My five-year old neice Jinggay outranks all others in our neighborhood in looks and language skills. She cavorts on the streets with such self-confidence you’d think she is a miniature adult. And she mesmerizes you with her rare facility with words when she talks.
One afternoon she was standing in front of a display of “ukay-ukay” wares on the roadside opposite my house, her eyes gleaming with pleasurable admiration at the children’s dresses hanging on a rack. In a little while her mother came close beside her, and no sooner had she clutched at her arm than she pleadingly exclaimed, “Mama, gusto ko ana, ug kana, ug kana, ug kana pod! Palita dayon, Ma!” [Mama I want that one, and that one, and that one, and that other one! Buy them quick, Ma!]
Very soon Jinggay’s little brother Mico came and without hesitation picked up two of the toys arrayed on a mat on the ground and ran away. Poor poor mother! Her shoulders and chest sagged with a helpless sigh. She felt she was drowning amid her children’s demands, like the asthmatic fits she suffered during the flashfloods that visited them the previous month.
. . .
If there’s ever a cultural phenomenon that has pervaded Philippine society in all its layers and dimensions, it is “consumerism”. It has conquered and enslaved the Filipino psyche like some kind of addiction. It constitutes a large share of the Filipino culture.
Nobody really knows when the invading influences of consumerism exactly occurred. They might have just crept surreptitiously into the subconsciousness of the people in their slumber like a dream. Or they might have just sprouted and got rooted in the socio-economic matrix. And all of society just woke up one “historical morning” to find consumerism has become a way of life for the Filipino. It has become a basic feature in the Filipino’s psychological make up.
The mass media has served as the very effective vehicle for consumerist ideology in invading the minds and hearts of the citizenry. Every minute of every hour from early morning until very late at night, the TV and other mass media channels dutifully swamp the minds of people with all sorts of advertising gimmicks — commercials, they are called . Little do people know that commercial goods and products carry with them a culture. Trappings of a world outlook are invested on them which become part of the consumers’ mode of thought and behavior.
The unwary population are bombarded with and misled by massive dosages of enchanting wonders of all sorts of commercial goods and products. Add to this the alluring celebrity icons from the showbiz industry who are hired to endorse them! And you have a spectacular conversion of entire populations into the cultural mold of the commercial environment so created.
The urge to buy and consume more than what is necessary is fast cultivated along with the increasing sophistication in the art of advertising and marketing. And the appetite for more expensive items is sharpened. Moreover, the luxurious lifestyle of the wealthy creates a stimulus to salivate for goods unfamiliar among the less-income mortals. This is so because consumerism is expressed differently by the more affluent. The rich and famous go restaurant and bistro-hopping — or they visit exotic resorts ! (like Kris Aquino sorties) — in order to show how luxurious lifestyle can be an inspiration for the adventurous ones to climb to the realm of “the good life”. And so they who have the heart for adventure , they too go to expensive bistros and resorts to spend their last peso for ephemeral pleasure and illusory prestige.
The rage to buy and consume go hand in hand with the desire for social prestige. Status symbol , as a by-way in the figurative stampede for consumption, is a kind of benchmark in the pursuit for social prestige. It pricks the ego even as it whets the acquisitive instinct and increases the consumptive urge of the human individual. It spurs one’s obsession for the good life.
Indeed consumerism has imposed itself on the thought and behavior patterns of the people. The phenomenon of the ukay-ukay which proliferate like mushrooms in practically every corner of towns and cities—oh, even in remote barangays!— is just one manifestation of its bewitching influence among the masses of consumers.
The malls. Yes, the malls! — they are veritable magnetic fields, drawing into their portals millions of consumers daily in spending spree. And the mall is also a form of status symbol where consumers from all walks of life derive a sense of belongingness. Students just dismissed from their classes and working men and women emerging from their workplaces throng to these oases to relish the feeling of “differentness” — a feeling of just being there to perform their ritual of giving away the extra chips of their “baon” money or their wages. Soon a new vocabulary emerged —“malling”
But what are the political implications of this cultural phenomenon called consumerism? As a world outlook engendered by the “free enterprise” society, it seems to be a harmless “given”, as natural as human existence itself. But as an ideological entity it is meant to favor a certain mode of living, as in fact it aims to dominate the consciousness of the citizenry in order to maintain and sustain a social order—the free enterprise social order, falsely tagged as democracy.
