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Jonathan Corpus Ong PhD Candidate Faculty of Social and Political Sciences University of Cambridge Cambridge, United Kingdom Email: Jo296@cam.ac.uk Mobile: +639175278094, +447442759754
Submitted to ICA Conference 2008 Montreal
Jonathan Corpus Ong is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge. He is one of only 100 students in the 2007 batch with the prestigious Bill Gates Scholarship. He has an MSc in Politics and Communication (Distinction) at the London School of Economics and Political Science and a BA in Communication (Summa Cum Laude) at the Ateneo de Manila University. He has worked in top media organizations including the BBC, McCannErickson Philippines, and GMA Network. He is also a Lecturer in Media and Globalization at the Ateneo de Manila University. His PhD dissertation is entitled Cosmopolitanism, Media and Morality: How Audiences Relate with Distant Others In and Around the Media. Fields of interest include: media ethics, media and migration, child/youth audiences, and mediated public participation.
Paper Abstract This study explores the processes of identity construction of London-based Filipinos within and across the media of news and karaoke. While news reception studies among migrant audiences have been popular, few research have been done on the use of karaoke, and fewer still that examine both practices side-by-side. As a study that bridges the “public knowledge project”, which studies news media, with the “popular culture project”, which studies entertainment media, I argue in this research that the seemingly innocent social practice of singing involves the raising and erasing of symbolic boundaries. As national identities are constantly flagged in everyday life (Billig 1995), I examine here how Filipino audiences negotiate their multiple attachments in both media practices. From participant observation and qualitative interviews, I discover that news reception generally enables both banal nationalism and banal transnationalism, while karaoke functions more as a homeland-directed “high holiday.” Arguing against the notion that transnational media consumption seamlessly lifts people out from their national context, I demonstrate how audiences weave in and out of their loyalties to British and Filipino publics across the media of British news, Filipino news, and karaoke. This bottom-up exploration also shows the link between rational and emotional engagement with the media, suggesting that it is in the most ecstatic moments of media consumption that Filipino migrants find themselves reflecting, and reflecting on, their Filipino-ness. Introduction In March 2007, I visited the homes of Filipino migrants in London as part of the initial phase of my fieldwork. It was the first time that I myself had been away
from Manila for a significant period, and I was starved for news about the “homeland”, especially for updates on the May 2007 Philippine National Elections. Philippine Elections, as many commentators say, are best described as carnivalesque, with the whole country thrown into frenzy from campaign road tours, catchy advertising jingles, and the literally star-studded lineup of celebrities-turnedpoliticos (Bionat 1998). I was then curious as to how such an occasion would qualify as a kind of “media event” of ecstatic nationalism (Dayan & Katz 1992) for Filipinos living away from the Philippines. And with 11% of the Philippine population living abroad (“Stock Estimate”, 2006), I wanted to inquire into how this politically and economically significant community engage with homeland political affairs by watching the news, learning about the candidates, and subsequently voting as transnational Filipino publics. While doing my interviews however, I found that news about the elections was not closely monitored. Families did not readily gather around the television set, as I had thought. And talk about Philippine politics was either minimal or severely critical, as Filipino migrants compared them to the more “systematic”, “sensible”, and “serious” politics of the British Parliament. Having satellite subscriptions to The Filipino Channel (TFC) then did not “magically transport” them to the homeland as engaged citizens indifferent to the politics of the host country—a view that conservative thinkers, policy-makers, and even the media themselves assume (Madianou 2005a: 522; Aksoy & Robins 2000: 351). In short, I didn’t get a sense of ecstatic nationalism from their news watching at all. But, still listening and observing, I noted that Filipinos reflect on their Filipinoness in their media practices from a variety of less extravagant, though not necessarily humble, ways: commenting on British news media’s depictions of Filipino nurses, boasting about Filipino athletes winning international tournaments, claiming the superiority of Filipino soap operas over “boring” British soaps, and others. My most interesting discovery though happened at a birthday party in a respondent’s apartment in Bromley-by-Bow, East London. The media were a bigscreen television, two microphones, and a thick playlist of “local” and “foreign” songs. Singing karaoke, it seemed, was what brought Filipinos around the TV and, perhaps, was what brought them “home”. Karaoke, the migrants claimed, is a distinctly “Filipino practice”. “Only in the Philippines do you get shot for singing out of tune,” one said unabashedly, referring to a BBC report of a man killed in Manila after an offkey rendition of Frank Sinatra’s My Way. And throughout such evenings, talk, gossip, and jokes about what it meant to be Filipino would draw both serious debate and bawdy laughs. The question whether such a practice could be called a “high holiday”
