What Vhong and Deniece teach us about religion and the news

A lot of people remain baffled by the attention that the Vhong Navarro and Deniece Cornejo show attracts. They cite that there are more important things going on — the Disbursement Acceleration Program imbroglio that President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III is entangled in, the plight of Leytenians still reeling from the carnage wrought by Typhoon Haiyan, and the fate of the Reproductive Health Law that as of now is teetering on the edge of legal oblivion at the Supreme Court. Why then do we remain transfixed on the indiscretions of a couple of two-bit celebs and a Chinese mobster who suffers from anger management issues?

rumorsThe disturbing truth about Media is that it is an escape. People escape to cinema and the nice glitzy photos and videos that Media companies have made a profitable business out of delivering. But people also read the news to be entertained. Why else would delivering the news be such a profitable business if it did not tap into a primal component of the human condition such as the need to be “informed”? Interesting news is novel information. When said information becomes old, it loses its novelty. Politicians stealing millions of pesos: Old. Thousands of Filipinos dying in a “natural” disaster: Old. The sad plight of initiatives to control and reduce population in a Third World Catholic country: Old.

Starlet allegedly luring a popular celeb to her pad after which the latter gets beaten up by the earlier’s presumed boyfriend: New. New, as of early last week, that is. The Vhong Navarro and Deniece Cornejo “issue” is now old, however. As such, there is less interest in it. And besides, it’s the Superbowl. That one is new. Which is why it makes the news. Because “new” makes up 75 percent of the news — literally. On to the next story.

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Where is the justice in that?

There is no such notion of that “justice” people who consume media feel they are entitled to as far as running a media business goes. Delivery of justice is a state responsibility. Delivering news that is novel enough for millions of people to voluntarily tune in to is the responsibility of the managers of media organisations.

Why is that so difficult to understand?

It is difficult to understand because every news organisation and their dog have one or all of the words “fair”, “balanced” and “objective” somewhere in the gigabytes of marketing collateral they pump into our media consumption appliances every day. And so we’ve pretty much all been led to believe that news and the “journalism” that goes into producing it is necessarily all that.

Best thing to do is to use Media output to gain a deeper understanding of the society it “serves” — which brings us back to the question of why stories about celebrity scandals occupy more of Filipinos’ headspace than the issues that are behind their chronic wretchedness. Why nga ba?

Simple. Because most of us can relate. People like Navarro, Cornejo, and even Cedric Lee, are the sorts of people many Filipinos aspire to be. As such the misfortunes that befall such people never fail to stoke our interest. Compare that to the affairs surrounding people who live in ocean front slums, or of those who depend on politicians’ “generosity” for most of their lives, or of those to whom falling pregnant virtually guarantees lifelong impoverishment.

Nobody aspires to be such people. So when misfortune hits such people, it becomes newsworthy for a while (if at all). Then people get over it.

expertoverhereWho makes such people relevant? Enter religion. The Philippines’ Roman Catholic Church made its vast fortune assuring people that the meek shall inherit the Earth. Trouble is, history has proven that that is quite simply absolutely not true. People like Navarro, Cornjejo, Lee, as well as generations of politicians who’ve ruled and “served” Filipinos, routinely get away with lots of stuff — stuff that their “victims” have been assured they will “inherit” one day. It is on this notion upon which “concern” for the poor ekes out a place in society’s collective consciousness and on that rests the Catholic Church’s claim to relevance. Indeed, Media and religion are partners in a symbiotic relationship that feeds on the masses. Religion feeds them entitlement porn while the Media feeds them the misfortune porn that they desperately crave to validate their subsistence on the earlier.

Whilst, empirical evidence will point to the reality that when you are poor, you are more likely to lead a wretched and unhappy life and more likely to die violently in a preventable “accident” or crime, statistics show that physically attractive people with lots of money are more likely to lead happy, fulfilling lives to a ripe old age before they die of natural causes. This fact is what gives that lucrative novelty to the scandals and other unfortunate events or tragedies in which the victims are rich beautiful people — because rich beautiful people don’t often get found wandering streets with their pants down or get thrown into prison. Rich beautiful people make a louder splat when they fall while poor people merely deliver a dull thud when they do. And in a country that likes welcoming their New Year with loud bangs, it is hardly surprising what sorts of sounds grab the most attention.

Sorry folks, that’s just the way it is.

22 Replies to “What Vhong and Deniece teach us about religion and the news”

  1. So when shall we be returning to the more important, albeit boring, issues?
    Would writing the broadsheets and television stations regarding their dereliction from duty do anything other than have then reply with a “we appreciate your sharing with us of your blah blah blah”.

    1. As I said in the article, reporting the important stuff is not really a “duty” of for-profit media companies. Their duty is to their shareholders and, as such, will “report” “news” that is interesting to the consumers of their media products.

  2. benign0,

    On the whole, your position is a bit of an oversimplification. Economics doesn’t always explain the motivations for people’s behaviour. I do agree that it is hypocritical for media organisations to profess being “fair” and “objective” when they are obviously anything but. It would be simpler to admit to partisanship. At least they would be honest about their positions instead of constantly stabbing their audience in the back.

    1. Well, I’m not really judging the profit focus of media companies like ABS-CBN. They are what they are and if I owned ABS-CBN shares, for example, I’d even expect that focus of its management team. My aim is mainly to remind the public of what they are.

