There was one thing celebrity “activist” and former Apo Hiking Society singer Jim Paredes achieved after his spectactulartililing rampage during the 31st anniversary celebration of the EDSA “people power revolution” last weekend. He managed to expose just how intellectually-bankrupt the Philippine national “debate” had become.
Or perhaps the more appropriate conclusion to draw from Paredes’s “outrage” is just how this national “debate” has not changed at all. Way back in 2000, an “admired Filipino economist, based in New York” after taking stock of the political discourse at the time lamented, “What ails the country is that Philippine society is intellectually bankrupt.” In his now-viral epic tantrum on this supposedly hallowed historical highway, Paredes once again proved how vacuous Philippine political discourse remains.
Indeed, what was once a society divided between the camps of the “Yellowtards” and the “Dutertards” during the elections has become polarised — camps of the die-hards increasingly relegated to the extreme ends of the spectrum while a sector increasingly growing disenchanted (or worse, merely bemused) with both grows in the middle. Let’s call this growing community of bemused observers, the Popcorn Camp. If there is a camp that a new, arguably more intelligent breed of politically-passionate Netizens and activists should begin to consider themselves a part of, it is this Popcorn Camp.
I coined the term Popcorn Camp after, for some years now, observing how some participants in comment threads express a preference to just sit back and “eat popcorn” whenever “debate” ensues following the eruption of the next outrage fad. It alludes to how this snack is often consumed while watching a movie — particularly non-intellectual movies like action movies which, interestingly enough, are derisively referred to as “popcorn movies”. While these sorts can be derided as mere fence sitters, perhaps a better way to regard the position they take is as one of active listening. Indeed, it has often been observed how the mirons (unofficial arbiters and commentators) in a chess game are able to see all the right moves that the actual players seem to be missing.
The interesting pattern emerging in the polar camps is how increasingly blinkered they are becoming and how increasingly focused on personalities and decreasingly hinged on ideas they have become. In the communities that grew within my own sphere of operations on the Internet, the guiding principle has always been to focus on the ideas and regard the personalities that happen to be orbiting around these at the moment as mere peripherals. One thing I have learned over the years is that these personalities come and go. The ideas, and specially the underlying fundamental principles, on the other hand, remain largely stable and consistent over time.
A true intellectual class in the Philippines can only be one where ideas reign supreme over personalities. In this regard, Jim Paredes provides a handful of stark lesson to a whole generation of Filipinos.
First is that celebrity and cult-of-personality is fleeting. Paredes has learned the hard way that ascendancy built upon celebrity tends to come back to bite. We see it in the way he now comes across as a sad relic of heady bygone days that can no longer be invoked.
Second, being beholden to personalities makes it difficult to remain consistent over time. Paredes proved this a number of times, in the way he now contradicts his 2006 position that Filipinos require tougher government to shape up and another he took in 2007 when he wrote a critical piece citing the “Filipino archetype” that is wont to live in “a mythic, magical world where we expect a handsome prince to save us at the last minute, or that things will get better with the wave of a magic wand, without any need for us to change.” Both actually articulate valid and insightful thoughts about Filipino culture. However, they are wasted in a man who stubbornly defines himself by the politicians he remains steadfastly loyal to.
Lastly, Filipinos of all people, should be the ones who could relate the most to the notion that the one who is first with letting loose an emotional outburst, is the ultimate loser. There is a popular Tagalog phrase for this concept that even kindergarten kids take to heart: Mapikon, talo. Between the stolid position the Duterte-aligned activist took and Paredes’s tantrum-like display, it is clear who was the loser in that melee.