Resisting Popular Culture

Get Real Philippines has always emphasized that culture is often at the core of societal problems. We bloggers and our readers alike talk about how dysfunctions are inspired by mass media and movies. In other words, among the most effective influences on people’s behavior is popular culture, in addition to older traditions and beliefs that are wrong and obsolete. Thus, one of the apparent courses of action for solving the problems of the Philippines is resisting popular culture.

Mcdonalds_hitler

This culture comprises more than just the TV shows and movies that seem to impress on people certain behaviors. There are also advertisements and music videos, and these might have more effect on forming culture than the other media. For example, a video shows how ads by Edward Bernays helped change the American breakfast habit from a light to heavy one. Another is when marketing cigarettes to women, Bernays called them “torches of freedom,” thus influencing popular culture ideas about smoking. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, while he has found his way into modern Christmas lore, was originally part of marketing for retail company Montgomery Ward. The ideals about the family that our parents held in the 1950s are very likely the effects of advertising at the time. Perhaps the most interesting cultural meme is that of heavily sexualized ideas of beauty, which advertising and music videos are heavily loaded with.

Didn't our parents get fooled by ads like these?
Didn’t our parents get fooled by ads like these?

Thus, advertising as part of modern-day popular culture helps forms our lifestyles. And the reason for popular culture these days is to sell products. As a Psychology Today article put it, we are what we consume. Fads are always there to take advantage of our impulses and take our money.

As Marilyn Manson says in the meme I showed before:

manson_quote

Aldub was the recent pop culture phenomenon in the Philippines. First, we see them do this:

Source of hope: The phenomenal ALDub love team of Alden Richards and Maine Mendoza
Source of hope: The phenomenal ALDub love team of Alden Richards and Maine Mendoza

But in the end, this is what it’s all about:

aldub_talkntext_ad

And people go gaga buying the products endorsed. They end up being like the people described in a recent article: stylish, but starving.

I posit that dysfunctions in society can be traced to the influence of popular culture. The ideas of beauty mentioned above have created problems, such as women with anorexia and bulimia. They help influence our brown-skinned people to seek to become white. Popular culture helps bring across twisted and corrupted notions of what is desirable in society – including the notion that being a sexual monster or “pataasan ng wiwi” (piss contest or the rat race) is something great. They teach us to consume more than we can afford. And a lot more.

Political entities also make use of popular culture to influence and distract people. In fact, the message is being propagated in society that you should be a good citizen by being a good consumer. Just consume products, be quiet, and turn a blind eye to the societal problems that affect even you. That’s indeed one of the ways corrupt governments use to keep people from working for change – especially in our society.

Some people turned to politically correct resistance back then. I am talking about the Weathermen or Weather Underground, a mostly student-led group that did jailbreaks and bombed buildings (mostly government buildings and banks). I remember a scene from the documentary Century of the Self that showed an interview with an irate female member, who said that the selling of products to people constituted a sort of violence, so the Weathermen felt justified to use physical violence in response. This for me was certainly politically correct, as it seemed to me that violence was an inappropriate reaction. I say the Weathermen did wrong by risking the lives of people with their physical violence.

Instead of physical violence, there are other ways to resist popular culture. Perhaps the best “violence” against culture you don’t like is simply this: don’t consume it. It’s like when a vain person asks you to flatter her, you refuse to. While some people advise you to comply and make bola (lie or flatter) to people to stay out of trouble, you are doing better telling the truth to prevent the spread of others’ lies in society. That’s similar to how popular culture is being resisted. Resisting popular culture is not easy, but it can be done. Here are some steps I suggest for doing it.

1. Develop the mindset that popular culture and the mainstream are not “laws to follow.” Stop trying to be “in” and resist the bandwagon. Start accepting the everyone is different, no one needs to be the same. Popular culture tries to give you the idea that everybody should be the same. For example, if everyone likes AlDub or Justin Bieber, you should like the same; otherwise, you get insulted and ostracized. That’s the way starstruck ignoramuses work. This is something we should all stand up to.

Commercial media tries to make us think that it’s important to be “in”, be “cool,” part of the group, in line, etc. As a friend once quipped to me, “look, if it’s popular, it must be good!” No, that’s not true. Marketing and advertising spend millions to polish turds, and people yet buy into it because their critical thinking skills are non-functional. Popular culture is popular not because it is good, but because the marketers fool you into loving polished turds. Thus, one must learn to disconnect from the bandwagon and develop their own crap radar to see through the polish of the turd.

