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Mocha and the limits of political porn

/ 05:08 AM August 07, 2018

In the firestorm of controversy the “blogger” Mocha Uson deliberately ignited over the vulgar sex-themed “dance” promoting the Duterte administration’s “federalism” project, I would like to focus on one particular question, that of audience strategy: Who does Uson think she needs to convince to support the campaign to change the Constitution?

The answer, as I hope to make obvious, is clearly not the right audience the campaign needs at this time. She is preaching, using the sexualized rhetoric she has mastered, to the already converted.

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On Friday, we mark the 120th birth anniversary of Sen. Lorenzo Tañada. Born in the same year the Philippines became the first Asian colony to declare independence, he later became a pillar of post-World War II Philippine politics. He served as senator, continuously, for 24 years, from 1947 to 1971.

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But more important for my generation, he led the opposition to Marcos after martial law was declared. He served as counsel for Sen. Ninoy Aquino in his courts martial. He helped inspire or cofound new political parties or citizen’s movements during the most dangerous years of the anti-dictatorship struggle. He fought against renewing the lease of the US military bases.

One of my favorite images of him is easily Google-able: Arrested in 1978 and hauled off in a metropolitan police van, he thrusts his lion’s head out of the window, shouting “Laban!” I did not realize, then, that the very picture of vigorous defiance was nearly 80 at the time.

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To the serious issue of a possible change in the constitutional order, Uson, an assistant secretary in the Presidential Communications Operations Office, contributes sex talk. Not just any kind of sex talk, but infantile, absurd sexual language. Her “i-pepe-i-dede-ralismo” video with a talentless foil is obscene in many ways, not least because it uses nonpolitical street language (slang words for vagina and the breasts) in a horrible pun that actually demeans women in general and damages the political project she is supposed to promote.

I wish to be clear: I do not support the Duterte administration’s attempt to change the Constitution. But at the same time, and like many others, I am invested in the quality of public discourse; it is a measure of the health of the democratic project. Uson’s latest stunt—one of her many nonapologetic rationalizations is that she just wanted to make people “aware” of federalism—is (to extend the metaphor) sickening.

Perhaps her vaunted but also largely virtual audience of “5.4 million” will find nothing objectionable about treating federalism in these terms. But consider the inhospitable landscape for Charter change. The June Pulse Asia survey found that 67 percent of voting-age Filipinos say the Constitution should not be amended now or in the future. This is up three points from March, but the details are even worse for the administration: 62 percent of Class E says “No” to Charter change, up 12 points; in the Visayas, “No” is now 74 percent, up 15 points.

In this context, Uson’s video is so misbegotten, so much the opposite of what the administration should want, that her very role should be on the line. One of the sub-audiences the federalism campaign must attend to is the very small universe of nationally elected senators; her video has only succeeded in alienating them even more. When the economics of federalism is still very much suspect, Uson’s trivialization of the issue adds to the costs, and lessens the benefits, of any talk about transition.

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But what, really, should we have expected from Uson? Her stock in trade is political porn: the immersion in obscenity, the choreographed assault on the real in favor of the fantasy, the repeated appeal to the prurient.

I am reminded of the brilliant insight offered by political scientist Jean Encinas Franco at last February’s Democracy and Disinformation Conference. “Why does misogynist fake news sell? Because they strike at what is ‘familiar,’ the gendered hierarchies to which most of us are socialized. That the poster girl of fake news in the Philippines is a woman, I believe, is not an accident but by design. Misogynist fake news is pernicious because we may identify that they are fake news but we laugh at them and even share them at times, which tells us that misogynist fake news may even sell better compared to other types of fake news.”

She is referring to Uson, of course, whose sex appeal is used by Duterte allies and supporters precisely as an excuse, as tacit permission, to degrade and devalue women. A commander in chief who can order government soldiers to shoot women insurgents in the vagina is well served by a spokesperson who approaches constitutional change in terms of vaginas and breasts. But the latest video is proof that there are limits.

On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand. E-mail: jnery@inquirer.com.ph

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TAGS: federalism, john Nery, Mocha Uson, Newsstand, Rodrigo Duterte
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