Consumerism is actually a child of imperialist global domination. It spreads the gospel of the phenomenon called globalization. And we are aware what and how imperialism, particularly US Imperialism, intends to control the entire world economically, politically and culturally. It aims to create a global village with a homogenous culture so that effective domination can be realized in this planet./
The imperialist strategy works by the mechanism of market forces that supervise and control the movement of commercial goods and products around the globe. However, these economic pursuits are realized alongside political and military maneuvers that entail a kind of special relationships with government leaders of countries.
The Philippine government now headed by President Noynoy Aquino is very vulnerable to imperialist machinations, it being a traditionally puppet government from its very inception. And as a politician that represents the domestic ruling classes, Noynoy cannot but be obeisant to American imperialist demands or dictates for the advancement of their supposedly mutual interests.
In face of this scenario, consumerism certainly benefits the politicians who are the actual sovereigns in the country. The higher need and aspiration for equity and social justice among the masses are laid aside in favor of the politicians’ personal aggrandizement. No Filipino politician, assuming leadership of the Filipino nation, has ever committed himself to the real interests of the people. Leadership and governance have always been conducted through deceit, hypocrisy and treachery.
On the part of the people, consumerism has served as a dupe that waylay their collective dream for a better future. The acquisition and accumulation of goods become the abiding preoccupation of individual citizens, procrastinating, if not forgetting, participation in the lofty forms of social responsibility. The task of nation building is better submitted and left to the wiles of the political experts —the politicians.
But because the majority of the population are have-nots and needy, it would be easy for these political experts to manipulate them. Any sign and symptoms of unrest among the people are readily appeased with tokens of dole-outs and amorphous measures labeled as “peace and development” program and services. The current DSWD program of 4Ps is a classic example of political tokenism that is never meant for sustainable emancipation of the people from poverty. And of course, Oplan Bayanihan with its hollow program of peace and development is a vile design for perpetual subjugation of the people alongside a scandalous grant of privileges to foreign imperialist interests to control our economy.
More than that, it is a military adventure primarily intended to protect these imperialist corporate interests that scrape our mountains for gold ores and other mineral resources. And as such “security guards” of the mining companies, the military is now in a rampage – violating human rights of Lumads and Christian settlers, hamletting the villages in the countryside, viciously organizing para-military groups and prodding them to launch “war” against NPA rebels, endangering the lives of civilians in the area.
In a very skillful way, consumerism as promoted by the ruling elite or by the State apparatus is a cultural partner of obscurantism. And both serve as an effective blindfold for the flourish of political cajolery and deception.
What consumerism practically does is entertain the people with its varied cultural aperitifs dished out through the mass media, giving illusion of hopes for national progress by romanticizing and glorifying individual feats in the field of the arts, most particularly in the performing arts. And so the “rags to riches success story” is given centerstage and spotlight and extensive media coverage, obscuring the fact that it is just one in a million chance, and concealing the miserable reality obtaining among the rest of the population over the century.
Worse, the stark disparity in the lives between the haves and have-nots is obliterated by declarations of “a growing economy”, proclaiming an increase in GDP! And this is coupled with broadcasts of the 10 richest citizens in the country, each with networth of billions of dollars! Dollars, mind you, not pesos! [Right now, my wallet contains only P50. How much do the rest of the millions of Filipinos who are much much poorer than me have in their pockets at this hour? I’m sure they have only as much dirt in their pockets as the soil that cling to their fingernails and toenails.]
The tale of economic growth that President Noynoy boasts about is reflected only in the bank accounts of Henry Sy , Lucio Tan and the rest of the country’s richest! As far as the people is concerned the President’s tale is a lot of nonsense. At most, it is a joke—an unfortunate joke that mocks the millions of the masses who are groveling in dire existence.