Published: Dec. 1, 2002 By

“I am my little people’s star and slave.”
– Imelda Marcos
– Los Angeles Times, October 1980

“To the extent that necessity is socially dreamed, the dream becomes necessary. The spectacle is the nightmare of imprisoned modern society, which ultimately expresses nothing more than its desire to sleep. The spectacle is the guardian of sleep.”
– Guy Debord
– The Society of the Spectacle


[1]   By the time the People’s Revolution ousted Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, Filipinos had withstood two decades of government fraud and corruption, random arrests and disappearances, a popular Senator’s assassination, and a First Lady so extravagant that she would become an object of world parody. Yet throughout Ferdinand’s twenty-year dictatorship, Imelda played the starring role in a national spectacle that served as “guardian of sleep” for the regime. While Ferdinand tightened his grip on power, the spectacle of Imelda captivated Filipino audiences, intrigued the international press, and enthralled U.S. leaders and dignitaries. To the provincial and predominantly Catholic Filipinos who comprised the bulk of her following, Imelda was the archetypal woman, an intermediary of power and redemption. As self-professed Madonna and martyr to her people, Imelda prefigured salvation; as the embodiment of worldly desire and mirror of her husband’s authority, she helped to lull a national audience into political slumber.

[2]   Imelda’s mystique stemmed from her ability to exploit feminine archetypes rooted in folk religion and popularized in media representations of woman. In the Philippines, where a popular saying encapsulates the nation’s history as “four hundred years in a Spanish convent and fifty years in Hollywood,” these images have played a leading role in the acquisition, display, and maintenance of power. As journalist Katherine Ellison writes, religious spectacles–or palabas–have always played a significant role in the Philippines, “where the most faithful crucify themselves at Easter festivals, and politics is always personal” (8). News photos of Imelda walking on her knees at the Manila Cathedral during her 1998 bid for the Presidency certainly capture this fusion of religious and political spectacle, a fusion that would energize Marcos’s own campaigns during his years as President. But Imelda’s appeal also depended on far less sanctifying imagery. While her mystique was rooted in the iconography of Spanish Catholicism, it grew fertile and blossomed in her ability to mirror American prosperity and power. Imelda’s spectacular image, inspired by Hollywood movies and promoted by the press, seduced an impoverished majority–a populace enamored of American movie images depicting lavish prosperity and splendor. Ellison points out that “Imelda visually reinforced the dream of wealth and glamour that all the squatters, soda vendors, and tenant farmers longed to share, appearing like a celluloid fantasy in sparkling, sequined ternos in their dusty barrios” (64). She understood the vicarious pleasure her spectacular image bestowed on the desiring masses; as biographer Carmen Navarro Pedrosa remarks, “Imelda always dressed to the hilt whether her audience was Manila’s elite or the simple folk of the barrio, she was at all times an actress making a stage appearance” (104).

[3]   Throughout the 1960s, U.S. and Philippine magazines fueled these fantasies. Countless news articles included every detail of Imelda’s elegant attire at political gatherings: the delicate but expensive string of pearls gracing her slender neck, the array of perfectly matching shoes that would someday become the object of pithy jokes and witty headlines. With U.S. media support, Imelda would sing and dance her way through the White House–impressing Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan to the tune of millions of U.S. dollars in aid. Her image as the “new Filipina” made her a transcendent figure, beautiful enough to grace the cover of U.S. magazines and delight its leaders, yet fragile enough to comply with Western stereotypes of the obliging, subservient Asian woman.

[4]   The First Lady’s mediatory role during her husband’s dictatorship articulates the link between politics and spectacle–or spectacle as politics–in a society where image is the ultimate commodity. Guy Debord’sSociety of the Spectacle (published just three years after Marcos’s inauguration) examines the logic of abstract exchange that dominates commodity cultures. Written as a series of observations and reflections, Debord’s critique of modern capitalism argues that the spectacle is the “moment when the commodity has attained the total occupation of social life.” In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, Debord writes, “all life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation” (para. 1). Debord’s concept of spectacle does not denote a collection of discrete images, but “a social relation among people, mediated by images” (para. 4). Grasped in all of its forms, “as information or propaganda, as advertisement or direct entertainment consumption, the spectacle is the present model of socially dominant life” (para. 6). Those who control the means to produce and disseminate image products dictate and generate the pseudo needs and desires of a spectator society. In conjunction with economic dominance, spectacular power “defines the program of the ruling class and presides over its formation” (para. 57). Interestingly, Debord’s concept of spectacle reflects a “pseudo-sacred entity” that reformulates and materializes religious illusion (para.20/25). As Jon Erickson explains, Debord “saw most of the dominant structures of traditional religious belief sublated by modern political-economic structures, so that the spectacle is but ‘desacrilized myth,’ whose hold over imagination and behavior is no less powerful” (52). Most relevant to the discussion that follows is Erickson’s assertion that spectacle can be read as both enablingand disabling illusions (55).


[5]   This essay will examine Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters as an ironic critique of spectacle that exposes and usurps its political usefulness. Set in Marcos-era Manila, Hagedorn’s roman de clefdramatizes spectacle’s power as personal tool of survival in neocolonial Philippine society, and uses it as a literary strategy that exploits and subverts reader desire. On the one hand, the novel is an indictment against collectivized passivity–a political reminder that, as Debord puts it, “Those who are always watching to see what happens next will never act: such must be the spectator’s condition” (Comments 22). On the other, it is self-consciously performative and unruly, a captivating theatrum mundithat is itself complicit in a politics of spectacle. The story unfolds through an array of speakers, various textual fragments, and seemingly disconnected scenarios and events that make a display of the text’s instability and artifice. The multiple narrators exist in a disjointed and insubstantial present where competing social, political and economic shows of power mediate experience and construct or alter “reality” at will. In this schizoid con/text, religious and cinematic spectacles, public displays and private fantasies, overlap and vie for dominance. My reading explores the ways that Hagedorn’s characters resist, mimic, or accommodate these conflicting visions of reality. Since the body is often the stage on which ideology is enacted and reified, I highlight the role of sexuality as commodified, constituted, and contested through spectacle, thus considering gendered representations as allegories for the broader national condition.

