Notes on Audience-Taste, Education and Capture

Disclaimer: This convoluted essay is a product of me processing recent events and my writing projects in Media Studies. But just because this is related to a school project, doesn’t mean I do not take these seriously. In fact, I’m probably more serious about this now more than ever. Writing these down to at least make it available out here, and to get back to it later. Then again, this disclaimer is from me asking for apology for writing this essay so convoluted that what I am saying might slip.

Let me know if there are things that aren’t clear. I could sure use some conversation.

Philippine Cinema is lucky to have an Erik Matti: not that we are expecting him to speak for any sort of good for his liberalism is not capable of reaching that point of moral reflection. But, at least we can hear him speak for himself and the non-points that he gives every single time. Over at a recent thread (posted August 26, 2019), he, again, expressed his cynicism on the state of Philippine Cinema, which, ended with his usual guilt-tripping. Not that there’s nothing to learn from him too. The things he’s pointing out are important: lack of newness in cinematic form and content, consumption, production, complicity to capital, labor, etc. Then again, these are all in the service of retention of the cinema that he knows and the cinema he’s working at: again, he’s speaking for himself, nothing for us to benefit from, even when he speaks of this ghastly figure of “the audience.”

An important shift happened at the comments section when film director Frasco Mortiz pointed out the thing a lot of liberal thinkers has been pointing out as the root-cause of it all: education. But his point is mainly of consumer behavior: “Years of dumbing down the Filipinos have taken its toll in every aspect of our lives, including TV and Film preference.” Whether or not this adds to the guilt-tripping Matti has laid upon his post, is still to be decided.

Something is left unprocessed at the thread: is this “dumbing down” a result of the education Mortiz has been talking about? Instead of answering there directly, a longer response, I think, would be more fitting.

Let’s try to go back again with Matti’s rant: the earlier part of his post concerns mostly of content. Basically, what’s he’s on to is to roundabout blaming a certain sense of complicity of the “film artists” to the “audience’s taste” and to what’s the tried and tested formula to sell. He left a window for speculation: that maybe, there’s an audience somewhere. But the bottomline is that, the frame of reference that he’s looking at his assessment of cinematic practices is this speculative notion of “audience preference.”

To synthesize Matti’s and Mortiz’ points: the “audience preference” to which Matti’s points are framed, is a result of what Mortiz, and later on Matti, identified as “years dumbing down” of the Filipinos, which Mortiz has pointed out as an issue of education.

Let’s just say that this is true: as a supplementary to knowledge, these preferences are a result of dumbed down education. Which is to say, that what we refer to as “dumbness” is learned.

There’s a ring of truth in this, something which Matti and Mortiz has never validated. Something which liberals in general, like Matti would never validate: that education is meant to be a capturing mechanism. To validate this point, otherwise is to rid Matti of anyone to blame but the political structure, which, of course, something that liberals in general are quite suspicious of.

Renato Constantino, in his classic essay “The Miseducation of the Filipinos” noted that “The moulding of men’s minds is the best means of conquest. Education, therefore, serves as a weapon in wars of colonial conquest.” Constantino in his most insightful stance on education, reached a more clarified conclusion, that colonial education has influenced our consumption habits.

Between Matti/Mortiz and Constantino, looms this haunting image of the consumer being formed by colonial education. This dumbed-down learning, so to say, may have been a result positive for capitalism. The cinematic complex which Matti’s been keen on defending and restoring, is quite dependent on this kind of education. Which is to say, there’s really no conflict between Matti’s project of a “different” kind of cinema and this “dumbed-down” education, since the cinema that he’s trying to salvage is something which is produced through the deployment of such “mis-“education. Otherwise, the “different” kind of cinema would never even be thinkable without the “same” cinema that the “dumbed-down” audience consume.

As mentioned earlier, none of the project of Matti would benefit us, or the phantom “audience” that he’s thinking. But something along the line of Mortiz’ problem can be thought of. If the root of the problem has something to do with education, what would be your alternative? Filmmaker Lav Diaz sees an opportunity to educate people through cinema since cinema is so powerful, but does this guarantee that the same will never happen? Isn’t it with the same notion of power that colonial education itself successfully captured the minds of its subjects?

Education supplements capitalism, colonialism or any form of subjugation, through input and endless consumption of information. In the chain of production, the consumer learns through education what it is going to consume. This framework of education relies to positive feedback to the informational input to be harnessed more as exploited labor (either through an extension of working hours or through consumption). In here, production and consumption of cinema is not excluded: whether or not you assumed your “freedom” as an artist either to do “the same” or “something different,” the fact remains that once let go to the market, your film-commodity becomes one which demands positive informational/capital feedback upon consumption to sustain itself. An openly “educational” cinema would perform the same, only to produce surpluses.

Suppose, we suggest education as another key, but what are we going to teach? The “truth” is illusive, especially for those same people who advocates for “education” as the mere key for change. Not that we should dismiss the education project, the method itself is very important, given the fact that Constantino raised regarding its capability for “capturing minds.” In this end, we can propose a strategic end to which education should lean on: an education which unlearns instead of learns. Tentatively, we can call this negative education.

This kind of education is something Paulo Freire already hinted on his classic book, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. He noted that the condition for human existence (that is to exist humanly), is the capability to name the world in order to change it. In this sense, “naming” becomes a form of abduction and abandonment: you capture something to let it go or shift it to another. The “reappearance” of the world is important in this aspect: which can only be possible if the named is changed which requires new names.

In the light of Freire’s naming, Negative Education would bring about changing “dumbed down” education through unlearning it. But before one unlearns something, it must be acknowledged and learned first that that something is learned. “Being dumb” or “ignorant” is learned, and since it is learned, it can be unlearned. Negative Education wagers on Reza Negarestani’s project on cultivating intelligence which, for him, only matures with unlearning its slavery.

Standing in the conditions of intelligence, Negative Education do not see power through control as “evil,” unlike the petty Manichaeism of liberal philosophy. Negative Education completely harness control as an operational motivation to build its own tools to help with his continuous unlearning of slavery. It is in complete contradiction with capitalist capture of positive feedback: it excretes rather than accept information.

This unlearning will become a means to produce new knowledge. It will not guarantee, however, to that these knowledge to come will support Matti’s ideal cinema, as his ideal cinema is only possible through the capture of the minds as slave. Negative Education will actively reject capture as it strive for unlearning.

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