This is a talk I gave to the members of UP-KMS (Kalipunan ng mga Mag-Aaral ng Sosyolohiya), which is the student organization for the Sociology undergrads. Kitty (Caragay) and I were asked to talk about the effects Nationalist symbols as fashion statements for this semester’s Alternative Classroom Learning Experience, or ACLE as it’s better known among the kids.
This was technically my first ever ACLE session. Before this, I went speed dating to kill time (that was some other org’s ACLE project), because my ex was downstairs with his org administering their own program.
Anyway, here’s the talk which I’d been meaning to post for some time, but never got around to until now. Because I am a douchebag.
The Aquino Administration and the Commodification of Nationalism
The Vote as a Fashion Statement
Color choices are a fundamental part of wardrobe selection. As a consumer, before you know what you’re buying you already know what color you want it in. The selection of color, from the standpoint of the retail industry, is a long drawn-out process that involves forecasting done years in advance in order to scope out what clicks with the market. It’s not always just some designer sitting behind a drafting table thinking, “This would look good in blue.” In most cases, color precedes design.
In the language of a bipartisan political system, particularly in the case of the US, blue is the color of the Democratic Party. At the time of Barack Obama’s campaign, it negatively connoted moderate to severe left wing ideology, sympathizing with “the Muslims”, and being Anti-American.
Positive connotations were that blue was a message of a new hope for America and a future rife with possibilities; carrying with it Obama’s momentous slogan, “Yes we can!” In politics, color also precedes design. Before a candidate drafts a platform, a side must first be picked.
The Philippines however does not follow the same political system. We have enough candidates to cover the whole spectrum of the rainbow, allowing for the personalization and application of traditional marketing schemes to any campaign. The same vocabulary we use in the language of consumption holds just as true when we cast our votes. This is nothing new, after all earning a vote means earning one’s all-consuming desire, enough to trust a name and a face with the future of a country.
The Marketing Mix, in the language of business, involves the decisions that fall into four controllable categories: these are Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. In an election, the product is the leader being elected. The place is the manner and method in which they reach the public, and the promotions are the materials that go with it: the slogans, the jingles, and of course the images.
But what is the price we pay?
Noynoy Aquino’s image was a no-brainer, in the spirit of selling oneself, the obvious choice was to do this in yellow. When I think yellow, I think jaundice, I think phone books, I think taxicabs, raincoats, and beer.
On the road, the light turns yellow and I’m not sure if it wants me to slow down or speed up, but I know I have to beat it either way. In fashion, yellow is trendy to the point of faddish; it is young, difficult to wear, difficult to market, and somewhat unflattering against Asian skin tones.
But yellow just happened to be the selected color of one Cory Aquino, eleventh president and shining beacon of democracy, remembered fondly for restoring faith in Philippine government after the Marcos regime steered our nation into a cesspool of shameless corruption and conspicuous consumption. Cory’s most exceptional achievement was to exploit her own image as the antithesis to Imelda, and to make sure her husband’s martyrdom was never forgotten. Her victory was the product of just as much image mongering as her son’s exploitation of his parent’s legacy.
Yellow highlights our tendency to look on the brighter side of things; to selectively remember the honest, the bright, and the righteous. Somehow, wearing yellow meant cutting associations with the Aquino name at Cory’s recent death and Ninoy’s martyrdom. It meant forgetting even more recent events that unfolded at Hacienda Luisita.
It helps that yellow also has its positive aspects. Psychics will tell you that a yellow aura means you are open and ready for communication. Yellow is the color we associate with sunlight, and everyone knows that the sun coming out tomorrow signals the dawn of a newer and better day, which is what the Aquino administration wants you to believe.
During Noynoy’s campaign, wearing yellow meant wearing your vote. Because the color carried so many historical and iconographic references, it tapped into parts of the psyche that the other candidates could only dream of reaching in terms of their color choices.
To wear yellow meant wearing the hopes you had for this country and the ideologies you espoused. It was the most simplistic form of peddling ideology that depended entirely on surface.
Aside from wearing the hope of a brighter future, wearing yellow meant washing away the bitter taste left by whatever administration preceded it. It not only said “I am for the betterment of tomorrow” but “I will be better than what you went through yesterday.” It spoke not of this regime, but that one.
But a presidential term is more than peddling ideology or reminding a people of past mythologies. It’s funny that Noynoy’s campaign asks us to look to the future by constantly bringing up the past.
And above all these other reminders, the most important is to take caution, take heed, and keep ones eyes open to what is really going on.