[6]   While their dictators flourish on the world stage, Hagedorn’s characters dream themselves actors in foreign movies, often confusing cinematic events with personal memories; they produce themselves in the image of another’s desire, reenact a familiar stock of clichéd roles and social rituals, or attempt to read the shadows that inhabit their surroundings. Their varying degrees of complicity and subterfuge dramatize the contradictory meaning of the word “actor”: they are agents that act upon and transform their environments, and mere reflections of existing models and desires. The epigraph that opens the novel, an excerpt from Jean Mallat’s authoritative 1846 study, The Philippines, sets the stage for their performances: Mallat confides to his readers that “They [Filipinos] cannot abide the idea of waking a sleeping person.” Mallat’s confidential tone, reminiscent of Trinh Minh-ha’s description of anthropology as a “chatty talk . . . better defined as ‘gossip'” (68), invites the reader’s gaze: “they” are the object of scrutiny, the exotic spectacle presented for our information and knowledge, the natives as imagined by the “nativist.” With this opening quote, Hagedorn sets into motion an ironic critique of collective passivity–and invites her readers to attend the world of her text as spectacle.

[7]   Where should the story begin, then, but at the movies, where dreaming is a social event? The opening pages of the novel initiate and confirm this desire for collective dreaming: It is 1956 in Manila’s “Foremost! First-Run! English Movies Only!” Avenue Theater. A girl named Rio sits in the balcony and watches All That Heaven Allows. She is captivated, along with her rowdy cousin Pucha, by this celluloid version of Americans in love: handsome Rock Hudson and rich Jane Wyman in Cinemascope and Technicolor, playing out their love affair against an enviably “perfect picture-book American tableau.” Rio confesses her fascination for Gloria Talbott, who plays Wyman’s spoiled daughter–her “brash style” and “casual arrogance seems inherently American, modern, and enviable” (4).

[8]   As the first of three subjective narrators in the novel, Rio Gonzaga is both dreamer and spectator. She dreams that someday she is “going to make movies” rather than act in them (241). Yet throughout the pages of her narrative, she assumes the attitude of the spectator, observing but not acting upon, her environment. Her tone remains detached, matter-of-fact. Rio seems bound to experience life as a series of film clips, her familial world intruded upon constantly by flashes of cinematic images and projections. In this way, Hagedorn intentionally confuses and distracts readers, causing them to experience the conflicting memories that inform and invade Rio’s bourgeois world. This technique also suggests that Rio fluctuates between a desire to create her own story and the impulse to retreat into the spectacle’s alluring projections. In one scene, Rio sneaks off with her cousin Pucha to see A Place in the Sun, a film condemned by the Archdiocese of Manila as obscene. Although she admits that they are “bewildered by the movie, which is probably too American” for them, Rio is duly captivated (15). She translates the images she sees projected on the screen into textual imagery, recreating the magic of Elizabeth Taylor’s “breathtaking face . . . imploring a forbidden kiss” or “Montgomery Clift’s shoulder in giant close-up on the movie screen” (16).

[9]   Rio’s descriptions move easily between the shadowy world of her family, and the world of the cinema. She watches the spectacle of competing images that make up her world, the familiar actors onscreen and off, and records what she sees. Rio sees her “Rita Hayworth mother” constantly struggling to maintain appearances. On the one hand, Dolores Logan Gonzaga is a beautiful woman with “smooth skin the color of yellow-white ivory” (82), the sign of her privileged status. On the other, she is a half-breed ashamed of her darker ancestry–the daughter of an American named Whitman and a small, brown-skinned Filipina peasant who is kept out of sight when guests visit the house. Dolores Gonzaga lives for her beautification rituals, which include cold creams, moisturizers, “daily naps with masks of mashed avocado, mashed sinkamas, and a red clay from France smeared on her face” (82). She fashions herself more or less on the image of Rita Hayworth, and every couple of months has her black hair tinted with auburn highlights to keep up the illusion. Even Dolores’ mysterious mauve-colored bedroom is designed so that “Whenever she looks in any of her mirrors it is always night and she is always beautiful” (84).

[10]   Rio’s representation of her grandmother, however, conflicts radically with the pseudo-realistic world of her parents. Her LolaNarcisa’s domain is the past; she is a literal representation of the mysterious and repressed world of Filipino tradition. In LolaNarcisa’s room, traces of an indigenous identity survive alongside colonial religious imagery. Next to the crucifix above her grandmother’s bed, Rio tells us, hangs a framed painting of the Madonna and child: “The Madonna is depicted as a native woman wearing the traditional patadyong; the infant Jesus has the brown skin of my Lola Narcisa and straight black hair” (10). Rio and the female servants gather in her grandmother’s room each night to participate in a modern ritual: they listen and weep to the nightly episode of a radio soap opera, Love Letters. In Rio’s words, “the serial is heavy with pure love, blood debts, luscious revenge, the wisdom of mothers, and the enduring sorrow of Our Blessed Virgin Barbara Villanueva” (12). Rio’s reference to the “blessed” Villanueva ironically conflates cinematic and religious influences; the popular star is movie idol and feminine icon–both ideologically constructed figures to be worshipped and emulated. As Wimal Dissanayake’s study of Asian cinema demonstrates, melodrama in most Asian societies “is intimately linked to myth, ritual, religious practices, and ceremonies” (3). Thus Love Letters captivates these impoverished (female) listeners who defer their own misery by vicariously experiencing the misfortunes of the gentle heroine. Through a spectacle of female suffering, these “didactic, tragic, and predictable” serial plots teach the virtues of endurance and resignation.

[11]   In the Philippine context, these radio melodramas, like their cinematic counterparts, can serve as metaphors for various forms of social, racial, or sexual exploitation. In her discussion of Marcos-era cinema and popular culture, Gina Marchetti argues that unlike Hollywood models, popular Philippine “romances, melodramas, or ‘women’s pictures'” are expressions of political discontent, which often give voice to a marginalized audience. The female protagonists in these representations usually serve “as symbols of oppression, sacrifice, and perpetual victimization, while also acting as sex objects that reify relations of dominance and subordination” (25). In this way, “actual political and economic relations of power can be discussed freely in stories that appear to be simple chronicles of women’s miseries–ostensibly without allegorical significance.” Marchetti contends that “Living within a Catholic society dominated by American business and consumer culture necessitates a working through of contradictions inherent in that particular cultural matrix” (31). Most importantly, Marchetti suggests, “if Hollywood and the church create the ideological chains that bind, they may also hold the keys to release them” (31).

