2022 Philippine Elections

In the spirit of beauty pageants: Celebrification in politics

Cherish Aileen Aguilar Brillon, Gerard Martin Suarez

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

In the spirit of beauty pageants: Celebrification in politics
Fans are beginning to see their 'idols' as more than entertainment figures, but as an integral part of politics, a #FactsFirstPH study finds

“The Passion of Fans: How fandom practices can encourage more active participation and help fight disinformation” is a study presented by the authors in a #FactsFirstPH research briefing held on April 29, 2022. The full copy of the research is reposted with permission from the authors.

Second of 3 parts

Read the other parts of this series:
Part 1:  How fans turned to social media to criticize and demand action from celebrities
Part 3: 
The passion of fans: How fandom practices can encourage more active participation and help fight disinformation

Media and politics have long been intertwined in the Philippines. It isn’t news that celebrities often run, and win, in Philippine elections. Here, political events resemble televised shows with local celebrities introducing candidates as if introducing a beloved WWE wrestler. In response, some take the chance to remind our fellow citizens that they need to “be informed” and to “#VoteWisely.” Others, however, take it as a chance to “sigh and cringe” at the state of Philippine politics, sympathizing with each other as they collectively ask – “Anyare, Pilipinas?

Driven by fears and anxieties, talks about entertainment in Philippine politics often assume the worst – not just of celebrities and candidates but also of the people supporting them. On the one hand, there is no shortage of cheers and jeers when political figures dance to catchy jingles, doing showbiz-style performances in their attempts to generate support.

On the other hand, as the hashtags used by the supporters of the two leading presidential candidates, Leni Robredo and Bongbong Marcos, show (#UniThieves, #LBM, #Kakampwet, and #PinkTaliban), people get heated during elections. Just like when “Dutertard” and “dilawan” were still in fashion, stating that some citizens regularly act on several negative assumptions when participating in politics isn’t groundbreaking either.

It’s not a surprise, then, that Philippine citizens have a known history of not wanting to be politically involved. Moreover, when people try to make sense of the present political situation, they often do so in a way that doesn’t make clear what, if anything, can be done about this. “Alam mo naman mga Pilipino,” is the answer that usually goes hand in hand with “Ganyan talaga,” and “Pareparehas lang naman.”

This election season, however, something has changed and it has forced some to rethink how we should view politics within the country. Feats such as record rally numbers, securing the performances of over 30 performers through volunteer efforts, and making a campaign song viral on the Spotify charts, are puzzling to those who view citizens as manipulated and Philippine politics as hopelessly under corrupt control.

Paraphrasing Philippine sociologist Nicole Curato, while discourse on populism has been alive and well, little has been said of the public who are often described as the manipulated, unthinking “masa” that have fallen victim to the power of celebrity and corrupt politicians.

If that were really the case, however, people would not have the ability to change their minds, much less speak back to those in power. Put in another way, why are people braving the weather and the pandemic just to make their voices heard? Moreover, why are people participating through memes, celebrities, and social media?

Convenient and simple answers were never enough. While it is easy to assume that entertainment and politics do not mix, it prevents us from finding out the possible reasons why this is the case in the Philippines and if it can be more than manipulation.

In trying to answer the question, this article places citizen practice within the context of and as a response to recent Philippine events. More specifically, this article focuses on how that translates to celebrity and fandom politics as it relates to digital spaces and the 2022 Presidential election.

Events leading into the 2022 elections

As our timeline shows, three events in particular stand out as reasons citizens have participated as willingly and as vigorously as they have this election: the Duterte administration’s pandemic response, the spread of community pantries, and the shutdown of ABS-CBN.

Known for having the world’s “longest and strictest” lockdown in response to COVID-19, the Philippines was forced to adopt a strategy of digitizing interactions so that people could cope from the homes they were stuck in.

“Rapid adoption of digital technologies can help the Philippines overcome the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, [and] recover from crisis…,” a report released by the World Bank and the National Economic and Development Authority on October 5, 2020 states.

