Modern Idolatry and the Social Media

Two days after April Fools’ Day and I am still reeling in from the bitter truth that we are living in the days of a perpetual practical joke, with the general public being its perennial victims. Where jokes usually end in laughter, the Filipinos are on apparent overdose. It is a subtle and addictive substance that helps us cope with our realities. It is said that the Filipino could laugh and smile over any catastrophe; this is perhaps one of our greatest strengths. The realities behind the veil of illusion however are no laughing matter at all! Our society needs to wake up to confront the bigger issues that surround us rather than be preys to the whims of those who control our thoughts and behavior.

Over the Holy Week, I found great privilege in witnessing one the greater Roman Catholic traditions: The Procession. In this timeless tradition, the saintly idols parade the streets of the Philippines. A procession tells the story of Christ’s final days on Earth in graphic detail; a storyboard rendered in hyper-reality. Taken individually the idols played a specific role in the crucifixion story and more importantly, each idol character embodies the roles, character and ideals that they represent. It is a lesson on what we ought to be. The idols are reminders of our Christian forebears, who we are and how we ought to live our lives according to tangible examples.
Looking back at Classical History, mythology was exemplified in sculpture with Gods and Demigods that served as literal embodiments of superhuman qualities in tangible folklore (lessons attached as well). Idols help us see the better side of ourselves against the facts of our flaws and frailties. When someone exhibits excellent qualities or skills to emulate, it is easy for us to say that he or she is our idol. Idols are part of our vocabulary, but where does admiration and emulation end and idolatry begin? Ironically, it begins when the idols become an end by themselves.

Idols and Icons are cultural creations. They serve to represent our ideas and beliefs. Idols render a human face to the ideas we espouse. They serve as a relatable and sometimes better image of ourselves. To love them, is to love ourselves. This however is now far from the idols of today. Can we really ascribe to the modern idols that we created for ourselves? Could our Golden Calf lead us to our Promised Land? Could our Sacred Cows lead us towards the path of National Enlightenment, Restoration and Reconstruction?

From Gods to Prophets, Heroes to Thought leaders, Basketball Stars and Charlatans, we “Follow” and “Like” them all (pun intended). Modern Idols thrive on popularity votes. The more they have the more powerful they become. That’s how we made them to be. Does that make them right? Or have we become victims of “The Crowd Wave” – perhaps caught within the grand gesture of herd mentality? We have become victims to of our own idolatry. We let them lead us even when they are used to distract us from the real issues. At times we venerate them for making bold statements only for them to later mislead us with lies once their popularity has been established. The social media empowers them to say anything. The problem lies once we put them on a pedestal whereby their mere presence or image enchants us, and their own opinions (true or false) become truths.
We wallow in this farce that we have made to amuse ourselves. Here are a few facts on this phenomenon:

  • Kim Kardashian has more than 17 Million followers on Twitter….. WHY?
  • Nicki Minaj is American Idol’s Judge over talent. An even bigger WHY!!

The mysteries to the their success still boggles me, but realizing the manipulation of the media (social media included with emphasis), it is very easy to understand. We don’t even have to look overseas to see blatant examples.

Chris Aquino makes accusations of overt sexual advances perpetrated by one of her exes, grants a very public interview and announces her retirement from showbiz. Chris takes the media’s center stage over more important issues such as Sabah with its death toll swept under the rug.
Chiz and Heart makes it to the headlines (Romantic Picture and all) with their Love Life and her parent’s detailed disapproval featured. This takes precedence over his political platform and other national issues. What a stunt!
The general public laps it up for their amusement, only to leave a few still asking about what happens beyond these superficial and misleading issues.

The social media also lends itself to the creation of our own demigods with some of its charlatans making bold, sometimes visual and even perverse messages to court our attention. While bold statements (some of which I agree with) always garner the “Likes” and “Follows”, one needs to be more discerning with what is being served. Let us separate message from the messenger, the truth apart from the deception.

We have created these monstrous social idols of today reflective of what we aspire to be or perhaps what we want to excuse ourselves of being. Nonetheless the social media empowers us to speak our minds openly and to multiply our message among like-minded people. It is one of our greatest human achievement, as well as our Tower of Babel. With such great freedom, much more is required of us. While many have no thoughts of having you believe that WD-40 is made from fish oil, perhaps most of us would care enough to speak and embrace the truth as Freedom demands from us.

