The Philippines’ Hollow Block Revolution
The realm of Philippine cyberspace is rarely quiet these days; on its streets, an ongoing popular revolution seeks to dismantle the tyranny of the mainstream elite media.
In one of her messiah complex-driven articles, Filipino journalist Maria Ressa scorned and reduced the vox populi — the ‘hollow block revolution’ — to mere trolls and propaganda. If there is one thing she did right, it is her introducing to the discourse the concept of ‘internet weaponization.’
To Ressa, the phenomenon is but a scourge to her corporate and ideological interests. Also, it is a threat to her self-declared absolute ownership of the Internet.
To the Filipino, the Internet — especially social media — has become a potent instrument of democratic empowerment; a reliable weapon against the supercilious tyranny of the mainstream media.
Consolidation of a truth monopoly
In the Philippines, there’s a lie that runs: the mainstream media is objective and is the herald of the absolute spirit, the absolute truth. If Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel were a Filipino, he would have been a career-less nobody.
The German philosopher, whose works inspired some of the world’s greatest thinkers such as Marx, Heidegger, Derrida, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Foucault, Žižek, inter alia, spent much of his life trying to chart humanity’s way to the absolute truth.
Just imagine his reaction if he learns that, as the mainstream media purported, the absolute truth lazily lies within the webpages of Ressa-ran Rappler, next to the ad for cock rings and penile implants.
Such is the farce that had been shoved down people’s throats for decades. And the Filipinos, as laid-back and submissive as they are, believed it. It’s become conventional wisdom.
As a result, Filipinos had an unwavering faith on the mainstream media. They have allowed the institution to dominate national discourse and condition public perception and, in the process, permitting them to dictate, to a great degree, the fate of the entire nation.
Not only has this impaired the health of our national debate, their hidden agenda has also successfully hijacked Filipino democracy. Their priorities became national priorities. Their personal interests became national interests.
Despite the misleading slogans on their professed impartiality, the mainstream media is never an independent body. And no, they are not in public service. They are running and will always run someone else’s errands and ideology as intimated by the unearthed links between news media outlets in the country and political parties, international advocacy groups and businessmen. Some of these outlets are even corporate-owned.
Even the recent discourse on ‘post-truth politics,’ which unconditionally assumes that the mainstream corporate media is interested in the ‘truth,’ is misleading.
Furthermore, the mainstream media’s traditional monopoly of perspective may have also poisoned our minds in ways we haven’t even imagined.
To the controversial French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, the mainstream media distorts reality. They tend to heighten and exaggerate reality (simulation) and this produces a ‘simulacrum,’ which is a representation of a person, an event or an object that becomes ‘the truth which conceals that there is none.’ The media can create idealistic representations of their own reality that can outperform actual reality.
The end result? Hyper-reality, a distorted illusion of reality.
Baudrillard wrote an essay entitled “The Gulf War Did Not Take Place” (1991) which was very controversial during the time of its release. In it, he speculates that the media set the agenda on the account of the Gulf War. The War that was shown on TV did not parallel actual events. They didn’t show all truths and only presented details that support their purposed narrative. This resulted in a restricted flow of information and facts about the truth of the War.
Social media and ‘little narratives’
All was well for mainstream media and their cohorts until the advent of social media.
It has long been declared by social scientists that social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have not only made it easier for interests and movements to unify and organize, they have also bestowed voice and power to those who haven’t had them.
Without social media, the anti-Martial Law sentiment advanced by the mainstream media at the height of the Marawi conflict could have easily bogged public discourse and minimized the petits récits (or little narratives) of people who live in Mindanao whose lives are in immediate threat, for the sake of saving their misplaced metanarrative of what Martial Law is.
Just to save their anti-Martial Law narrative, they were willing to risk the security of millions of Filipinos in Mindanao.
In the book Minima Moralia: In the Wake of Jean-François Lyotard, Nouvet, Stahuljak and Kent (2007), the authors defined petits récits as “small, often local narratives, typically written as first person accounts that work to replace, respond to, or enhance a larger narrative.”
Postmodern French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard proposed that ‘universalizing’ metanarratives should acquiesce to these petits récits because they bring more focus on a single event through a manifold of accounts. Metanarratives tend to generalize and oversimplify the diversity of human experience.
It is this feature of social media that vexes mainstream media. The rise of prominent bloggers and social media personalities undermines the exclusive privilege traditionally enjoyed by mainstream media. Even the most popular YouTube vlogger, Felix Kjellberg, also known as PewDiePie, was a victim of mistreatment by the mainstream media.
In one of his vlogs, Kjellberg lamented: “Old school media doesn’t like Internet personalities because they’re scared of us. They have so much influence and such a large voice and I don’t think they understand it…If there’s anything I learned about the media from being a public figure is how they blatantly misrepresent people for their own personal gain, even viciously attack people just to further themselves.”
As they say, “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”
The emancipation of Filipino consciousness
The disintegration of mainstream media’s monopoly of perspective has made the Filipino plebeian a significant stakeholder again in nation building. The amplification of multiple perspectives has reinvigorated public discourse in the country and this has led us to re-evaluate our values, endeavors and even our history as a nation.
This re-revaluation and reflection aren’t only necessary for us to understand our identity, they also allow us to take charge of the wheel and reinforce self-determination.
In his text In Defense of Lost Causes (2009), Slovene philosopher Slavoj Žižek, also dubbed as the ‘the most dangerous philosopher in the West,’ claims that freedom is “inherently retroactive.” “Freedom is thus inherently retroactive: at its most elementary, it is not a free act, which, out of nowhere, starts a new causal link, but a retroactive act of endorsing which link/sequence of necessities will determine me.”
This means that through self-reflection, we could choose which cause amongst a collection of potential causes will become the impetus for our future actions, instead of passively acting on an experience that was hitherto more determinate. Social media, as a free market for internalized ideas, has begun to contribute in determining our goals and redirecting our steps towards those goals.
The erosion of mainstream media’s power has positively influenced freedom of thought in the Philippines. The bastardization of their historical monopoly of truth and perspective represents the unshackling of the Filipino consciousness. The disintegration of their power is a victory for skepticism. And skepticism is an attribute of wisdom.