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Excelsior! The true hero who does not need to wear a cape

Stan Lee may not have been able to fly or lift buildings, but he was blessed with the superpower to make us believe that we can be our own heroes.

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Artwork by Kaye Iral

A LEGEND IS BORN.

To stan something is “[to look up to it] and that you genuinely watch or truly love their content”, according to Urban Dictionary. In line with this colloquialism, as fans of comic book readers and movie-goers alike, it would not be far off to say that we all stan Stan Lee and the tremendous impact his creation has made to our culture today.

This article offers a tribute to a very strong contemporary legend, to who we can credit decades of entertainment, fantasy, and full-unadulterated enjoyment.

When Marvel first hit the presses (though it wasn’t called Marvel yet at that time) with their Captain America #1,  the world was introduced to the concept of superheroes, and what could arguably be one of the largest movements in media in history. Who could have then imagined, that just after more than fifty years, that single Captain America issue would branch out into more than tens of thousands of other stories, notable works would of course include the solo-runs for Iron Man, the Hulk, Daredevil, Thor, and the like.

Stanley Martin Lieber, born December 28th, 1922 in Manhattan, New York, dreamed of nothing less than to work in the industry he would be famous for today. Known now as the Comic Book Legend and Pop Culture Creator, from this endeavor would result the hundreds of superheroes we know today, of which the Avengers and the X-Men are only a small part of.

Marvel Comics, originally started out as Timely Publications, of which Stanley Lieber, or as we know him better as Stan Lee, was a crucial part of. Established in the 1940’s, the comic publication would soon usher in the Golden Age of Comics, from which the modern heroes we find today would be created.

WHY IT MATTERS.

To newer and more recent fans of Marvel’s cinematic works, Stan Lee’s fame is only attributed to the old man he plays that appears in every single Marvel movie ever made.

But the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) would not be possible if it were not built upon a vast and colorful universe that spanned decades in the making in that old man’s original masterwork: Marvel comics.

If you’re not a hardcore fan (or a casual or simply not a fan at all ), then perhaps Stan Lee’s passing would not hit you as hard as it should.

But we should not be deterred! For it was from his interview with Playboy Magazine that he said, “You know, my motto is ‘Excelsior.’ That’s an old word that means ‘upward and onward to greater glory.’ It’s on the seal of the state of New York. Keep moving forward, and if it’s time to go, it’s time. Nothing lasts forever.” Indeed, nothing lasts forever, even Lee. But what will continue on is the wondrous world he created, and all of the heroic characters that reside in it.

It’s important to note, throughout all this, that Lee was never alone. He may have been the mastermind behind the stories we love, but the rest of the ensemble can’t have functioned by his powers alone. It was through his collaboration with other artists such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, both of whom really helped the company flourish during the Silver Age of Comics, around the 1950’s to 1970’s.

LEE AND HIS CREATION IS CULTURALLY ICONIC.

I can speak for more than myself when I say that Stan Lee’s works as they were originally depicted in the comics and as some were given a cinematic adaptation were key pieces of our childhood, well into our adolescence and until now.

The Comic Book Legend truly left an iconic piece of work that has grown and expanded over the more than half-century since its inception; and we can say it’s iconic because we can mention the name Spiderman and those around us will almost always immediately know we’re talking about Peter Parker, and not a mutant hybrid half-spider half-man. We can mention any names of the marvel superheroes out of context and people would just know about them. Stan Lee’s characters have inarguably become household names.

Of course this doesn’t even come close to the amount of detail and worldbuilding that has truly highlighted the scope of the universe that Stan Lee has created. It is not right to say that Stan Lee is solely responsible for all of Marvel Comics, as he was simply but also the most important first step, first domino, first push. Everything else quickly followed suit.

It is hard to imagine how different the world would be if the Avengers or the X-Men never existed. Of course, we are referring to works of fiction, but the concepts and stories have been ingrained so effectively into the nooks and crannies of our culture and society that we just can’t help but imagine that they are real, and that in itself is a great tribute to someone who devoted all his life creating comic content.

Personally as a fan, I see both the MCU and the Comics not only as very creative sources of inspiration and entertainment, but also as the ever-changing medium through which different artists and authors send a message. A message that although spoken now through a different voice and written with a different pen, all originated with that first stroke of ink that Stan Lee himself wrote on the first piece of paper when he was just starting out. That is to say, he may no longer be with us, but the essence of his work will continue to persist, no matter who is behind the visuals for the comic, or is directing the movie.

It’s thanks to Stan Lee’s devotion and passion to his craft that he was able to give the world countless tales and mishaps of the many superheroes we know and love today. And we know and love them especially because they are superheroes: they are role-models who stand up for justice and fight for what’s right; perhaps more so than Stan Lee could have ever imagined, they became the creative source and inspiration for countless children all around the world.

