Decoding the Context

With over 3.9 million Facebook “likes” (as of August 19, 2016) for her blog, Mocha Uson is a self-evident popular character in Philippine entertainment industry.

But here, let us not dwell on the seeming contentious attributes of Mocha as a public figure nor revisit the media-hyped sexiness that her group, Mocha Girls, has ingrained in public’s consciousness. Instead, our interest lies in the popularization of media formats, that is, Facebook, and, its implications to the formation of public discourse among the media audience.

During her second exclusive one-on-one interview with then presumptive President Rodrigo Duterte, Mocha asserted that she and her likers on Facebook support the government of Duterte, including his pronouncements to shun the dominant capitalist media.

Mocha told Duterte: We support you one hundred percent, boycott na po natin yung media…lalabanan po natin sila (We support you one hundred percent, let us boycott the media…we will fight them). The almost 8-minute interview ended with a text: Tayong mga DDS (Die-hard Duterte Supporter) ang media ni Pres. Duterte (We, the DDS, are President Duterte’s media).

The only plausible justification why Mocha’s popularity has deluged was caused by the exclusivity of her interviews with Duterte – who then avoided other media interviews. We may also reconsider Mocha’s existing allure in the field of entertainment because this could have possibly paved the way for her sentiments to get across various media platforms channeled through other “popular” characters like her fellow artists. But it is through Facebook, a freely-consumed type of popular media, that these exclusive interviews and political positions gained irrefutable appeal across classes, including voters, the youth, Duterte loyalists, and fans of Mocha and her group, the Mocha Girls.

And this is the (almost) precise logic of the popular media – it is utilized by a wide range of consumers/users, subscribed to by a number of sectoral followers and intended as a political propaganda mechanism to persuade the public perception.

But what makes the media popular? What entails the “popular”?

Raymond Williams, one of the protagonists of British cultural studies, in his book Keywords: Vocabulary of Culture and Society, argued that the concept of popular was seen from “the point of view of the people rather than from those seeking favour or power from them”.

If we take off from this notion of popular, we come up with two indicators, one, it is centered on and must reflect the culture and values of its audience, that is, the public. And two, it is a symbolic resistance against the dominant classes of media products like that of the dominant corporate media itself.

Facebook, as a social media platform, serves as a popular media because it draws contradictions and sometimes collective support from oppositional classes of audience. Its popularity also stems from its users and viewers every month, estimated at over 49 million Filipinos (almost half of the current populace), who patronize its trademarks including the recent Facebook Live Video feature.

If we may recall, such platform was instrumental in the mobilization of various groups and individuals that campaigned against the (mis-)use of Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and Presidential and Congressional pork barrel during the Aquino administration in August 2013.

While the issue of access to the internet is still debatable, the use of Facebook in political exercises actuates political participation, particularly if popular characters are involved. Such is Mocha’s case.

The institutional function of the media to ignite social resistance is embedded in our history as a people. From the revolutionary tradition of the Filipino press in the late 1890s to early 1900s that disputed the Spanish rule, through the publications: La Solidaridad (The Solidarity) by Graciano Lopez Jaena, Jose Rizal, Marcelo H. del Pilar, Lopez Jaena, and Mariano Ponce and Kalayaan (Freedom) by Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto; to the accretion of alternative press in 1970s that lambasted the dictatorial rule of the Marcos-US regime: We Forum by Jose Burgos Sr., University of the Philippines student publication, the Philippine Collegian and the Leftist underground’s Taliba ng Bayan (The People’s Herald).

The media becomes popular not only when it is widely accessed and patronized by the greater public, but also when it serves a political and cultural purpose grounded on the principle of egalitarianism.

The progressive historical account of the Philippine press and the media has to be assimilated to the current prospects of our media in order to redirect our attention to the central role of the public, even in new formats like Facebook.

Some may oppose the idea of boycotting the media (no matter how popular such assertion is), but in reality, the public has the right to boycott it especially when it fails to liberate the political consciousness of its people. On the other hand, the media cannot boycott its commitment to contextualize the public affairs needed in securing a critical media audience.

Lest we forget, the promise of democracy is not merely anchored on our ability to connect in the digital society, or what Marshall McLuhan referred to as the global village. Rather, we must engage in the essential public discourse that centers on the amplification of the people-oriented media which will kindle social movements from the grassroots.

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