In a world where the one who shouts the loudest gets heard the most, Duterte’s endless supply of meme-able quotes gave him the advantage in our first social media election.
Duterte dominated the airwaves, but more importantly the status updates, on Facebook and Twitter, on Youtube and Instagram, through his outlandish statements that were as Alex Magno described them, “hegemonic” particularly in the homestretch of the campaign, when voters were making up their minds. It sucked the oxygen out of his opponents’ airtime.
#PDiggy or #PGong as Duterte has now been dubbed on social media had the perfect public persona of any candidate to master this new medium. Whether you were for or against him, you couldn’t help but talk about him. This heralds a new form of campaigning: from one based on a central narrative that the candidate weaves, to one where the candidate is someone whom the audience moulds and repackages as they see fit.
Through memes and hashtags, retweets and Facebook shares, the production of campaign slogans, jingles, videos and press releases is now the domain of voters. There is no room in all this for nuanced policy debates that readers glaze over as they scroll up and down their social media walls. The only thing that captures their attention in this shallow environment that promotes sleep deprivation and short-term memory is shock value.
The more hits, views, likes, <3’s, shares and retweets a status update gets, the more eyeballs focus on them. The only way to collect these things is to do or say something outrageous and shocking. If Erap Estrada and Fernando Poe, Jr. mastered the art of a carefully crafted telegenic performance fit for the screen with sound bytes that mainstream media could easily squeeze into the evening news, Duterte has mastered the art of creating a buzz on the 24/7 echo chamber that is social media.
This is no longer a postmodern world where the elusiveness of meaning is exemplified by the narratives and counter-narratives of light vs. dark, rich v. poor, that were acted out by their proponents in the elections of 1998, 2004, and 2010. We have now entered a pseudo modern age which is characterized by the absence of narratives. As Alan Kirby explains
Postmodernism… fetishised [ie placed supreme importance on] the author, even when the author…pretended to abolish him or herself. But the culture we have now fetishises the recipient of the text to the degree that they become a partial or whole author of it. Optimists may see this as the democratisation of culture; pessimists will point to the excruciating banality and vacuity of the cultural products thereby generated.
The challenge for Mr. Duterte now is to pivot from the act of campaigning to governing. Having divided the nation, with his raunchy, expletive-ridden remarks, he now has to unite the various sectors of our society against the internal and external conflicts and challenges it faces with more measured manners. If his campaign was an MA15+ movie, he now has to edit it down to a PG-13 version, or risk losing the respect and goodwill that his mandate affords him.