But yet, fans and non-fans alike feel the world’s loss of a great icon: an icon who brought us more than a hundred diverse, unique, and very creative heroes, situated in a world built and cultivated over the longest time: and now time will continue on without him. It couldn’t have been done without him, but we have to see it through without him.

So here’s to Stan Lee. He may not have been able to fly or lift buildings, but he was blessed with the superpower to reach out to people by the millions, over many generations to come. He will surely be remembered as the one and only Comic Book Legend.

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Van Gogh would want his art in pictures – even in selfies

With the Filipinos’ natural flair for the “selfie” culture, it is understandable that some would pose with satisfied faces next to the art. It doesn’t mean that the appreciation has lessened, contrary to what some people would imply. 

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Photo from Bonifacio Global City Facebook page

“Van Gogh’s work on a digital art? I’d prefer going to the museum,” was what popped on the Twitter timeline right after the announcement of the famous 19th-century artist’s exhibit hails Manila. 

“Also for sure, puro pictures na naman ‘yan pang #content and honestly it doesn’t give respect to the artist.” the influencer adds in a pejorative Twitter thread.

Just a few weeks shy from the opening of the Van Gogh Alive Exhibit on October 26 at the One Bonifacio High Street, Taguig City, people took to social media their uncontainable excitement for the world-renowned “multi-sensory” experience. However, some people cut short this very excitement as they opined on how the famous artworks will serve as a mere background for pictures shared on Instagram. 

As aired by these opinions, those who go to the exhibit only bearing in mind how “Starry Night” would look good behind them deliberately defeats the exhibit’s purpose and instead tries to downplay Van Gogh for sheer mainstream content. Of course, it garnered several opposing statements, opening the gatekeeping discourse as the immediate question elevates: must art only be an elitist culture? 

If it hasn’t already been clear, Vincent Van Gogh’s works had left an indelible mark on this world, one which is not only impacted by his unparalleled artistry but also by the stories of tragedy and madness, a revolting formula which birthed some of history’s greatest works. Perhaps it is still part of Van Gogh’s tragic narrative that he was not able to know how well-appreciated his works are, most especially in a time where modernity is completely embedded in the societal fabric. 

But now, the world makes up for what it lacked centuries ago: an appreciative eye, more so through the lens of technology that combines the traditional and the digital experience. 

However, as technology permits for an immersive experience of centuries-old masterpieces, the society continues to find a way to create figurative barriers, cherry-picking the ones allowed to step foot in the museum when they try to limit the activities that should be done for the attendees of the exhibit. 

Of course, those who wish to go must also bear in mind that the purpose of the exhibit is to showcase Van Gogh’s works and let people see new perspectives on the tragic artist and his take on the post-impressionist wave, but it is not up to some people how one shows appreciation for art. With the Filipinos’ natural flair for the “selfie” culture, it is understandable that some would pose with satisfied faces next to the art. It doesn’t mean that the appreciation has lessened, contrary to what some people would imply. 

Some Thomasians had also taken their issue on gatekeeping as they try to weigh all the confluences of the issue. 

“Art is for everyone,” says Angelica Mercado, a Political Science student states firmly in an interview with TomasinoWeb. “To shame people and discuss that they don’t know Van Gogh’s life story is secluding or having a bubble wherein only a group of people who meet this standard should view his work.” 

She also adds how Van Gogh, as an artist, would want people from all aspects of life to view his work, given that when he was alive, he was robbed of the audience who can give the attention he rightfully deserves. Mercado also touched on the subject of people’s ways of showing appreciation. “At least people were there and they saw something, whatever the reasons are behind that, it’s okay because it still spreads the art.” 

Louie Ty, a Communications student also stated how gatekeeping misses the point of exhibits in the first place. She gave her opinions on how policing other people’s preferences in enjoying art do not honor the work of an artist. 

“It only serves to exclude and isolate, to make others feel like they’ve one-upped someone who is not aware of all the made-up rules that have become associated with the arts. It is an interactive exhibit and if the response that it elicits from people is that they want to take photos in front of it then that’s okay. Because as long as the person feels something, then the art has done its job,” Ty told TomasinoWeb. 

From the perspective of Industrial Design student Chelsey Lansang believes that people should not be quick to judge. “What if instead of looking at it negatively, why not look at the possibly [sic] positive outcome na baka naman when they get there, they get to see the true reason why those artworks are so mainstream and world-famous that is: the genius and indelible stroke of Van Gogh, his brilliant combination of contrasting and monochromatic colors, and his weirdly beautiful take on the forms of reality?” 

Gatekeeping and all other actions that invalidate people and their appreciation for art only create a divide that must’ve dissipated centuries ago. This same divide is what kept Van Gogh from showcasing his art to an audience who kept the standards of art on a figurative high horse that failed to welcome his artistic takes on reality. 

