Sunday, December 03, 2006

O.O.G.

I noticed several weeks ago that the Pacific Daily News on its website had started to add a comment posting option for its news articles.

At that point, few people were using the feature and so most articles were still blank, tataya' ha' sinangan guihi. Lao achokka' taya' comments, esta hu tungo' na ti apmam siempre u tuhuhon i kuentos O.O.G.

If you put a comment function on news articles about Guam, it is only a matter of time before you are flooded with people from all shapes and sizes, saying the most braindead things imaginable and punctuating their vapid conversation additions with the expression "Only on Guam" or O.O.G.

The phrase "Only on Guam" is generally attributed to the cruel genius of former editor of The Pacific Daily News Joe Murphy. Murphy has been a fixture on Guam since he arrived there in the late 1960's to work for the then Guam Daily News. His early columns are occasionally silly occasionally racist, bordering on insane.

For my research as a graduate student in Micronesian Studies at the University of Guam, I was fortunate enough to have access to every issue of The Pacific Daily News since it was the Navy News after World War II. One particular editorial scarred my mind because of its "innocent" racist assumptions. In this editorial, Murphy indicates that the biggest problem on Guam in 1968 is that Chamorros are still using their native language. For Murphy the choice is simple, since Guam is American soil, the Natives of that soil need to sh!t or get off the pot if they want to live up to the obligations of that progress loving soil, and therefore stop speaking their language! Most people I have told this to try to excuse Murphy based on the time that he was writing in, but even in 1968 this was still a racist statement for a plethora of reasons, ranging from its denial of the indigenous Chamorro to having ownership of Guam, to assuming an American monolingualism which has never actually existed, to basically assuming also that there is no option for Chamorros other than the United States and its way and that by speaking Chamorro they were just in denial of the inevitable.

But it wasn't all Chamorro bashing in his Pipe Dreams columns, alot of times he would tell funny stories. English language bloopers, his own surprises at the daily rhythms of Guam, restaurants being out of food, color primer cars and trucks, mind and wallet boggling Government inefficiencies and errors, what was completely unnatural for Murphy being completely natural and ordinary for people on Guam. From these tales Murphy supposedly coined the phrase "Only on Guam" of that only on Guam could such insane things not just happen, but be normal and the way things are.

I remember one story about a newspaper reporter on Guam whose job was the run the police blotter. At one point he was so tried of running around the island collecting information for his pieces that he actually made a request to criminals in his column to make his job easier.

For those of you who are industrious about these sorts of things, Murphy's old Pipe Dream columns can be found in very hard to find collections. The title of one of them Guam is a Four
Letter Word kind of keys in with the rest of my points.

But before I get to the idea that Guam is a four letter word or somehow chatfino', let's divide up, into different classes for easier reference and comprehension, the people who would invoke O.O.G. while posting their thoughts on the PDN website.

First there are those who have left Guam behind, far behind, and from their fantastic vantage being now in the states, resorting to an OOG reference, is meant to prove how sharp their vision is. It is meant to prove that even from their incredible distance away from Guam they can still see how pathetically corrupt and inferior Guam is. It is meant to give a positive meaning to the distance they have from Guam or from local Chamorro culture. Twin processes are taking place here. First, the status of the stateside Chamorro is enhanced by the recognition of how far away they are from such madness that they left long ago gi i isla siha, gi i sengsong siha, implying how much they have improved upon, seized, taken advantage of in their movement to the United States “mainland.” Second however is that this recognition of a pathological flaw, or a gruesome corrupting crack in the existence of Guam, reiterates the distance from Guam as a
self-supporting explanation as to why they left Guam.

Second there are the big fish in a small pond. Chamorros who are living on Guam, whose vision extends far beyond Guam itself and constantly acts as if the rest of the world is truly theirs while Guam lies beneath anyone wanting to own. For them OOG is invoked to represent the past, that which is "so last week" or "last century" yet also, that which is "past" the speaker, something which they are so over and beyond.

Third there are non Chamorros on Guam who jokingly refer to OOG in a way to make parochial Chamorros and Guam while at the same time trying to create a makeshift cosmopolitanism for themselves. For these people, saying that something is "Only on Guam" is only the first part of the equation, a simple, somewhat fun loving subordination of Guam. The next part is a so
metimes implicit, other times explicit elevation of another point outside of Guam, as a less parochial, more advanced, and therefore better place than Guam. And by virtue of the fact that I recognize this pathological problem in Guam, I become the local spokesperson for that better place, and in turn embody its betterness best in the way I recognize continually the crappiness of the local and offer the betterness of the other place as the salve to fix said crappiness..

