Saturday, November 10, 2007

Media Should Not Glorify Suicides

The tragic story of Mariannet Amper, the 12-year-old girl from Davao City who committed suicide due to poverty, has gained considerable attention and sympathy. As usual, media is blaming government while government is washing its hand saying hers is an isolated case, while Lingayen Archbishop Oscar Cruz says we are all to blame.

It takes a village to raise a child. I agree with Bishop Cruz that we all are to blame for the death of Mariannet Amper. Her parents are to blame for not acquiring more marketable skills that would have raised their take-home pay. They should also be scolded for bringing into this world children that they cannot adequately provide for. Media is equally guilty for influencing our children's consumerist attitude and for the lionizing the death of Mariannet (she is now dubbed patron saint of poverty in today's Inquirer editorial here). Government is to blame for creating the over-all situation of widespread poverty and low incomes.

But on the other hand, no one is entirely to blame for Mariannet's death. Her father was a carpenter and therefore did not belong to the "idle poor." In fact, her father was able to advance P1,000 from his employer and was on his way home so he can presumably tell his children that they could now go back to school. Davao City is one of the best places in the country to live in - the standard of living is low, there is peace and order and they have a good performing mayor there - in fact, it is one of the few places in this country where government truly works. Philippine media has been accused of perpetuating consumerism and hopelessness by constantly depicting a "doom and gloom" picture of our country. But this doesn't push those living below the poverty line to take their own lives en masse. Far from it, many of the poor people I see seem to be always smiling. And judging from the number of their children, I think it's safe to assume that many of them are not suffering from depression (as depression lowers sex drive - read more here).

As a father to a 3-year-old boy, I constantly worry about what the future holds for my son. Although it may seem (judging from my blog topics here) that I spend most of my time thinking about politics in our country, that is not the case. Like most Filipinos, I worry about mundane things most of the time. I worry about paying the bills, my house amortization, my VISA card arrears, the ever-rising cost of gasoline and basic commodities, how to increase my monthly income, etc. Mostly I worry about being able to provide my son a good education which, with the rising cost of tuition and deteriorating quality of instruction, is getting harder and harder to obtain. I worry about teaching him the correct values and work ethic which, amidst the corruption and instability, is getting harder and harder to acquire. I worry for my boy because various studies show that girls are more likely to finish school than boys, are more likely to succeed in their careers and get far in life (read Inquirer's Michael Tan "Wanted: Female" article, PCIJ's "Favored as Boys, Disadvantaged as Men" by Jaileen Jimeno and this Newsweek article "The Trouble With Boys" by Peg Tyre).

How times have changed. I notice that children today have become more and more materialistic. A typical 12-year-old kid today already knows the difference between a LaCoste shirt and a Hang Ten shirt. There are even elementary-age boys who can tell that a Mercedes Benz SLK is more expensive than a Toyota Camry. I also observe that kids today demand instant gratification. Back when I was a teenager, I had to wait literally 'til Christmas for the pair of Nike Air shoes that I so wanted back then. If I wanted a new Tears for Fears CD or latest Batman comics, I had to save my school allowance. I remember that Levi's jeans was the height of fashion then and the I car I longed to drive when I grew up was a Mitsubishi Lancer (box-type). And this was not too long ago mind you - I recently turned 35 last October - but it seems that our values changed overnight. Kids today not only want expensive things like I-Pods, laptops and PSPs but they want it instantly.

In other cultures, suicide is viewed as an acceptable, even noble way of ending one's life. Defeated samurai warriors would slit their bellies rather than live their lives in shame and European nobles would drink poison in order to redeem their honor. Moslem radicals would even blow up themselves in the belief that they would go to heaven. It is only in Catholic countries like the Philippines where suicide is viewed as a mortal sin. Catholic dogma tells us that any person taking his or her own life will go straight to hell. The parish priest also is not supposed to bless and allow the victim's cadaver to be interred in any Catholic cemetery. But instead of condemnation, the suicide of Mariannet has elicited widespread sympathy for her and her family.

In this country, if you were born poor chances are you will also die poor. It may be that Mariannet was a deeply perceptive child and seeing the hopelessness of her situation, refused to live a life of endless suffering and indignity. Suicides are a cry for help and it may be that Mariannet was simply calling attention to her plight. Or it may only that she became despondent for not getting a new shoe. We will never know what went on in young Mariannet's mind.

I think it is wrong for media to lionize Mariannet as the patron saint of poverty and glorify suicide as a noble way out of poverty because it might influence other children to think that it is okay to take your own life. It might induce copycats especially among our teen-aged children. I remember that "sex scandal" videos mushroomed in the country after the Paris Hilton sex video came out. Let's just hope that Mariannet's suicide will not start a trend among our youth.

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