Truth is, the world is constantly changing, and so do the ways of showing appreciation. We can only hope that people will learn to adapt to these good changes, too. The Van Gogh Alive Exhibit will run until Dec. 8 at One Bonifacio High Street in Taguig City.

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How “Neneng B” Reflects Women in the Music Industry

“Neneng B” is just one of the examples that vividly elaborates on the sexuality of women – not in an empowering manner which celebrates the spectrum of the female gender, but in an openly degrading stint.

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Screengrab from Neneng B (feat. Raf Davis) official music video

Just recently, the song “Neneng B” by Nik Makino is receiving a legal backfire not for the reasons most people would highly assume and would likely prefer; rather for illegally acquiring the beat of the song from a European music producer, Roko Tensei. Though many clamor for it to be taken down over its hypersexually explicit lyrics, copyright issues may be the best chance for the removal of this song in the music industry – a compromise that people would gladly not take for granted.

It is worth noting that ever since the song rose to its popularity, dialogues on the issues of objectification and sexualism had been circulating the internet. Still, it managed to get at this point wherein children are blindly singing along with its lyrics without careful thought, and even procured dance moves that might downplay its real issue (and its actual purpose) to mere entertainment. 

This is not a new territory which people would trudge on as these issues that obliterate the sexuality of women has been highlighted for various international artists. It doesn’t mean, however, that it excludes the Philippine music scene. “Neneng B” is just one of the examples that vividly elaborates on the sexuality of women – not in an empowering manner which celebrates the spectrum of the female gender, but in an openly degrading stint.

Using the “Boys will be boys” Card

For years, the music industry has been blatantly harsh on women. It has been putting up transparent barriers that let women sit still and be policed by the so-called standards. This, in itself, allows objectification to pile up in the community. It is no surprise, however, for the industry has been contained in a male-saturated patronage.

For instance, the issue on Taylor Swift and her music being prohibited by two men – who are heads of the record label in which she used to be part of – says a lot about women being seen as mere catapults to the success of men. 

This does not mean to turn its back on the considerable struggles that men in the music industry is also going through. It takes into account all discriminatory regards towards both genders. In retrospect, however, the scales tip more on women being the frequent receiving end, and most of the time, it is shunned by moguls that focus more on providing quantitative measures, more so in a patriarchal system. 

Now, with the issue of Makino, in an artistic aspect, it could be claimed as a way of creatively expressing his art in a free medium that strips off any political or social undertones. However, this very action, whether it is fought to be a creative expression, intends to put harm on a group of persons, blatantly attacking and obliterating their freedom of expression.

It should be known that songs like these give free passes by charging it to the “boys will be boys” notion and openly allow men to determine according to their liking how women should be regarded in this society. 

Changing the Narrative

In a generation gearing towards neutral liberalism, women are making active and loud choices to voice out their experiences. This may give insight on changing perspectives of women. 

For instance, Bethany Consentino, the other half of an American rock duo Best Coast, called out the restless magnification of sexualism in the music scene through an essay. She voiced out how during gigs, overtly sexual phrases are still being used, which she refuses to be used on her and every woman in the industry.

“I am supposed to not only stand there and take it but also digest it as a compliment to add to my fierce arsenal of sexy confidence,” Consentino adds in disappointment. 

“I’ve had guys outwardly tell me it’s different because you’re a girl.” Becky Bloomfield, frontwoman of punk rock band Milk Teeth, also recounted her experiences of gender discrimination in the music scene. She even pointed out how it was surprising for her male colleagues to know how much she was literate in the technical language of a concert gig. Unsurprisingly though, this just confirms the degrading image of women in the industry. 

Some are small, yet sure steps taken. There are noticeably shifts in the rose-colored notions of allowing men to overpower women through the empowerment given by the media, speaking up when the situation calls for it. These small steps become the very foundation of an ideology that seeks not only to empower the female spectrum, but all persons regardless of their gender. 

Even with such empowering acts that spring up from this situation, it is still important to note that they do not counteract the damages done and those who should be held accountable as prime proliferators or accessories to this issue must still be recognized. And women, surely, are not ready to back out just yet.

It is concerning how misogyny is still blatant and harsh these days despite how many are outspoken about the issue on hand. The world will never achieve equality if they never give way for change, especially when it comes to music – an important art form that the people stick to their hearts.

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Short Does Not Mean Lacking: Short+Sweet Theatre Festival

Famous for their 10-minute plays, Short+Sweet Theatre Festival is a theatre play festival where writers get the chance to have their scripts be realized in Short+Sweet’s stage. It originated from Sydney, Australia in 2002 and slowly began expanding, reaching cities like Dubai and eventually Manila in 2015.

