Sunday, September 6, 2009

I am a Chaster Part 2

Anciano Uno, aka Ding Flores

I cornered @AncianoUno in YellowCab at the post-concert gathering so he could tell me their stories and the history of each Chaster person and Chaster site he knew about.

@AncianoUno, or simply Uno, was gracious enough to lend me his ear and spare me his time, as there were new Chasters he lent his time to and made sure to feel welcomed that late evening. I followed each Chaster online after that, and came to know even more of them, especially those based overseas.

Online, I read how Uno would defend Charice earnestly and passionately, or write his thoughts about how she and her songs have transformed him. In the few hours I came to know Uno face-to-face, he struck me as somewhat of a real fan-anatic (as they all were), an articulate no-nonsense guy who, later I discovered, had intense interest in history and regular guy-talk subjects like military stuff, cars and gadgets. Really, a rather typical guy. I could tell he had a temperament, yet was gracious and seemed very protective of everyone.

He seemed to have been very curious about my Q&A moments with him that, at one point, he asked if I was a reporter. I always found that amusing as I never thought I'd ever give that impression.

In my eagerness to know more about these people and document them, I not only saw to it that I had the chance to sit with each and find out their thoughts, but also took photos of their interactions. I was surprised at how Uno evaded such photo sessions especially without his ubiquitous Ray-ban Aviators on. "It's near-midnight, for christsakes!," I told him. He gave a wry answer and simply said he didn't want to have his picture taken without them.

I obliged, of course, but managed to take photos of him without it. Whether he knew I was shooting with him in the frame or not did not matter, except when once I announced that I was giving out copies of these online and he requested to not include anything that may have his image in those without the shades.

I continued to have communication with the other Chasters I spent time with that evening, either by email, chat or, occasionally, SMS. I was able to meet with some of them again a week or so after (05 July) in another of Charice's gig at Greenbelt when I joined them in the post-show's tete-a-tete. I missed that Greenbelt gig but made sure I saw the group who went to watch it.

As usual, it was one of those shows that was announced on short notice, and only those who could free themselves from work or school were able to go. Uno wasn't there and there were fewer than 8 who did show up. He said later on that he would rather not be passing on whatever infection he had due to the flu-like condition he was in at the time.


Uno had been missing in action for a few days in the final weeks of August. His last few posts were those of his prolonged coughing and muscular spasms and fever.

I remember reading a post quite hastily in the last week of August, of him planning a walk at the back of the Mall of Asia for some fresh air, and responding to that with an invitation to an exhibit in the same venue I was working on. I never got a reply to that post.

On Thursday, Sept 03, 2009, I received an SMS message from @Narita, @Love and @Tintol about Uno being rushed to the hospital and in a state of coma. I helped with re-broadcasting this message to Charice's sites so that the other Chasters would know about it.

No sooner had this been reposted than a flood of well wishes and inquiries of support were called out. It was quite a touching development.

Even years after the Chasters had "known" each other, a majority still remained clueless as to who the real people were behind each username. Unless there were chances at arranging real-life gatherings, many Chasters still knew each other only by these aliases and exchanged pleasantries online. There were few such gatherings ever arranged, some as instant as meeting up at a mall to watch Charice promote and sing, yet even those announcements are made only hours before any confirmed date and venue, as was the case in Greenbelt.

It was therefore quite extraordinary to witness a real outpouring of support from a community that really only exist in the virtual world. I can say that Charice is fortunate to have real people who not only exist online to support her — after all, what are YouTube view figures but really just virtual numbers, and chat greetings, impersonal characters transmitted through wires and cables — but luckier is she still that there are real warm bodies who truly support each other when the need arises: flesh and blood empathy that is felt across virtual channels that surprise even the uninvolved and clueless, like Uno's own family members.

I wasn't able to pay Uno a visit at the hospital. @Narita, @Tintol, @Pin, @Smee, @Love and @Bosio did in batches, as the ICU visiting hours were strict and limited.

@Narita, a died-in-the-wool Charice fanatic who listens to eternal loops of Charice's songs in her car and through her iPod, made the unconscious, unresponsive Uno listen to these while he was strapped with tubes and surrounded by machines at the ICU. Uno responded by shedding tears. It would be an experience both @Narita and @Tintol will never forget.

Thank you

For Uno, who was fighting for dear life when I started writing this, and who, at 345pm today, Sept. 6, 2009 (PHI), lost the battle, thank you for the time you shared with me and the videos you so tireless took and uploaded for everyone to see.

