Decoding the Context

Merriam-Webster defines human interest as “a quality that attracts attention because it involves the experiences of real people”. For Oxford dictionary, human interest has to do with “the aspect of a story in the media that interests people because it describes the experiences or emotions of individuals to which others can relate”.

From these definitions, human interest appears to be a state or condition (a “quality” or an “aspect” of the everyday life) in which someone out there has to be interesting and relatable to the eye of the populace. And that that someone must be given a space in the media (be it traditional or online) because the experiences that he or she offers are “real”, especially when they deal with (mainstream) politics.

One common driving force of human interest stories about politics is popularity.

On one hand, popularity is a prerequisite before someone or something can mark a space in the limelight. Simply put, it is inevitable that only the known and the popular will dominate our news feed because they have the popularity capital to begin with. This is the precise logic why we always see politicians, government officials and show-business personalities alike in the human interest section of our daily news. Their presence has become a norm but remains contentious from time to time.

For example, just how exactly are we entertained with the love story and dating affair of then president Mr. Aquino III? Or in the way his officials led some men in high heels to symbolically mark the International Women’s Day?

On the other, the media predetermines who or what is to become popular. In other words, the media claims the prophecy on who and what is in-and- out in the story of the day. It may stick to its reportage on the already popular personalities (meaning the usual news subjects that we see every single day like politicians), or it may feature an entirely out of this world story only to frame new personalities it wishes to popularize. And again, these stories remain questionable to us.

For instance, why are we so enthusiastic to hear the cursing remarks of Mr. Duterte? Or the binary language (us versus them; we’re friends, they’re our enemies) and the rhetoric of hate of Mr. Trump? Or the language of their die-hard supporters online? Aren’t these personalities and the styles they unleash one and the same?

To be sure, legitimacy and newsworthiness have no place in the discourse of popularity and thus in human interest. A popular human interest story does not necessitate a legitimate or a worthy piece (and this is partly why “fake news” are on the rise again). What matters is the circulation of these popular stories in the networked communications where all of us seem to be interconnected and yet are trapped at the very same time. And this is where the role and accountability of social media comes in.

We have well pampered ourselves with the “liberating” promises of social media. We feel a certain degree of freedom if we are able to leave our comment, say, in an online news thread. If one is an avid supporter of Mr. Duterte, it is so convenient to like or share the Facebook or YouTube posts of his political disciples. At the same time, if one wants to register a sense of discontent or rage, these platforms may also be the obvious battleground for such “resistance”. But, neither of the two is worthy because the way we circulate – by means of uploading, sharing, commenting, liking, and/or simply viewing – our comments through the same platforms may have already served the purpose of human interest stories, that is, to merely popularize.

What appears to be popularized these days under the banner of human interest stories are the styles of politics. These styles (like the cursing remarks) are bolstered in favor of the form, and not the content, of human interest storytelling. It is the form that turns a “real” news subject into a human interest. It is this form that frames a story or an experience where others must turn to. And suffice to say, it is this form that makes human interest marketable over other relevant media stories. (davaotoday.com)

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