of national pride when juxtaposed against “traditional” media practices of news reception then became a curious turning point for my study. This study, drawing from my interviews and participant observation with London-based Filipino migrants, attempts to demonstrate the ways in which the media influence identity constructions and the ways in which migrants themselves use the media to actively construct their own identities. While it follows the tradition of research that highlights the dialectical relationship between media and identity (e.g., Gillespie 1995; Aksoy & Robins 2000; Madianou 2005), I go on to highlight that both “serious” and “soft” media are implicated in questions of inclusion and exclusion, of helping and hindering belonging, of raising and erasing symbolic boundaries, for a social group that is continually making sense of who they are and who they wish to become. By bridging the “public knowledge project,” which focuses on audiences of the news, and the “popular culture project,” which focuses on audiences of entertainment media (Corner 1991), I argue that we gain a deeper understanding of the complex operations of the media as an “environment” (Silverstone 2006), inextricably linked with the everyday symbolic project of constructing the self (Thompson 1995). This approach is able to show how migrant audiences select (or even choose not to select) different media at particular occasions to connect and disconnect from multiple national imaginaries and why. Further, by examining media as technology, content and context, I show that “serious” and “soft” media (products, texts, practices) provide individuals tools, occasions, and spaces for ecstatic and banal expressions of nationalism and transnationalism. Instead of assuming that transnational media consumption seamlessly lift people out from their national context, I explore from the ground-up how audiences weave in and out of their loyalties to British and Filipino publics across the media of British news, Filipino news, and karaoke. This bottom-up exploration, I argue, may perhaps shift the emphasis of media as disembedding mechanisms (Giddens 1990) but as resources for reflexive reterritorialization, for bringing the distant near, bringing there to here, bringing the past to the present, bringing the image to the material environment, bringing home to host—at the wherewithal of active audiences in everyday life. Media, Migration, Identities Much of the early work in mass communication research have theorized the relationship between media and identity, between media and audiences, in terms of effects, where the media is seen to be determining attitudes, beliefs, and behavior of individuals (e.g., Schramm & Porter 1982). Here media power is located in the hands
of media producers while audiences are seen as passive recipients of content. While this tradition of research has been greatly challenged by cultural studies over the years, the assumption that the media determines identities is still present in recent scholarship in media and migration studies. For instance, Saunders’ (2006) study of the identity construction of displaced Russian “digerati” in European countries posits that sustained Internet activity leads to the development of a post-national identity. This he surmises from survey questionnaires and interviews that track the frequency of users accessing English-language webpages, foreign job websites, and online shops. While not an effects study per se, Saunders’ approach to the study of media audiences likewise suffers from the media-centrism and technological determinism of early audience research, where the media is divorced from the terrain of everyday life. This study draws its inspiration from the “ethnographic turn” of audience studies. Rather than privileging the idea of powerful media or—the opposite extreme —powerful audiences (e.g., Fiske 1987), media ethnography is said to have contributed to a more sophisticated understanding of the relationship between media and audiences. Madianou (2005), in her own review of audience studies literature, cites the special significance of empirical work on transnational audiences (i.e., Gillespie 1995; Aksoy & Robins 2000; Robins & Aksoy 2001) for their thick description of the dialectical interplay between media and identity. Using this perspective, we are able to ask