7/08/2020
Throwing shade

In the end, we're all just looking for people who are on our side. I could be nice and say we're all just looking for people who we share common interests and beliefs with, but this is really what it all boils down to. It's why we're busy unfriending people of different political persuasions on social media. It's why we latch on to whatever social and political movement is gaining ground. It's why we're watching politicians try to school journalists on what constitutes bias, when all they really want is a media outfit that would not question them.

Speaking of media outfits, that need to find people who are on our side has informed which of them we follow. Now, my caveat, of course, is that what follows is merely observational and woefully extrapolated, and not backed by any scientific study. Anyway, I did notice that while we will follow the bigger outfits out of obligation, we are more likely to interact with those who we perceive to be on our side - meaning, they're covering the stories we think should be covered, preferably those the so-called establishment are deliberately overlooking (supposedly) because they have interests (supposedly).

Take the United States and the prominence of news networks that wear their political leanings on their sleeves. MSNBC if you're to the left. Fox News if you're to the right. While they'll say - and this is definitely said a lot about the latter - that the opinion programming is separate from the news programming, if you choose to spend time with one or the other it's because you believe they've got your back. They're covering the stories you think is most important, perhaps the ones being overlooked by other people - the other side, shall we say - because they believe things differently, and that's not compatible with how you see things. Never the twain shall meet.

Here, well, it's a little different, in part because the political spectrum is really a mush. What we have for the most part are personalities we can rally behind, which makes any discussion of political leanings in the media a bit flimsy. You can't really say one outfit or another leans to the left or to the right of the spectrum. (The closest you have, perhaps, are the progressive media outlets that spend time focusing on the plight of community leaders and drilling down on abuses of power. And then there's Rappler, which is left-of-center by virtue of its being young and followed by a more urban audience.) Instead you end up talking about whether they're boosting a certain personality, or perhaps taking them down. It's why, in the continuing charades that is the deliberations on whether ABS-CBN's franchise should be renewed, the discussion went towards whether it covered stories about our leaders that paint them in a more flattering light, and whether, implicitly, doing that more should be a condition for them being allowed to take the airwaves again. In the end, we're all just looking for people who are on our side.

Right now, well... we have felt nobody is on our side at some point or another. It's why political discourse, or what passes for it, is like this. You're destroying the country. No, we're fixing what you've destroyed. No, you're making things worse. Yes, for you, for you've had so much fun and it's our turn. You get the idea. It may feel that things are different now, a little worse now - and I myself believe that it is, but at the same time, as they say, bilog ang mundo. The world is round. Whoever's at the bottom will soon be at the top. In our drama-addled mindsets, we seek revenge against those who mess us up, and rub our victory in their faces as they complain. That's how we've really been when it comes to politics. More so these past few years, sure, because social media makes us believe that our opinions alone matter. But it's always been that way.

But, yes, things feel a little worse now, and with whatever's left of our ability to take control, we look for people who are on our side. We look for people who share the same opinions with ours (and no compromising on this, no deviations), the same beliefs as ours, the same convictions as ours. We've made it so intrinsic to our criteria that we now say a person's politics defines who they are as a person, even if a person's politics can (and will) change depending on what he's had to deal with. Once an asshole, always an asshole. You'll never have justice in your value system the moment you say one thing that goes against it, even if it's a throwaway gag. But that's another essay (if you could call this an essay) altogether.

The same goes with our media outlets, or at least the ones we choose to follow, the ones we interact with, the ones with share more often so people of our wavelengths can echo what we believe - or, if there's this one person who believes differently, perhaps you can indoctrinate him, make him move to your side? We consume the media outlets that we think have our backs. In these times, that means someone who can fact-check (and preferably refute), someone who can provide context, someone who can throw in a side comment to rally the crowd. Anything that will go against the narrative this government is bent on propagating, accusations (tantrums, really) of bias be damned.

To be fair, it's easy to do. I've seen a lot of fact-checking articles in the past few years. Whether that helps the bigger picture remains to be seen, though. People are stubborn, after all. They would not want to change their minds if only to save face, to not look like they bet on the wrong side to begin with. (No wonder social media posts about former Duterte supporters that have "changed sides", so to speak, gain a lot of traction.) So they've had to be creative to make more impact - and by impact, I mean more social media interaction, which means more numbers that one can feed into an analytics dashboard and massage to say that people are engaging, thus you ought to throw money at them. So that explains the Philippine Star Twitter account essentially throwing shade at the government. Sure, it spotlights incongruities and inconsistencies - take how a presidential address, supposedly scheduled at ten o'clock last night, went on air three hours later, technically the next day, when everybody is asleep - but it really serves to rally the converted. It doesn't move anything forward.

Yes, throwing shade is one of the few things we have left in our arsenal to fight back at what we perceive to be the wrongs in our society. (And this applies to the other side you vilify a lot.) But we should not equate that with holding power to account. Being snarky is far from demanding accountability. Doing the latter takes time, effort and resources... but, well, for one, the media is beleaguered financially, thanks to advertising budgets going to social media, and consumers insisting on not paying for journalism. Two, the media is beleaguered politically; the one-two punch of Maria Ressa's conviction and ABS-CBN's shutdown has already had a chilling effect on how the "survivors" are covering this government. (Side note: I can't find it now, for some reason, but seeing GMA boast of topping the television ratings is incredibly fucking callous, to say the least. Yes, I know I linked to a fan page.) Not to mention the new anti-terrorism law which, most likely, no matter what its proponents say, will be used to lock critics up.

But the audience demands something else, so they go for quick wins. Up the snark, up the engagement. I guess keeping your psyche going counts for something, because at least we know some people have our backs, just as those in power continue to use everything at their disposal to keep things going their way. We can poke fun at presidential addresses lacking in substance being aired three hours behind schedule. They will continue to protect themselves - and whatever legacy they want to leave behind - with our lives, if need be. But you only live once, I guess, so...

And your responses...

Post a Comment