Fourth, we have what you could call a Malafunkshun category of sorts. For them the OOG quality is something which is actually pretty darn cool because it carves out a unique place for Guam in the universe, which if we consider this from the smallness of Guam in relation to the rest of the world, in relation to the US, the sheer size of the ocean around us, and then the similar cultural traits we share with other places such as Mexico and the Philippines because of Spanish colonialisms, finding a place which is particular to Guam is truly exciting. Even if it says si
multaneously that Guam sucks.

There are other possibilities for categorization, but I am loathe to admit to any positive version of invoking because contrary to popular belief, the forms that OOG takes, while sometimes funny, are almost always brutally negative, and indict Guam as being what Murphy claims, as being some sort of "four letter word." A few months ago I wrote about Sherry, the haole lady who hated Guam and said a number of very disgusting things about Guam. If you check out the litany that she made of why Guam sucks, the rants on what makes Guam so horribly unbearable, she is basically creating an OOG list! Those exact same things are said by Chamorros and others on Guam practically every single day, and often said in such a way that this crappiness is limited only to Guam.

I should note here though that it is possible to flip these statements around, to reverse them so that they start to signify positive things as opposed to negative things, but this is much rarer than people might think. Part of the defining of a home is a reckoning with its aspects, an arranging of them in such a way that it becomes yours as well as those that you share it with.

For example, how do people on Guam reckon with its smallness, its insularity? For most it is something to complain about, and then complain about people who complain about Guam being large when its barely a dot on a map. It is something which must people use to make a place such as the United States so much bigger and so much fuller with life and possibility. A common OOG statement that even Sherry the haole lady makes is this:

OOG do people complain that driving two miles is too far.

What can we derive from this complaint? That people on Guam have little understanding about the rest of the world, don't know anything beyond their backyard, can't step out of their own shoes and into someone else's who lives in a place where driving two miles is like taking a breath.

But when I was on Guam I constantly used the silly universe of this statement to make Guam my home. Driving down to the southern part of Guam became an adventure of metaphor and description. When asked to come visit someone in Hagat, Malesso or Santa Rita, I would relish and teasing the incredible distance I would have to drive to reach them.

"Party in Santa Rita next week? Oooh, I better start driving now."

"Party in Malesso tomorrow? Sorry I can't make it, I'm waiting for Continental to start giving me frequent flier miles for the trip."

The fundamental problem I have with kuentos OOG is its heavy reliance upon the United States as the guarantor of meaning or social consistency. While kuentos OOG can take some positive forms, it is for the most part not just negative, but pathologically negative, meaning that the sigh or even smile which follows the declaration of OOG too often signifies that whatever characteristic or silly thing we just spoke of or shared is, it is far beyond our reach to actually do anything about it, and just enjoy the ride.

In the world of OOG, Guam is a cuss word, a social breakdown, a mistake, something lurid, something exceptional and not the norm, certainly not something which can function publicly or openly, even if it is something which is kind of quietly accepted or understood as being part of reality. Naturally cuss words can be hysterical and can be funny, an important part of life. But they are not real language. We find this interestingly revealed to us in the Chamorro word for cussing or swear words, chatfino’, which means literally “not quite speech” or “not really what is said.”

So is OOG speech then a cruel sort of way of saying that while life in Guam may be interesting, hilarious, ridiculous and stupid, it is ultimately not really life.

I often repeat this story because it truly represents the traps of commonsense inundated with colonization. Several years ago, I gave a presentation to a group of elementary students on Guam, where I asked them all to name the things that a Chamorro was or did. As expected, an ocean of Malafunkshun style representations surged forward: doesn’t speak English or Chamorro very well, is lazy, is on welfare, is on food stamps, has lots of kids with lots of people, is corrupt, takes lots of breaks. The sole positive traits mentioned were family closeness and military service. These two positive traits however were engulfed by the parade of negative ones, creating the Chamorro as something barely alive if alive at all.

I quizzed the students if these were the things that added up to a Chamorro, could a Chamorro survive in the “real world?” Most confessed, probably not.

So where then is “real life?” Where do we find i magahet na lina’la that OOG discourse depends upon for its solution to the silliness, chaos or disorder of Guam? If you are familiar with blog or with colonization in Guam, then the answer should be obvious.

Several years ago when Leo Babauta had a column in The Pacific Daily News he was often censored by the editorial staff. You can access his old editorials and thoughts of his times at PDN on the old Malafunkshun website.

