FOR many, “ideology” is a dirty word since it is always uttered in the same breathe as communist ideology or Muslim ideology – scary stuff that most people in dominant culture consider as unfamiliar and scary. However, one of the illuminating things I have learned from the discipline of Sociology is how the unfamiliar and scary are rendered familiar and understandable when viewed from its unique lenses. I particularly go back to the Althusser’s notion of ideology to make sense of these troubling times.
Just about any one with an internet connection nowadays is quick to expose their passionate convictions on social media. There is something liberating about the platform that the interwebs offers to those who never had a venue to air out their social commentaries before. Like a once exclusive party whose gates are finally opened to the hoipoloi, social media has exploded with the passionate participation of new commentators. And they come with their new ring leaders who whip up the online crowd to a frenzy.
The Mocha Usons, Sass Sasots, and RJ Nietos among others are the rising superstars with hundreds of thousands of online followers rivaling the impact of traditional news media in terms of reach and influence. Their online stardom coincides with the populist appeal of their principal, President Duterte, and he has since rewarded them with some form of incentive for doing the good job of defending him online and offline against attacks.
The ascendancy of Duterte to the presidency and the rise of these social media superstars indicate a moment in the evolution of Philippine politics that must be dissected and studied. But already, certain dominant features stand out.
Duterte came in from the far left-field of the political exercise for the presidency last year and managed to ride on the crest of popular hatred for the previous administration through his macho posturings. His social media supporters are riding the same wave popular disdain for what was perceived to be a callous elite-led administration coupled with the collective pining for a political messiah/savior.
The fact that Uson refers to the president as Tatay is very revealing. There is an obvious paternal expectation that many see fulfilled in Dutert ‘s macho posturings. When he rid urban alleyways of petty drug users and pushers, they applaud him for doing the dirty work in their name. The same attitude was also shared by many who supported his iron hand tactics in responding to the Marawi siege. The body count and economic collateral damage were all seen as necessary sacrifices that they must bear together with their president. The president is seen as a suffering savior who they must commiserate with as a practice of their nationalism. Anyone, who does not see things from this vantage point are considered as traitors.
The collective pining for a paternal political messiah catapulted Duterte to the presidency. And this social clamor is what Duterte’s social media operators continue to mine for their and their principal’s benefit. It is a truly ideological moment that is lost for them both as expected, with the two playing their socially-defined roles to the hilt – one as political messiah, the other, as new media disciples preaching the good word.
The short definition of ideology refers to the “imagined relations between things” but the power of the concept emanates from the Marxist scholar Althusser’s assertions that the way we imagine the relationship of things is shaped by the exigencies of various social apparatuses operating on the principle of self-preservation. He had a keen regard for the important yet hidden role that ideology plays in the reproduction of the relations of production.
The online mob that is currently propping up and defending the Duterte presidency misrecognize that they are merely playing socially-sanctioned roles as defenders of the status quo even though they might regard themselves as mavericks defending an underdog president. Duterte himself is taken in fully by his role as the paternal political messiah ready to carry the cross of EJKs, Moro displacement, and an emerging rabid anti-communist drive for the sake of his imagined nation. Remember the greatest trick of the devil is to fool all of us into thinking that he does not exist.
There is also something that must be said about the rabid defenders of this latest iteration of elite-rule in the country. Trapped in the mystic cave of reflected ideological knowledge, they should be forgiven for they do not know what is it they are doing.
Published in the SunStar Bacolod newspaper on November 21, 2017.
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