BEDTIME STORIES FOR THE WOKE
Books to stock in your children’s libraries.
A CHILD’S CURIOSITY IS A PRECIOUS, oh-so-wholesome thing—a wide-eyed thirst for knowledge that must be cherished at all costs and nourished and addressed. Dad, why is the sky blue? Dad, what are hiccups? Dad, why do my fingers wrinkle up when I stay in the bath too long? Dad, why does Mommy cry whenever she’s washing the dishes? Dad, was Ferdinand E. Marcos really a dictator and was his decades-long reign, including his declaration of Martial Law, the true modern dark ages of the Philippines and not the golden era that all these strangers on the internet tell me when I go online to watch Shaun the Sheep reruns?
So pure, so adorable. So precocious.
Next time you tuck your spawn into bed, best whip out Ito ang Diktadura by Equipo Plantel and illustrated by Mikel Casal. This damning children’s book lays out some of the most straightforward descriptions of a dictatorial rule by running the reader through a day in the life of a despot: Wake up grumpy, get briefed by your officials during breakfast to ensure there are no uprisings on the horizon, etc., the usual. It reads like a checklist: Is his name on everything? Are there celebrations in his honor sponsored by his government? Are his critics enemies of the state or in jail or exiled or dead? Are his friends rich beyond belief and untouched by his laws?
Children—and, sure, maybe even the more willfully ignorant adults among us—won’t have much trouble with the book’s enumeration of the dictator’s playbook: He sets the laws; he sets the rewards; he sets the punishments. You’re not allowed to think for yourself, and especially not against the government. You’re not allowed to not like the government, or the dictator. The dictator is the bravest and the strongest, the smartest and the most cunning, the best at pretty much everything. The dictator will keep on reminding you of this. The dictator is a bully.
Casal’s illustrations are delightfully retro but oddly haunting—the woodcut prints and the color blocks should bring one cheer, but the juxtaposition only underscores the gloom and horror of what they convey. The dictator of the storybook—mildly rotund, dressed in blue, topped with a blocky orb for a head—also looks familiar. It’s his stone-faced expression, we think.
Adarna House immediately scooped up the local translation and distribution rights for the book, Así es la dictadura, when it went viral on local social media a few years ago. The book’s end pages—which looks like a psychedelic police lineup of history’s absolute worst—had Marcos, pursed lips and pomaded hair, rubbing elbows with Fidel Castro, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini, Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong-Il. Oh, and Adolf Hitler, you may have heard of him.
Ito ang Diktadura, and another book in the imported series, Mga Uring Panlipunan—which reads as a primer on social systems and is pretty much a condemnation of rampant social inequity; some light reading for you there, kids—were originally published as part of the four-volume Libros para Mañana (“Books for the Future”) by the Barcelona-based publishing house La Gaya Ciencia in 1977. That’s a mere five years after Marcos declared Martial Law over the Philippines, and the world was pretty damned sure that guy was a dictator.
In their introduction to their new edition, Adarna House notes: “Nearly 40 years have passed, and we believe that the spirit and the message of these books remain prevalent.” Unfortunately, we’re going to have to agree with that one.
And when your offspring start asking you the real questions—Dad, does Wi-Fi come from the sky? Dad, why is Mommy emptying our cabinets? Dad, why is it that despite overwhelming evidence of the reality of Martial Law and the Marcos family’s acts of cruelty against an entire nation, they still get overwhelming support from citizens and the government?—hit them up with the old standbys guaranteed to hold them fast against the pro-dictatorship Internet trolls and random Titos who drank the Marcosian Kool-Aid. There’s Raissa Robles’ Marcos Martial Law: Never Again. Nick Joaquin’s Reportage on the Marcoses is a classic. The Conjugal Dictatorship by Primitivo Mijares—one of Marcos’ top propaganda guys who turned against the regime, and who disappeared upon the first publication of the book— has been reissued in an annotated, dead-tree edition by Mijares’ estate and has easily become an essential volume in the libraries of Filipinos worth their weight in adobo flakes.
You say indoctrination, we say this-shit-really-should-be-in-core-curricula. Potato, po-tah-to.
The DICTATOR is the bravest and the strongest, the smartest and THE MOST CUNNING, the best at pretty much everything. The dictator will keep on reminding you of this. The dictator is a BULLY.