Fact, Fiction and Fantasy: Of Dan Brown and Francis Tolentino

There is too much noise these days on Dan Brown’s depiction of Manila in his latest best-selling novel Inferno, where Brown’s character, Dr Sienna Brooks, a 32-year old English doctor on a humanitarian mission described Manila as the “gates of hell”.

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A GMA News Online report gives us a glimpse of what transpired in the novel:

“When the group settled in among the throngs in the city of Manila—the most densely populated city on earth—Sienna could only gape in horror. She had never seen poverty on this scale.”
 
Brown then enumerated what Sienna saw: hungry kids gazing at her “with desolate eyes,” “six-hour traffic jams, suffocating pollution, and a horrifying sex trade, whose workers consisted primarily of young children, many of whom had been sold to pimps by parents who took solace in knowing that at least their children would be fed.”
 
The book also mentioned panhandlers and pickpockets, and how Sienna “could see humanity overrun by its primal instinct for survival. When they face desperation … human beings become animals.”
 
Sienna, like many visitors to Manila, also saw her surroundings as “a kind of shantytown—a city made of pieces of corrugated metal and cardboard propped up and held together” with “wails of crying babies and the stench of human excrement” in the air. She saw herself as having “run through the gates of hell.”
The otherwise quiet MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino was quick to send Brown an open letter expressing disappointment over how Metropolitan Manila was described in the novel, The Professional Heckler however was as quick to write a parodied reply of Dan Brown to Tolentino’s letter. Needless to say, social media channels were abuzzed with #GatesofHell #ReplaceManilawithGatesofHell hashtags. Journalists, broadcasters, social commentators and a Malacanang spokesperson had a field day.
 
What is fact and what is fiction in Dan Brown’s novel then? Is it right for people to take offense in Brown’s fictional characterization of Manila? Is MMDA’s Tolentino a better fantasy writer by stating that Manila is actually “the gateway to heaven”? Let us scan recent headlines, sans election-related stories to see what’s in fact a fact.
 
 
Poverty, prostitution, pollution and traffic jams are facts of life in any urban city of the world. Fantasy is to escape such reality. Why don’t we just take it as it is and move on. Better yet, especially for those working in government, step up and do more to save our metro from further decay. At least Erap, the new Manila mayor recognizes this as fact.
 
Like what I posted in one of the online discussion boards, Hell’s Kitchen is already in New York, so why bother?