We know how truly freed you are now from the pains brought about by that nasty disease you thought you could out-battle, and how ecstatic you may be at being reunited with your father who arrived at Peace just weeks before. As is my silent prayer, you and those who got through earth life ahead are truly at rest, in peace.

Thank you, Uno, Nonito Raymundo "Ding" Flores. As I unmask you to the world now, I shall unmask myself as well, for there is no better time than now to say: like you, I am a Chaster.

Read Part 1 here.

I am a Chaster, Part 1

TO BE A FAN IS TO BE bestowed a label that, on one hand, not everyone is comfortable with — as there is a stigma to being a "fan" — while on the other, as like in any social identity and group affiliation especially in today's wired societies, to take pride in wearing a badge that comes with the association; an agreement and ready acceptance because fan experiences and emotions are shared with candor and without prejudice.

However, let me add two more to these types of groups: those who neither abhor such identities, nor openly declare die-hard loyalties, e.g the fence-sitting believers who refuse to justify their identifications and simply want to be left to their private obsessions; and fourth, the downright indifferent.

There is something about fans and fan bases that is simultaneously enigmatic but at the same time invites resistance because they are almost always perceived as shallow and pretentious. This world that moves in the underlayers of showbiz and across all industries related to entertainment is what can fully make or break a product, brand or person.

I can swear by and preach about the benefits of a computer brand, for instance, yet refuse to be called being called a "fan girl" of it. I guess I can say I belong to the fence-sitting believers; I can say as much to being one of many things and people — until recently.

A Fan

After being blown away a third time watching Filipina singer Charice Pempengco rather belatedly on a recorded Oprah Show episode over at YouTube middle of this year, I unconsciously started to follow links that came up in my searches about her.

Charice's songs and those in her genre are nowhere near the periphery of my music interest nor are the regular staples of local variety shows who yell at their microphones and sing their lungs out to their hordes of followers. Yet there was something about her that drew me to spend idle moments looking up videos on YouTube, a site that feels like it has existed online forever but which I purposely stayed away from because it was, to me, the epitome of boredom and careless use of bandwidth except on occasions when I'd be provided a LOL-cat link or two (my online equivalent of the funnies), or follow some documentary or conference talk that are more in my line of interest.

In the days that progressed, I found myself clicking on more and more related searches and was surprised at the sheer number of video uploads of Charice. I watched home videos of her singing in the privacy of her room or casually in groups, of what looked like a clandestine footage of her being emotional in the airport lounge before another departure for America; of her dancing with friends, or singing to the camera in a music store in a mall, or of her plunging right into the crowd during a song number without missing a beat.

As I delved into this near-obssesion, the more I became interested to know about who the people were behind the uploaded videos (technically known as "channel owners"), and get to know more beyond the now familiar YouTube users "FalseVoice" and "Coolsmurf" who were responsible for Charice's break into the American mainstream. It cannot be denied that Charice is, after all, a product of the Internet, and YouTube her launch pad.

A whole new world

And so I came upon Charice's fan sites — yes, there isn't just one — from where I saw familiar usernames like the channel owners I came across on YouTube. By then, I was curiously drawn into a world where the people in those sites, identified by aliases, wrote like they spoke differently, almost in codes, in which words like "Labyo", "Cha", "AIWALY", "AIATY" and "crab" come up often, and who posted information and facts about Charice with some degree of authority which I relished quietly and digested. This was a whole new world I certainly wasn't familiar with: her ardent, long-time followers who spoke their own language, engrossed in their own preoccupation.

They, cloaked under usernames (as is common in Internet chat rooms and forums, e.g.) were as anonymous as anything that one could not make out their genders except when usernames are obviously male or female or when avatars, graphic representations of themselves, are a giveaway to their persons. Yet by their short and terse interactions, sometimes serious, other times just plain silly, they seemed like a tight-knit community who knew Charice enough to refer to her by her nickname, or even call her mother like their own.

I found myself a little lost wading through a sea of multi-media information about Charice that I started filling up my already bloated list of bookmarks in an attempt to put some order to the chaos. Little by little, I, too, was getting immersed into discussions and exchanges that went so fast I couldn't keep up.

At the same time, my limited hard drive space was slowly getting filled with videos I meant to watch offline and to somehow ID chronologically but which I never, up to this day, gotten to doing.

A "Chaster"

"What's that?", you ask.

Since there is no link or page that defines the word, let me do it for you: A Chaster (ˈchäs-ter) is a follower of the young Filipina singer Charice Pempengco. She used this to identify those whom she met and had constant communication with over the internet; those who follow her and whom she follows in return.

