by Eric Santillan
Roland Barthes, in his book Mythologies, said that a myth is a type of speech. It is a message. So that “everything can be a myth provided it is conveyed by discourse”. [1. Roland Barthes, Mythologies. 1957. Trans. by Annette Lavers. New York: Hill and Wang, 1987]
The Psychologist Carl Jung, on the other hand, connected myths to what he called “archetypes”. Archetypes are “preconcious psychic disposition that enables a man to react in a human manner”. [2. Jung’s Archetypes website: http://www.acs.appstate.edu/~davisct/nt/jung.html%5D Simply put, archetypes are human patterns and images–common in all cultures and in every time period in history. Jung, and many other psychologists after him, found these human patterns in myths (formally in Greek, Roman, and Norse Mythologies, as well as in fables like those by Aesops, in fairy tales and even in Disney cartoons!). Some psychologists today precisely use the reading of these fables, legends, fairytales, and the analysis of dreams, in therapeutic psychoanalysis. [3. for example, see Jean Dalby Clift and Wallace B. Clift. The Hero Journey in Dreams. Crossroad Publishing: New York, 1991.] That is why myths—conveyed through discourse—are effective “semiologies” (this term is also used by Barthes)–because they convey certain archetypes that people can relate to and identify with. Professional Wrestling, for example, is a modern myth, because the whole “spectacle” (i.e. hand signals, costumes and masks, the physique of the competitors, the grunts and shouts during competition, etc.) show us LIFE in its grandiloquence: what might seem to be just a violent fight actually symbolize archetypes of Good, Evil, the Cheat, the Hero, Suffering, and Justice. [4. Barthes, chapter on The World of Wrestling in Mythologies.]
Precisely because myths come with archetypal images, they have the tendency to simplify, generalize and make convenient what are otherwise complicated phenomena. In wrestling once again, it is pre-arranged: good will triumph over evil, justice will be meted out, the cheat will be defeated. The same can be said of telenovelas– the TV fare of so many in our population. They are myths with clear-cut archetypes: the kontrabida (who is usually an iron-lady character with very sharp tongue and an even sharper eyebrow) will meet sweet justice in the form of the bida’s rise to power (usually through a kind wealthy benefactor who mentors the bida). Think classic telenovelas like Flor de Luna and Anna Liza, the relatively recent Mula sa Puso, Esperanza, Pangako sa ‘Yo, Marimar, and now Babaeng Hampas Lupa. Watch them—they’re all variations of the same theme and the same archetypes.
Myths make convenient and simplify for us the story of LIFE.
The Filipino is particularly fond of myths.
This passion for myths and myth-making included stories about our national heroes: of Andres Bonifacio miraculously surviving his assassination and coming down Mt. Buntis to avenge the wrongs done to him, of Macario Sakay who was supposed to be invincible to American bullets, of Rizal and his many love “conquests”.
“It is said that Aguinaldo had an amulet and that during the Revolution, the enemy always saw him riding a white carabao. It is not known what the meaning of the white carabao was but Aguinaldo usually compared himself to one—patient up to a limit but will gore anyone if angered. It is also believed that bullets simply passed through his body when the enemy shot him…
“…General Emilio Aguinaldo and his house were guarded by a kapre. The creature was believed to have lived under the bridge not far from the house… It is said that the kapre gave him the amulet. Once when the Spanish army tried to enter Kawit during the Revolution, a giant leg blocked their way. Finally, they gave up their attempt to enter Kawit and Aguinaldo’s house was saved although stray bullets hit it…” [Isagani R. Medina, Emilio Aguinaldo as a Person and as the Father of Philippine Independence…, Espionage in the Philippines (1896-1902) And Other Essays, Mirana Medina (editor)]
On the one hand, myths show us the deepest aspirations of our people. They are the deepest desires of our hearts. We want good to triumph over evil. We dream of a just world. We desire a bright future. But on the other hand, myths simplify the problems of our people. And by doing that, myths make us lose the whole critical and systematic approach of problem-solving. Myths may sometimes act as a deus ex machina to solve the problems of our country and our countrymen, so that instead of facing the problem head-on, we escape into a metaphysical world where Good triumphs over Evil. The problem with that is that in the real world, things are not so clear-cut and so easily defined as Good and Evil. Because there are grey areas, a more critical approach needs to be employed.
One of the strongest myths in Philippine society today is the myth of the MASA—that all-powerful voting bloc that are violent (think EDSA III), and make illogical choices like voting Erap to the Presidency. Fittingly perhaps, it was the myth of Erap (the Savior of the Masses) that spurned this other myth of the Masa. It was the Erap Phenomenon (or the Erap debacle, as some would put it) that divided Philippine Society into haves and have-nots, into rich and poor, into the elite and the illogical.
