Monday, November 2, 2009

txting the citizen-state

Rafael's analysis of the ideology of texting in the People Power II demonstrations in the Philippines recalled Lee & LiPuma's claim that social contract ideologies imagine transcendent surpluses of authority which then govern the actions of individuals. Of the three socially imagined sectors of democratic societies that Lee & LiPuma discuss, it seems to me that People Power II invokes the notion of the citizen-state, a "we the people" who may challenge abuses of power in the name of the nation-state. The concept of a transcendent surplus of authority may have more resonance and explanatory power with regard to texting than Rafael's own elaboration of a messianism without messiah.

Rafael compares texting to other media sources, noting that a Catholic radio station broadcasted the same information in order to provide an "unimpeachable source residing outside the text" (409). Yet it seems that in this case Rafael substitutes the actual for the necessary, as though the Catholic Church needed to endorse the protests through its radio station for the mass texts to be properly grounded. Rafael claims that texting's power "has less to do with the capacity to elicit interpretation and stir public debate than it does with compelling others to keep the messages in circulation" (409).  It appears to me that Rafael restricts himself to the concept of texting as one medium among others in a kind of public sphere, a media ecology in which well-established media are  called upon to ground more "unruly" or less reliable ones. 

Yet what if the power of texting is to be found precisely in circulation itself, a circulation that does not address a mass audience through traditional mass forms (radio, tv) in order to guarantee the veracity of the facts transmitted, but instead traverses the social body and in so doing, instantiates it. It seems to me that, following Lee and LiPuma, the mass text itself both presupposes a "we the people" and calls this "we" into being as a crowd--a performative instantiation or indexical icon of "we the people." 

All this is not to say that Rafael's analysis completely misses its mark--his discussion of different classes' attitudes toward government and the ideological strategies of which they partake exposes the essential reformism of Filipino middle-class politics and importantly qualifies the "texting revolution" as a revolution in communication fetishism that only apparently abolishes class divisions. Contrasting the bourgeois demonstrations with those of the 'voiceless' masses, Rafael writes: "While the crowd in People Power II clung to a sense of the messianic without messiah, this other crowd comes as a messianic specter delivered by resentments whose satisfaction can no longer be deferred" (424)

Yet perhaps messianism is not the proper term; what if, instead, the People Power II demonstration abided by ideological notions of "we the people," which called for Estrada to be tried in the name of a transcendent authority, an authority that demonstrators felt themselves bound by and had been well-trained to recognize in certain conventional forms (respect for private property, the importance of peaceful demonstration); and what if the call to which the "voiceless" masses responded was predicated upon the same notion of "we the people" as a transcendent authority, but this "we" was situated ideologically in a different way by Filipinos whose class status gave them less stake in upholding middle-class articulations of how "we the people" should conduct ourselves?

I think that these questions sound a lot like Rafael's, but I think that his assertion that People Power II "clung to the messianic without messiah" does not take into account that People Power II and the pro-Estrada demonstration may have both called upon a form of transcendent authority produced by the circulation of different cultural forms.

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