IN the face of formidable power, the weak devise mechanisms to fight back in order to survive, or maintain sanity. When confronted by the public transcripts of dominant power, the oppressed resort to creativity.
Their resistance could find expression in parody, where the tormented can turn the tormentors into materials for laughter. This is how Mikhail Bakhtin saw the emergence of the carnival as a metaphor for resistance. When power was absolute and draconian, only the court jester or the carnival clown can make fun of the brutal king without fear of losing his head. In the television series “Game of Thrones,” this is perhaps the other source of Tyrion Lannister’s durability. He is a dwarf.
In Bakhtin’s carnival, there is a temporary suspension of the repressive social norms and conventions imposed by the elites when marginalized groups parodied the rich and powerful.
And the arsenal available for the oppressed and the marginalized rests on creativity. Like what French social anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss saw as a skill among artists, which he referred to as bricolage, the oppressed and the marginalized are able to make do with the symbols of their ordinary lives, including the idioms of their oppression, and turn these into creative ways to survive, or what he described as shaping “the beautiful and useful out of the dump heap of human life.”
We find this creativity among gays, where they turn the symbols that oppress them into materials to fight back against the heterosexual world. Appropriating Bakhtin’s carnival, they parody straight culture by having their own beauty pageants and Santacruzan processions. Comedy bars become a space where mostly gay hosts make fun of their audience, and where they have an opportunity to torment on stage, in the name of humor and fun, the bearers of straight culture that outside the walls of the bar are the ones that torment them.
The gay identity was also able to carve for itself a coded space where they are empowered. They creatively invented gayspeak, which becomes a linguistic device that effectively defines the boundaries within which gays rule supreme, and where they become agents of their own social meanings. In this protected space, the heterosexuals are now rendered the clueless other, unable to understand the language that marks them as the outsider and the intruder.
Another face of creativity is seen in the colonization of the internet by the ordinary people.
Michel de Certeau argued that everyday forms of resistance can lead to a situation in which mass-produced commodities can be transformed into cultural forms that oppose the dominant culture that produced them. Thus, you have gyms that used to celebrate masculinity being colonized by the gay subculture, and you have counterfeit goods descending on the malls that are considered to be the mecca of capitalism which they undermine.
Social media and the internet started out as an elitist space, which only those who could afford handheld gadgets and laptops could inhabit and frequently circulate. Maria Ressa’s Rappler used to lord it over internet-mediated news.
However, the entry of cheap mobile phones and of free internet enabled the ordinary people to invade the internet and consequently, social media. This turned the internet into a technology that was weaponized by the powerless and the marginalized to fight the dominant and the powerful.
Eventually, armed with creativity, ordinary people gradually turned Facebook from just a page on which to post selfies and food porn into one where they could become participants in political discourse. It became a place where they could express their political grievances. They turned Facebook into one big carnival, where memes making fun of political figures exploded without mercy. And here, ordinary people were ruthless not only in their creativity but also in their ability to ridicule.
James Scott has argued that one of the strategies used by the weak is rumor whose potency to undermine and destabilize the established and dominant power rests on its having an anonymous source. Rumor, by its very nature, doesn’t have to be true, since the objective is not to assert a fact, but to destabilize the truth that is convenient to the powerful.
It is here that trolls descended into social media, taking advantage of the very nature of its technology, which enables anonymity to launch an attack.
This development has destabilized and challenged established institutions. This array of creative strategies of defiance and resistance, often anonymous and without accountability has undermined the monopoly of the journalist to report news, of the intellectual academic and professional expert to dispense knowledge, and of the political elite to exercise power.
And as a result, Maria Ressa and Rappler were dethroned by Mocha, even as Leni Robredo is tormented by the Collective.
And the powerful and the traditional are fighting back. Maria Ressa wanted to retake the internet. Inconvenient discourses were delegitimized by conveniently labeling them as “fake news.” A group of journalists developed a social media application called “Fakeblok” to combat these so-called “fake news.”
Bur in trying to suppress inconvenient discourses, they end up not only censoring speech that they do not like, but also arrogating unto themselves the power to define truth. As people presenting themselves as defenders of free speech, they have been effectively undermined. Their hypocrisy has been unmasked.