more nuanced questions to the study of the mediated everyday life experiences of migrants. Instead of asking how the media may have effects or influences on identities, we examine how the media creates spaces for inclusion and exclusion. Instead of asking whether the reception of a particular program determines an individual’s affiliation to a national community, we study here how mediated cultural practices enable or disable belongings and the construction and reconstruction of national imaginaries. A bottom-up approach in the study of media audiences likewise gives us a more rounded picture of what we mean by identity. Identity has long been identified as a slippery term (Buckingham 2008). And here, identity is understood not as an essence, but as a performance. It is understood not as fixed or given, but “as a relation to something or someone else that the boundary is drawn” (Madianou 2005: 525). For migrants, the more specific theorization of identity that is said to apply best is that of diaspora. Ien Ang (2001: 44) defines diaspora as “transnational, spatially and temporally sprawling socio-cultural formations of people, creating imagined communities whose blurred and fluctuating boundaries are sustained by
real and/or symbolic ties to some original homeland.” Here, identity is best conceived as always-already in process. The fluidity of identity hearkens Stuart Hall’s (1996: 4) own conception of identity as both being and becoming: that it is as much about “who we are” or “where we came from” as much as it is “what we might become,” rejecting primordialist theories that conceive of nation and culture as “seamless wholes, with a single will and character” (Smith 1998: 23). For diasporic individuals displaced in time and space, the tension in the process of identity construction is often expressed in the binarisms of roots/routes, home/host, home/away, and here/there. But as Aihwa Ong (2004: 87) points out, these dualities also fail to capture “the multiplicity of vectors and agendas associated with the majority of contemporary border crossings.” Thus, scholars such as Shome (2006: 106) argue for a more nuanced approach to the study of “hybrid communities” that takes into account their “very constitution, contexts, and staging in colliding and colluding contemporary [non-Western] modernities” [emphasis mine]. In this light, this study seeks to approach these binarisms not from an either/or perspective that actually reifies an “old” and a “new” identity, but from a both/and perspective that recognizes how identities may be performed “both outside and inside multiple nations and geographies that intersect at the collision of multiple times” (Shome 2006: 108). Indeed the constant celebration of diaspora often glosses over its existential doubleedgedness and in-betweenness, where the common experience is not only being “out of place” (Said 1999) but “out of time” (Ang 2001) as well. As I examine the media consumption of migrant Filipinos in London then, it is imperative to view how their media practices both sustain and subvert their imaginaries of home as well as their banal and ecstatic practices of belonging to the nation. Useful to this study of course are the twin notions of banal and ecstatic nationalism. Billig’s (1995) concept of banal nationalism describes how routine, familiar, even unconscious forms of nationalism, such as hanging a flag on a public building, contributes to the maintenance of a national identity. He cites how politicians’ speeches and mass media texts employ the homeland deixis (ibid.: 105) —that is, the use of “us” and “them” in their language—to signify that nation and who does and does not belong. Whereas Billig noted the importance of commonplace practices of flagging the nation, Dayan and Katz (1992) turn their attention to the high holidays of ecstatic nationalism, which they term “media events.” Media events— state ceremonies, parades, funerals—integrate society into a cohesive whole, they argue. From their phenomenological analyses of live broadcasts, they conclude that such events “connect center and periphery” (ibid.: 196). These are useful concepts to study the similarities and differences of the
media of news and karaoke as resources for audiences’ sense of belonging. However, this study plans to expand on these original theorizations by a) examining them bottom-up and not from textual or phenomenological analyses, b) situating them outside a methodologically nationalist paradigm in the focus on migrant audiences, and c) exploring them outside the “public knowledge project” which they came to be entrenched, and see how might popular and participatory media such as karaoke might foster (or not) the reflection and reterritorialization of nation(s). If we are to think of identity as a fluid and fragile performance after all, then it is crucial to understand how different media enable or disable particular identity constructions in their symbolic and material work of inclusion and exclusion. Setting the Context: Filipinos in London In 1969, only 