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.

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