POPULAR literature can be a springboard for readers to have a deeper appreciation of canonical works and scholarly literature, said Nida Ramirez during the first USTingan series of the year hosted by the UST Center for Creative Writing Center and Literary Studies last Sept. 22 at the Tanghalang Teresita of the Benavides Building.

The revived creative writing center has returned with its first round-table discussion that focused on the topic “What is popular literature?”.

The conference was graced by multitalented speakers: Andrea Pasion-Flores, a “chic-lit” fictionist and executive director of the National Book Development Board; Paolo Manalo, a poet and professor from the University of the Philippines-Diliman; Nida Ramirez, a UST alumna and the publisher of the Bob Ong series from Visprint Publishing; and Thomasian poet and TV personality Lourd Ernest de Veyra.

Manalo opened the discussion by saying that popular literature, shortened as Pop Lit, is literature that is widely read and considered to have patterns and formula. Unlike the canonical works or conventional literature, he added that Pop Lit has come to be known as literature intended for mass audiences.

Manalo said it is very hard to distinguish popular literature from the canon, but he said that Pop Lit does not diminish the quality of reading.

“Pop Lit is some way predictable, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have the kind of humanity [that other literature have],” Manalo said.

Likewise, Christina Pantoja-Hidalgo, director of the creative writing center, said Pop Lit is “literature that is more accessible, easily understood and enjoyed.”

Since it was introduced to the public, Pop Lit has now become a fast-growing alternative genre, although Hidalgo contended it is “not a genre on its own.”

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Taste of the masses

The panel went on to discuss the relation of social media with Pop Lit, saying that the current generation has become more hooked on popular-culture trends.

Manalo compared the current trends on the Internet such as memes, which is a viral image inciting mockery or laughter that is spread online, to Pop Lit, stating that they are also products of the popular imagination.

According to him, memes are defined as ideas passed on without physical contact—the transmission of ideas from one mind to another like online sharing, re-posting and re-blogging.

On the other hand, Ramirez underlined Manalo’s statements, emphasizing that Pop Lit should be characterized and guided by the taste of the masses.

Prejudice on Pop Lit

Ramirez argued that 2000 years of elitism has retained a powerful prejudice on popular literature and has caused it to be seen as a lesser form of art compared to “high-brow” forms of art.

“Low art o baduy man, ang responsibilidad namin ay nasa mambabasa,” Ramirez said.

Meanwhile, picking up from the facets of multimedia, De Veyra tackled the idea of what defines a Pop Lit author.

De Veyra said that in the advent of technology and multimedia, anybody could be a writer as long as they have the wit.

“Hindi na uso ang hunk model types [para sumakit]. Uso na [ngayon] ay funny at witty [ka],” said De Veyra as he cited TV personality Ramon Bautista and cartoonist Stanley Chi who were able to successfully sell their books even though they are not really writers.

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He also cited his book, This Is a Crazy Planets, a collection of his blog entries, as an example. He said that he did not expect his book to sell considering he was not a popular figure.

On the one hand, Hidalgo said that although many have regarded reading Pop Lit as nothing short of tawdry, it is the fact that people are reading that actually matters.

“I think it (reading popular literature) is a good starting point, so long as the people enjoy the experience,” Hidalgo said.

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