Fair Process vs. Shocktivism: A Case-study for Civilized Engagement

It has been more than a month since I last wrote “Fair Process and the Myth of Inclusive Growth” and yet the issue of “Fair Process” or the culture’s lack of it still remains. According to Kim and Mauborgne’s book: “Blue Ocean Strategy”, Fair Process has its roots on Procedural Justice as much as the practice of Due Process is derived from the very same concept.

While Due Process alludes to our justice system, the concept of “Fair Process” is easily understood using a more practical managerial perspective. During the 70’s, two social scientists by the names of John W. Thibault and Laurens Walker concluded that: “People care as much about the justice of the process through which an outcome is produced as they do about the outcome itself. People’s satisfaction with the outcome and their commitment to it rose when procedural justice was exercised.” In this sense, “The means justifies the end as much as the end justifies the means.” While this statement is quite easy to understand, it apparently ends with consistent results. Ergo: Inputs + Process = Output. With the same equation, it is easy to understand why outputs or outcomes are easily spoiled by junk processes. This provides a clear case as to why civilized engagement is usually the best approach.

In more recent days, the dynamism of the social media has provided some of the greatest examples for our comparison. The case of the Philam Life Auditorium Theater on UN Avenue, Manila has been the subject of “Saving” and perhaps rightly so. The edifice is regarded as one of the country’s cultural and historical gems with acoustics designed by Bolt, Beranek & Newman, who were also responsible for the Sydney Opera House, United Nations Assembly Hall in New York, Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall and the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The building was designed by renowned Filipino architect Carlos Arguelles and was rendered in a forward thinking approach that symbolized the Manila that rose from the ashes of WW2. The thoughts of this cultural icon being demolished certainly roused the ire and activism of our netizens especially when it was found that SM had acquired the property. Twitter and Facebook ablaze, netizens rushed to “save” Philam Theater (I might’ve been one of them) via online petition. One infamous shocktivist came brandishing a placard of profanity with direct personal attacks against the owner of SM. This was followed persistently by vulgar and hateful tirades over the social media. In this case the activist would rather say “F@*# You!, just to have the last word.

While I would also like to save the theater, I have to say that I cannot subscribe to this type of approach.
Unfortunately, these types of antics are commonplace in the Philippines where our brand of democracy finds it acceptable to walk out of hearings, negotiations and just about any form of due process. Dramatic as these displays may be, the question remains whether they actually work? With much freedom gained, are we just as civilized? Is there room for fairness and justice?

From a management perspective, Professors Kim & Mauborgne gives us a simple and almost prescriptive approach in their “3-E Principles of Fair Process”.

  1. Engagement: Involving individuals in decisions by inviting their input and encouraging them to challenge one another’s ideas.
  2. Engagement communicates respect for individuals and their ideas and builds collective wisdom. It generates better decisions and greater commitment from those involved in executing those decisions.
    Explanation: Explanation reassures people that managers have considered their opinions and made the decision with the company’s overall interests at heart. Employees trust managers’ intentions even if their own ideas were rejected.

Expectation Clarity: stating the new rules of the game, including performance standards, penalties for failure, and new responsibilities. By minimizing political jockeying and favoritism, expectation clarity enables employees to focus on the job at hand.
Pages 174-176, Kim & Mauborgne. 2005 Blue Ocean Strategy.
Boston, Massachusetts. Harvard Business School Press

The case of following a “Fair Process” was clearly demonstrated when Olivier Ochanine followed a civilized approach that can be seen highlighted in Paul Farol’s article “Olivier Ochanine Defines Advocacy”. http://getrealphilippines.com/blog/2013/04/olivier-ochanine-the-real-cultural-activist/

By following a Fair Process everyone wins; and in this case the Philam Theater has been saved. While many Filipinos seem to have a penchant for impact and drama, sometimes taking a management approach to negotiations could be the best way to achieving positive results. As we are now learning, shock could only create a lot of attention in the beginning but fails to deliver the objective in the long run.

From the procedural justice point of view, negative drama and shock that we have gotten used to also sometimes defeats the point of activism itself. It also causes undue delays to processes and its resulting justified resolutions that could benefit the majority. Justice delayed = Justice denied. Having the last word rendered in vulgar punctuations leave not much room for anything else and closes the door on the possibilities of positive outcomes. Let’s be fair and civilized. I am sure our society and our freedoms could move a lot further from where we are now.