[13]   Marchetti’s point echoes Erickson’s concept of spectacle as both enabling and disabling. These gendered representations, on the one hand, articulate the dependent status of economically and socially disempowered females. As models for identification, such icons of female suffering and subjugation sanctify and thus help perpetuate the role of the victim. However, as Marchetti points out, they also provide the victimized and marginalized segments of the population a medium for their discontent–a referent grounded in their own historical and social conditions. Marchetti notes that “within an economy ravaged by neocolonialism, prostitution exists as both fact and as metaphor for the lives of all those who must ‘sell themselves’ . . . their moral identities, their ethical values as well as their physical bodies–to survive” (31). Thus these spectacles of abandoned, prostituted and martyred women in Philippine melodrama can serve a dual function. They can provide

an excuse for the erotic display of women’s bodies and a reification of their powerlessness . . . but also a spark of recognition from men as well as women in the audience. Impoverished and powerless viewers can see their own situation represented within these fantasies–their own desperation, their own lack of control over the most intimate features of their lives.(32)


[14]   Accordingly, Hagedorn’s female characters read their own victimization in these woeful stories of seduction and betrayal. As Rio watches her “rapt grandmother” leaning close to the radio each night, “as if by doing so she can prolong her precious drama one more second” (15), she indulges with the other women in communal weeping and participates in a history of ritual behavior and patterns.

[15]   But as the opening line of the chapter entitled “Epiphany” tells us, “[The Philippines] belongs to women who easily shed tears and men who are ashamed to weep” (105). It is therefore not surprising that Hagedorn juxtaposes an episode of Love Letterswith a scene depicting the interrogation and subsequent rape of a young woman. In the chapter entitled “The Famine of Dreams,” Hagedorn’s subtext (printed in bold face and enclosed in parentheses) consists of the “actual” events as recounted by a third-person narrator. The voices on the radio speak to the reader as the dominant text–in fact distracting the reader from the “reality” of the event. Daisy Avila, the daughter of the liberal senator assassinated in the course of the book (a character modeled on the popular–also assassinated–Philippine leader Benigno Aquino), is detained for questioning by the sadistic General Ledesma. As he prepares to question her, the General turns up the volume on the radio. While the radio announcer exhorts the benefits of an eye drop that has been “a trusted friend for over twenty-five years,” Daisy is shown photos that document, in the General’s words, the “terrible, terrible fate” of recalcitrant detainees. The General takes pleasure in pointing “out the young man’s mashed testicles, the close-up of his gouged-out eyes” (215). The scene is constantly interrupted by the ever-present, ever-sorrowful voice of Barbara Villanueva playing the meek and suffering Magdalena in tonight’sLove Letters episode. The chapter concludes with images of Daisy’s victimization–images that implicate the reader in a complicitous spectatorship. As Daisy is brutally raped by the General’s men, the General plays the role of spectator. He refuses “to participate, preferring to stand in one corner and watch” (emhasis mine 216).

[16]   Ironically, Daisy’s complicity in the spectacle brought her into the limelight to begin with. She is first introduced to the reader mid-text through a third-person narrator in the chapter entitled, aptly enough, “Sleeping Beauty.” Daisy’s participation in the Miss Philippines beauty pageant and her subsequent coronation compromise her autonomy and her privacy, as aggressive strangers begin volunteering personal advice, male voices propose marriage on the phone, and movie deals are offered (106). Debord’s description of a celebrity as “the spectacular representation of a living human being” is useful here; as beauty queen, Daisy becomes an “object of identification” and thus “the enemy of the individual” in herself as well as in others (para. 60-1). While seemingly unaware of her compromised identity, Daisy nonetheless mourns her loss subconsciously: following her coronation, Daisy “dreads falling asleep” and is “terrified of the weeping which begins while she dreams” (105). Daisy’s attempts to “stay awake” and avoid “drowning in misery” suggests a dawning consciousness, a painful process of political awakening. For if the spectacle is, in Debord’s words, “the guardian of sleep,” Daisy’s inability to retreat into its reassuring dreams registers her emerging vigilance and resistance. Her fledgling consciousness naturally disrupts the status quo; once Daisy retreats from the spectacle’s comforting illusions, beauty pageant representatives are sent “to persuade the ungrateful beauty queen to come out of hiding,” talk show host Cora Camacho is outraged, and the First Lady herself sobs on national TV, “Daisy Avila has shamed me personally and insulted our beloved country” (107). But Daisy’s role in the spectacle does not end with her participation in the beauty pageant or her tacit acquiescence to objectified notions of beauty: Daisy appears on television to denounce the pageant as “a farce, a giant step backward for all women” and accuses the First lady “of furthering the cause of female delusions in the Philippines” (109). It is no wonder that Hagedorn quotes Jose Rizal to mark the second half of the novel: “The sleep had lasted for centuries, but one day the thunderbolt struck, and in striking, infused life.”

[17]   Daisy appropriates the enabling power of spectacle just long enough to sabotage it, refashioning herself as a member of the underground resistance. In “Of Beauty Pageants and Barbie,” Pamela Thoma argues that Daisy’s public denunciation is an instance in which the underlying conflicts between the gendered national identities encoded by the pageant sponsors and the identity performed by its contestants, collide dramatically. Thoma points out that audiences consume the pageant ritual as an enactment of national identity, so that by “enacting the oppositional consumption of the pageant’s ideologies, Daisy, the new Miss Philippines, becomes the embodiment of national resistance” (8). Citing ethnographic analyses that consider the role of international pageants in a geopolitical context, Thoma suggests that the proliferation of these pageants, “like the exportation of Hollywood films,” functions both “as a tool of U.S. hegemonic culture and capital” and “as vehicles for contesting the ideological narratives” that accompany them (9). Through beauty pageants, women not only objectify national ideals of beauty and virtue, but also serve as marketing vehicles to promote cosmetics, clothes, and body images. Surely a link between spectacle and commodity culture lies in this emphasis on visual display and consumption; as Debord tells us, in commodity cultures “the real consumer becomes a consumer of illusions. The commodity is this factually real illusion, and the spectacle is its general manifestation” (para. 47).

