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Voyeurs on the margins

The recent ruckus between the female siblings of a “slightly prominent” Filipino family involved in the country’s entertainment business at the wake of its recently deceased patriarch, has become the “talk of the town,” a social media “sensation,” and a gold-mine for television networks. 

The alleged fistfight that occurred with no less than the Philippine president trying to ward off and appease the enraged sisters while simply intending to express his condolences to the bereaved widow, added to the story’s “show value,” and it sparked off a chain of “exclusive interviews” between the protagonists.

These “exclusive interviews” revealed a multitude of malicious innuendos and the deep backstories behind a long and emotionally-draining family feud.

What kept almost an entire nation glued to their television sets or smartphones — as if to momentarily forget and “anesthetize” their states of irredeemable destitution — were the intrigues on clandestine extramarital relationships and political connections, the clashes for credibility and popular support, and the surreal involvement of the nation’s figurehead as well as the more bewildering attempts to get him to take sides on the issues raised, which he wisely declined.

Fortunately perhaps, the entire episode has been overwhelmed and deservingly immersed in the undercurrent of public consciousness as the media began to focus on the destructive earthquakes in Mindanao and on the annual “mad rush” towards the holiday season; and as the anesthetized masses gleefully returned to their fictitious soap-operas and telenovelas.

Such is the life in the margins. For these faceless and voiceless people, the lives of the “rich and famous,” of those with exquisitely beautiful faces and persuasively immaculate voices, of the untouchable countenances that influence society, are joyful treats to watch, if only to temporarily forget the inescapable reality of daily drudgery and survival.

They are the hapless objects of these “movers and shakers,” and yet they are also active voyeurs from the social periphery, allowing themselves to be entertained from the drama and humor being willfully performed by these influencers at the social “center-stage.”

A family of stars: (From left) Julia Barretto and her mother Marjorie Barretto, and sisters Claudine and Gretchen Barretto. (Photos from Instagram @marjbarretto @claubarretto)
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As voyeurs, however, they are effectively numbed as an audience to a scripted fantasy being eternally displayed amidst the chaos of our dysfunctional existence. They are consistently being conditioned to want to see only the fantasy, not the chaos — or at least, to be simply witnesses to somebody else’s chaos.

The hopelessness of their own marginalization renders any attempt at self-empowerment futile, and therefore, the masses are empowered only to do what they can reasonably do in their relative powerlessness — to create a dichotomous universe with a great divide between our uncontrollable misery of how things are; and our controllable apparitions of how things should be. 

We should therefore be forewarned that our affinity to these comedies and tragedies, facilitates our escapist tendencies and desensitizes us to the true issues that affect us all.

There are however, some good benefits that can come out of such voyeurism. Peeking into the lives of those who are un-marginalized — or those who “worked hard” to become “somebody” through possessions, power and prestige, so that they can “always have their way” — gives us a good idea about their true sense of social justice. 

When they persistently show through their social media accounts — as if to boost their already-inflated egos — the exotic culinary dishes they feed on; the different scenic cultural sites they visit or travel to; or even the trivial successes that they are able to accomplish and boast of to their virtual followers, are signs that they are consciously inviting us to watch them.

When they persistently appear on mass media — as if to satiate their already insatiable need for attention — to “wash their dirty linen” in public; or to tell about their failures and victories in the self-serving hope of inspiring others to do the same; or to even send vague hints that because of their unique experiences, they have earned the respect and right to run for public office in the future, are also signs that they are consciously inviting us to watch them.

These invitations are also equally disturbing signs that they do not care any less. 

The poor are “consistently being conditioned to want to see only the fantasy, not the chaos — or at least, to be simply witnesses to somebody else’s chaos.” (Photo by Jire Carreon)

Why would anyone sensibly display themselves savoring the luxuries most of their viewers cannot afford? Why would anyone sensibly exhibit triumphs that can only be accomplished from positions of privilege?

Why would anyone sensibly pretend to be worthy of the “happy and bountiful life” and encourage others to be the same, but without recognizing that one’s success is always obtained at the expense of somebody else’s unfulfilled opportunities? Why should I proudly motivate others to try to be happy when I may be an indirect source of their “unhappiness?”

Why would anyone sensibly inspire others with one’s stories of struggle that are much less compelling than the stories that the marginalized can instead inspire us with?

Why should I proudly talk about my problems as if I am the “only one in the world” to have had them, thereby appropriating for myself the “right and power” to teach its lessons, when the problems as a consequence of marginalization are much more destructive, to which they have rightfully more power to teach me its lessons?

We still do not have the sense to see things from the perspective of the margins. We have to learn our lesson that we have been talking too much, and that the marginalized has been conveniently quiet for too long.

We must also remember that the voyeurism emanating from the margins must not be condoned to the extent that it leaves with us the lingering temptation to defer acting upon our own injustices; and that it may be useful only to the extent that it gives us an uncomfortable glimpse that those who have fame and fortune, and thus have appropriated upon themselves the so-called “deserved” right to lord it over the social periphery, may still continue to refuse to act upon the miseries that beset their forsaken audiences.

Brother Jess is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines, and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LICAS News.

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