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Short+Sweet theater play
Photo by Andrei Tolentino

Clearly, “The biggest little play festival in the world” did not just mean the length of the pieces performed. It also meant making sure that they made the most out of every second.

When we think of indie productions, we often think of movies or songs that offer something outside of the norm. Rarely do we associate it with theatre plays or musicals; we often see these as productions done in cinemas or high-end theaters. Little did we know, some of the best theatrical pieces sat right under our noses and took less than an hour of our time! Such an example is Short+Sweet Manila and their annual Short+Sweet Theatre Festival. 

The Short+Sweet Theatre Festival is a theatre play festival where writers get the chance to have their scripts be realized in Short+Sweet’s stage. It originated from Sydney, Australia in 2002 and slowly began expanding, reaching cities like Dubai and eventually Manila in 2015. While not limited to theatre plays, Short+Sweet is most famous for their 10-minute plays. These plays have become the opportunity for actors, directors, and writers get together to bring their creations to life.

This November, I had the chance to witness some of their performances that were held in The PARC Foundation in San Juan. There were 3 time-slots of shows namely the Wildcard, Mainstage 1, and Mainstage 2. The tickets were seemingly affordable at 350 pesos as compared to a full blown production and the means to get them were very simple. Not to mention, they provided a specific guide on how to get to the venue. Other than that, here are some ways that Short+Sweet show that they are indeed “The biggest little play festival in the world”. 

The diversity of themes and topics that they present

One of the things that make indie films great is the fact that they are given the liberty to tackle any topic that they see fit. Short+Sweet Festival’s plays are no different. The writers are given freedom on what they want to talk about in their works and it makes for some of the boldest yet most candid takes on some of the less-talked about topics in society.

The plays that I was able to watch gave unique takes on commonly tackled topics in today’s media, without being cliche or too predictable with the plot. They were also very candid on their opinions of the topics without being insensitive or offensive. The takes were open and honest, giving a straightforward depiction that ultimately prove a point by the play’s end. It was never too careful nor too brutal.

theater play open arms

The 10-minute format makes for interesting storytelling

One of the most popular characteristics of the Short+Sweet Theatre Festival is that the plays are exactly that: short and sweet. The plays are given only 10 minutes of runtime which leaves it to the writers, directors, and actors to come up with the best way to tell the story to the audience. Amazingly, they are still able to develop the characters as well as tell a deep and convincing story without feeling rushed or worse, lacking. They were also very creative with the plot twists each play had, leaving the audience in awe at the end of each play.

I had the opportunity to talk to one of the directors namely, Mr. Phillip Latonio. He was able to give some of his insights on the format. Latonio is a Thomasian alumni from the Faculty of Arts and Letters, who is also the director of the play “Misadventure Time”. He said that he finds the format “fun yet challenging” as he has to come up with a way to fit the writer’s vision within the 10 minutes that was allotted.

Theater sitting at table

Easily accessible for independent writers, directors, and actors/actresses.

One of the things that Philip was able to tell me was how he found out about Short+Sweet Manila. He said that he was invited by a friend to join and has continued to follow Short+Sweet since. According to him, the process is relatively simple for someone who would like to be a director or talent. All they would have to do is submit a resume or CV when the openings come up and wait for a response. If accepted, they get the chance to select the script they want to direct from a pool of scripts submitted.

For writers who want to submit their script, the Facebook page as well as the website offer up instructions on how they can send in their work. The page serves as a means to notify and update actors, directors, and writers on the updates regarding their applications. Actors may also submit videos of their prior performances in place of an audition. Such is the experience of Angelo Del Rosario who had learned about Short+Sweet after a director asked him to audition to replace a cast member who had fallen ill.

Theater Auditions

Auditions being held for the Short+Sweet Theatre Festival. Source: Short+Sweet Theatre Manila Manila Facebook Page

A pleasant environment for everyone

The actors roamed freely around the venue as they were preparing for their plays. You can hear the support from each other as they traded uplifting words across the halls. There were also some who congratulated performers of the prior timeslot. The viewing angle was also at the eye-level of the audience which made the production that much more immersive. 

Philip Latonio stated that he enjoys participating because it allows him to meet new friends as well as to explore his creativity as an actor and as a director. Angelo on the other hand, finds it as an opportunity to escape from his job as a college professor. The experience also allowed them to explore a different type of style and in the case of Philip, used the experience as a gateway to other forms of theatre.

Short+Sweet bench

Short+Sweet Manila’s theatre festival proved to be a showcase of some great talents that may not have been appreciated without their stage. It offers an experience that captures the imagination of their audience and inspires the creativity of their artists. The broad range of topics and the candid takes on these topics provides a refreshing new look that audiences will surely enjoy or at least respond to. Add to that the affordable price and the friendly staff to match, and you will surely have a great time in “The biggest little play festival in the world.”

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