[18]   Thoma’s assertion that women’s consumption practices can therefore “enable challenges to national identity and mobilize” transnational feminism is of particular importance to my own analysis. Characters such as Rio and Daisy are consumers of global commodities of beauty; their acceptance or rejection of these packaged models is itself a political act. Daisy’s body is first inscribed by the ideologies of beauty that inform the pageant ritual, then by her abdication of that role in favor of active resistance. Given the militaristic and patriarchal nature of the regime, her decisive act transforms her sign value. Daisy is no longer useful as a national icon of feminine beauty, as representative of pure Filipine womanhood to be revered and displayed. From the regime’s perspective, Daisy’s body becomes part of the corrupt social body to be repudiated and punished. In the binary semantics of gendered politics, woman serves as image of Madonna or whore; Daisy pays for her act of defiance by joining the ranks of martyred women. But she lives to tell the tale, and to foment further rebellion.

[19]   Rio’s story, however, remains inconclusive and unsubstantiated. While she tells us that she eventually emigrates with her mother to the United States, Rio remains “anxious and restless, at home only in airports” (247). She never marries. And while she says that she stops going to church, her narrative does not comment on whether she stops going to the movies–or, for that matter, on whether she ever sees anything that resembles that projected image of the “rustic cottage by the frozen lake.” There is, in fact, little to indicate that Rio will be able to make sense of her dreams in the American context, to fully shed the role of the spectator.

[20]   But in a gesture of postmodern skepticism that implicates Rio herself in the spectacle by highlighting her role as image-maker, Hagedorn follows Rio’s last entry in the text with Pucha’s conflicting version. In Pucha’s text, Rio “got it all wrong.” Pucha actually accuses Rio of mixing “things up on purpose,” of trying to prove something by changing the past. Although Pucha admits that she “may not remember all the details” of the events, she takes it upon herself to deauthorize Rio’s text. Pucha therefore reprimands Rio and destabilizes her narrative, telling her that “this much is true, you’d better wake up and accept it: . . . YourLolaNarcisa is dead. . . . Your father isn’t poor–how can you lie about such big things?” (249). She concludes with a remark that undermines Rio’s “truthfulness” entirely and thus invalidates her view of the world. “Nothing is impossible with that crazy imagination of yours,” Pucha claims. “I’m not surprised by anything you do or say, but if I were you prima, I’d leave well enough alone” (249).

[21]   This desire to “leave well enough alone” corresponds with a postmodern desire to forget history. By undermining the “truth” of any historical or cultural knowledge claims, postmodernism guarantees what Debord refers to as “a kind of eternity of noisy insignificance.” In a society of spectacle, “individual reputations have become malleable and alterable at will by those who control information” (18 Comments). Debord argues that history’s domain is the past, the remembered totality of events: “With the destruction of history, contemporary events themselves retreat into a remote and fabulous realm of unverifiable stories, unchecked statistics, unlikely explanations and untenable reasoning” (Comments 15). Rio’s narrative exemplifies this condition: as it exposes the subjective and mediated nature of postmodern representation, her text deauthorizes itself. Hagedorn thus implicates the narrative in a spectacular game: her critique of spectacle, in Craig Owens’ description of deconstructive art practices, recognizes the “unavoidable necessity of participating in the very activity that is being denounced precisely in order to denounce it” (235).

[22]   Although Hagedorn short-circuits Rio’s story with Pucha’s contrasting version, she also features various other textual fragments and intersubjective entries that document the ubiquitous and protean appearances of spectacular power. Hagedorn suggests that Rio’s middle-class society–infatuated as it appears to be with images of prosperity, beauty, and power–is not the spectacle’s exclusive domain. Instead, the world that one sees in this text is the world of the spectacle: a world dominated, in Len Bracken’s words, by “an organized system of appearances” whose “banal, quantitative values” enforce isolation and shape desire across all national and class borders (vii). Indeed, in Hagedorn’s spectacle-text, all the world’s a stage, and everyone’s a player. The rest of this discussion therefore focuses primarily on Joey, Lolita, and Orlando, whose bodies inscribe the varying degrees of appropriation, manipulation, or yearning operating at all levels of society. Unlike Daisy and Rio, these characters inhabit socially peripheral spaces, yet they are no less implicated in a politics of spectacle.

[23]   Joey Sands and Lolita Luna, a bisexual prostitute and porno film star, respectively, embody the Philippines’ dual colonial legacy of Spanish Catholicism and American cinema. While the First Couple and their attendants dominate the national stage, Joey and Lolita star in minor dramas unfolding in the wings. They exploit a variety of popular images that captivate Filipino subculture, taking their cues from the official culture’s ruling spectacle. As the Marcoses exert power and control in the public arena, Joey and Lolita perform for more private audiences. They gain limited access to power through their bodies, trading on their ability to mirror another’s desire.

[24]   Hagedorn describes Joey as “the antihero of the book, the quintessential, mongrelized Filipino voice . . . not female but feminine” (Conference 148). He embodies a marginalized voice (be it conceptualized as feminine, or “Third-World,” bisexual, hybrid). More specifically, Joey characterizes the predicament of a neocolonial Philippine nation cast in the role of “Third-World” prostitute–an economically and culturally dependent nation bound to play off the desires and whims of those (men) who hold the purse strings. As the illegitimate son of an American G.I. stationed at Subic Bay (146) and “a legendary whore” who was “disgraced and abandoned, just like in the movies” (42), Joey is the unacknowledged byproduct of a “First World” military presence in the Philippines. His mother committed suicide by jumping in “a watery grave black with human shit” (42). Like the memory of colonial victimization, Joey’s “sad whore of a mother” is said to still haunt “that section of the river, a mournful apparition in the moonlight” (42). Joey’s predicament parallels the status of a neocolonial legacy: forced “to compete with all the other kids on the street” (43) for a handout, he turns to prostitution.

[25]   International relations between Western powers and their “dependents” exemplify this postcolonial condition. The Philippines competes with other nations for precious dollars. Thus, the Corazon Aquino government ignored nationalist calls for removal of Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Air Force Base in order to renegotiate a sizable aid package from the United States. Ironically, the bases contributed to the booming prostitution trade and other social problems. Cynthia Enloe contends that of the approximately 30,000 children born to American servicemen-fathers and Filipino prostitutes each year during the U.S. military base presence there, “some 10,000 are thought to become street children, many of them working as prostitutes” (87). Joey is the fictional counterpart of those children.