3,694 Filipinos left the homeland to work in foreign countries. As of 2004, approximately 4,000 workers leave the Philippines each day on a contractual basis (Tyner 2004: 55). And as of 2006, more than 10 million Filipinos, or 11% of the total population, are said to be living outside the Philippines, most of them falling under Cohen’s (1997) category of “labor diaspora.” With the third largest labor diaspora in the world, behind only China and India, the Philippines considers the “migration industry” as a significant pillar of its economy. Philippine economic policy is said to emphasize the role of labor export, as seen in the government’s much-publicized target to send a million workers every year abroad (Asis 2006). Scholars such as Tyner (2004) have also cited how discursive constructions such as the balikbayan (literally, returnee to the nation) have been used by the state apparatus and the media in valorizing the overseas Filipino worker (OFW) as the modern day hero, whose special ability is to send money back home. With the increased mobility of Filipinos of course comes smoother flow of capital. In 2006 alone, the Philippines received over $12 billion in remittances from overseas Filipinos, the fourth largest recipient behind India, China, and Mexico (“OFW Remittances,” PIA Online). But overseas Filipinos are not at all business and corporate types. In fact more than one-third of all overseas Filipinos are “laborers or unskilled workers,” according to data from the Philippine National Statistics Office (“One in three,” GMANews.TV). This category includes domestic helpers, cleaners, and factory workers. Meanwhile trade workers make up 15% of overseas workers, while service workers (nurses included) make up 14%. The United Kingdom then provides an interesting case for the study of Philippine migration, as it has interesting divergences from the general scenario.
Only 10% of Filipinos in the UK are classified as low-skilled workers—mostly female domestic helpers—and a sizeable two-thirds are nurses or are in allied medical fields (“Profile of,” Philippine Embassy UK Online). In fact, Filipinos are said to make up the largest and most visible group of internationally recruited nurses in the UK, especially in the Greater London area (Gordolan 2004). Table 1.1: Top 10 Countries with Significant Filipino Populations (source: “Stock Estimate,” 2006) Country 1. United States 2. Saudi Arabia 3. Canada 4. United Arab Emirates 5. Malaysia 6. Australia 7. United Kingdom 8. Kuwait 9. Singapore 10. Hong Kong Population 2,278,209 1,019,577 437,940 311,793 239,373 236,525 165,564 144,955 139,318 135,115
The UK hosts the 7th largest overseas Filipino community, and it is the 5th highest source of remittances for the Philippines (“Overseas Filipino,” BSP Online). In politically economic terms UK-based Filipinos may then seem to hold significant clout, but one issue often cited during my initial fieldwork is the issue of representation. Filipinos in the UK are rarely seen and talked about in both British and Philippine media, they say. They note that there have been dozens and dozens of films and news documentaries about Filipino migrants in the Unites States, Hong Kong, Italy, the Arab World, etc., but British-Filipinos have been rather invisible. Even media outlets have been slow to respond to the demand of Filipino migrants in the UK for more targeted content, as GMA Network, the top-ranked television station in Metro Manila, has delayed its UK launch after its rollout in other regions, giving ABSCBN’s The Filipino Channel a monopoly on Filipino transnational television. In addition, there too has been little attention from political leaders to the situation of UK-based Filipinos. While Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo made a high-profile visit to a London hospital in 2006, regular assistance from government officials, including the Philippine Embassy, is said to be limited (“PGMA visits”, OPS Online). From this brief review of Filipinos’ situation in the UK, one can identify possible sources of tension that this study can explore. In my intent to examine the
construction of identity in news- and entertainment-based media practices, I wish to closely investigate how London-based Filipinos express notions of belonging to both home and host countries. For instance, in connecting to home, they may be attracted by the popular discourse of overseas Filipinos as modern day heroes saving the Philippine economy, but at the same time, from their privileged position, they may wish to distance themselves from their less well-off compatriots, recognized by Cabanes (2007) as a strategy of asserting social status. Indeed, social class issues may very well be salient here especially in the context of their talk about how the news represents Filipinos, as the composition of UK-based Filipinos is starkly different from the popular picture privileged by Philippine and international news media. Watching, Singing, Observing, Interviewing Fieldwork for the project comprised of 18 in-depth