This, in turn, forced most social interactions to migrate online, making internet spaces vital, not just for communication but as sites of venting. As COVID cases rose and with no end to the lockdown in sight, people took to social media to voice out their frustrations against the government.

Despite attempts by the administration to defend their military-centered approach, the Philippines was consistently ranked as the worst place to be during COVID. If people could claim to ignore issues before the pandemic because it didn’t affect them, now there is no escape. People are faced with an ever-present political situation by default.

As prices were rising and people were losing work, community pantries popped up early on to provide some relief. Community pantries were community-initiated activities where people could give and donate food to provide mutual help for members in their localities.

Inspired by the idea, people from all over the country decided to copy it and soon community pantries were sprouting all over. However, more than just a “noble instrument to help others,” community pantries also served as a political message to the administration, criticizing their failure and presenting an example of an active alternative. Though citizens, especially the poor and disadvantaged, have always needed to find ways to cope in times of lack, this fact was now front and center to everyone’s lives.

Lastly, the shutdown of ABS-CBN on May 5, 2020 was important because it had pushed celebrities and their fans alike to take an active and visible stance on this issue. As Rappler reported, #WeBlockAsOne was another citizen movement that directly went against the disinformation networks of the administration. The shutdown not only affected those supporting the network but also affected those in far-flung areas who relied on its coverage for news and events.

To summarize, political participation in the 2022 election has a noticeable digital element precisely because citizens were funneled online as a result of extended community lockdowns. When government assistance was failing to meet people’s needs, people took it upon themselves, with initiatives like community pantries, to extend aid to their neighbors.

Through similar initiatives, people effectively demonstrated their ability to do better than the administration. The unjust shutdown of ABS-CBN was the reason celebrities of Channel 2 were forced to take a public stance on a political matter. Their calls, in turn, led to calls from their fans and gave another chance for people to examine the effects of politics in their lives.

Digital politics

In Part 1, we touched on how fandoms were using social media to demand accountability from the celebrities they followed. Though both Uniteam and Kakampinks do make use of celebrity endorsement, there is a marked difference between the underlying messaging of the two.

While Uniteam candidates are framed as heroes and inheritors of a legacy, Kakampink candidates are framed as civil servants working to uplift their supporters. This, in turn, shapes how their celebrity endorsers and supporters conduct political practice. Uniteam, generally, takes the stance of “follow the leader,” elevating Uniteam figures’ status over rivals.

Kakampinks, on the other hand, take the stance of “listen and empower,” one that places an importance in cooperation with others and the relevance of the campaign to their personal lives.

The King and Queen” best encapsulates how Uniteam supporters see their candidates – larger than life, inheriting the legacies of their fathers, and heroes to place one’s faith onto. As the lyrics of their campaign song, Sure Win, goes: “Sinumulan ng kanilang ama’y itutuloy (What their fathers have started, they will continue)” summarizes the primary reason to support Uniteam.

The importance of projecting an image of widespread support is core to their online strategy, flaunting their numbers on the surveys or on reactions to posts. An emphasis, moreover, of elite connections are consistently highlighted, such as the case in #NinongNinang. Uniteam candidates also stand side by side with celebrity endorsers in order to spread their platforms through celebrity fandom networks.

Celebrity endorsers themselves, are also known to take an unassailable stance in the face of criticism. “I have nothing to prove,” Gonzaga states in reaction to criticism of her Uniteam support, for example. Perhaps, then, the reason supporters act with hostility and constantly deflect when faults are pointed out about their candidates is because supporters want to preserve this “above everyone” image.

When a BBM supporter shows kindness to the opposing side, like when Angkas rider Sherwin Abdon ferried Robredo, harassment was thrown at him by BBM supporters themselves – supporting the idea that there are consequences for not following the leader.

