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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Burnham and McDonald's: Another Semiotical Sketch

In Skyland of the Philippines, Lawrence Wilson informs us that before the famous city planner and architect Daniel H. Burnham started landscaping in 1904 what was to become "Burnham Park," the area "was a grassy swamp where the natives caught eels and carabaos wallowed."¹


Today, that swamp has become an artificial lake where wooden swans and serpents swim and around which humans  with laptops can wallow in the cyber-ocean of free wi-fi access (though I still have to see one actually doing so  by the lake). As such, it has developed a charm of its own for the new generation. It is a charm  so irresistible that even McDonald's desires to have it rubbed on its already crowd-drawing reputation, as this photo shows which I took in one of this fastfood chain's outlets along Session Road.



dscf1937


It doesn't take deep thinking to see what this sign signifies:  McDonald's as a purveyor of its version of the good life in which food preparation, family bonding and ready relaxation are all at the same time readily available to  the Filipino family.


Now let's take a second look at the photo and note not only the parallels of an attempted analogy but also the incongruencies between the signifier and the signified.


Burnham Park and McDonald's do have some things in common. For one, they are symbols of the juggernaut of American econopolitics and culture, the former being a vestige of U.S.A.'s colonial project in the Philippines and the latter a ubiquitous feature of U.S.-bred capitalism. Two, both represent a sizable aspect of Baguio City's economy, the former being a tourist attraction and the latter a commercial establishment that  offers not only job opportunities to Baguio people but also  additional income to the city.  Third,  they  are places of play and relaxation, the former being a hub of health buffs  and a place for family get-togethers, and the latter a place where people could munch and chat the hours away and where children get to scream inside and slide down "play places." And fourth,  the existence of both is characterized by an "improvement" over nature, the former being a make over of what used to be a pristine pre-colonial environment and the latter a provider of processed foods that give us a sensation of  satisfaction while  making us gloss over the dire consequences of regularly horking down cholesterol, acid and sweets.


But the similarities break down when one considers that the park being a place for the health-conscious, fastfood stuff on one of its benches is an oddity.  (Of course, one can always argue here that not all who frequent Burnham have the same idea on what the park is for: some, for instance, think it is an open space for ceaseless cigarette smoking; or a big toilet bowl where you can crap and piss all you want; or  a picnic ground where you get to eat all the junk you can cram down your throat and be the litterbug you could ever be after each feast  :)  )  . Further, we must note that as cleanliness is part of a park's attraction, McDo's nice plastic wrappers and styros are eyesores, these being part of the city's garbage nightmare.


McDo's version of the good life as presented in the photo under examination is thus not as desirable as it wants us to believe.


¹Laurence Lee Wilson, The Skyland of the Philippines (Baguio City: Bookman, Inc.), 27.


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Here are some of my most recent snapshots of the park:


Burnham 1dscf1877








Burnham 3, Feb 2009Burnham 4, Feb09









burnham 5 feb09


burnham 6 feb09








1 comment:

vhyn claire evangelista said...

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