      1. True enough. The public has a desire for spectacles that they can relate to. And obviously, media and the conglomerates behind them feed that hunger. It’s good business to give the public what they want.

        I’m just not convinced that it’s as simple as that. Media personalities, and the media “business,” in the Philippines like to paint themselves as social and moral crusaders. Quite a few of them have even risen to prominence as political careerists. They are convinced that “public service” is an opportunity to change the system from within rather than seeking to destroy it. And they have the benefit of being better educated, unlike the spate of entertainment icons who get elected simply on the basis of name recall. At the same time, they are quite adept at reconciling these high-minded social ideals with raging ambition, while excusing or overlooking their own hypocrisies and shortcomings. Quite a number of media personalities believe wholeheartedly that they are in their profession to “make a difference.” They just won’t let that get in the way of looking out for number one.

        1. I guess, being a self-styled moral crusader (as many mainstream and traditional “journalists” seemingly tend to be) puts one at the edge of a slippery slope. Specially in the Philippines, it is easy to fall into the pit of a beholdenness to ones’s own ideas and, as we see in the social media scene, ending up surrounding one’s self with like-minded people who reinforce one another’s increasingly inbred ideas.

          The advent of social media was a double-edged sword. It made it easier for some to form closed hives of like-mindedness, and for others it made it easier to test ideas outside the proverbial choir and boldly sharpen their edge further.

  3. What about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death? How come it wasn’t mentioned? Well…it’s news since they found him dead at his apartment.

      1. God forbid that they would recognise a versatile and prolific character actor who exhibited more talent in his little finger than a host of today’s matinée idols.

  4. These media companies are simply giving what the greater majority wants. If GMA sticks to the real issues and avoid the vhong, deniece brouhaha, the other two stations will definitely crush it.

  5. ‘Media and religion are partners in a symbiotic relationship that feeds on the masses. Religion feeds them entitlement porn while the Media feeds them the misfortune porn that they desperately crave to validate their subsistence on the earlier.’

    That only works if you accept the notion that religion is primarily a source for conflict and social discord. Actually, the opposite is true. Historically, religion is more often than not a force for social cohesion. It enables humans to cooperate far more widely and securely than through simple opportunistic, rational calculation or self interest. Religions and belief systems are the first institutions we humans came up with to codify our customs, our norms and mores. We have a lot of emotion invested in our religious beliefs; they serve to reinforce the gains from cooperating in the here and now by attaching to it a system of reward and punishment. For most humans, this is how we learn and develop our (structured) ideas of “right” and “wrong.” That’s why returning one favour for another, or one slight for another, isn’t simply the rational outcome of something learned through repeated interaction. It’s the foundation of our biblical morality and, going further, an almost universal moral rule among human societies — the “Golden Rule.”

    When we see almost obsessive attention being showered on high profile scandals or crimes, that’s a manifestation of the emotion we have invested our society’s belief systems and norms — our desire to see them enforced. We exhibit a desire to see that “justice is done” even if we have no personal interest in the outcome. It isn’t a desire to celebrate the misery of others or a need to validate one’s worthiness for entitlement.

    1. Admittedly I applied a drastically reductionist approach to getting to the essence of media and the Church within the conceptual frame of this article. Those two statements are, I believe, the lowest common denominator between the two, which is not the same as asserting that those statements are all there is to the two institutions I describe.

      Perhaps religion served its purpose back then in the West (and continues to do so in relatively primitive societies like the Philippines). But the fact that it struggles for relevance today says something about its value to societies that possess thinking faculties that people generally lacked back in the days when the Church enjoyed the peak of its power and influence.

      It’s like diapers. They served an important purpose over a very formative period in most peoples’ lives. But that importance within the period where they are valued does not imply that their value will endure over the life of said people.

      1. Christianity with its emphasis on personal salvation and the retribution of hell is like a soap opera. What is the point of Heaven, if one cannot point down on the suffering of the damned. A media star’s fall from grace follows the same simplistic formula. By contrast, Buddhism considers the idea of individuality to be “maya” (an illusion that leads to suffering.) Buddhists espouse that humans should consider themselves a thread in the fabric of life.

        1. Controlling anti-social behavior lies in understanding brain chemistry; not in building bigger and bigger prisons. The so-called struggle of good and evil is another Christian concept that is simplistic and out dated. Notions of social justice and an understanding of the motivations behind criminal behavior is a more humane and effective focus, than medieval religious proscriptions are.

  6. We just witnessed a beat down from the Seattle Seahawks’ Legion of Boom defense that harassed NFL MVP Peyton Manning. We will never see that kind of game for some years from this highly prestige Championship game..

    Too bad most people in PI do not know this and sad that they don’t give a fuck about NFL. This is where they want to watch talented, prepared and hard-working players earning what the deserve.

    1. Just saw this now. Read my blogs here that talk about basketball and why it’s perfect for the Pinoy viewer. Only 5 guys per side who all have equal opportunity to be swapang. You expect them to relate to a Right Tackle that just shoves people out of the way and does not seek individual glory?

  7. Sports like football and boxing are little more than ritualized thuggery.
    The NFL is a ten billion dollar a year corporation that pays zero income taxes. Many of its stadiums are built with tax payer money. Huge profits are being made off the injuries incurred in this brutal display called a “sport.” What sane adult would want his son to play football?

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