interviews, informal chats with informants, and 18 home visits to 7 London-based Filipino families. As an audience study of migrants’ identity construction in news and entertainment media practices, I relied mainly on qualitative interviews and participant observation. The qualitative interview, as a method that yields “rich sources of data on people’s experiences, opinions, aspirations and feelings” through its flexible and sensitive dynamic (May 1993: 91), proved as a salient site for Filipino migrants’ “media talk.” As Buckingham (1996: 57) suggests, “In discussing what we watch, and in making judgments about what we like and dislike, we are making claims about ourselves.” Participant observation was productive in identifying how news consumption and karaoke singing were embedded in the everyday life contexts of Filipino migrants. While it would have been possible to gather data about their mediated practices from interviews alone, I recognize that what people say and do in relation to the media may often be contradictory (Gillespie 2005). According to Creswell (1994), informants that would best answer the research questions are purposefully selected in qualitative research. In this light, purposive sampling was used for this study, where seven London-based Filipino families were selected. In this study, “London-based Filipino families” were defined as Filipino nationals who live together in one household and have been residents in the UK for at least five years. I purposefully selected respondents from different backgrounds to give adequate representation to the variety of experiences within the diaspora. I recruited four of the seven respondents mostly through the help of personal contacts in London. I also recruited three families by visiting Filipino establishments in the
Earl’s Court area and attending Filipino gatherings in the Philippine Embassy.
Table 2.1 Respondents’ Profiles
Family 1 (middle class) (Ida, Red, Boyet) Family 2 (middle class) (Norma, Nora) Family 3 (working class) (Liza, Bea) Family 4 (working class) (Angel, Zeny, Kim, Carl) Family 5 (middle class) (Lea, Ricky) Family 6 (upper middle class) (Herman, Cora) Family 7 (middle class) (Hector, Lolit) Family of five (parents are nurses in the UK for 7 years, nursing college graduates; children are 9 and 7; one male coworker lives with the family, has lived in the UK for 3 years) Family of two (one sister is an accountant in the UK for 5 years, university graduate; the other sister is a nurse in the UK for 2 years, nursing college graduate) Family of two (mother is a domestic helper in the UK for 30 years, some high school education; daughter is a university student) Family of four (father is a bartender in the UK for 25 years, some high school education; mother is a domestic helper in the UK for 20 years, some high school education; 17-year old daughter and 12-year old son are in high school) Family of two (female cousin is a shop owner in the UK for 12 years, some high school education; male cousin is a shopkeeper in the UK for 10 years, some high school education) Family of three (father is investment banker in the UK for 25 years, university graduate; mother is a housewife for 25 years, university graduate; son is a university student) Family of two (husband is an accountant in the UK for 6 years, university graduate; wife is an NGO worker in the UK for 4 years, university graduate)
In recruiting respondents, I told them that my research project is about “the media consumption of Filipino migrants.” I had decided to use a broad, catch-all theme in describing my project so as not to pre-empt their responses. The interviews, which usually lasted for an hour, were often held in the homes of the respondents. It must be noted that the interviews were not often attended by all members of the household; often the children expressed that they were too busy or too shy to participate. Then depending on the outcome of the first interview, I would ask whether I could visit the family again for follow-up interviews, informal chats, or join when they would watch TV or sing karaoke. Out on the field, I realized that it was my own body that served as the most significant research “instrument.” After all, it was through my own senses and my own ways of interpreting people’s words and actions that I came to decide what counted as “data” and how they would later be analyzed. In addition, as a person with mixed ethnicity (Filipino-Chinese), I often found that I had to “prove” my Filipino-
