“The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.” – George Orwell, Why I Write
When Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich first used the term “post-truth” in an essay for the progressive newspaper The Nation in 1992, the internet was in its developmental stage. The new age of information has since reached a terrifyingly massive scale, but as we go through the times, the farther we tread an ironic path — to quote Tesich, of us as a free people who “freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world.” Two decades later, 2016 has uniquely and tragically embodied this concept — to people’s utter dismay or determined denial.
It is of utmost relevance to understand why art plays an important role in shaping our perspective of life’s intricacies and trivialities, a reason why “stay woke” is not merely a millennial catchphrase to invoke on social media, but a valid rallying cry to a world asleep. NINNO spoke or rapped about socially relevant issues on several occasions, one of the underlying themes that Third Culture Kid brought back to discussions in hip-hop. Sure, ‘conscious rap’ has been around since the ’80s in America’s Reaganomics and local emcees have previously made politics and social issues a focal point in their songs, fracturing the genre’s novelty appeal to the Filipino audience and the notion that it’s sole function is to entertain, and substance is optional, if not entirely not in the agenda. But for most part, the topic remains in periphery in local music.
It is one reason why it isn’t surprising to hear a work such as NINNO’s described as ‘brazen’, or even tagged as political. It is also not surprising for his songs to be misconstrued as a proponent of partisan politics that can feed false dichotomies between both ‘sides’. In fact, on ‘Simmer’, NINNO is brazen on laying down a dichotomy, one often seen as ultimately rigid: of justice and crime.
Director Michael Manalastas capably fleshed out the visuals for ‘Simmer’ in piercing and haunting candor. NINNO chose to play three characters whose lives are almost congruent with impersonality and violence: a soldier, a writer, and a ‘suspect’ – whose tales, more often that not, end up as a casualty, a liability, and/or a statistic. NINNO’s fictional take on Juan Dela Cruz, instead of using his own name in said characters, imparts that none of us are spared from meeting the same fate if crimes against the governing power are penalized with death under the cloak of ‘justice’. It is a commentary far less about political leanings but more about a political attitude: that justice is an entitlement, that for the sake of peace we must war against those who want to disturb it, and that sentiments opposed to the ruling power can be deadly.
‘Simmer’ galvanizes with its searing visual commentary the realities of our time – not just history – the actions and inactions we are all culpable of. As long as systematic oppression remains entrenched in our society, our freedom remains to be in vain.