Aurora Boulevard, Quezon City: Religious Jeepney Art and Pop Culture

01 Mother Dionisia, Pray for Us
Mother Dionisia, Pray for Us

During my many walks along Aurora Boulevard on my way to work, I have been documenting the jeepney art as a means of understanding the drivers’ personalities and interests. Of all the beautiful airbrushed artworks that I have seen on these jeepneys, what has interested me most is how the use of religious iconography is matched with images of the drivers’ personal interests, and whether these themes clash or complement each other. What is most common is the portrayal of pop culture images with the saints in these jeepneys.

Some jeepney drivers ask their children of what they would want to see painted on the sides of the jeepneys. Many of the children would suggest their favorite cartoon characters, and that makes in not surprising to find Disney, Pixar, and anime characters rendered on the jeepneys. These artworks also serve to remind the drivers of the responsibility and love towards their children, despite the daily grind on the road.

With the proliferation of cheap internet shops in all the neighborhoods, many children get drawn to the many Role Playing Games (RPGs) on the web. Aside from the children, many adults get into these games. So it is no surprise to see characters from “World of Warcraft” (WoW), “Defense of the Ancients” (DotA), “Call of Duty” (COD), “Assassin’s Creed”, and “Final Fantasy” appear on these jeepneys. And with some of the female characters being very voluptuous, these characters also appeal to machismo side of the drivers. The internet shops also allow these drivers to browse the best reference and character designs, which will be painted on their jeepneys.

Fantasy Films have also become a driving force in popular culture, with the “Harry Potter” series, Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and even the “Tomb Raider” franchise. Many of these drivers cannot take their families to watch the film on the big screen, but the flooding of pirated DVDs has allowed these families to keep abreast with the latest films.

Recently, the most impactful sub-genre of fantasy films in pop culture are the superhero films, lead by the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Cinematic Universe. Both franchises have reintroduced these comic characters to a larger audience, including the younger generation; despite the comic industry itself is weakening in sales.

Television characters also have their fair amount of fans in the jeepney driving community. Local televisions shows, such as “Ang Probinsyano” have had a strong following. But with the introduction of cheap satellite and cable television subscriptions, the jeepney driver’s family can watch shows such as HBO’s “Game of Thrones” together.

A part of the cable television experience is the chance to watch up-to-date episodes in contact sports, such as the “Ultimate Fighting Championship” (UFC), and sports entertainment, especially the “World Wrestling Entertainment” (WWE). In fact, the WWE has come to Manila since 2006.

Aside from television, film and internet games, the Filipino has always been known for their love of music, as well as the many talented musicians and singers. In fact, the earliest form of karaoke started in the Philippines, with the “Sing-Along-System” (SAS) of the 1970s and the “Minus One” in the 1980s, which was later brought to Japan by Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). The Filipinos love of music covers all genres, including country music, with a sub-culture of Ilokao and Ifugao language country music songs still being recorded to this day.

With cheap smart phones coming from China, and slightly affordable mobile internet rates, the jeepney driver and his family is aware of what is “trending” and “viral”, in pop culture and in technology. And like every other Filipino, they don’t want to be left out on the trends, and paint what is new (at that time) on the sides of their jeeps.

10 Our Lord of the Mutants
Our Lord of the Mutants

Since its introduction to the Philippines roads, the jeepney and its art has become a manifestation of Philippine pop culture, along with its international influences. Even before the accessibility to the internet in the late 1990s, Filipinos have tried to keep abreast with what is happening in the world, when it comes to entertainment. From the 1980s to the 1990s, Filipinos would get copies of pirated films and televisions shows that were recorded on VHS and Betamax formats, and rent them out in the lucrative “Betamax shops.” This came true with following the latest National Basketball Association (NBA) games, which is the subject of the next article.

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