If there’s anything the campaign season and election results might teach us, it’s how irrelevant we are to the outcomes of political exercises such as choosing our leaders.
And I mean us, the middle to wealthier classes who are on social media, writing and reading and speaking in English, our minds swirling with foreign books and films and TV.
I mean us, the Martial Law babies of the 70’s, who grew up on Marcosian history but also came of age in the years post-EDSA ’86, and the democratic cultural and political space it allowed us. I mean us, who claim freedom, invoke it, live off it, but do not know a life where we fight for it with our blood, do not know to struggle with freedom from hunger, need, want.
I mean us, artists and writers, performers and creatives—cultural workers all—who, in this most divisive and critical of elections could’ve, should’ve, would’ve been the voice of reason, the voice that balances what is good with what is delusion, what is bad with what is worse, never speaking in terms that are white and black, good versus evil, because we know the pitfalls of archetypes and stereotypes, we can read spin from a mile away, we can see every shade and tint of gray.
We are skilled at distance, at seeing bigger pictures, at telling larger narratives. It keeps us sane, above the fray, disengaged even when we are in the midst. Our politics is beyond the elections, we like to believe, because the real work for nation happens after it, in the six years of necessary struggle with new leaders, in this perennial resistance we nurture because we are aware of our systemic dysfunctions, those that are never fixed, because rarely admitted.
Let it be said that during election season 2016, our partisanship and our biases got the better of us. Let it be said that too many fell into the black hole of name-calling and trolling, of taking a moral high ground that is precisely what has won this election for candidates we thought would never get into power.
It is not the outcome of the election that proves the crisis of the cultural sector. It is in how we handled the campaign, and now, the post-election limbo.
Where our embarrassments and disappointments, if not our fears, are reconfigured into an excoriation of a younger generation—because we know better than they do! we insist. Where we still imagine that romancing our pens means anything, even as we are first to turn that pen against each other at the first instance of rebellion or resistance—or criticism—from among our ranks.
Where our delusion of superiority is revealed at the worst of times, as that instance when we reprimand a nurse for wearing the baller of a candidate we do not like; or that other time when we told others: it’s culture stupid, and demanded that they do something, anything!; or that other time we decided to reprimand “theater folk” who were supportive of the candidate we didn’t believe in.
Where we simplify election outcomes to be a matter of good versus evil, yellow versus red.
Where now we refuse to be the first ones to rise to the occasion of nation and admit to our complicity in the kind of bottom-of-the-barrel discourse that we suffered through for seven months. Where we continue to believe that invoking history and throwing facts in people’s faces will mean a shift in loyalties, or a change in who they wish to see as Vice President.
We are not rising to the occasion of these election results. We continue to engage like it’s campaign season, refusing to take a breath, rethink our options, and strategize our next move. Words don’t do it anymore, and neither do facts. This is not about doing the best work we can, and hoping for the best. That is what we’ve done all these years; this is where it has brought us.
Refusing to talk about the merits of the Marcos years will not get us anywhere. Denying for example, that the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines (ECP) happened during Martial Law does not do the cause of filmmaking any good. Refusing to acknowledge all that happened during Martial Law by throwing around facts about its victims, could even be seen as a form of disrespect to those who lost their lives to give us our freedoms: because why put their stories on the same level as Marcosian historical revisionism?
The discussion is far more complex than building study guides and reading lists. The requirement is a concerted, well-planned effort that will need to consistently work on an even keel, beyond the taunts and heckling.
But first it seems time to take stock. What is this limbo we live in now, given what the elections have turned us into? What did we sacrifice for partisan politicking and color blindness? How do we return from participating in the name-calling and trolling, misinformation and lies? How intact is our credibility as nation’s critics?
Artistic freedom is bound to our ability to reflect and reconsider what we think, even our convictions, especially our biases. It requires quiet when the noise is unbearable, detachment in midst of unity. We are relevant because we know to rethink our beliefs, question our principles. We are relevant because we know to navigate difference and sameness, difficulty and struggle. We do so without romanticizing the state of affairs, nor our roles in the greater scheme of things.
This election has proven in fact, that for all our fantasies about our importance and value, we are terribly irrelevant.
Now we can whimper and ask what now. Or we can get off that high horse, jump off that ivory tower, and do better by nation. We start now. There is no time to waste.