(You can actually see William Tartipayb in the film)
Days after the Philippine National Elections in May, a video of a Fine Arts student being harassed by actor, Baron Geisler, went “viral” over social media. Mainstream news media were quick to pick up the item, with Geisler, popularly known outside his acting stints for being hot-headed and alcoholic (a mixture of both, as we all know, is dangerous), at the center of the coverage; being gazed at both as a criminal and an enigma. Weeks later the viral video post, Geisler, yet again, got involved in a brawl at a bar where a benefit gig is happening, this time, with a fellow actor, Kiko Matos. Days went by and the mainstream media focused on the feud between the two, exchanging harsh words in front of news cameras and over at facebook. The feud was settled in a draw result at the Universal Reality Combat Championship’s (URCC) anniversary Main Event. The actors ended the feud after delivering the famous line from Ridley Scott’s Gladiator: are you not entertained?
Months later, in November, it was announced that the videos posted, the incidents and the URCC fight are all staged for a certain cause. It is then revealed that the concluding question is meant as a commentary founded on a certain moral high-ground: a question against an alleged fascination of the Filipino People towards violence as a spectacle. The allegation is based on reactions both on the social media posts and the way mainstream media reacted to the incidents.
Looking at Beastmode the documentary, it all seemed to me as just a supplement for a movie that we already saw, coming from the point of view of someone who has followed the incident and witnessed how people reacted to it. Imagine browsing through the Extra features of the DVD you just bought: most of what you see or hear are commentaries of cinema experts and/or of cast/crew involved. Beastmode the documentary did just that. Only, unlike most DVD supplementaries, the documentary did not add anything substantial to the main material other than what we already know and their admittance of the events being staged.
Of course, there is the cause. The first video, of the Fine Arts student being beaten-up, is allegedly released as one for a series of campaign against violence. The Geisler-Matos brawl, was for the campaign for the release of Maricon Montajes and the rest of Taysan Three, activists who were detained with false charges by the Armed Forces of the Philippines back in 2010. However, the way the film (the whole event – The “REAL” movie) was structured and staged for every campaign to fail. Subliminal framing, in the attention-deficit space of the internet, are doomed to fail.
The “real” movie is the one we witnessed from May until the URCC fight. Beastmode as a project achieved something more than what it thought it already achieved. For once, Beastmode’s release acknowledged those personally and intimately produced videos posted online as modes of cinematic production (think of vines, meme videos, dubsmash videos and such) and presents a new model to narrative development through real-time participation of social media commentators. But such is the arrogance of this little social experiment, in a classic (bourgeois) moralistic and humanistic fashion, the filmmakers and their collaborators seem to be more than glad to be dismissive of this.
And there is where the danger lies: the “real” film is posed as social experiment; the documentary, the result, culmination and the experiments’ conclusion. And every experiment, of course, have their own hypotheses to be proven. And these hypotheses, with regards to social experiments, most of the time are not materially or scientifically grounded, but rather, at most cases, for a fascination for what could a sample’s psyche could react in a situation in which the subject is forcefully placed: of what would the subject’s next action going to be. It requires a high moral sense rather than scientific curiosity. Such is the proto-fascistic tendency of social experiments. In Beastmode, the hypothesis is either unclear or deliberately undisclosed on the onset. The space left by this vagueness paved way for the film to further develop its commentary in the country’s present historical movements: on the Duterte administration’s war on drugs’ violent turn-out.
The central commentary of the documentary, the presentation of the results of the research project, as mentioned earlier, revolves in the alleged fascination of the Filipino for violence. Through strategic montage of footages of police and state-enacted violence, the documentary presented what does its filmmakers mean as the “violence that are ignored” in exchange of petty street-fights and celebrity brawls highlighted both in mainstream and internet media. However the media practice they are condemning in their critique backfired at them as they let personalities such as Geisler, Matos, Geisler’s handler and URCC Founder Alvin Aguilar speak, as if on their behalf. The personalities, coming from the very institution they are critiquing, can’t help but to generalize their reactions towards violence and blame it all to the so-called violent desire of the people. Unsurprisingly, personalities from the art scene such as JK Anicoche, through their little workshop before Geisler’s and Matos’ first brawl, justified this view through his mix of metaphysical and quasi-Darwinian explanations, that such animalistic desire for violence is almost innate as though it is a nature.
This is where the lab work explodes on their faces.
What should have been an effective critique of structural knowledge- and meaning-production becomes an uncritical opportunism of liberal value integration. All elements of its form, from the viral video to the URCC match fits to the critique, even its initial failure to transmit the message through sublimation supplements it, only the overlapping opinions of these media and art personalities which has burrowed larger holes in the ship and finally made it sink. It got stuck with what JK Anicoche mentioned in the film of apathy as violence at its worst and never interrogated further the structural causes of it, even though it has been initiated earlier in the film. From a bold and daring approach, the film regressed in the comfort of blaming an imaginary population of an imaginary lack of agency.
The conclusion provided by the commentators are as much fictional as the events that transpired as they lack, and deny, material validation and just a flaunt of opinion based on where they are placed in the power structure. They failed to reflect on the contradictions in material conditions, between market forces: on the mainstream media outfit and their productions on the real and virtual internet spaces which contributes to the way the people reflect on things; on the state of education and public knowledge-power distribution, which by itself, is also driven by the necessities placed by capital-market which results to an education system and ideology which endorses not criticality and awareness, but subservience and apathy: that their participation to relevant issues, so to say, are just an extension of their own entertainment, as how market forces reduces it. Structural oppression – the violence inflicted by the ruling class to the working class – after all, is much real and verifiable violence as it leaves scars which marks generations of poverty.
As much as the approach and conclusion of the film is as fascistic as what it tried to critique, the form of the “real” film promised a great possibility for the future of cinema: of a cinematic experience that is expansive, participative and relatively democratic. It could even be said that the form it proposed could possibly be an end of a cinema as we know it. Where it transcends the experience from the privileged theater space towards other virtual and real spaces. The contradiction still exists, however, that the virtual spaces of the internet are also spaces complicit to market and capital, that in the internet, all are consumers: may it be serious opinion pieces or humorous posts, are all reduced into values and metadata used to generate traffic which, in turn, are being converted into currency.
While Beastmode’s liberative intent is quite noble, the danger posed by its own ambiguity does not make a free mind, but rather imprisons it to a much bigger uncertainty. And this uncertainty makes way for the agenda of the ruling class to sift through and revert any progress that any struggle might have achieved. There is hope that it can be freed from the chains that binds it, but not by re-editing the film, but rather, by continuing the dialogue which it started: Baron Geisler and the likes of him must not have the last say on this, the perpetrators are in no position to speak about the conditions of the oppressed.