[26]   Yet Joey exploits the roles and stereotypes that impose his marginalization by turning these to his advantage. As spectators, Joey’s rich male clients submit to their own sexual fantasies, which Joey skillfully projects and exploits. As Beth Miller reminds us inIcons and Fallen Idols, the spectator is “the desiring subject on whom the cinematic institution depends for its imaginary realization” (103). When Joey sells his body to old men, he creates his own movies “with their flexible endings” to conjure self-empowering visions: “I am the strong young animal–I’m the panther. Or else I’m the statue of a magnificent young god. . . . He can’t get over how perfect I am” (132). Yet Joey’s narcissistic reflection mirrors and depends on the other’s desire: the dreamer becomes the viewer, who “can’t get over the perfection of his own creation” (132).

[27]   The young hustler’s protean ability ensures his survival; his body is the spectacle that attracts paying customers, the medium that bestows their earthly reward. Thus Joey learns to market and sell his image-projections as commodity–to “run men around,” make them give him money (44). He specializes in male desire–particularly foreigners–who tend to assume he is stupid “just because I’m poor and pretty” (133). Joey enjoys undermining their assumptions, and professes to “live for that look of surprise on their faces.” He successfully exploits and expresses a postmodern concept of self that Yves-Alain Bois calls “the plurality of the hybrid” (45). Sometimes this self-concept allows him to capitalize on his “exoticism”: he becomes “Joey Taboo: my head of tight, kinky curls, my pretty hazel eyes, my sleek brown skin” (72)’.” In his “noble savage” act, he manipulates white male clients into guilty submission:

I spit on the floor in contempt. Man, you don’t have to talk to me like I don’t know anything! . . . What do you think this is? The Lone Ranger and Tonto? I sulk, look away from him. Scan the room for a pretty face. Make him feel real bad. . . . “Man, I’m no savage.” When he looks like he’s going to cry, I stop . . . Soothe him with my voice. (73)

He exploits stereotypical images of black male prowess (“I don’t have to work at being sexy. Ha-ha. Maybe it’s my Negro blood” 44), and draws sympathy (and money) in his role as vulnerable street waif:

Was my daddy an American? Shit, I laughed back at him, imitating his drawl: SHEE-IT, man, I said. Mocking him. . . . Man, I don’t even have a mother. Laying it on real thick, so he’d feel sorry me. (72)

[28]   Joey finds it easier to exploit men, but he admits that if he were to meet a rich woman he would “get it up for her too” (44-5). His sexual identity is determined, not by inclination or preference, but by income potential. Like his hybrid ancestry, Joey’s bisexuality is simply another commodity that broadens his appeal and increases his marketability (and thus viability). His survival is predicated upon a signifying ability that facilitates the simulation and sale of desire. Joey actively exploits the seductive power of images; his assumed surname registers his self-image and by extension, serves as a trope for his text. Like the casino that gave him his name, Joey Sands is the locus of chance and possibilities, a house of games that plays on desires.

[29]   As spectacle, Joey’s subjective narrative is particularly significant. While Joey deliberately makes an exhibit of his duplicity, as narrator, he is equally capable of setting up the reader. Joey is at once a self-reflexive text to be read and interpreted, and an astute reader of texts–a generator of meaning and decoder of signs. Though in many ways his narrative is staged for the reader’s entertainment and makes us privy to his various personas, it is also self-incriminating and subversive. For one thing, Joey teases the reader with the question of his veracity. At one point he admits, “Maybe I’m lying. Uncle says I was born a liar, that I can’t help myself. Lies pour out of my mouth even when I’m sleeping” (45). Similarly, he claims that his “philosophy of life” is “keeping things slightly off-balance. It’s how I survive” (37). However, he contradicts himself a few pages later, professing to “love it when everything falls into place,” and coyly asking the reader, “Don’t you?” (40).

[30]   Through these and other conflicting signals Joey subverts the reader’s desire to “know.” As Homi Bhabha has argued, colonial discourse depends on the containment of the designated other, “on the concept of ‘fixity’ in the ideological construction of otherness” (23). It “produces the colonized as a fixed reality which is at once an ‘other’ and yet entirely knowable and visible” (23). Joey’s protean self-representations employ stereotypes (recognizable objects) in ways that undermine any stable relation or distinction between author and authorized. His narrative renegotiates the terms of this relationship, for as a skillful manipulator of images, Joey is both image-product and image-producer. While he recognizes and exploits the presumed significance of his “Negro blood,” for example, he also reaffirms the arbitrary and constructed nature of such notions. While his confidential tone encloses the reader in familiarity, it concurrently discloses an eroticized “alien” text that articulates and exposes, in Bhabha’s words, “that ‘otherness’ which is at once an object of desire and derision” (19). In this way, Joey exploits his own exoticism, reenacting a series of what Ella Shohat and Robert Stam have called “erotic fictions” that “reenchant the world” (21). His textual body seduces his clients–and his readers: we are captivated by the various masks Joey wears, the way he uses his body to reflect and manipulate male desire. Yet we may well identify with those gullible foreign clients, from whom he steals just to keep “that element of danger alive in their luxurious rooms” (37).

[31]   Joey’s role in the Manila underclass he inhabits is part of an intricate drama produced by a cultural elite. His private performances mirror the First Lady’s, who stages political and cultural displays for the media’s global spectacle on a regular basis. Joey’s predicament as perspicacious outsider compels him to recognize and mimic the machinations of power, yet resist its allure. In the “Paradise” chapter, Joey reenacts his play for a wealthy German filmmaker, but he opts to begin the chapter by situating himself as spectator, describing the disastrous events surrounding the “First Lady’s latest whim” (130). This interest in the First Lady’s spectacular project seems out of character for Joey. Rather than focusing on his sexual intrigues, he begins by obliquely suggesting the First Lady’s own form of pandering. In fact, his account of the event can be read as an allegory for Philippine relations with the West.

[32]   The First Lady orders the “rejuvenation” of slums in preparation for the Manila Foreign Film Festival. This event, which alludes to the Manila International Film Festival that cost scores of construction workers their lives, is staged for the benefit of wealthy foreigners. It is a hollow display of Philippine prosperity and “all looks fake” (130). During construction of the cultural complex that will house the event, one of the structures collapses and several workers are killed. Nevertheless, the First Lady “orders the survivors to continue building; more cement is poured over dead bodies; they finish exactly three hours before the first foreign film is scheduled to be shown” (130). This event encapsulates Debord’s concept of spectacular domination: empowered economies produce and disperse images of their own making; patron regimes import, circulate, and emulate them; and local culture is conveniently buried.

