My boss likes to think that BB is the postmodern babaylan. Neither man nor woman, she straddles both worlds and can lay claim to spiritual ascendancy, as the ancient babaylan did. This is her archetype and one that Filipinos have lost touch with simply because they could not find its rightful personification. I think this is true to a certain extent, but I think that BB's real power, if one can call it that, lies in the power of her story. She is not a character, but a vehicle for a potent narrative of family, loss, suffering, transgression and freedom.