By Danton Remoto
Views & analysis
Posted July 14, 2009
More than 10 years ago, I had a student who came to class wearing an all-black ensemble. His fingernails were painted black, his shades were darker than night — and he wasn’t even gay, snickered the straight guys in class. I didn’t mind, because he wrote well, asked difficult questions, and made the teacher think.
Later, he became a friend of mine and last I heard, he was making short films that were being screened all around the globe.
He seems to be the precursor of the emo phenomenon that is sweeping some (okay, a small) segment of the studentry. In 2009 Philippines, what does emo mean?
Since I am now between the age of 40 and death, I had to ask the help of my students in figuring out what it is. They tell me it began with an underground music scene. It all loops back to the mid-1980s in Washington, D.C., where the bands played with pitch and passion bordering on emotional overkill. The subject matter of the songs thrummed with images that are dramatic and poetic – all served up in contemporary melodies. Thus was emo born, emo being shorthand for emotive hardcore.
Quoting Frederic Trasher, a student of mine said that young people cluster together because of common likes. “Peer groups function in two ways: they substitute for what society fails to give them, and they provide relief from suppression (of feelings). Thus, peer groups fill a gap and afford teenagers a form of escape.”
And if it happens in the West, can its clone in the Philippines be far behind? The emo movement has also made its mark here. My students cite bands like Chicosci, Typecast, and Urbandub as emo, whether self-proclaimed, or hailed so by their teenage fans. Young people swoon at lyrics like “I’ll bleed for you like a new tattoo. In my heart you’ll stay permanent . . . permanent . . .” Or listen to these lines: “Caught you in the arms of another, and I’ve been dying every day since then.”
They add it is not unusual to see the teenage fans imitate the way the band members look. Clones of Chicosci’s Miggy Chavez, Typecast’s Arsie Gabriel, and Urbandub’s Gabby Alipe abound. The look is generic: asymmetrical haircut, black nail polish, skinny jeans. The looks telescope the feelings welling up from within. My student, Jamir Tan-Torres, calls these “unstable moods, dark emotions, suppressed feelings. In a way, their personal style is reflective of their current state of mind.”
The young ones also bristle at what they perceive to be emo stereotyping.
Jamir says: “It is a misconception that people who are part of the emo culture cross the boundary of what is normal. It is unfortunate that some people view them as disturbed, self-mutilating and apathetic individuals. Just like the punks and Goths before them, people immediately pinned a label on them. Even media worsened the situation by using the term emo loosely, in several cases portraying the teenagers in a negative light.”
To prove his point, Jamir interviewed a 15-year-old girl who is a self-confessed emo. “Her profile did not fit the description of my notion of the emo look. She was wearing white short shorts and a bright yellow shirt with the figure of a smiling sun. She wore French tips and not black nail polish. Her reply to my comment that she looks so un-emo was a raised middle finger and a laugh. She said she does not like the typical emo look. For her, being an emo is not a matter of physical transformation but a decision to be ‘true to one’s self.’ It is a way of feeling and there is a sense of freedom and acceptance in being an emo.”
However, I have also received some e-mail – mostly from my hyphenated readers (Fil-Am, Fil-Brit) in the West—that emo takes on a much darker hue in the West, with teen suicide as one of its fallout. The location, of course, is the West, where angst, alienation and anomie – and a sense of drift and rootlessness – hounds the young and the restless.
But wherever one is, emo, which used to be a term for a subgenre of punk has, like all its earlier reincarnations, taken on a complex form. Another young Filipino artist I know describes emo in the form of the images that she draws. Her roses have black petals. The tears streaming down the faces are like black knives. Even the blood gushing down a cut wrist is black. And I hope, the way I am sure her mother does hope, that the last image is only alive in the world of her invention and imagination