When Machiavelli first published his book The Prince, it caused a great scandal and was met with violent attacks from different groups especially the clergy, declaring it a blasphemous work. My philosophy teacher titled the discussion of Machiavelli and his core ideas as ‘Politics as Porn’. The gist of The Prince is different ways of effectively maintaining power by a monarch or political leader. During this time, Italy was greatly divided making it prone to other European powers and Machiavelli’s intention in writing the book was for a strong leader to emerge and unite the peninsula. Other people found the contents of the book revolting since it reveals things various people in power are already doing, including the clergy. The Prince is a work of pornography since it shows something that should be kept hidden. Now, pornography strictly refers to sex and its representation in mass media. A material is pornographic, when it’s primary purpose is purely sexual gratification, it has no relevance to the plot, unnecessary, and thus should be censored because it will cause moral degradation of viewers. The Marcoses and the Marcos regime are closely tied to the establishment of both pornography and censorship in the country. Imelda is a 2003 documentary exploring the personality of the infamous former first lady, and I have a reason to believe that Ramona S. Diaz’ film is pornographic.

The documentary is made of interviews of Imelda and both her friends and critics, and some archival footages when she was still first lady. The film is basically Imelda according to Imelda, occasionally juxtaposed or contrasted to Imelda according to families and friends and Imelda according to enemies and critics. The film also shows the life story of Imelda highlighting key events from WWII to meeting Marcos to building of grand projects. The documentary often blurs its intention, when Imelda talks, at times it could be read as a tribute and sometimes as a critique if not outright utilization of ‘carnivalesque humor’ (especially when she was explaining her ‘philosophy’). But in order to arrive at a conclusion of the film’s intention one must take into consideration some of the technical aspects. First, the documentary format, a format almost alien to Filipino viewing public except probably the members of the intelligentsia. And second, English as the primary medium, when personalities talk in Filipino or any other non-English language/dialect it has English subtitles. The film was made to me shown outside the country, even winning an award at the Sundance Film Festival. Diaz also happens to be based in the US. Her carnivalesque treatment’s effect is not very different from Brocka, Bernal and co.’s aesthetics of poverty approach towards international film circuits, in sense that it capitalizes on rampant exoticism of the ‘Other’. And like many material that enter the US, the film’s stand is overtly conservative and uncritical. The role that US played in Marcos’ (and other US friendly dictators during the Cold War) rise and staying in power was not discussed.

Former Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos & Imelda Marcos
photo credits:

The film is pornographic because it dwells with the personality of the abuser not the structures of abuse giving its viewers, both Filipino and non-Filipino who may or may not had direct experience of Martial Law and its ultimate and ruthless forms, a sense of personal relief and gratification. But the thing is Imelda is real, and Martial Law was real. There were two periods when soft porn or ‘bold’ movies dominated the Filipino movie houses: at the imposition of Martial Law (early 1970s) and during its certain collapse (mid 1980s). These materials aimed to distract the mass population of the realities of the times; Imelda is an extension of this genre but in the post-EDSA period where most of the structures Marcos built are still in place (best example being an agency of censorship, MTRCB). Imelda is just another film that prevents Filipinos the opportunity of political maturity. This movie could have been differently read in a different context. But when one creates a movie like this in a time when various issues (e.g. human rights violations, cronies, hidden wealth, etc) of Martial Law hasn’t been completely resolved this movie is just pathetic, insensitive, and pornographic.


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