It seems when things happen to be convenient for us, we are willing to lower the bar of the standards of decency we apply and the principles we presume to pontificate about. Recall how jeepneys were once regarded as “ingenious” quick solutions to what at the time was a grossly-misunderstood issue of mobility in a war-ravaged country. But jeepneys have since gone on to become permanent reminders of just how deficient in imagination Filipinos are. Turns out the “ingenuity” of Filipinos never progressed beyond jeepneys in the subsequent decades that followed and, to this day, Filipinos continue to fail at imagining modern public transport on a scale befitting a modern country.
In the same way, shock activism of the sort practiced by costumed “crusaders” who advocate what presumably are progressive ideals are to the second decade of the 21st Century what street parliamentarianism (a.k.a. ocho-ocho “edsa” people power “revolutions”) were to its first decade when Patalsikin na now na was the slogan of choice.
How do we expect people to develop an intelligent regard for the way they suss out and evaluate their politicians and the issues that plague the nation if we have bred a new generation of “activists” who encourage people to gawk at their colourful costumes, outlandish spectacles and circus sideshow acts? Next time you criticise a politician for dancing and singing on the campaign trail, look back at activists like these who themselves embody that very trait we detest in politicians and think about whether or not they are instilling the right ways of thinking in the starstruck folk who mindlessly follow them.
Seems like the scourge of shock activism has only had the effect of spreading even thinner the already stretched intellectual faculties of the Filipino voter. Not only do they have to cut through the songs and dances of their politicians, Filipino voters now also have to peel off the layers of showbiz spectacle flashed by their activists in a rather sad and increasingly futile search for substance.
As I said in my recent article on Kris Aquino’s plan to run for governor of Tarlac, for traditional politicians the amounts of money at stake are enormous — big enough to trump any desire both on the part of the politicians and the people who swing from one side to another to really give a hoot about what is the “intelligent” or “logical” way forward for the nation. For the current crop of shock activists, on the other hand, the stakes are different. The prize is all in their head. The need for attention and the false sense of validation that comes with being surrounded by cliques of like-minded followers has become the be-all-end-all motivation in a world of so-called “social media pratitioners” competing for memetic domination.
Intelligent discourse is just too hard and too much of a bore for the A.D.D. Generation, and like their traditional media counterparts, “activists” are beginning to reflect the character of the audience they scramble over one another to acquire.
By presenting the issues using the same approaches politicians do, through spectacle, circus acts, no-substance symbolism, and clever catchphrases, the trajectory of the “new” political activism is becoming evident. When the line between who the messenger is and what the message is becomes a blur, and the messenger by all intents and purposes becomes the message then, sad to say, we are all back at Square One once again — back to a world where celebrity is trumps all, and where the “droll and unintelligent, focused on the trivial or the irrelevant” dominates the national political discourse.
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