By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento
Who or what is a Karen? According to an American English dictionary: “Karen is a pejorative slang term for an obnoxious, angry, entitled, and often racist middle-aged white woman who uses her privilege to get her way or police other people's behaviors.” Karen is convenient as it was one of the most popular names for women born in the latter part of the Baby Boomer generation—during the late 1950s to early 1960s.
We are a brown race, so white doesn’t apply for a Karen in the Philippine setting. Also, replace the racism with class snobbery, or the rankest forms of being mata pobre. The widely circulated interview by Boy Abunda of wannabe First Lady Louise “Liza” Araneta Marcos, shows the inner ticking of the Filipina Karen. The second Mrs. Marcos dismisses Abunda’s suggestion that she might consider public service, with a disdainful, “But to enter government—no way. They can’t afford me and I’ll fire all of them.” Her rolling eyes and disdainfully curling lips, speak volumes of her contempt for the rank and file Philippine government employee, without whose labors our nation would grind to a halt. Ano pa kaya ang tingin niya sa mga walang matinong trabaho, sa mga nasa laylayan ng ating lipunan? This clip with its disrespectful messaging is much shared on the pro-Marcos sites. The millions who enjoyed the kabastusan that propelled the current president to power, seem to enjoy hearing its feminine iteration. Those who prop up authoritarians and despots embrace being talked down to and degraded.
Much has been made of Mrs. Marcos Jr.’s stating in the Abunda interview, that (she’s) very New York: it’s (her) way or the highway. A revealing September 2021 interview on TicTalk with Aster Amoyo (TTAA) confirms how Mrs. Marcos Jr. stops at nothing to get her way, even in seeming trivialities. At the 46:00 minute mark on the TTAA YouTube video, Dayunior relates how when they were just dating, so sometime between 1989 and 1993, a Filipino friend who was visiting New York, wanted to watch Miss Saigon. However, only two tickets were available for the sold-out show. Even then, it was Liza Araneta’s way or the highway.
Dayunior animatedly narrates how the soon to be Mrs. Marcos Jr. bent Broadway to her will. She reasoned with the box office clerk, not entirely truthfully, that they came all the way from the Philippines just to watch this show. She pleaded and cajoled, or as her husband puts it “nilandian niya”--just so they could get that third ticket for their party. Neither Dayunior nor Liza Araneta seem to have considered that one of them might just opt to not go to the show and give way to their guest for the second ticket. After all, they lived in New York, so they had probably already watched it, or they could just go another time instead.
Finally, in true Karen fashion, Liza Araneta demanded “I want to see your manager—NOW!!!” But first, she made Dayunior and their friend move far enough away so they wouldn’t have to witness what she, a lawyer with the New York Bar, was about to do, just so they could all get in to Miss Saigon. Dayunior added that the third ticket was free, or just at the cost of punching down a lowly box office clerk and the theater manager. A chair was set in the aisle for that third colorum ticket, probably in violation of fire safety codes, proving once more that the Marcoses and their intimates could get away with breaking the rules. After all it was Dayunior’s mother who said, with reference to how her Romualdez relatives were raking it in, that “Some are smarter than others.”
Impunity might be ingrained in the DNA. As Dayunior tells it, apparently that incident was when he realized he had to marry her. “Hindi niyo ikinahiya?” the TTAA host asks him. Dayunior emphatically declares that no, he was “proud, very proud.” Earlier, he mentioned that his wife’s high-handed tactics and persistence, have also gotten them upgrades. Might there be something to talk swirling about, how it’s not just the unpaid taxes, but even something as small as unpaid excess baggage fees?
When those who should be leading by example, choose to flaunt their breaking the rules and getting away with it, in matters both big and small, then as the poet W.B. Yeats wrote--
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Menchu Aquino Sarmiento is an award-winning writer and a social concerns advocate. IRL (In Real Life) are short verbal pagmumuni-muni, the essay equivalent of fast fiction--but in real life. She really wants more Filipinos to care, and to do something legal and non-violent about it, preferably together, so that we act more like a civilized country, a mature democracy.