- Passionate Revolutions: The Media and the Rise and Fall of the Marcos Regime by Talitha Espiritu
Passionate Revolutions: The Media and the Rise and Fall of the Marcos Regime
Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2017. 276 pages.
The emergence of leaders like Rodrigo Duterte and Donald Trump has strengthened the notion that the age of populism or "irrational politics" is upon us. Astonishment, anxiety, or disgust over the supposed predominance of emotion over "reasoned" politics has characterized discourses in mainstream and social media. Notwithstanding its focus on the Marcos era (1965–1986), Talitha Espiritu's book, Passionate Revolutions: The Media and the Rise and Fall of the Marcos Regime, has much to contribute to the ongoing debates on the nature of democracy, populism, and authoritarianism in the contemporary Philippines. As a Philippine-born Filipino American scholar whose family was closely tied to but eventually had a falling out with the Marcoses, and having lived through the tumult of the 1970s and 1980s with friends from opposing sides of the political divide, the author seems well placed to offer a penetrating and even-handed approach to some contentious issues about the regime.
Passionate Revolutions offers a multilayered description of and explanation for the roles of political emotions in the rise and demise of Pres. Ferdinand Marcos's regime. Following the affective turn in the humanities and social sciences, the book eschews the common tendency in political science to "scientificize" political analysis, simplifying complex variables and dismissing or downplaying factors that cannot be reduced to measurable, [End Page 115] observable, or easily operationalized units, such as sentiments or emotions. Focusing on the "political culture of true feeling," it demonstrates "how political emotions operate in official and popular forms of nationalism" as they intersect and manifest in "national allegory, melodramatic politics and sentimental publicity" (3).
The book is divided into two major parts. The first three chapters focus on the roles of cinema and cultural policy in Marcos's "revolution from the center" or "democratic revolution." These slogans refer to the state-driven program of socioeconomic and political transformation supposedly to counter the deeply entrenched reactionary interests of the "oligarchs" as well as the radical aspirations fomented by the Communist Party of the Philippines. The second part consists of the next three chapters that highlight the opposition to Marcos both by the moderate and radical groups, leading to the 1986 People Power uprising. From an empirical standpoint, there is hardly anything new about the Marcos regime, anti-Marcos groups (both radical left and moderates), and the popular media in the Philippines to be found in these chapters. The book makes use of information from published materials that are standard fare in the study of Philippine politics and media during the Marcos and post-Marcos decades. Nonetheless, it offers an alternative interpretation of the politics of the period by, for instance, transcending to an extent the ideological biases (liberal vs. conservative; pro-vs. anti-Marcos; provs. anticommunist) still common in Philippine political analysis.
The introductory chapter, which may prove daunting to the uninitiated, is crucial in appreciating the value of this book. Replete with concepts drawn from interdisciplinary areas such as feminism, media studies, and postcolonial theory, this chapter needs to be read carefully and digested thoroughly. Aside from offering a key to understanding the illustrative examples the six chapters spell out, it also provides insights that are applicable to many other analytic areas beyond media studies and politics. In addition to the notion of "national allegory," which has been an object of debate in literary and postcolonial theory, Lauren Berlant's views on the political culture of "true feeling," the "national symbolic," "cruel optimism," and "sentimental publicity," in which melodrama on a personal level and grand scale is central, are illuminating.
The idea of national allegory allows the experience of an individual or a small group to stand in for that of the nation, and vice versa. The shared "national symbolic," which refers to "discursive resources"—metaphors, rituals, stories, feelings—generated on a daily basis within a community [End Page 116] including the political sphere, enables this sliding between individuals and national collectivity. The melodramatic...