No. Not. Not yet.
That’s the answer to—can partying and Covid-19 co-exist?
I didn’t have to give the question a thought. Social media did—with fury.
This week saw the unrelenting bashing of our good friend Tim Yap and actor Raymond Gutierrez—the former for his birthday bash (more than two weeks ago) in Baguio and the latter, for his dinner in a BGC restaurant. Obviously, both occasions had more than two or three people. Obviously, both occasions were celebratory.
The bashing came in reaction to social media posts of people dancing and posing for photos sans face masks or social distancing—the images of partying were more than enough to provoke anger, derision, condemnation in social media and rebuke in mainstream media.
Tim has apologized, and rightly so, and added that he didn’t mean to cause anyone harm. Indeed, the three decades I’ve known him (he started as a fresh college graduate-correspondent in our lifestyle section), he never came across as a harmful individual—he’s a friend to everyone, everyone, even to the unfriendly demographic. That was how he built a lucrative (don’t count the zeroes in the bottomline) career as eventologist—by making new and newer friends and by working hard. Name the task, he will and can do it. Of late, we even noted how he’s become a fun and witty MC. A curious sidelight to this fracas is that some of Tim’s friends believe that the anti-Tim posts have been fueled by some cliques to divert attention from Raymond’s dinner.
But that is digressing.
The obvious lesson from all this is—the country, indeed the world, is still in a pandemic, the dire effects of which have shown no sign of abating. And no way is the world going back to the old normal, and by old normal, we mean 2019 (in a pandemic-timeline, 2019 is nostalgia). Not any time soon. Not in 2021. Not even with the vaccine.
The new normal—the clear, present reality— is that viral contamination continues. The health and medical community has yet to master full knowledge of it and its treatment. There remains so many “knowledge gaps”—as health columnist Dr. Rafael Castillo said in an interview with TheDiarist.
2021 isn’t really a new year—it is a grim continuation of 2020
Face masks, social distancing, testing, contact tracing, lockdown, living in a bubble, work from home—these continue to define how we must live today. Work from home, but party? There’s disconnect right there.
The Christmas season allowed us our family and friend reunions—but even those were in a limited capacity, like less than 10 people in a physical, protocol-dictated gathering. I’ve heard about big clans who resorted to ingenious-concept Zoom reunions or who followed a staggered schedule of physical reunions so that not everyone was together at the same time.
While the holidays allowed the intrinsically sociable Filipino his/her need for social connectivity, now we must be back to current reality. And the reality is, which the Tim Yap fiasco made apparent, is that the pandemic lifestyle isn’t compatible (mild term) with big partying—not even with health protocols in place (even the shuttle was down to only five passengers, we heard), because partying, by its very definition, is social interaction. Any big gathering (10 or more) is a potential “spreader.”
And—people can’t help but post in social media; social media presence seems to be in the Pinoy DNA today. This was what created the backlash to the gigs of Tim and Raymond. The IG/YouTube posts captured the merrymaking and the huddling for photos—that it was only for a few minutes or seconds didn’t matter, the party-while-Rome-burns perception was what mattered.
People now say that what they did seemed tone-deaf—you don’t whoop it up when the pandemic is nowhere near the finish line. 2021 isn’t really a new year—it is a grim continuation of 2020. That is a fact.
And that fact, in specific terms, means: people are dying; people are getting sick; frontliners continue to be heroic; people have lost their jobs, businesses or means of livelihood or are about to; people feel unsafe in their environment and are not confident about the governance; people are facing depression; poverty is more real now than ever. That is the new normal.
It’s about time influencers redefined their role or what they stand for, if they are to continue pushing brands and to continue making money.
‘Just think of this, if a restaurant or firm is closed down for violation of health protocol, people lose their jobs—adding to the already growing unemployment’
More than style or glamour, people now need authenticity, compassion, empathy and hope—and of course, a cure for the virus. And you don’t create that through social media posts that further alienate people. Unfortunately, the spotlight that is social media is harsh and cruel. Your millions of followers could be used for or against you.
