The appeal of reality tv lies in its ability to afford us vicarious pleasure in the roller-coaster of emotions undergone by the participants. At the same time as we witness the individuals wallow through depths of stress and humiliation it breeds the “better-you-than-me” attitude otherwise known as schadenfreude.
I have to admit though that I am not immune to the allure of reality shows. My personal favorites include Project Runway, America’s Next Top Model and Iron Chef America. But given the glut of reality shows these days I find myself drawing a line somewhere, specifically between American Idol and everything else that involves a deluge of human misery – an aversion nurtured by years of exposure to the soaps/teledramas/telenovelas my mom was hooked on.
Recently, though, found that line re-drawn by Reunions – a QTV-11 show voiced-over by Jessica Soho which I usually catch on weekends while contemplating the vagaries of the coming week.
My initial reaction to the show was to grimace at its premise then scoff at its sincerity. As I pointed out earlier, my instinctive reaction to blatherfest is one of aversion. For me, I’d rather find catharsis in laughter than in the misery of others. Needless to say, it’s a no-brainer for me when given a choice between tearjerkers or Nickelodeon.
Imagine, then, my surprise that I found Reunions to be riveting.
Following a straight-forward format, Reunions documents the efforts of individuals searching for loved ones they have lost touch with. Their tales of misery are varied and legion – parents looking for wayward or lost children, siblings searching for closure with estranged parents, siblings reaching out to each other after being separated for a multitude of reasons. Some searches have been going on for decades, some for a few months but no matter the length of their search, it is the gut-wrenching emotions at the end of their searches that tie each and every story featured in the show. Welkin-tearing cries precede tales of woe, recrimination and forgiveness. Reality tv could not be more visceral than this.
Which leads me to the reason for the the show’s appeal to me. Though less dramatic than the stories featured in the show, to me, Reunions reflect the story of my own relationship with my family and my need to re-connect with them.
Growing up in a typical Filipino family from a different generation, we were never encouraged to be overtly affectionate beyond the obligatory hand-kissing. We, like millions of other children from our era, grew up without the trappings of affection emphasized as necessary in today’s family. To my thinking, there was nothing intrinsically wrong with the way we were raised – it was just a reflection of the times we grew up in. But it wasn’t enough – the manner of behavior taught us didn’t damage us in any obvious way but it did leave us unable to fully articulate our need for stronger ties or to seek out more common bonds with our family as our focus shifted outward into our own lives.
Even before my dad’s death, gathering all of us under one roof was becoming an effort. We’d have perfectly good reasons but, still, absences were noted and felt. As I and my siblings grew into our individual lives so did our pre-occupation with our careers and relationships. This was perfectly fine except that, I felt, little by little we lost our connections as siblings threadbare as they already were.
This state became more apparent over the last three years as the quintessential family holiday – Christmas – was celebrated separately: my mother, my brother and my sister celebrating in Subic, me staying put in Cavite or spending it with my in-laws and my other brother’s family keeping the holidays with his in-laws as he was working abroad. To my siblings’ credit, some effort was made to effect a reunion of sorts but it was obvious that it wasn’t going to happen. I have to own up to my share of the blame because I was not ready to reconcile with them after we had a falling-out. On hindsight, I could have dealt with my issues with them decisively and moved on but I could not because of the emotional baggage attached to these issues.
Such was the state of my family when my mother was hospitalized last year. It wasn’t serious enough to warrant treatment other rest and medication but it became a catalyst in thawing my family’s version of the Cold War. Wrapped in our collective concern, I discovered that I still needed my siblings to be there even if I could handle the situation on my own. I understood that one’s mere presence can count even if just to reassure each other of one’s willingness to support the other.
Last December, my family went on our first family trip. It felt different as I usually travelled alone or with friends and I guess the feeling was shared to some degree by everybody else. The trip was not without the usual tensions relative to an undertaking but overall it felt good to do something together with my family. It took us more than 30 years to get there but we were where we wanted to be: with each other.
A Family Portrait
During that trip, the term “family” meant something to me again. I learned its value once more. I also learned that while it is true that no wound is more painful or scars as deeply than the ones inflicted on us by the people we love, it is likewise true that we cannot find better healing than from the hands of those who wound us.