№ 9. Agatha Christie, Yin Xin, and Intentions in Imitation

(On weekends, a smorgasbord of discoveries made both offline and online will be featured here, to celebrate how the Internet is full of oddities and ideas from the real world.)

1. Murder on the Orient Express

Since its release in 1934, Agatha Christie’s best-selling novel about a murder on the Calais Coach has repeatedly been hailed one of the greatest pieces in her collection, if not one of the best whodunits of all time. Her story’s confined set-up and most shocking plot twist — as well as its eccentric but much-loved protagonist, Monsieur Hercule Poirot — altogether make for a compelling inquiry into the ambiguous limits of human morality.

The novel’s acclaimed film adaptation from 1974 did not fail to touch on the many faces of this morality. It did not hurt to be aided in this endeavor by a cast of the most notable names in their day: Ingrid Bergman, Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, and Sean Connery, to name a few. Acclaimed thespian and director Kenneth Branagh seeks to recreate this feat later in 2017, although strangely there are no trailers for the movie yet. Here’s hoping that the remake will not be a disappointment to both new and old fans of this curious case.

2. After Old Masters

The French term chinoiserie pertains to an artistic style that incorporates East Asian motifs into European art; an early, acceptable sort of cultural appropriation, it may be said. The Chinese artist Yin Xin subverts this in a collection called After Old Masters | another perspective, where he takes some of the most recognizable European paintings of old and gives their subjects Asian features. The point of such a vision, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London claims, is “to stress how the observer’s perception of artistic value is determined by his or her cultural context.”

To be sure, the collection alludes to the universality of the likes of Manet, Vermeer, Botticelli — but it also hints at the literal lack of non-European faces in what is perceived as mainstream art.

3. Google Fortunetelling

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“Of course we can’t predict your future!” the user is later chastised in the results page of Google Fortunetelling, an awareness project initiated by the world’s largest search engine. With the Syrian refugee crisis continuing to grow every day with no signs of abating, unaffected people elsewhere someday might just come to reduce the victims’ numbers to a mere statistic and cease caring altogether. After all, continued exposure to an issue tends to desensitize a person, and many of us are prone to not caring about problems abroad until the same thing happens in our own neighborhood.

The faux-fortunetelling site is then but one of a few creative means to keep netizens engaged in, even sympathetic to, the plight of the refugees. Only time may tell if the website will continue to circulate, to make others stop and think, but with luck and humane structural solutions, the site need not operate for very long.

4. “Beauty and the Beast” Karaoke [Philippines politics edition]

Not for the first time, Filipinos turn to humor to alleviate the feeling of civilian helplessness over our turbulent political scene. In this case, humor comes in the form of a lyrical breakdown of Celine Dion’s iconic “Beauty and the Beast” — the theme song of the Disney classic whose 2017 remake became the sixth all-time highest-grossing movie in the Philippines less than two weeks after its local release.

Twitter user Stewart O‘s thread is neither a parody nor a translation, but a visualization of the lyrics that just happens to correspond with the more frustrating episodes of our national government’s drama. Read it and weep, laugh, or sing along.

5. Commonwealth x ASICS GEL-Lyte V “Kultura”

Tributes and homages to old traditions abound in all modern industries, and not least in the world of fashion. When said homage is paid by way of a product, however, a very fine line exists between honoring and profiteering. Such is the problem with locally unknown brand Commonwealth, whose collaboration with the equivalently popular name ASICS has spawned the “Kultura” footwear, “a sneaker that pays homage to one of the [Philippines’] preserved traditions.”

This tradition is none other than batok, a form of hand-tap body art originating from the Kalinga ethnic group in the Cordillera region of Luzon. Its oldest and most notable practitioner is century-old Apo Whang Od, whose bucketlist-level fame among tourists and international backpackers is doubtlessly what brought said art into the radar of Commonwealth in the first place; and the part that does not merit enough indignation as it ought to is that no matter how well-intentioned the tribute, it only betrays how poorly the tradition is understood.

At the end of the day, batok is ideally administered only to persons having physically and mentally proven themselves to their tribe, but the sneaker user — almost reminiscently of the Philippine colonial experience — has bypassed that rite of earning the tattoo for an easy US$ 160.

Of course, not all patrons of this product will be uninformed; the issue nonetheless remains that the price to pay for convenient access to an art is actually the cheapening and misunderstanding of said art. This may conjure up the long-standing debate between exclusivity and accessibility in art, but that had best be elaborated on another time. For now, let it be said that imitation might only be the sincerest form of flattery when it is not done for the mere sake of imitating.