[33]   Joey blurs the distinctions between spectacle and spectator, sometimes playing the voyeur, luring us to see through his eyes. Throughout his narrative, he fluctuates between narcissistic and voyeuristic contemplation, between his position as desiring subject and his role as desired object. When his German client first spots him in the bar, Joey knows that he is “on display” (131). He tells us that the German “is intrigued, watching me dance with myself in front of mirrored walls” (131). Later, Joey becomes the spectator observing and recording the games of seduction that unfold in the bar. First he watches Lolita Luna, “another wild cartoon I can watch up close” (139). Then he watches an attractive Chinese mestizo cruise into the room, noting the effect the boy has on his potential client: “I watch him watch the boy watch the crowd” (140). In this way Joey’s narrative infiltrates and subverts the politics of spectacle. On the one hand, it destabilizes the relationship between spectator and spectacle–between the viewing subject and the object of the gaze. Joey calls on the reader’s desire to look–to view the exotic Other in a safe voyage through the “Third World” text. But the voyager (etymologically bound to the status of voyeur) is not granted the solace of alienation. Joey persistently highlights his uncanny familiarity (the American side of the Amer-Asian equation) and dissolves the boundaries that separate the dreamer from the dreamt. While he reflects the erotically charged images of an exoticized spectacle, he is also implicated in Hagedorn’s indictment of passive complicity. After he witnesses Senator Avila’s assassination, he feels the desire to confess, “Father, my name is Joey Sands. I’m a whore and the son of a whore. I just saw Senator Avila murdered. How come I feel guilty?” (191). It is not until the final chapter of his narrative (now in the third person), that Joey’s subversive function is literalized, for he remains with Daisy’s rebel faction in the mountains. Only the last line of his story, “She teaches him how to use a gun” (233), makes his revolutionary imperative finally, and disturbingly, clear.

[34]   Hagedorn features various textual fragments that document the ubiquitous role of spectacle in mediating sexual relations. One such fragment can be found in the chapter entitled “Serenade,” which introduces Romeo Rosales, an aspiring actor whose real name is Orlando. With the exception of one brief chapter (called, appropriately enough, “Romeo Rosales”), Orlando is presented through the disembodied eyes of a third-person narrator. Orlando is a spectator who dreams of becoming part of the spectacle. He spends much of his “modest salary” at the movies and lives for the day when he will star in a bomba picture opposite “the torrid siren Lolita Luna” (a fantasy he takes with him to bed along with his real-life girlfriend, Trinidad). The narrator tells us that Romeo “would see anything: comedies, Tagalog melodramas, westerns, musicals, and religious extravaganzas like The Ten Commandments” (47). Orlando’s devotion to spectacle makes him duly reverent in the presence of his celluloid god-images: he is awed whenever “something miraculous occurred in one of his Hollywood epics,” annoyed when Trinidad mentions the use of “camera tricks” (47).

[35]   While Orlando’s pseudonym, Romeo, exploits the image of the lover (72), his real-life relationships are merely a series of performances. Orlando reenacts romantic movie scenes “in front of the mirror” (128) and recites ludicrous lines to his captivated female spectator, Trinidad. He is adept in the art of “sweet talk”–speech that follows the form of affectionate communication emptied of meaning. It is an art “he’d learned from countless hours of studying Nestor Noralez movies”(53). As he makes love to Trinidad and murmurs in her ear, “My sweet, perfumed flower–my darling madonna–my whore,” he closes his eyes and imagines he hears Lolita Luna’s ecstatic moaning “beneath his own pumping body” (53).

[36]   Meanwhile, the “real” Lolita Luna, whom we meet (though Orlando does not) in other chapters, is busy exploiting her own dissembling charms onscreen and off. Lolita’s performances draw on a variety of female stereotypes that engender social and political power relations. Involved in an affair with the powerful General Ledesma, she manipulates him through a variety of image-games: she is the sex goddess, the daughter, the whore, the vulnerable girl, the wanton and self-destructive woman-child.

Everything for her is a scene from a movie: zooms, pans, close-ups, climaxes and confrontations followed by whispered clinches. The General finds her habits greatly amusing–What costume are you putting on for me today?” he wants to know. (96)

[37]   Lolita and the General play alternating roles in their sado-masochistic shows of power. The General sometimes “slaps her around just a bit, enough to lightly bruise her complacent face or the insides of her ample thighs” (96); other times he “dreams she will come to him out of desire–not for drug money, rent money, or access to his power” (176). Lolita, for her part, “enjoys it when he weeps in front of her, a broken-down war hero, a broken-down old man” (97); yet she is terrified by the “thought of losing the protection and material security” he provides (171). When she is not performing for the camera or the General, she indulges in narcissistic self-reflection: “The sight of her naked body in the mirrors excites her. Transfixed by her own image, she caresses herself” (176). Ironically, Lolita’s captivating power on the screen is matched by the General’s power over his captives–he has “a reputation as an expert torturer that intrigues Lolita” (97). The General, who privately “worships” his favorite images of Lolita (95), is himself an active component in the spectacle. He is an authorized agent of spectacular power; a leading player in the theatre of state sponsored terror and oppression.

[38]   This volatile relationship between personal fantasies and political control, unauthorized tsismis and official reports, finds its explosive climax in Orlando’s murder. Here the character who most longs to join the spectacle is, in an ironic stroke of poetic justice, granted his wish: the agents of spectacular power randomly cast Orlando as token communist and shoot him in a public display of official authority. Yet this show of force is made necessary in part by the subversive power of unauthorized and unmitigated information transmission–local gossip. In fact, throughout the novel tsismis interrupts the authorized narratives and hints at the potential for resistance. This dialogue among the folk subverts the official script: gossip becomes a sort of carnivalized discourse through which the folk can create and disseminate their own versions of “truth.” As Lisa Lowe points out, gossip “derides the separation of ‘public’ and ‘private’ spheres, transgressing these separations symbolic of bourgeois order” (“Decolonization” 115). With the popular Senator’s assassination, these subversive dialogues stir the collective slumber. Orlando’s sacrifice as scapegoat subversive thus figures prominently as ritualized spectacle. His death serves to placate the collective “political unconscious”: with the apprehension and punishment of Senator Avila’s presumed killer (Orlando), the collective is lulled back into the safety of their dreams. Assuming a standard “law and order” disguise, spectacular power enforces its hegemony and guarantees what Debord refers to as “its monopoly of appearance” (Para. 12).

