pop goes the world: impeachment as drama

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  12 January 2012, Thursday

Impeachment as Drama

The ubiquity of communication media makes it possible for an entire nation to follow an impeachment trial that, back in the old days before television and television networks seeking to outdo each other in ratings, could only be viewed by a select few.

Government and court proceedings were filtered by information “middlemen” – journalists, writers, reporters – through the processes of agenda-setting and framing, whether performed unconsciously or not. The audience did not use to receive the entirety of the experience. This was made possible later on with the advent of the Internet, to the vastness of which reams of documents and footage could be uploaded. This could not be done in the limited space of print or regular broadcast channels.

With the rampant commercialization of the media, especially television, and the tougher arena brought about by a free-market environment and the number of competitors, networks playing the ratings game are forced to deliver what the public wants, in order to survive. And if the public wants to see more of this and less of the other, programming is developed to cater to those wishes.

Since today’s audience is politically savvy, a highly significant event such as the Corona impeachment trial is being given extensive coverage by the networks and others news organizations and individuals on the Internet.

Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona before the start of his impeachment trial. Image here.

While this easy access to information makes it possible for the audience to craft their own experience by picking and choosing their sources of news, the constant exposure also has a tendency to desensitize. The Corona trial is eagerly watched, almost as if it were the latest telenovela, as if these aspects of our country’s politics and governance were merely plot elements in a play.

The word drama comes from the Greek “to act” or “to do”. It must have characters who, in the course of their lives, somehow become involved in a conflict situation. The narrative follows their actions and reactions to the conflict, which at the end of the play are resolved.

People following the trial cast the characters in their minds as either “hero” or “villain” depending on their personal beliefs and convictions. And because the Internet, unlike traditional print and broadcast media, allow for instant and nearly unlimited feedback, it can bring out the best in people, who share insightful and meaningful comments, and the worst, through “trolls”, vicious-minded people who have no significant analysis and post only cruel and hurtful insults.

The trial is bringing out the true colors of people.

Apart from being seen as a drama, it is also being pegged in public perception as a sporting event. Facebook and Twitter users, especially the latter, post play-by-plays of the proceedings: “Si Cuevas parang nakikipagkwentuhan lang sa Starbucks.” “Dimaandal looks like he could use a beer.” “Bully, o.” Pass the popcorn.

Does this mean we no longer take important events such as impeachment trials seriously? Filipinos as a people have a dramatic nature – “romantic”, a creative writing professor of mine described it. Filipinos tend to exaggerate, inflate, and yes, dramatize even the most trivial of events.

Putting the impeachment trial on the level of a drama or sporting event underscores the tremendous interest that people are taking in the proceedings, because Filipinos care deeply about such things, and elevate telenovelas and the PBA to cult status. Treating the trial like “Flor de Luna” and Corona as bida or contrabida shows that we care what is happening to our country, that we want to participate in this even vicariously, and that if the only way we can be a part of this milestone event is to watch it, then by golly we will.

And we’ll discuss it, over bottles of beer at an after-office inuman or online, because by being aware of the unfolding of events and sharing our opinions on them we enter the play as actors ourselves, and thereby feel – even to a slight degree, even if it is an illusion – in control of our nation’s destiny.

Whatever the outcome of this impeachment, we will already have gained something valuable – we will have learned something more about ourselves as a people.

* * * * *

Award-winning photographer Dominique James, who is now based in the US, recently announced the launch of Blanc Worldwide, an “international photo collective” composed of six photographer-members: Dominique James (Atlanta) and Lester Callanta (Toronto), co-founders; and Kyo Suayan (San Francisco), Michael Mariano (New York), David Fabros (Manila), and Randy Tamayo (Melbourne), founding members.

Their online gallery at http://www.blancworldwide.com exhibits a landscape photograph from each member, available for a limited time to the public as fine art photographic prints.

According to Dominique James, “The two main goals of Blanc Worldwide are to provide professional representation of the Filipino photographers in the international arena, and to make their works available and accessible worldwide. The chosen images for Blanc Worldwide’s exhibition and exclusive print sale depicts aspects of the immediate, primary or accessible location from where each of the photographers is geographically based.”

“This is the first tightly-knit, project-oriented photography collective composed of Filipino photographers of its kind in this digital age that we know of,” he added.  *** 

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