The name was supposedly given by Charice herself to this group of followers — her online chat-mates who, over time, she too had come to know, and who provided her online company way ahead of her becoming "an international singing sensation" and a hit in the US entertainment market.

The word sounds strange enough and a little juvenile; a bit pedestrian, even. It's not that a Chaster is more chaste than the average celebrity fan, nor more religious, blindly idolizing to a fault.

While I remained the "casual" reader of each Chaster post and discussion, by then still completely the opposite of any of my interests with other people I usually interact with online and in real life, suffice it to say that I felt a little envious each day at their posts on the fan sites. Yet I held back jumping in, in part because I could have potentially blown my schedule off, then already becoming tighter and trickier to manage as a result of giving in to watching more and more videos and reading up more information about her. I also simply could not afford to be spending additional time online chatting with another group of strangers on top of the others I was used to chatting with already.

In my visits to these fan sites, I subsequently picked up a term each day from these fan discussions as it was necessary to understand the context and flow of their conversations. Furthermore, the more familiar I became of usernames, of their manners and their language, the more curious I was of them.

Who were these people? What draws them to Charice? Where are they from? What do they do other than chat, upload videos or interact with each other, or be obsessed with exchanging gig schedules and appearances and composing fan tributes and photos in their personal sites and such?

Were they the typical celebrity fan who would line up in network stations for hours than be in school or at work? Were they the fans who outscream other celebrity fans in television shows and concerts?

Were they today's rabid Noranian-vs-Vilmanian follower who would pick a fight to show how devoted they are to a celebrity without thinking of personal consequences? As far as I knew, this type exists today only with the overrated TV matinee idols because the local music industry had been on a plateau for some time now, partly as a result of its own complacency, partly a victim of the industry itself not supporting and developing real talents enough.

Beginning the Journey

My interest and searches of the Chaster world that unselfishly support her came just in time as she was scheduled to do a major concert in Manila in June after the successful debut of her single in America.

It was through them that I became more informed of details about this concert, of what others were saying about her, of her scheduled interviews and whatnot; of her public thoughts and sentiments. It was also through them that I saw an unbelievable show of support not just for her but for each other, something that, as far as I know, I had not come across in any other online community nor in any of my own online community memberships.

For they were, I came to know, mostly mothers and motherly, both working in offices or working hard at home; fathers and the fatherly, caregivers and business owners, executives and truckers, students in school and students of life . And they were all over the world.

It was through their solid and unified coordination that enabled followers and late converts to watch the concert and be up close and personal not just with Charice but with each Chaster I met and connected with on 27 June 2009 after her concert ended.

Uncloaked, unmasked

In the late post-concert hours of June 27, there I finally came to know @Narita who, like countless others, readily bought tickets for Charice's fans who otherwise could not have afforded tickets that evening; @Monkiedoggie and @Irmsmith who were patiently waiting at the lobby for the latecomers.

I met the Chaster organizers @Mitch and @Garfield at the Meet and Greet and fell in line with @Tintol and her friend.

I had a good time hearing stories at YellowCab Pizza nearby the concert venue about their being fans, unknown suporters and converts: of @Ecirol, @Lemur, @Fem_z, @Pin, @Bing, @Smee, @Love, @Ejadroba, @Scrub, @Joyze and countless others whose names escape me now.

And it was here where I met, finally, YT channel user and fansite moderator @AncianoUno, who, with @Smee, are two of a handful of local male Charice fans who tireless follow her every gig and mall tour and post videos of these online for all to watch.

All the other Chasters I met were pretty much regular people and surprisingly timid. Some came from out of town just to watch the concert. Others managed to secure an early exit from work. Based on the concert attendance, I learned that the demographics of Charice's fanbase is wide: a high school student from Bacolod, an entrepreneur from San Fernando, Pampanga, nurses and lecturers, bank employees, overseas workers from the Middle East, doctors, mothers, retirees, and even a politician.

As in any other growing community, I also came to learn that there were some personal issues among the certified Chasters, they who wear the Chaster badge proud. Yet the underlying fact of their coming together that one night, in real time and in real life, was to have a great sharing of experience and to simply be there for Charice.

Clearly, it is they for whom she tries her best to deliver and give her best in spite of Charice being under the weather that momentous concert day, for instance, and at every stage and performance hall she finds herself in overseas. In as much as each Chaster followed her, online and off, Charice made sure she followed back. I could tell that from personal experience.


Top photo taken from "Charice: The Journey Begins", SMX | krvilla.2009


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