Kakampink messaging, on the other hand, generally positions Robredo and Pangilinan as leaders that listen and work towards empowering their lives. The introduction of “Rosas,” for instance, begins with a quote from Robredo – “Yung laban na ito ‘di ko lang naman laban e. Parang laban ito ng mga tao sa amin (This fight is not just mine. This is the fight of our people).”

In this spirit, political advertisements detail stories of candidates working within different sectors and communities, highlighting the varied reach the campaign is aiming for and the deficiency of “kakampink” as if referring to a singular entity – theirs seem to be a mixed group.

Drawing on the spirit of citizen empowerment, celebrity endorsements highlight the importance of ambagan (shared efforts) as a means to recover from government lacks and deficiencies. By constantly presenting calls to action, celebrity support can also become occasions to change one’s mind.

Speaking of citizen supporters, they are known to use their resources to provide aid. Lawyers for Leni, for instance, offer legal aid to those harassed for supporting pink while rallies are sites of citizens giving free things to fellow citizens. In the spirit of listening, it may be the reason supporters are known for turning insults hurled at them into empowering memes.

The story of Angat-Buhay Lahat (ABL), in summary, fittingly describes the dynamics at play. ABL is a slogan that was reclaimed by the fans as it was originally an insult used by BBM supporters to mean #AnyoneButLeni. Though some have described it as a false facade, it misses the context that the power of the slogan comes in part from the fans taking active roles in seeing the slogan come to life.

Atienza’s article, however, does point out how kakampinks are criticized, asking just how inclusive and radical the pink movement truly is. Posts such as this reveal that kakampinks are ever on the lookout against harassment, given their history of being red-tagged, inclining them to think negatively of Uniteam supporters. Comments on a Robredo-Duterte tandem also reveal that there are lines that some kakampinks are uncomfortable crossing, highlighting the felt divide between the two sides.

Though this breakdown is far from exhaustive, it is enough to show that entertainment and digital participation can be empowering ways of participating in Philippine democracy. Moreover, as people find different and creative ways of transforming the information available to them, it shows that we shouldn’t settle for simple explanations of Philippine politics and its citizens.

How will you empower citizens and help them be more socially aware?

Beauty pageants are occasions when communities get together to judge for themselves what the Philippines has to offer. When pageant season comes to our country, not only do we come together to expect the best out of the next Ms. Philippines, we also expect that our neighbors are more than capable enough to tell good contestants from bad ones.

And yet, when it comes to politics, we don’t often extend the same grace, assuming the worst in others in the process. As we have tried to show, however, the situation isn’t as simple as it seems. We may have an abundance of entertainers and entertainment practices in Philippine politics, but that doesn’t mean that people are entertained into complacency nor do they stop caring about things that matter to them.

In this light, digital political participation in the Philippines is better understood as an informed response to the greater political context in which it operates, and has been an empowering force for democratic participation.

And while a reminder to treat people as capable actors, rather than caricatures, does not lead to peace, it does push us towards solutions which have us listening and working with others. We elaborate on this idea in the third part of this series.

This is an indicator that fans are beginning to see their favorite celebrities or idols as more than entertainment figures, but as an integral part of the country’s political landscape.

Previously, these kinds of criticism were largely ignored since the calls for celebrities to be more political were not as amplified as it is now. But in the age of social media where instant feedback is the norm, these criticisms and call-outs can really have consequences for these celebrities Rappler.com

Cherish Aileen Aguilar Brillon is an Associate Professor at the UP Diliman College of Mass Communication, Broadcast Communication Department. She is also part of DZUP 1602, the official radio station of the UP community, where she is the committee head for research and online programming. Her research interests include political economy of media, gender, fandom, cultural memory, and superheroes. 

Gerard Martin C. Suarez is a PhD Media Studies student at the College of Mass Communication at UP Diliman. His research on media topics is anchored on the elites, propaganda, and civic participation. He also works as a researcher for the Center for Local and Regional Governance, focusing on topics related to Philippine local government units.

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!