Those familiar with the advertising industry know the principle of “create the need.” Let’s say a customer really doesn’t need a product. The advertising industry will make messages to convince the person that they need it. It is a sort of mindjobbing to convince people to buy things by creating the illusion of need. It’s a legacy of the pioneer propaganda expert Bernays.

In this regard, I have a theory that the Pinoy Pride belief as a product of advertising, not government. It seems Filipinos did not seem to feel any inferiority in general back then. Someone in the advertising industry might have thought of Pinoy Pride in a campaign. However, people felt good about themselves already, so “pride” was not necessary. To create a need for “pride,” ad people decided to make Filipinos feel inferior, so they would resort to Pinoy Pride to make themselves feel better. In the end, this planted inferiority lasted too long, with damaging effects. This makes sense when you look at the skin whitening products that depend on propagating the notion that whiter skin is superior over darker skin.

2. Stop thinking of life as a rat race. One reason why people join bandwagons is the belief that being part of bandwagons gives them some superiority over others. This is enticing especially to Filipinos, who as Benign0 described, are culturally hobbled by a compulsion to assert class dominance over each other. Popular culture tries to fool people into believing that life is a contest. To win that contest, they buy luxury brands, fad gadgets and many other needless things. It goes to the point of spending beyond their means. The rat race takes advantage of human hubris and uses this to deceive people that their lives would be better if they became higher than others; but in reality, it drowns them further into misery. Dissociate vanity from dignity. Get rid of the pride that makes you want to “shine above others,” you’ll find life to be happier. And your culture to be cleaner.

Another probable source of rat race motivations would be… wait for it… motivational ideology. Things like The Secret that say, “you deserve what you want,” “you can be better than others,” “you deserve to be rich and famous,” “be the top dog” and all that. These things are prevalent in business circles as well as media, and they promote the wrong sense of entitlement. They convince people to become further engrossed in rat races and thus consume products to help them do it. Thus, we would do best to avoid such questionable motivational content as well.

3. Stop making the pleasing of other people an important pursuit. Yes, I admit pleasing other people is something I’ll put on top of my list of things I hate doing the most. But for good reason. People who insist you should please them usually just want to use you. A wise friend advised me before, “never be a pleaser in life.” When you think about it, pleasers tend to be people who keep wanting things from others, tend to be sycophants, and are likely free-riders and moochers. The reason they please others is because they want to get something from it. Often it’s something they do not deserve. Better deny it from them.

There’s also the myth that pleasing other people is the same as altruism. Altruism is caring for the welfare of others, while pleasing others merely appeals to their emotion. Thus, pleasing others does not necessarily see the other’s welfare as important. You can seek to please someone and still have no concern for their welfare. So seeking to please others is barely a requirement if you want to be good to others.

Marketers make use of wanting to please others by first, trying to convince you that pleasing others in important to be accepted. Next, they sell their products as essentials for this act. For example, you want to please someone because you have sex with them. To do that, you get products to make you prettier. Revisit the quote by Marilyn Manson above.

4. Keep an open mind to alternative lifestyles and unusual things. Accept outlandish things, don’t be limited to what’s acceptable. This is one thing that may be a challenge in an overly conservative culture like the Philippines, but is very relevant. The thing we call “geekdom” started out this way, a fringe movement of sorts that was ridiculed. Today, it permeates movies, literature music and other cultural items (but of course, we must be wary that something “mainstreamed” can also be part of commercialism). Sounds easy, but pressure from other people to dictate your tastes will try to ruin that. Stand your ground. You don’t need other people to tell you want to like; you should do it yourself.

5. Be educated, not just in knowledge, but in discernment, wisdom, insight, sharpness of mind, cleverness, wit, streetsmartness, and most of all, common sense. In other words, don’t just be intelligent, but be smart and practical as well. You should know the tricks. Including the tricks media uses to trick your mind. Know how to tell when something is a hoax or fake. Know when you’re being sold to, and know when to not give in.

Stop being a rumor monger. In other words, tsismoso/a. That’s the culture we have, one where rumors and gossip are more trusted than evidence being presented. People who love tsismis do not like discernment.

Also, since some people at least try to not be impulsive consumers and have their own businesses, they will use friendships or make friends just for their businesses. That sometimes ruins the friendships, or leads to shallow friendships. Filipinos try to be “entrepreneurs,” but are sometimes unaware of the traps that not only lead to failure, which also make life more complicated.