ness to some of the respondents. As I was usually mistaken as Chinese and not Filipino, the first few exchanges in our meetings were not about them but about me. But, I soon discovered that my being fluent in Tagalog, the official language of the Philippines though, allowed me entry to their “inner circle”. After the first interview, I almost always found myself invited to their birthday parties, family dinners, and even to Sunday Church. Hospitality, one respondent claimed, is a “distinctly Filipino” trait after all. To aid my data-gathering, I prepared an interview questionnaire that aimed to probe the respondents’ general media consumption habits before delving into issues of belonging and identity. Here I also explored the tensions between news and entertainment media practices and what their motivations were in engaging with these. The purpose of the questionnaire really was to have common questions that I could ask respondents from different socio-economic backgrounds to enable comparison. While this is an exploratory study that examines identity construction in media practices, it is also comparative after all as it looks at how news reception and the use of karaoke were similarly (or differently) appropriated in everyday life contexts. In my subsequent visits to respondents, I also came up with informal topic guides, wherein I drew from their previous responses and asked follow-up questions. I also brought a notebook with me where I jotted down field notes immediately after conducting an interview or participant observation. I actually realized that some of my most interesting observations were recorded while I was on the Tube or the bus on my way home from a particularly productive night of news watching or karaoke singing. Once fieldwork was completed, I began analyzing the data. I transcribed the interviews and grouped responses according to important, emergent themes relating to: 1) news and karaoke practices in everyday life and 2) discourses of nation (Filipino-ness and British-ness) in news and karaoke. My notes from the participant observation were similarly grouped to these two broad themes, as I paid attention to the instances when they talked about home, belonging, and citizenship in relation to the media. At the same time, I paid attention as to how news and karaoke themselves enabled/disabled belonging to national imaginaries according to their articulations as: 1) technology, 2) content, and 3) context. News Practices: British by Day, Filipino by Holiday In this section, I argue that news consumption enables migrants to connect to both British and Filipino national imaginaries. These connections occur in different
ways: consumption of British news is a banal practice while consumption of Filipino news is a rare, often emotional, occurrence. In both media practices however, the media do not facilitate a seamless connection to host or home countries; rather, they can also serve to exclude, as issues of access and representation become significant. Among all seven families, British news was seen as indispensable to their day-to-day activities. Most of the respondents expressed that reading newspapers and watching primetime news were “mere habits.” “Sometimes it’s unconscious… like, I’m not thinking when I pick up one of those free papers in the street. I just do it every time,” Ricky claimed. Initially, statements such as this seemed to suggest that practices of news consumption are significant because of their routine nature. But when probed further, the act of engaging with news content reflected deeper issues at hand—most crucially, issues of belonging and participation. The 31-year old nurse Ida said, “I never fail to read the morning paper on my way to the hospital. I know when I get there my British co-workers and bosses will be talking about current events.” Knowledge about British current affairs could function as a social lubricant for Filipino migrant workers working as minorities in workplaces with predominantly British staff. Nevertheless, for Zeny, a domestic helper who would rarely interact with her Jewish employer (she would only come to her employer’s house while they were at work so she could clean and prepare the evening meal), watching British news allowed her to connect symbolically to the British public: “Yes, the Philippines is my original home, but the UK is my new home now. Most of the time I really don’t care about the Parliament. But I also know that when something happens, I’m part of it too.” This something Zeny referred to ranges from football matches to terror laws to transport updates. Indeed, for the respondents who have been residents of the UK for seven years or more, their being part of the “British public” was something that they affirmed and reaffirmed in news reception. While watching UK news with the families (preferred news channel: the BBC), we would often hear the term “British public” in news reports. And for the most part, Filipino migrants remained unblinking and unaffected when this phrase was dropped. One time I called out Angel, bartender and father of two, and asked, “You told me earlier in the interview that you only consider yourself Filipino. What do you feel when you hear ‘British public’ used like that? Do you still feel like they are talking to you?” He replied,
“Whatever you make of it, you’re still living in their land. Of course as Filipino you can never truly be British. Just look at our skin. But when it comes to the news, it’s for everyone. Filipino, British, Indian, everyone who lives here is implicated in the news. That’s why it’s important.”
