April 28, 2008
Console-ing Passions: Abigail Derecho on Filipino Viewer Protests

Unfortunately, the only other person affiliated with the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium presenting at this year's Console-ing Passions conference was scheduled to present at the same time as the workshop I participated in. Abigail Derecho--whose work can be found at her Minority Fandom blog--is one of our C3 Consulting Researchers (bio here), and she and I are currently co-editing a collection of essays on the U.S. soap opera with fellow C3 Consulting Researcher Lee Harrington.

Gail participated in a panel called "'Most Wired' in a Globalized Arena: Asian Americans, Asia, and New Media," with a presentation called "Performing Transnational Anti-Fandom: Filipinos Protesting The Daily Show and Desperate Housewives Online.

Gail's presentation started with two incidents on U.S. television last fall that drew a digitally mobilized protest from Filipinos, with The Daily Show making a joke about an icon of The Philippines--Corazon Aquino--and Desperate Housewives making a joke about Filipino medical degrees being worth less than U.S. degrees. While the Desperate Housewives reference seemed to draw the greater ire (not surprising, considering The Daily Show comment was positioned as more tongue-in-cheek alongside similar insults to Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir), both garnered specific media attention outside The Philippines, in part because of the prominence of digital tools in the process.

Gail breaks the situation down and looks at the history of U.S. cultural products in Filipino culture, alongside political and economic links between the two countries, to better understand the cultural tensions that made these two jokes so politically charged for some Filipino viewers.

She writes:

another set of interpretations of Filipinos' digital activism in response to U.S. television is made possible by an understanding of Filipinos' history as subjects, but not full citizens, of the United States, as well as their history of using digital technologies as means for effecting political change. [ . . . ] Filipinos' digital protests against The Daily Show and Desperate Housewives last fall brought to light just how fantastical and unrealized is the U.S.' dream of rendering all nations, especially third world nations, culturally as well as politically American.  For the promise held out by the supranational, borderless, "de-territorialized" American Dream is one of global "cultural citizenship" as well as citizenship in the globalized American system of democratic self-determination.  In other words, if the third world is encouraged to be fully invested in, and deserving of,  American democracy rather than socialism or some alternative form of government, and if that worthiness is to be earned partly by consuming American products, particularly media products, then the third world's "dream come true" would lie in being fully recognized by the U.S. as a member of its political and its cultural spheres.

Gail concluded her study with a look at the importance of digital tools in this process, and particularly about how SMS "played a crucial role in helping Filipinos seeking to depose President Joseph Estrada in 2001 to organize mass protests," a movement Estrada called a "coup d'text." Considering my own lack of knowledge of Filipino culture (thus furthering some of Gail's points in the process), I found her study particularly enlightening.

If you have any thoughts or questions, feel free to leave a comment here or get in touch with me at samford@mit.edu.