Buzzfeed’s Aria Inthavong sets an example on how to explore Asian stories
Disclaimer: This opinion piece is a depiction of the writer’s own thoughts, experiences and observations upon watching Buzzfeed and Aria Inthavong’s Solivagant series. This in no way reflects the opinions of the publication on which it is shared, nor does it reflect the opinions of the publication’s parent company or fellow businesses.
Perhaps one of my biggest bones to pick in western media is often their approach to exploring eastern concepts, stories and issues. May it be an urban legend, a famous true crime story or even popular Asian-made content, those from the west fall back into analyzing things through their lens. Unfortunately, it often feels less nuanced and more sensationalized and tokenized. They want to see and explore the complexities of Asians and the East on their terms which might further erase other voices. But then, enters Buzzfeed’s Aria Inthavong.
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In one of the episodes of his three-part series called Solivagant, Inthavong zeroes in on the urban legend of the My Way Killings. We’ve all heard the Frank Sinatra song at karaoke parties. It’s a track best paired after three buckets of beer when you’re well intoxicated and hoping to channel your favorite tito at parties. But according to the urban legend, a strange series of murders happened after the performance of this famous song. Inthavong dives deep to uncover the explanation behind this phenomenon. Are supernatural powers the cause of it? Or does a logical explanation exist?
TL;DR: it’s not a supernatural thing. The Buzzfeed video quotes Prof. Rolando B. Tolentino’s interview with The New York Times. He says, “The Philippines is a very violent society, so karaoke only triggers what already exists here when certain social rules are broken.” This means that these acts happen as results of something else, perhaps a verse sung off-tune or a karaoke queue stolen. It just so happens that it often occurs when it’s their turn for Frank Sinatra’s My Way.
But what makes Inthavong’s exploration of this urban legend unique is exploring another underlying effect: US Colonialism. Buzzfeed also features Dr. Mary Talusan Lacanlale, Ph.D who shares, “I think the more interesting story is how Filipinos are still sort of sensationalized or their performance of American music is really a spectacle for the world to be entertained by.” And honestly, I agree. From the amount of Filipinos winning singing competitions and the world’s fascination with our dancing inmates. Why are westerners only amazed by us when occurrences intersect with their pop culture? Would this be as entertaining if we interact with OPM? I beg to ask writers: Is the story even worth writing had unfortunate things happened to the classic beats of S2pid Luv?
It’s interesting to hear Aria Inthavong’s closing spiel in the video because he’s self-aware of something he’s susceptible to. Instead of falling back into Pinoy Baiting, Inthavong and Buzzfeed give platforms to Filipino scholars and experts. Context is provided thoroughly and objectively by professionals who know what they’re doing. Inthavong and his platform exist to offer a way to amplify their voices further.
May this be a lesson, not only to foreign media but also to our own local titles to follow suit. Be careful in picking who we feature and how we frame stories. Sure, we follow a lead and a slant—but answer me this, whose voices and stories should steer the conversation?
The entire Solivagant series is available on Aria Inthavong’s YouTube channel.
Art Gail Ordiales