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We may be the only country that laughs when someone slips on the floor, bumps into a chair, or falls from a bicycle. But this laughter does not mean we are cruel or insensitive, since we also know the limits. After all, we do not laugh when we see a bloody, badly-mangled body, or someone with a broken bone.
Our laughter is one of affinity, if not of affection, as a way of assuring those who fell that they would be fine. Whoever just fell might as well join in and laugh, too, if only to ease his shame and embarrassment, becoming part of the community of laughter.
We are a people whose source of sanity lies not in politics as a serious formal process, but in politics seen in the eyes of ordinary people, as spectacle and drama. This is deeply rooted in our healthy sense of humor, and our seeming fascination with scandals and intrigues as sources of entertainment.
We are a country that is agitated by high political drama, even as our rage can easily be diverted by a scandal involving celebrities. The rape of our national coffers through the PDAF scandal has now taken a back-seat with the emergence of the alleged rape attempt by an actor-host named Vhong of a model/student/motivational speaker named Deniece.
When memes obscure
Our political consciousness enables the conversion of serious events into material for stand-up comedians and fodder for ordinary laughter. After delivering a privilege speech defending himself from accusations of illegally diverting his PDAF allocations to the Napoles gang, Senator Bong Revillabecame material for internet memes made by an amused public.
When news of the alleged rape attempt by Vhong Navarro, that led to him being badly mauled, appeared on TV and the social media, an amused public came up with equally amusing internet memes.
One took advantage of the similarity in sound between the names Bong and Vhong. It even appropriated the image of the president himself, who was presumably irked by Bong’s privilege speech attacking his government, as if he was berating a group of soldiers and taking them to task for mishearing his orders: “Ang sabi ko, bugbugin ninyo si Bong, hindi si Vhong!”
Our ability to laugh is deeply rooted in our creativity and irreverence, seen in our talent for producing social meanings to provide explanations to things. These meanings are not necessarily valid and may even appear illogical when measured against the conventional and traditional lenses of those not familiar with our ways. But they are nevertheless pregnant with alternative imaginations that are both pure parody and patently resistive of the dominant, ordinary and the usual.
I vividly remember a conversation I had with a taxi driver some years ago.
We heard on the car radio about Abu Sabaya, the notorious leader of the Abu Sayaff Group, being killed in a gun fight while in a boat chase with the military. His body was nowhere to be found as it fell into the water.
I was fascinated with the casualness of the taxi driver’s take on the fate of Sabaya who was, for him, a villain par excellence. He said: “Hay naku Sir. Buhay pa yan maniwala ka.”
I asked why he thought so. His reply amazed me even more.
“E kung si Madam Claudia nga, ilang beses na namatay, e nabubuhay pa.”
TV soap opera lovers will know Madam Claudia as a popular villain, played by Jean Garcia. She was so bad that people simply loved to hate her, and so she became the personification of glamorous evil.
It simply amused me how an ordinary person can casually use, as template to render his take on a real event, a fictional villain in a popular TV soap opera. It was an example of a classic simulacrum – a concept coined by Jean Baudrillard, who argued that the advent of mass-mediated entertainment has enabled people to lose the ability to distinguish image from reality.
To a people whose exposure to politics is now as a representation of mass-mediated medium that is TV – where one also experiences the continuous flow of spectacle and entertainment emanating from game shows, noon-time shows, and soaps – indeed the distinction between image and reality could easily be lost.
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