It is no rocket science why the global dominance of BTS (yes, we can’t write enough about this phenomenal force) even grew in this pandemic. It’s because, using the powerful digital platform, these digital natives went beyond their music to give the message of hope that your life could try to be normal amid the abnormal (Life Goes On), and that this pandemic “can’t cancel spring.” They don’t alienate their audience by partying; they even toned down their digital performances. Instead they connect to people by speaking the people’s feelings, by being their voice—without seeming fake.
Like it or not, 2021 is still no party mood; it continues to be about survival—a prayer that you don’t catch the virus even as you try to work and stay connected. I have two sons who go out every day—to work. And each time they leave the house—for their livelihood, not for lifestyle—I say a prayer that they stay well. A friend noted, “Just think of this, if a restaurant or firm is closed down for a violation of health protocol, people lose their jobs—adding to the already growing unemployment.” He was stressing the need for “responsible” socializing, if indeed one must socialize.
People can’t stay cooped-up forever. We must fuel the economy; we can’t curtail consumption; we must support businesses (e.g. restaurants, retail stores). But it must be a sustainable pandemic-lifestyle.
The key word is pandemic—meaning the threat of catching the virus is still there. Commenting on the we-tested-negative party protocol, a medical specialist told me: “Your current negative result doesn’t mean you will not get contaminated after the test. As I jokingly said, that is similar to taking a pregnancy test as a form of birth control…Even in a room full of Covid-negative people, there are no guarantees. Many things can still happen from the time you were tested to the time you were at the party.”
What Baguio should have done was tap into a people’s nostalgic world—not into Tim Yap’s party crowd
Intimate get-togethers or dine-outs (four or little more people) are sustainable—with physical distancing.
Baguio, like Boracay or Siargao, needs sustainable tourism. But unfortunately, in these times, it is not smart to market Baguio as a “party place.” A video clip of a serene Baguio filled with pine trees (or what’s left of these), with pockets of art and creative life (BenCab Museum) would have done it. People long to go out but remain in a safe bubble—away from the madding crowd of contagion.
What Baguio should have done was tap into a people’s nostalgic world—not into Tim Yap’s party crowd.
Places that are about to revive themselves as tourist destinations could take note of the rise of the “pandemic tourist”—he/she wants to get away, but wants to feel and stay safe. Today’s tourist wants a breath of fresh air and the sight of fresh scenery—while staying in his/her own bubble. Travel as an experience must be sanitized thrill (oxymoron until Covid 2020).
In his text message to me, the media/PR-savvy Tim Yap stressed that ironically, it is “pandemic travel” that he’s been after all this time: “My aim was to promote tourist destinations that have reopened recently, to inspire confidence in local tourism and it is very unfortunate that a few minutes of footage have put this in a bad light.”
He reiterated that the circulating video has been “edited where you see people dancing was only a few minutes snapshot, versus 3-4 days of responsible touring of Baguio.” He also said that artists and artisans were able to sell their ware to the Tim Yap entourage.
In truth, any gathering of people poses a risk in this pandemic. It remains to be seen how we can make our own “bubbles” work for us and the community.
Some brands still insist on physical events. Good luck. How do you make an event of 20 or 50 people cost-effective?
You really have no choice but to cross over to the digital platform. Digital technology is the science of possibilities. You’re limited only by your imagination, creativity—and no fear of technology. You just have to craft the relevant content and message.
Could this pandemic be seeing the end of the “left to right” era—as the obligatory firing-squad posing for photos (captioned from left to right, get it?) is called? Can’t tell for sure, but let’s give it a rest. And even if we do “left to right,” should we post photos on social media and risk the rightful ire of netizens? It makes you think twice.
But then, living today isn’t only about thinking. More important it’s about feeling—for the less fortunate “other.” (There’s no marketing book for that.)