The word escapism, as defined on the Net, refers to a mental diversion by means of entertainment or recreation, as an “escape” from the perceived unpleasant or banal aspects of daily life. It can also be used as a term to define the actions people take to help relieve persisting feelings of depression or general sadness. Ironically, for a society that claims to be always “happy,” Filipinos are fond of engaging in activities to escape reality, such as by watching television. The reason why Filipinos want to “escape” reality is because reality for them is so harsh that the only thing that can keep some of us from jumping off a cliff is the promise of seeing a better life through other people’s lives.
Unfortunately, running away from our problems by “escaping” to a different world will not make these problems disappear, especially if all we watch are telenovelas and gossip shows about celebrities. In fact we have been running away from our problems far too long that these keep coming back to bite us.
The Philippines has a dysfunctional culture…yada, yada, yada! Frankly, even Filipinos with half a brain already know and acknowledge this, but here we still try our best to find different ways of explaining it in the hope of reaching those who are totally clueless or are still in denial about it. We may as well be talking to a rock, though. We can talk about our culture’s dysfunction ’til kingdom come, but unfortunately we can’t make a real difference until mainstream media shapes up and helps in this endeavor. The reality is that we can only reach a handful of people through blogging, and just hope for the best in the next 100 years or so.
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In this age of Twitter, Facebook, Kindle and the iPad, television is still the best tool that could be employed to change an entire society’s mentality. According to figures from TIME magazine, “across the developing world, around 45% of households had TV in 1995; by 2005 the number had climbed above 60%.” That’s not a lot if you compare it to western households where there are more TV’s than people, but it still means that there are more people who own TVs than those who have access to the Internet.
This is exactly the case in the Philippines where the majority of the population is still not connected to the Net. This means that there are a lot of Filipinos missing out on the Internet revolution. Perhaps the Philippine broadcast industry, most notably ABS-CBN whose shareholders are associated with President Noynoy Aquino are aware of this. Maybe that is why they can rest on their laurels as their minions on television continue to work their magic on their catatonic audiences. It is so easy to entertain these folks by publishing photos of P.Noy accepting his first paycheck or visiting television networks for precisely that, a photo op. Never mind that the real problems of the country remain unresolved.
It comes as no surprise that despite the noise we and some other like-minded people created on the Net to elevate the level of discussion during and after the election, it hardly makes a difference to the way our public officials behave. You could only wonder if P.Noy himself is Internet savvy because it seems that he is not aware of any criticism of him coming from the Net. Maybe it could be a case of his handlers filtering information they perceive as negative from coming to his attention.
Funny enough, P.Noy once questioned the amount of time television networks devote to entertainment shows compared to “socially relevant programming.” Although what he said is true of our television networks, this also is indicative how much in the dark he may be about how the television networks owned and operated by his pals helped give him more exposure on air (and more space on paper) during the election campaign than any other candidate.
It is high time that television be used as a medium to transform the lives of the marginalized portion of Philippine society rather than dumb it down further. If P.Noy is genuine about his desire to change television programming, he should start with shows that catapulted his sister to stardom. Chat shows that talk about people and their love life rather than explore ideas of substance should be purged from local television.
Shows that encourage dependence on hand-outs and escapism like Wowowee should not be revived again and should be replaced with programs that encourage self-sufficiency and self-reliance like those that provide information that could help in the development of one’s skills such as crafts shows or science and technology documentaries. TV networks need to develop shows that promote entrepreneurship and skill development. They should create original programs and not just copy off western reality TV shows.
Telenovelas or drama shows should be limited to the adult time slots because kids are impressionable and tend to mimic reel life in their real lives. Likewise, drama shows tend to stunt the development of the human brain and make them susceptible to gullibility as in the case of those who voted for P.Noy in the last election. It makes sense to apply the mind conditioning that helped propel P.Noy to power for use in helping Filipinos get used to using their critical analysis faculties a bit more.
They say, and I totally agree, that television has the most transformative impact on women. In India, a study conducted by Robert Jensen and Emily Oster found that when cable TV reached villages, women were more likely to make decisions over child health care and less likely to think that men had the right to beat their wives. TV also played a role in adult education in Gujarat, India. It was said that those who routinely watched Bollywood songs and dance clips had seen significant improvement in their reading skills.
Of course, television is a double-edged sword. It has its drawbacks. Too much television has been associated with violence, obesity and social isolation. But to be sure, TV has done more good than harm worldwide. A good show can actually encourage people to read more books.
Television can change people’s lives. At the moment, Philippine television networks are contributing to changing Filipino lives for the worse because of their penchant for sensationalism and nonsensical shows. One can only hope that the powerful television executives can find it in their hearts to change the course of the plot so the Filipino people can look forward to a happier ending.
In life, things are not always what they seem.