Monday, June 13, 2011

Para Siha Todu

I've been writing for months that "pro-buildup" groups on Guam have been strangely silent lately. The overtly pro-build side of Guam was for years the richest and most powerful on Guam, and nothing has changed. But for more than a year, those captains of industry and influence appeared to almost live in fear of small, protest and activist groups. They seemed content to sit on the sidelines and not just lick their wounds, but suck every drop of life from them, to keep from getting back into the debate and try to actually argue their side, and try to convince people, beyond the pointless rhetoric that the buildup really is good for Guam. Several weeks ago a new group emerged, Para Hita Todu which is promising to help give voice to the silent majority of Guam people who see the buildup as a good thing. Only time will tell how much they can accomplish, but so far, despite the fact that they represent so much money and power, they are off to a rather silly and almost comical start.

The pro-buildup side of the debate or the island, however you want to look at it, dominated the discourse for years. And as a result the discussion of the buildup was so disconnected to reality it reminded me of a Lady Gaga video. People imagined the buildup in such positive and completely pointless ways, it became something people wanted with an incredible urgency and argued desperately for, but knew so little about and understood even less.

Arguing for the buildup required almost no effort. You could make up anything and so long as it made a good thing sound better, people were on board. It was the discursive equivalent of hitting fish long dead in a barrel with tactical nuclear weapons. Before people even knew what the buildup would entail, when it was only numbers on a press release from Congresswoman Bordallo's office, people were already speaking definitively of how much good this would do and how it was a golden chance for Guam to get a leg up and to move ahead. Before we could even guess as to its costs, its benefits, its timelines, it was already being used as the stuff of wet and wild fantasies for the primarily most powerful and the most wealthy on Guam. Without any actual knowledge of what was going on or what was going to happen, they were promising that dreams would come true and that everyone's most speculative fantasies would become real.

It was such a pathetic site to see, so horribly disconnected from anything we even knew at the time, but the majority of the island willingly participated in what amounted to an orgy of wishful ignorance. Things have changed and the island seems different now, but the question I always grapple with is how and why?

I wish I could credit counter or anti-buildup groups alone for changing the tone of the debate and helping to shift things to the point where the buildup is no longer the fantastical golden ticket it was once thought to be. Groups such as We Are Guahan did play a significant role for transforming what the buildup would be as an object of discussion or analysis. No longer can you "intelligently" speak of the buildup in purely positive terms. No longer can you only focus on the positive things, because what has become the reality of the buildup has moved from the extreme of being awesome, closer to the middle, where it is mixed good and bad.

I should note that part of this blog post is inspired from a column I wrote in the Marianas Variety several months ago titled "The Dreamers" which criticized buildup supporters for publicizing and celebrating the dream of the buildup and never bothering to see what was really going on. This post takes that notion into a more lurid and risque direction, which sadly holds true despite the offensive nature of the metaphor ni' inayek as Guahu.

The truth is, we could also say that we are at the point we are now in terms of discussing the buildup, because of the nocturnal emissions of the whole fantasy of the buildup. Like a lusty, exciting and powerful wet dream, the buildup was displayed for all as making their wildest fantasies come true. The people of Guam were invited to dream along with those who felt they were going to make a lot of money, and enjoy this fantasy together. It was held up by things that the people of Guam run their lives and streamline their identities by, which are regularly not related to reality, but have a way of being mas magahet kinu magahet, more real than real. The positive side of the buildup required no actual evidence, no actual understanding of the issues involved, all you needed to know to feel good and support it and assume it was going to be awesome, were the narratives that keep Guam a pathetic colonial dependency; Uncle Sam is always ready and willing to save this island, and the buildup is just a new way it's doing that, the military is what makes Guam American and so we have to cater to them in order to keep ourselves American, and whatever the US does or brings to Guam is always good and improves things, by virtue of the US being the best country in the world. It was almost hysterical to see people talking about the incredible amount of jobs which would be brought into Guam, when the buildup did not exist in any form yet other than its mentioning or naming.

And so it was a fantasy in the non-psychoanalytical sense. A wishful dream, so potent and so strong, that it was almost impossible to not just embrace it and refuse to even imagine that it was not real. So people lived with this fantasy for years. They made sweet love to it each night of their dreams. They ate breakfast with it in the morning. They might have even raised fantasy children. Maybe they would sit on the couch and watch fantasy episodes of Glee each Wednesday. The fantasy seemed so real it was like a dream you could live in for a while. It seemed so real that you could lie to yourself all the time and pretend that you were being sustained when in truth you had no idea what was going on around you and in truth you are consuming nothing. You are being feed nothing and you are eagerly eating said nothing and asking for a helping of more.