6. Don’t trust your own feelings all the time. It’s simply because media tries to touch you and influence your behavior through your feelings. Feelings are the bridge, because they are often the part of your psyche where you tend to relinquish control over yourself. Also, your feelings can be mistaken. Learn to withstand emotional appeals as well. Emotional shows by other people can be faked, so learn to resist that.

7. Go for Clean Living. Yes, develop healthy habits, stop smoking, know how to recycle, save energy, save water, eat properly, don’t overconsume, and maybe even plant a tree, all contribute some way to resistance to popular culture. Control your everyday habits, as self-control is an essential in good living. Popular culture with its “get what you want” attitude makes us embrace very unhealthy habits.

8. Be persistently questioning. Even the Bible has a verse for that: “Put everything to the test.” The media and other people always try to be persuasive. Sometimes, they try to impose things on us that are not for our own good (refer back to “create the need”). That is where we must learn to not accept it at first, and question it. People out there are trying to deceive you, and thus you should question what they bring to you. Even if it what’s being pushed is claimed to have some “authority.” As I explained above, even bad culture gets forced on you, or gets sold to you like snake oil.

9. Maintain an outsider perspective. Benign0 suggested to me a book (The Outsider’s Edge) that claims outsiders are the real movers, shakers and innovators of society. This is because local people are often for the status quo, resisting change. If something has been going on for so long, even if it is wrong, they’ll keep it that way. For example, some people believe beating servants has always been acceptable. So when an outsider introduces something like the Kasambahay Law, saying beating servants is wrong, they will be angered. Often, it’s outsiders that bring meaninful changes that people need, and they work to remove the resistance and make sure the necessary changes work.

10. Don’t be afraid to criticize culture. Many people hold on to culture as if it is something sacred that should never be touched. No; culture is not a sacred cow. Culture is artificial, so if humans made it, humans have the right to change it. And nothing should insulate culture from criticism or efforts to change. If someone wants to disobey culture, that’s fine. Culture should never be forced on other people, because it is not law. Because, simply, humans have the right to live according to their own personal culture, provided it conforms to universal ethics and morals.

11. Get off mass media. Indeed, the advice of turning off the TV or radio and getting into a good book or other reading material is still sound. This is because mass media is the apparent tool for weaseling their dictates onto your personal culture. Always try to keep your personal culture under your control, and not under the control of other entities.

In the end, culture wars are not between millennial and baby boomer, east versus west, conservative versus liberal or any other opposite you can think of. Culture wars are not after hearts and minds or things like that. Culture wars are actually between competing commercial interests. They are after your money. It can also be seen as between the consumer and the “consumer of the consumer” – or money-grubbing commercial interests.

In conclusion, I will say that counterculture exists for a reason. Culture can be corrupted to a point that it becomes harmful, and thus counterculture is needed to oppose it. In the 1960s, we had that big wave of counter culture that formed many of our modern ideas about freedom. Yes, there may have been some side effects, like political correctness and the drug culture. However, counterculture has existed throughout time. A book called Counterculture Through The Ages (which I have yet to get) has traced counterculture from the time of the Biblical Abraham (yes, he is considered counterculture in his time) through Socrates, Zen, the Sufis and Bohemianism up to the flapper dresses and zoot suits to 60s counterculture which helped bring about today’s world.

Counterculture or some offshoots does sometimes become the dominant culture, but new counterculture will come to challenge it. It is a cycle of change, of evolution if you want, necessary for improving human society as a whole. While there might be some bad apples in the mix, counterculture generally gives us some ammunition for the cultural resistance against commercialism and other elements that try to mind-control you and direct your behavior. We must be careful and choose the right mix in order to counter the assault that not only affects our wallets, but our intelligence as well. Let us also never forget that our ego always tends to be the target of culture, and it is through our ego that culture is used to manipulate us. Working on our ego is perhaps the most essential part of resisting popular culture.

Advertising and media professor Sut Jhally wrote that our society is headed for a collision course with nature. If humanity does not rethink its consumerist ways, it may be well on its way to self-destruction. The difficulty is that humanity has been taught to love its consumerist ways and even be aggressive against those who oppose it. But this can be overcome with realization of the problem and acceptance of the solution, however harsh it may seem.

Marketers and advertisers will continue to study ways to overcome consumer resistance, but consumers must continue to hold the fort.

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About ChinoF

I stick with this blog because I believe, as my cohorts here do, that many things Filipinos embrace as part of their culture, the "Filipino Way," are pulling them down. And I blog freely to show that in a truly decent society, with true freedom of speech, even nobodies have a voice.