POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 1 July 2010, Thursday
Signs of the Times
With yesterday’s inauguration of the country’s new president, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, and vice-president, Jejomar Binay, a wave of hope washed through the nation, borne on tides of symbolism centered around Aquino.
This phenomenon made his presence ubiquitous and insinuated into the fabric of everyday life, whether or not you thought about it consciously.
The most obvious signs were on a direct level – his photographs plastered on the front pages of newspapers and the covers of magazines, which were filled with stories about his future plans for the government and anecdotes about his personal life. Television shows spent hours speculating on what his administration would accomplish. Billboards sprouted left and right, bearing congratulations to “Noy-Bi”. Merchandise bearing his face and that of his parents – former president Corazon Aquino and the late senator Benigno Aquino Jr. – were available at every price range, from cheap umbrellas and bandannas to pricey Parker and Lamy rollerball pens.
On a more abstract level, the signs also abounded.The color yellow, campaign motif of his mother, was everywhere. Publication editors carefully chose photographs and layouts awash in the color. Shop windows in malls displayed mannequins wearing yellow clothes.
At the Quirino grandstand yesterday, the sea of yellow-wearing spectators lapped to the fringes of the public park. While Noynoy himself chose to wear a traditional ecru barong tagalog, others close to him wore yellow – among them his sister, Kris Aquino, and significant other, Valenzuela councilor Shalani Soledad, who wore a simple yellow gown designed by Rajo Laurel.
Laurel had asked Soledad if she wanted to wear another color, but she declined. In doing so, she, and others similarly clad, reinforced yellow as a symbol standing for Noynoy. By extension, to a deeper level of signification, yellow also serves as a sign for what he stands for and has promised – hope and change.
Apart from the existing signs to which society has attached meanings, new signs are being created. For one, the nickname “P-Noy” (President Noynoy), that he uses as a way of branding himself. Being informal in tone, it also makes him seem more approachable, “one of us”, and connotes trustworthiness and humility.
Meanings may be found not only in artifacts (things) but also in actions and behavior. P-Noy has time and again declared that he will not live in Malacañang Palace or the Arlegui mansion, where he resided with his siblings during the presidency of his mother. He says he will continue living at their small family home in Times Street, Quezon City.
P-Noy’s refusal to dwell in homes heavily associated with his unpopular predecessors – Ferdinand Marcos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – may be seen as a way of distancing himself from their negative actions, eschewing luxury and grandeur, and carving a fresh start for himself as he remains rooted in the tradition of family.
It is interesting to note how an entire system of signs has sprung up around P-Noy and the phenomenon of his rise to power – something that did not occur to this extent for Marcos or Arroyo, perhaps because of their unpopularity.
A society’s system of signs and symbols, which is constructed within its culture, performs an important role in social life. It impacts the way people communicate by providing another “language” through which ideas and concepts are exchanged, and actions and behavior influenced. This links to the concept proposed by some communication scholars that communication not only helps people navigate within reality, it also creates reality.
Communication scholars and those interested in semiotics may look forward to interesting times as the culture of P-Noy, his family, and his administration will certainly continue to provide fodder for study.
Yet the pressing concern for citizens is whether President Noynoy will live up to the virtues carried in these signs we’ve mentioned. In his inauguration speech, he promised to carry on the legacy of his parents (again using this reference as a sign pointing to the accomplishments of his parents, and associating himself with those). Again, another layer of meaning may be discerned, pointing to P-Noy as “the good son”, “the champion for change”.
But will he uphold democracy and deliver change and reforms as promised? Or will promises again be broken, and the meaning of the signs be rendered naught or shifted to the negative? Will P-Noy be able to create an improved reality for Filipinos? The whole nation anticipates that the signs of the times will point to a brighter and better future for all. ***