[39]   This monopoly in fact achieves the status of truth for its spectators, who prefer to look towards its glossy images and grand displays for a more reassuring “reality.” Ironically, Senator Avila’s various pamphlets and eloquent speeches foretelling more suffering for his country had been generally ignored. While the underground circulated his writings, the government-run newspaper “ridiculed and vilified” him (100-01). The outspoken Senator described the Philippines as a nation “betrayed and then united only by our hunger for glamour and our Hollywood dreams” (101). He warned, “We are doomed by our need for assimilation into the West” (101). Yet his nightmarish projections fell “on deaf ears” (100).

[40]   But the Marcos legacy did not feed solely on a locally sponsored image-making apparatus. Gayatri Spivak has noted that “Nowadays, instead of guns, the most effective instruments that aid in the production of the ‘Third World’ are the technologies of the media” (86). Whereas these scenes peek behind the curtains of spectacular production, other textual fragments offer a view of the spectacle’s public appearances. In the chapter, “Bananas and the Republic,” Hagedorn suggests the complicitous relationship between repressive political authority and the sale and distribution of its various disguises. The President’s wife (modeled of course on Imelda Marcos), has granted an American journalist an interview. As an observer and recorder of the event, the young journalist “scribbles everything she says in his notebook” (218). Referred to throughout only as “Madame,” the president’s wife wears several “masks” or personas throughout the interview. While the journalist questions her about rumors of government-sanctioned torture and assassination, Madame skillfully assumes a variety of “feminine” roles that serve to establish her innocence. She plays beautiful martyr, compassionate servant of the people, proud wife to “the leader of an emerging and prosperous nation” and “mother of such intelligent, unspoiled children” (220). She posits herself a woman wrongly accused of being “extravagant,” of owning thousands of (imported) shoes. She defends herself by pointing out “the worn heel” on her shoe, the wear and tear of “at least five years.” She then assumes a patriotic stance, claiming to only buy locally made shoes, remarking that she is “a nationalist when it comes to fashion”(217). She even complains that she is “cursed” by her beauty: “They’re all jealous, okay? My beauty has been used against me . . . I’ve been made to suffer–I can’t help it, okay! I was born this way” (218).

[41]   Madame conveniently conflates truth and fiction, adeptly drawing on cinematic and textual images as evidence in support of her virtue. In an especially telling remark, she defends her innocence by comparing herself to a fictional character: “If I were corrupt, I would look like that other movie, Dorian Gray” (220). While living in evident luxury, Madame insists that she “sacrificed everything” to serve her country. Yet she seems oblivious to the incongruity of her remarks, and reveals her own penchant for artifice by confiding that herreal calling was the theatre: “I could have been an actress in one of those romantic musicals” (224). Apparently missing the implications of such an admission, she remarks, “What would life be without movies? Unendurable, di ba? We Filipinos, we know how to endure, and we embrace the movies. With movies, everything is okay lang“(224). The First Lady’s comment simultaneously expresses gratitude to the gods of moviemaking (whose images make life “endurable” for an oppressed people) and to God (who bestows this earthly reward upon the pious movie-goers).

[42]   This conflation of sacred and profane captures Imelda’s spectacular logic. The “real” Imelda once announced that Manila’s worst slums would be off-limits to filmmakers. According to Robert Silberman, the gist of her comment was that “Filipino films should make us all pleased to be Filipinos, and should only reflect the good, the true, and the beautiful” (76). In this way, aesthetics became the rationale for censorship and denoted spirituality. On other occasions, Imelda used this ingenuous logic to justify her extravagance. She remarked during an interview in People Magazine that “in the material world, where everything is valued, when you commit yourself to God, beauty and love, it can be mistaken for extravagance” (Jul 29 1996). Clearly, as Debord reminds us, “In a world which really is topsy-turvy, the true is a moment of the false” (Para. 9).

[43]   Ironically, during Madame’s ludicrous display, Hagedorn’s journalist finds it difficult to ignore “a whirl of images” in his mind that contradicts Madame’s spectacle: grainy black and white footage of sobbing women, women kneeling over open graves, graves piled high with the corpses of mutilated men and children” (222). While the disparity between Madame’s portrait of national harmony and prosperity conflict radically with images of mass poverty, despair, and repression, the journalist opts to play by the rules of the spectacle. Sickened by the charade before him, he nevertheless reconciles himself to the idea that “there is no war in [Madame’s] mind.” The journalist becomes her accomplice, for he plans only to write “an intimate profile of Madame, startling and amusing.”

[44]   This comment on the interactive and inter-dependent relationship between the spectacle and the spectator, the passive observer and the perpetrator, forms the basis of Hagedorn’s social and political critique of representation. The manipulation and control of image production has obvious political implications. In societies where political leaders are known and loved for their ability to perform–not in the sense of executing actual improvements in their function as leaders, but in the sense ofappearing to do so–no real changes need ever take place. Vicente Rafael has argued that a dominant obsession among the Marcoses and their image-makers was “the turning of politics into spectacle” (283). Rafael’s astute analysis maintains that the Marcoses fostered a nation of voyeurs who “did not have to articulate their interests but only had to be alert for the appearance of something that would show and tell them what they wanted”(284). By turning “their private lives into a public spectacle,” Rafael argues, the Marcoses were able to image themselves as the “Father and Mother” of an extended Filipino family and thus “redraw all boundaries, social, political, and cultural” (282). For her part, Imelda projected a stylish composure modeled on Western fashions and tastes, and a deference to Ferdinand that appealed to traditional notions of feminine propriety. Her performances transformed political gatherings into spectacles “in which the central figure was the First Lady” (289). Imelda’s ability to play on desire and fantasy “compelled others to stop thinking and start looking” (289). Her charm, Rafael concludes, “reduced the people to spectators” (289-90).

