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Bar Room Philosophy

The simulacrum is never what hides the truth--
it is truth that hides the fact that there is none.

ECCLESIASTES




My friend remarked recently how different drinking at home is from drinking in a bar. In the bar, there are no trips to the refrigerator, no need for preparing pulutan, no cleanup after, no wife, no kids, etc. It's just you, some company and the whole "bar experience." What do I mean with this? I mean all the pyrotechnics, sights and sounds that drinking out can offer that your garage and monobloc tables and chairs cannot.

Let us take an example. Of course let us begin with the servers. In my favorite watering hole, the bartender is always a lady in her twenties and never a man. Not that they do not have male employees--in fact they have as many--but because this is all by design. (I studied business, too, you know.) With make-up on, they wear brightly colored shirts that are worn in Safari expeditions and fairly decent shorts that still leave some room for the imagination. (I'm no pig. This is just what I see.)

Only the prettiest faces are made to serve in the bar much like how the the first three batters of the team are composed of reliable sluggers. Why? Because they are the ones that you shall see first and the longest. They are "presented" to you and you cannot but not see them in their nearness. But here's the kick: just like in the movie Coyote Ugly, they are ordered to appear available (near) but remain unobtainable (distance).

It is no secret that the bar is usually crowded by men in their thirties, forties or even fifties. I make no assumptions here--after all I always stay at the bar as well--but it takes no genius to safely say that these men (okay, we) enjoy the idea of being served cold beer in a frosted mug by a pretty bartender after a day of work. Yet, as you can presume, it can go beyond tequila shots or fat tips.

Since the bartenders have been my friends, they openly share with me how some customers go over the line, or should I say, over the bar. For instance, most ask for their cellular phone numbers. (I once witnessed this incident when, upon receiving the bartender's number, the pesky customer verifies it immediately by dialing the number only to be answered by an old man awoken from his sleep.) Others offer them employment opportunities in their companies: as secretaries, receptionists, trainees, etc. But some go as far as asking them out on dates in the hope of having a relationship that is obviously more than friendship. And these are married men.

It is easy to imagine why so many fall into that bait. Here you are, tired in your gusot mayaman barong, relishing the testosterone-filled company of friends, being served by a beautiful bartender who smiles as she pours your drink or voluntarily cleans out your ashtray once it has two cigarette butts in it. She brings you hot (though overpriced) food that you need only to conveniently select from a menu she makes sure to offer every now and then. And since the bar is rectangular in shape, the bartender inside is like an actress on a stage--you cannot help but see her or look at her. Finally, the greatest danger of all, one that loosens sweet lips and sinks all ships, there is the alcohol. Now you have the perfect recipe for debauchery.

Again, this is all by design. Do you think Hooters was an accident? From the uniforms to the smiles, from the complimentary drinks to the hairstyle, all these elements are presented in a way to lure you to come in and to make you come back. What is offered to you is a business proposition, in which they want you to invest. What they are selling is an attractive idea--attractive because it is unique and difficult to find elsewhere. More than the P80 beer or the free chicken wings is the idea that in here--and nowhere else--you will take pleasure in what you will experience.

"Desire," Aristotle says, "is the craving for pleasure" (Rh. 1.1370a18). It makes no sense to crave for pain. Pain, which for Aristotle includes "all acts of concentration, strong effort, and strain," is something to be avoided as long as possible (11). Thus the executive by the bar does not bring his notebook computer or talk business with the bartender. Those would be the last things in his mind. He is there for pleasure, which the Philosopher characterizes as "ease, freedom from toil, relaxation, amusement, rest," etc. (15). (It seems like Aristotle was the first to envision the anatomy of a perfect bar.) And what better way to be free from all pain than to be in a place which is fabricated to be so different from your office or house--these sources of pain? This is why we say "I'm going out" because "in here" I may not find that pleasure I seek or so desire.

The bar then is for some the ideal place for pleasure (while for others it may be the parlor or spa, the mall or the pictures, the zoo or the library, the coffee shop or the beach, etc.) because they neither work nor sleep in one. It is its difference against and freedom from the everyday routine (where I prepare my breakfast, see the same coworkers, do the dishes, etc.) that give me this pleasure. Here, I drink therefore I am. It is nothing but an evasion from the daily death we go through. And your favorite bar is more than willing to welcome you back from the grave.

Jean Baudrillard, in Simulacra and Simulation, notes that we no longer live in the real world but in the hyperreal--a model of the real without origin or reality. This is the age of simulacra and simulation but a time of danger as well because we do not know them to be merely simulacra and simulation. We take them as real but a world of fantasy it already is. He gives the example of Disneyland as "a perfect model of all entangled orders of simulacra" (12). With its drunk pirates and a tommorowland, its embodied cartoon characters on parade to its spacemountains, Walt Disney World is a world by itself--one of the imagination, of children and of dreams. And its gate separates the fantastic and the "real," where "the contrast with the absolute solitude of the parking lot--a veritable concentration camp--is total" (ibid.). Hence upon leaving that place you cannot but sigh as you head back to "the dessert of the real itself" (1). Back to the salt mines.

The bar: a man's Disneyland.

This is all well. After all, who's to blame a man or a child for wanting to leave the real to live in the hyperreal even for a night or a day? Are not vacations or breaks taken for that very purpose? Yet, as Baudrillard warns us, more dangerous than the contrast that the hyperreal (bar, Disneyland, etc.) exerts on the real (office, house, etc.), that is, the highlighting of their difference as such ("I wish I were in the bar or in Disneyland everyday"), lies a double, deeper deception. "Disneyland is presented," he says, "as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real..." (12). By reversing it, why do I not ask this instead: is doing clerical work for which I get paid too little in a dimly-lit office that's too small really real? Is this garland-carrying child whose face presses against my tinted car window supposed to be really real? When I get out of the fancy lights and warm smiles of the bar do I expect to be welcomed by a reality that is no less real?

This is Baudrillard's point: the "effect of the imaginary concealing that reality no more exists outside than inside the limits of the artificial perimeter" (14). The holographic contrast between the bar and my unkempt kitchen and between Disneyland and the neighborhood playground try to make us think that the former is ideal and the latter as resignedly real. There is consolation in this sleight of hand: that we go back to our "reality," perhaps with heads bowed but definitely with the assurance that there is no other possibility--for possibility is possibility because it is not in reality. This is why we can no longer imagine.

But Eastwood City is no less unreal than Tondo. The bartender is no less as tired than our maid. Outback's ribeye steak is as delicious as the crispy pata at home. Ateneo is only as reputable as the Atenean thinks it is. The public elementary school is as heavenly as the unschooled child dreams it. The pain of poverty is no more a problem than the rich man's vanity. Reality, unreality, hyperreality--which is which? I can go on and on but I know that you get it.

In a day where we can only find pleasure in an overpriced cup of coffee or amusement in a far-flung theme park, ask your self this one question: is it not high time to imagine a world other than this?

I shall be thinking about that in the bar tonight. Care to join me?

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