As people sat for years eating this nothing, gaining no weight, gaining no happiness from it, gaining no real satisfaction except the delusion of being full, or the delusion of knowing that you are eating the "right" thing, they naturally, eventually, at last, put fin, woke up. You could argue that We Are Guahan and other groups helped wake the island up. You could say the Legislature played a big role in this. You could say that news out of the Washington D.C. or Tokyo helped yumahu i taotao siha. You could just argue that after a while the nothingness of this fantasy started to taste like something and people didn't like that something. So long as something tastes like nothing, you can infuse whatever taste you'd like into it. You can imagine that it is the most elegant of European cuisine, or the most authentic backyard tanke' treat, but the problem is, that once it begins to take on a taste, even if that taste is good, the fantasy begins to shimmer. It starts to slough away, drip and bend, like waning minutes of a polyjuice potion.

As it fades, there is no comfort, taya' minaguem, there is nothing nice about this intrusion of reality. Even if you are learning the truth and coming closer to understanding something, it feels just the opposite. It feels like someone has stripped you of everything, like they have teared off pieces of your flesh and your tilipas are revealed, twisted, disgusting and ready to pour out onto the floor. Reality is a feeling of rawness. Your body is tender, almost ashamed because of the embarrassment, most of all to yourself, of what you once believed to be true. One of the reasons that fantasies can be so difficult to release yourself from is that even if you know that they are false and that fina'baba' hao as siha, the prospect of the moment after the truth is fully revealed or no longer something to be ignored is a terrifying thought. You cower not waiting to feel that holy and unforgiving light which will reveal to all, but most importantly yourself, how incredibly stupid you were. How you savaged for days, months, years, or just huge chunks of your life, willful ignorance like it was a gourmet meal. Fantasies are so hard to let go of, because you have to eventually face the reality of your fantasy.
It is for this reason, that I sometimes laugh at how much the less than jubilant feelings over the military buildup that we find on Guam today, can be explained through the sticky metaphor of nocturnal emissions or wet dreams. People rolled around in bed, holding desperately to their pillows, their bedsheets, assorted stuffed animals, imagining that they were Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie or perhaps both at the same time. The buildup was that fantasy dream, like the bedsheets which take whatever form you want as you dream, precisely because there is nothing to them. Of course, at some point, unless you are in the movie Inception or Brazil, you have to wake up. And when you do, the dream evaporates, it bursts like a bubble, and the more real it felt, the more it mocks you as you blink your eyes awake and adjust your vision to the world around you. But like anything which felt so absolutely real, it must leave some sort of residue and that residue is what stains the buildup more than anything.

When I hear stories of Para Hita Todu trying to obtain signatures for a fanatically pro-buildup petition and having some difficulty, whereas just a few years ago it might have been simple, it is not solely because of the work of buildup opponents that this is so. That residue, the unwelcome, embarrassing and disturbingly wet and exposed feeling has just as much to do with it. You could call it buyer's remorse, and that would probably be a less obnoxious way of discussing this, but it would also be less interesting to write and frankly less effective in communicating the nature of the fantasy and how its disillusion has left the island in the miasma rich state it is today.

The question is however, can Para Hita Todu counter this apathy towards their cause? From what I have seen so far, I don't think they can. As I've already said a thousand ways, the buildup was devoid of substance for a long time, and Para Hita Todu, rather than learning from that past, seems as of now willing to continue that trend. In their press conference last week, they seemed to once again focus almost religiously on empty positives and actually argue that they will not discuss or take stances on possible negatives. After a night of fantasies which have become nothing but staining and cringing regret, Guam's people are most likely not looking for more rhetoric which will infuse new life into the already burst bubble of the buildup fantasy. For those wanting the buildup and wanting to believe it will be the golden ticket of yore, they most likely want leaders, an organization who will be able to use the cold, unforgiving language of the reality of the buildup and somehow lead them towards a new fantasy. To do this, you need to confront the buildup head on, and you need to not rely on empty pointless abstractions, such as "jobs, jobs, jobs" to make your point. The buildup is now a complex and dangerous thing. It is something which can bring good things to Guam and can also bring horrible things to Guam. If you want to argue it is good for Guam, you have to be prepared to deal with the bad, you have to offer a stronger and more durable fantasy, one which is able to stay strong and remain consistent even in the face of the things which laid waste to their predecessor.



1 comment:

Tamagosan said...

Very interesting. I'm glad you have thoughts on the matter because I only have a desire to run away from their petitions. (And I do!) There is an assumption that because I'm white, I will love their "cause", which is very insulting. I can think, too!

As for the "...majority of the island willingly participated in what amounted to an orgy of wishful ignorance", I'm afraid I've felt that way about the country as a whole for years.

Anyway, this is getting reblogged today and I'm adding a cool pic I took of some wall art that you might like.

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