[45]   American press releases declared Imelda Marcos a woman “Committed to the finer things in life” (Karnow 371), a promoter of Filipino art and culture. Historian Stanley Karnow points out that she “spent a fortune on a cultural center, a luxury the crippled economy could scarcely afford, and launched a film festival featuring porno movies (371). In this way, she actually endorsed the “bomba” (porno) film market in the Philippines, a market that thrives on the depiction of female humiliation and subjugation. Yet her image as “patron of the arts” was so widely accepted that Dame Margot Fonteyn, the dancer, and pianist Van Cliburn visited her in Manila at her request (and expense). She befriended American screen actor George Hamilton, whose own lavish lifestyle and debonair good looks suited Imelda. As the man whomEsquiremagazine called “relentless in his pursuit of style,” Hamilton complemented Imelda’s image. Her performances for the American media were so effective, in fact, that after a visit to the United States in 1966, The Washington Post declared her “a blessing not only to her own country, but to the world” (Karnow 371)

[46]   Yet in the aftermath of Imelda and Ferdinand’s political downfall, Western media was often cited for its decisive role in their collapse. It was suggested that the press, particularly American print and television news coverage, exercised its influence to expose Marcos’s abuses and hasten his departure. Its widespread and continual coverage of events in the Philippines following Aquino’s assassination was said to have turned public opinion against the regime and thus contributed to the withdrawal of U.S. political support. In 1987, an ailing and exiled Ferdinand blamed the U.S. press for conducting a “massive black propaganda and conspiracy” that defamed and libeled him (Karnow 410). A study released in 1994 concluded that Marcos’s image after Aquino’s assassination did undergo a negative transformation in the American press which “led to his virtual demonization in American reporting” (“Impact”).

[47]   While the U.S. press may have “demonized” Marcos in later years, however, they had once helped to sanction and sanctify him. Equally significantly, media coverage had given Imelda a starring role on the world stage. Her beauty, extravagance, and ruthlessness captivated audiences for over twenty years, and provided reporters with a wealth of sensational material. Imelda made great copy; she was always good for a notable quote, a catchy headline, or a juicy tidbit. Even in later years, when her curious eccentricities gave way to shocking excesses, news articles about Imelda betrayed an undercurrent of tolerant amusement. Despite growing evidence to suggest that she wielded considerable political clout, accounts of her exploits were conveyed in a tone and style usually reserved for the tabloids or gossip columns. But once her alluring mystique as beauty queen turned queen mother gave way to aging eccentricity, Imelda ceased to inspire the press’s adulation. The older and stockier and ever more bizarre Imelda would serve as another spectacle of third world corruption, excess, and irrationality. No longer youthful or beautiful, the “Steel Butterfly” would be caricatured and mocked by the very U.S. press that had once delighted in her glamour and theatricality. A new icon of feminine virtue, dubbed “the saintly woman in yellow” by the U.S. press, usurped her place: Corazon Aquino, the Catholic housewife who would become the Philippines’ first post-Marcos president.

[48]   Hagedorn has remarked that colonizers were so efficient in the Philippines that she cannot honestly name what is indigenous, “except to say animism, paganism, matriarchy: what was long ago, before the Spaniards with their imperialist Christianity, and before the Americans with their . . . insidious media” (Conference 147). In the brief entry that concludes her text, Hagedorn’s critique culminates in a feminist prayer that is both sacred and profane, blessing and curse. The “Kundiman” chapter conjures sacred images of woman as figure of redemption and hope, usurping and exploiting these dominant metaphors of Christian iconography to impugn the rule of the patriarchy. While these sacred images mediate female subjugation, they also hold the promise of her empowerment. Like the novel, Hagedorn’s prayer is an oblique expression of conflicting impulses. It is an ironic condemnation that asks the “mother of revenge” to “forgive us our sins but not theirs” (251), and which juxtaposes images of despair, terror and violence, with visions of forgiveness, love and redemption. Hagedorn revises Christian imagery, so that the Garden becomes a female dominion, a realm blessed with “the fruits of [her] womb: guavas, mangos, santol, mangosteen, durian” (251). The legacy of a militaristic patriarchal system is suggested by images of death and destruction: “Spilled blood of innocents, dead by the bullet, the dagger, the arrow . . . spilled blood of ignited flesh, exploded flesh . . .” (251). The female icon of “perennial sorrow” has eyes that “are veiled and clouded by tears, veiled but never blinded,” and her garden is infested with serpents. At the same time, the prayer is a confession of guilt and complicity, a collective appeal for the Mother to “bless us . . . for we have sinned.”

[49]   E. San Juan, Jr. interprets Hagedorn’s text as an oblique commentary on the impact of U.S. imperial history on the Philippines. He refers to Dogeaters as the first novel “which seeks to render in a unique postmodernist idiom a century of U.S.-Philippine encounters” (118). In San Juan’s view, the novel is “virtually a cinematext of a Third World scenario that might be the Philippines or any other contemporary neocolonial milieu processed in the transnational laboratories of Los Angeles or New York” (118). Referring to the archipelago as America’s once “fortuitous tabula rasa for the doctrine of market liberalism and meritocracy,” San Juan contends that “[s]uspended in a metonymy of dreams . . . the Filipino cannot possess any identity worth writing about. . . . He or she becomes simply a mimicry of the White American, a mock-image born of misrecognition” (123).

[50]   But as Roland Barthes has noted, “where politics begins is where imitation ceases” (154). Hagedorn’s novel is not only a parodic reenactment of invasive and pervasive mass imagery in the “Third World” (although it is that too). More importantly, it is an indictment against collectivized passivity–a political reminder that, as Debord puts it, “the more [the spectator] contemplates the less he lives; the more he accepts recognizing himself in the dominant images of need, the less he understands his own existence and his own desires” (para. 30). Reconfigured as spectators, colonized subjects consent to another’s vision of reality. Hagedorn’s novel reenacts the cost of such a position in the “third world” context, where real oppression and real terror often provides raw material for the business of spectacular production.

[51]   In the “first world,” the implications suggested by Hagedorn’s text are no less unsettling. Given recent events in the United States, where tragedy unfolded in spectacular replays on television sets across the nation, the body politic is being redrawn in a plethora of religious and cinematic imagery. In this climate of spectacular displays of patriotism and militancy, daily headlines proclaim America’s “war against evil,” surveillance and xenophobia increases, new TV shows polish the once tarnished image of the CIA, while images of “precision bombings” and “clean strikes” captivate global news audiences. More than ever, Debord’s words, written over twenty years ago, ring eerily prophetic:

Never before has censorship been so perfect. Never before have those who are still led to believe, in a few countries, that they remain free citizens, been less entitled to make their opinions heard. . . . The spectator is simply supposed to know nothing, and deserve nothing. (Comments22)


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