At one point Babauta tried to refer to Guam as a colony and “metaphorical prison” and was informed by his editors that he could not because such a characterization is “misleading.” The logic for saying that this is misleading is a logic which is truly worthy of the title worst and limpest consciousness in the colonies. The pinikaru giya Guahu wants to say this his editor’s position is worth of an OOG award, but I will resist the temptation:

I was further told that my calling the colony of Guam a metaphorical prison was misleading, because we can all "fly 12 hours to the states and vote for president".

Here we reach, beyond i minagof put kuentos OOG, to my fundamental problem with it, namely how it assumes and actively produces the consistency and efficiency of this other scene, the “mainland,” the United States. “Guam” itself is meant to be understood as hopelessly colony, as pathologically inefficient, corrupt, backwards, and so on, and despite the historical and contemporary historical relationship between it and the United States, this negativity is not meant to or should not taint the glory of the United States. Because history or memory in Guam does not regularly connect the poorness of our economy to either the American economic underdevelopment of Guam or the massive displacement of Chamorros from their way of life following World War II, Guam itself is forced to shoulder the impossible burden of all that can and is negative, bad, wrong or poor in Guam.

Take for instance the response from Babauta’s editors. Note that their argument against calling Guam a colony or providing metaphorical texture (kalåbosu) to that situation is argued against in a curious way. In response to the negative/critical assessment of Guam’s status (US sovereign power over Guam without even token voting representation), we immediately leave
Guam in order to provide a positive, full, appropriate and proper image of what is supposed to be (that people in the United States do vote for those who are sovereign over them).

The problem of Guam sort of disappears in this counter argument, and appears to be solved not by anything actually related or having to do with Guam, but rather because the fullness of life and civic participation, political democracy already exists somewhere else! This is authentic, prototypical OOG speech because of the mixture of something problematic and pathological, puts it beyond solution or hope. The answer to Guam’s problems is never here on Guam, it always lies with or in the United States. It creates a doubly enraging nina’bubu na gesture where first, the ignoring or dismissing of any “local” problem or possible problem puts Guam beyond redemption or beyond change, and second, where the United States, whether it is openly stated or not, is produced as the place where that problem is solved.

The cruel secret of OOG discourse is a colonizing dependency upon the United States for everything imaginable. When you invoke a random negative, pathologizing OOG, you are actively participating in different forms of everyday colonization. We Guam are where the government doesn’t work, democracy fails and people don’t or can’t vote, ethics and morality languish, stores don’t carry everything we want or need and if they do have it the prices are insane, potholes the size of Fena Lake, people wouldn’t know marriage vows if they slapped them across the face, if a school teacher saw “funding” or “new textbooks” he or she would stare at it all lungga and mumble, “whoa…hafa enao?”

The United States by contrast is where the Federal Government is so efficient is practically runs i estreyas, i langhet, all of the universe, people can and do vote and therefore understand and embody their civic pride for the rest of the world, stores are fully stocked and carry more than you could ever want at prices which make the commissary look like Louis Vutton, roads are so smooth, well built and nicely paved that you could emergency land several commercial and single engine airplanes on it before even spotting a nick, marriage vows are sacred and defended and kept from subversive gay people, and the teachers are so well paid, well funded and well respected that everywhere they go people bow to them and drop rose petals before them.

The “answers” to problems on Guam are therefore simple and brutal. The answers either lie with the United States, or the answer is the United States. We find this manifested in multiple ways, whether diaspora, military service or faithfully following an imagined American lead.

While many may maintain that there are very real economic, quality of life differences between Guam and the United States, and that I am just overly being sarcastic and stupid, that defense doesn’t even touch what I am referring to. The quantitative gulf between Guam and the United States is never as vast or as insurmountable as it is discussed to be.

If we look at for instance the way political corruption is discussed on Guam in terms of both Guam and the United States we are confronted with an incredible distance. Guam is incredibly corrupt, almost dripping and completely soaked in it, you should loathe GovGuam employees as you drive by them because they are most certainly on ice or taking a two hour cigarette break, or making deals with their pare’ when you see them. The Feds on the other hand, despite the incredible array of corruption scandals which have rocked both the Democrats and the Republicans this year, remain almost completely untainted. Despite the fact that the Feds are swooping in to possibly retake land at Tiyan and through the military may retake some land in Finegåyan, they continue to appear on Guam as the infamous white doctor (cite) or the liberating Marine, fundamentally positive or progressive wraiths which are only colored with their cleanliness, benevolence and betterness than whatever is local.

Let me end here by noting that OOG talk can of course be na’chalek, funny. But, we should be careful of what this humor hides or depends upon. The uniqueness or linikidu particularity that Only On Guam statements produce relies upon a particular way of representing or imagining Guam which is at its core colonial. To describe, love or interpret Guam in this way is very limited and limiting, and must not be the only way we remake it as our home.


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