This myth of the Masa, because it is a myth, needed to be communicated. And media had been very happy to oblige: photos of Churchmen and women in habits and soutanes in EDSA Shrine (the Shrine has a great symbolic meaning) were almost always front page stuff, they showed business people trooping to the streets after seeing a senator dancing like a giddy girl on her first date on national television, we were also shown an embattled President giving his tearful goodbyes (in slow-mo and with background music!) to his staff before leaving the Palace, and there were also images of a mob throwing stones at police in protest and rage. There was drama in the whole story. The two great networks had field days covering the telenovela that was happening. It had the makings of great media: us vs. them, binary opposition at its finest. It wasn’t just about schools fighting for college basketball supremacy (although that makes for great media too), it was a civil war waiting to happen. In archetypal language, Us found a shadow in Them. The Other found its enemy in Us.
After awhile, WE started believing the myth. Everyone started believing that the Philippines is divided into rich and poor, into the haves and have-nots, into the intelligent and the ignorant. In one senatorial elections for example, there was even a 13-0 vs. 0-13 movement.
To a certain extent, the myth is true. Churchmen shook their heads and saw their distance from the “poor” they have sworn to serve. Bishop Soc Villegas, in a fiery speech in front of the Clergy of Manila, pointed out how “It was bound to happen.” It was an intense moment of self-reflection among many intellectuals, university professors, and religious.
At the same time, there is a need to look perhaps more deeply into all this. Is the division as clear-cut as RICH vs. POOR? Did Erap really divide Philippine Society? Is it as convenient or as simple as wrestling or as the telenovelas would like us to believe?
Didn’t Erap have friends among the intellectuals and the rich as well? Isn’t he very rich himself? Isn’t the whole impeachment proceeding about his wealth and the many mansions he built for his many wives? What about the middle class—where are they in all this? A lot of what we would term as “poor” joined the supposed-to-be upper-class EDSA II: urban poor groups were well represented; the political group Bayan Muna which has a very strong grassroots base was also there. It surely wasn’t just Ateneans and the Church. In fact, to say that only the rich intellectuals were against Erap is to insult the middle-class people and the urban poor who were there in great numbers as well.
If the Aquino clan were divided into pro-Erap (Tessie Aquino Oreta), anti-Erap (Cory Aquino), and those waiting in the wings, then we should realize how un-simple the whole situation was. Individual people made individual choices. To mass-ify our people (into “the rich” and “the poor”) was precisely to under-cut the capacity of individuals to make individual, self-discerned choices.
It is this propensity to make clear-cut distinctions and divisions in our society that is the greatest myth of all. It is this tendency to generalize and make convenient and simplistic divisions that is actually dividing our country. We have produced myth upon myth upon myth about our people and we have lost the capacity to judge and logically disentangle the mess we have made about ourselves.
We could begin with Erap himself. Here at last is someone outside the perceived traditional politics plaguing our country at the time. The message of those who voted for Erap (the majority might be the poor, but it’s not just the poor) is that Erap was not trapo, he was for the poor. Now we know better. If we had looked deeper, we would have realized that Estrada was an elected mayor helped by Ferdinand Marcos, and a senator, vice president and president elected with money contributed by vested interests. He was a traditional politician whose motivations in helping the poor ought to be put into question. Then we have the myth of the Masa which we have already discussed. This myth of the Masa extends to the elections in May. Apparently, FPJ would surely win because the MASA will vote him to power. In the latest SWS Survey, FPJ leads with 36% of registered voters saying they will vote for him. What the SWS survey also shows is that while Macapagal-Arroyo leads the votes for class ABC (upper class to lower middle class) with 38%, FPJ is second with 25%. So that even people from class ABC will vote for FPJ—not just “the Masa” “intellectuals” (even this is a massifying term) are so afraid of.
The myth in Philippine society is that “the masa” will vote for FPJ, or that there is such a thing as a “youth vote” or a “woman vote”. It would probably be more of the reality that people will vote for someone they think will improve their lot in life. People think—some better than others perhaps, some not as logical as we would want them to be—but people THINK! And they make choices out of that. Or they decide not to vote at all. The myth is that the Masa don’t think. The myth is that the Masa will bring our country to the dogs. The reality, if we just look a little deeper, is a little more complicated than that.
Of course, we should not and could not get rid of all myths. They are the life-blood of our being human after all. Some myths mirror to us our aspirations and our dreams, and we can only begin moving towards our future by looking at the myths we have formed about ourselves and our people in the past.
And yet the convenience that the archetypal images in myths bring us doesn’t solve problems per se. The best it does is it un-complicates things into manageable chunks for people to chew on. Sometimes–as we have seen with the myth of the masa–it creates more problems than it solves. It encourages war for example—by massifying what would otherwise be individual persons with individual choices and sensibilities (from individual persons into faceless “Jews”, “Japs”, and “Communists”, etc.). Or it undercuts our capacity to be more critical about our problem-solving.
The challenge, as always, is to be more critical of generalizations, sweeping statements, and simplifications. The challenge, as always, is not to take shortcuts and suspend judgment until verifications are made. The challenge, as always, is to put at the back of our minds that problems, specially those involving our nation, are a little more complicated than what people would like us to believe.
In the end, we should ask ourselves: if myths have the capacity to mirror to us our dreams and our aspirations, does the myth of the masa mirror to us our deepest dreams and aspirations as a people?
Because if it does, then our country is really going to the dogs.