VOX POPS: Bread, Circuses, Politics and the AlDub Nation

By April Rose Q. Torion/Special to BukidnonNews.Net


MUSUAN, Maramag, Bukidnon (BukidnonNews.Net/12 October)— Those wired on social media the past few weeks could see the most pressing concerns of Filipinos today. No, not the recent lumad killings, the Bangsamoro Basic Law or the West Philippine Sea. Not even this week’s filing of certificates of candidacy before the Commission on Elections. No, not at all.

They’re not as important anyway as #AlDubEBforLOVE, #ShowtimeKapamilyaDay, #KathNiel, #OTWOL and #PastillasGirl.

That is, if we consider the country’s top trending topics on Twitter. In fact, the first even generated 25.6 million tweets in one day at the maximum rate of 43 thousand tweets per minute.

This shows the people’s increasing power in deciding what to talk about and what to ignore in the public sphere, a far cry from the days when issues were solely dictated by the few gatekeepers of newspapers, radio and TV.

Nowadays, everyone has a voice.

Mass media content is now shaped by the pulse of the nation, easily checked through Twitter trends and Facebook News Feeds. In the past, TV stations solely rely on more than a thousand sample viewers to rate content. Now, everyone—or at least the 40 percent Internet-wired population—can boost audience perception of a TV show for example, thereby increasing its ratings, its advertisers and its network’s multi-million peso profits.

This cross-platform audience engagement has changed the media landscape. But though revolutionary, it is also alarming.

In mass communication, status conferral theory suggests that the media gives a degree of importance to people and issues it covers. In other words, an important issue that isn’t discussed is then considered irrelevant, and will become such. Likewise, the uninformed armpit of a starlet can become a national issue if reported by the media.

In this country with high percentage media consumption, broadcast stations are only mandated to air at least 30 minutes of news and public affairs daily. This has paved way to entertainment-inclined programming that can yield higher ratings and more advertisers. How many political issues trend regularly, anyway?

This leads to a causality dilemma of chicken or egg: Are people becoming dumb because media messages are dumb? Or is the media merely dumbing down so it will be patronized?

Before the fall of Ancient Rome, the poet Juvenal observed that the common people, rather than caring about politics, were only interested in bread and circuses. This referred to their government’s practice of distributing wheat and showcasing gladiatorial games to distract people from the nation’s pressing issues.

Today, a government can still pacify a country with high poverty incidence through dole-outs and political diversions. But it can do so now with the help of another powerful institution—the media. And nowadays, circuses provided by both can still do the trick even when there’s no bread on the table, as shown by our media consumption and poverty rating. (Check the 2015 SWS Self-Rated Poverty Survey.) As in street-kid logic: Rugby is much cheaper than food.

Yes, we can’t also discount the positive effects of entertainment— the sharing of values and traditions, sense of community, empathy and, well, a healthy dose of kilig.

But then some have used entertainment to fully escape from reality by living in virtual worlds of #MostApprovedKisses, #kiligs, trending armies and fan wars. And if everyone starts acting this way, catering only to primal drives of food and pleasure, then we are doomed as a nation.

So here’s to hoping that those who post “AlDub you FOREVER!!!” will also post about the recent lumad killings, the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the West Philippine Sea, or this week’s filing of certificates of candidacy.

Or better yet, do something about them in the real world.



(April Rose Q. Torion is one of the editors at BukidnonNews.Net. She teaches English and Journalism at the Central Mindanao University. Send your comments to artorion@ymail.com.)