With ABS-CBN, before you can even get your head around evaluating the content of their programs, you need to get past their garish manner of presentation first — all those bells and whistles and fancy jeepney-like colour and graphics splashed all over the screen is quite an assault on reasonable taste. Compare the news programs of ABS-CBN with other news programs around the world and you will see the stark contrast between the whimsically-sensationalist shout-out style of ABS-CBN and the serious, sober, and considerate manner of the other programs.
To be fair to the immensely profitable business that is ABS-CBN, there seems to be more than an ounce of business sense in what seems to most to be just a case of harmless tackiness. It has to do with the nature of the audience they “serve”. Quite simply, Filipinos respond to this dazzling display of colour and sound. Look no further than that enduring embodiment of Filipino aesthetic sense — the jeepney. Strong colour and sound distract Filipinos from the mind-poison that is the payload of these Big Media products.
Titillate then moralise
Take the way ABS-CBN features “immorality” on, say, the beaches of Boracay. They first open by “reporting” the “facts” by splashing video exposés of “lascivious” public spectacles a-la those Filipino-specialty million-viewer “scandal” videos that infest YouTube and other video sharing sites on the Net. But here, it’s all in the packaging. Shrink-wrapped as a “news report” and sold under the banner of a well-established and supposedly “respected” brand owned by a big media conglomerate, resides the payload of titillation — the active ingredient that hooks in viewers and rakes in the revenues — delivered by this fine specimen of ABS-CBN programming.
The notable feature here is how the report is capped by some air time given to Mayor what’s-his-face of Boracay Island who claims that he does not encourage this sort of distasteful behaviour and supposedly laments the lack of a legal framework to crack down on it. They even enlist the moral guidance of morality beacon Ruffa Gutierrez, star of the 1996 sexploitation flick Ang pinakamagandang hayop sa balat ng lupa to contribute her two cents:
“Bilang Pinay I’m still very conservative, ayaw ko naman gawin ng mga anak ko yun one day…for me that’s just not right [...]“
This is a feature of the Filipino character which I highlight in my book, specifically in this excerpt:
In her article “Between Sensationalism and Censure” (Philippine Journalism Review, April 2002, pages 35-37), Diana Mendoza observed how the bizarreness of Filipinos’ regard for sexuality is reflected in Philippine cinema. Her observations are gleaned from among others, comments made by sociology professor Michael Tan of the University of the Philippines in the Sixth International congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific held in Melbourne, Australia from the 5th to the 10th October 2001:
Commenting if the Philippines could be at the forefront of education on sex and sexuality Tan said no, because “media have very sensational coverage but they still have this patina of moralism which is strange.” He said this brims over to the film industry that churns out movies carrying the “crime and punishment” theme — for instance, movies with pots of adultery that run steamy sex scenes but which towards the end, mandate that the adulterer, who is always the female, gets shot or imprisoned.
“With these endings, movies become a morality play after two hours of titillation,” he said.
Tan said Filipino movies also carry the “crime and redemption” theme, in which a sex worker eventually realizes there is a better life outside prostitution, but only after the audience [have] been treated to several sexual episodes.
More disturbing than simply being uncomfortable is how inconsistent and misguided Filipino responses to issues of sexuality can get. The Filipino Male enjoys the better half of a double standard that prevails in Philippine society. And this is what contributes much to the bizarreness of Filipinos’ regard for sex.
Filipinos have a one-dimensional regard for malehood and this is reflected in the behaviour and demeanour of the most powerful men in our society — most evident, particularly, in how they get away with banal impropriety and even the most heinous of crimes. That is why I find myself being merely bemused by all this “indignation” being displayed in our society against “corruption” and “injustice”. Filipinos — particularly our males — are raised to be corrupt and unjust from childhood. What we see as corruption and injustice in politics and governance are merely superficial manifestations of a more deeply-entrenched inherent character of corruption and injustice in the bottom-most underbelly of the Filipino psyche.
Validate then shame
Unless that deeply-entrenched inherent character of the Filipino that predisposes him/her to engage in (when in power) and tolerate (when not in power) corruption and injustice is rooted out, all this posturing, grandstanding, and platitude-brokering in the name of “justice” and “transparency” we see in the way Media reports Philippine “politics” and the way Establishment bloggers and “activists” wax poetry about these comes across to the more insightful of our lot as no more than a circus to amuse ourselves with.
Indeed, Filipinos are inundated by news “reports” that abound in hienous criminality amongst the powerful of the land. In my view, this astounding volume of sensationalised criminality actually provides a steady diet of validation for the renowned culture of crime that resides deep in the psyche of every ordinary Filipino. It is a kind of a perverse endorsement for the continued petty criminality that we see on the streets of Manila everyday. The immense scale of criminality amongst the powerful makes the petty criminality of the ordinary Pinoy schmoe pale in comparison, thereby reducing the incentive among the ordinary to reform their ways themselves.
Add to that the simple fact that most of these high-profile crimes never get resolved, or when they do remain disputable at best. Then the game becomes one of shame-mongering rather than a focus on the Law and the continued application of the legal framework to tease out the Truth.
Either way, there is a story to tell. Therefore, who emerges as the winner in all this? Who else but the Media. At the end of the day, Media shareholders are laughing all the way to the bank while their CEO’s salivate over the next publicity “contract” to support the next political “campaign”.
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Convert opinion-shapers and “reform” Philippine Media?
The biggest temptation for people who would like to see genuine change happening in our society is to go after the easy targets — the politicians, the oligarchs, and the resource-rich. The idea behind such conventional approaches is that the Filipino is the hapless victim in this gawd-awful mess that is the Philippines.
But see, the Philippine Media — like the Government — cannot be reformed. Why? Simple: the Media industry is made up primarily of privately-owned or publicly-held business enterprises that compete for public attention (just like the Government is made up of politicians competing for essentially the same asset). Yet therein in that last statement lies the solution. For it is in the nature of the public attention that Media giants — and our politicians — compete for that determines the content that they produce. Indeed, Filipinos have it in themselves to bring Philippine Media down to its knees. But like the Vote, Filipinos true to form fail to wield this power wisely.