Using Billig’s (1995) concept of deixis, we see how Angel’s statement reflects their conflation of you, me, and us—underscoring the quality of their news viewing experience as integrative to a wider, “universal” public. Indeed Couldry (2003) has identified how the news, and its perpetual claim for “objectivity” and access to society’s “center,” may function as a social glue. For Filipinos who find themselves at the margins of the social order in everyday life, where they otherwise would never be interpellated as part of the “British public,” watching British actually enables them to participate in the dominant national imaginary. At the same time, it is noticeable that their news consumption practices do not facilitate a faultless integration to the host country. Issues of power and marginalization are expressed in the audiences’ talk about certain news items as well. For instance, there was one occasion in Family 3’s home wherein the mother, the daughter, and I were watching the evening newscast while having dinner. The newscast had faded into the background while we enjoyed the hearty meal. However, at the announcer’s first mention of the word immigration, the mother, Liza, stopped and immediately turned to the TV set and cranked up the volume. While the news clip recounted the new hardline British policies to “crackdown” on illegal immigration—deploying more police constables, raising fines for firms supporting illegal immigrants, etc.—Liza shook her head, disgusted. Her daughter, university student Bea, meanwhile went on chewing her food politely and even engaged me in small talk. At the conclusion of the news clip, Liza began her rant about how these tougher rules for immigrants are “unfair.”
Liza: “They lump them into these evil bunch of wrongdoers when sometimes they’re really the victims!” Bea: [interrupts] “But they broke the law.” Liza: “They’re still human. They’re not pests to be exterminated!” Bea: “Huh? I didn’t say they’re pests!” Liza: “Don’t you feel sad for them? No wonder [you feel that way]. You didn’t grow up there.”
I noticed that these instances where news viewing produced a relationship of dissociation with the host country were not merely a result of the themes or topics of news reports (i.e., immigration, race relations, terrorism, Philippines, etc.); they were also a result of specific representational practices. Specifically, respondents were highly critical of how British media rarely covered issues pertaining to the Philippines, how Filipinos were only shown as “novelties,” and how Filipinos came to be represented only as service workers and not professionals. Of note here are how mainstream news media’s representation of Filipinos as poor and underprivileged is severely criticized by middle- and upper middle-class professionals such as Norma. As an accountant, she is offended by Londoners often mistaking her as a maid when
she is “classified [by the UK government] as a migrant with ‘desirable professional skills’”—an attribution that she attributed to the limited representations of Filipinos in British and global media. Curiously, even working-class Filipinos echo this complaint, as they cite that Filipinos are “achievers” on the global stage, not simply victims. Clearly, the work of representation by the British news media—who they represent and how they represent—creates spaces for exclusion for migrants. Given how this representation is in opposition to Philippine media’s dominant representation of migrants as modern day heroes, we can understand how their hurt and anger shape their reception to such stories. This is likely why news coverage of Filipinos’ successes in international competitions from boxing (e.g., world champion Manny Pacquiao) to singing (e.g., British-Filipina Myleene Klass of ITV1’s Popstars) are, in contrast, recalled with great fondness, as these are consonant with the heroes discourse. Feelings of exclusion from the host country as well as the emotive pull of everyday symbols of the homeland prompt Filipino migrants to maintain, and in some cases very actively sustain, a public connection with the homeland through practices of news consumption. While many of the respondents described their consumption of British news media more in terms of routine and habit, the consumption of Philippine news media often involved an interruption of their daily schedules. Crucially their lack of regular access to Philippine news outlets often pushed them to “go out of their way,” as Ida claimed, to access Philippine news content. This “break” from everyday routine is rooted largely in the fact that only two of the seven families mentioned were subscribers of The Filipino Channel.1 The Filipino Channel is a “transnational media” package (i.e., homeland-to-host) produced by Philippine media giant ABS-CBN. The Filipino Channel (TFC) is actually a package of five different Filipino channels (a main channel offering delayed telecasts of the ABS-CBN flagship channel from Manila, a news channel, a movie channel, and two broadcasts airing radio programs) available on satellite TV for a steep monthly fee. And so, for a majority of the respondents, and likely for the overwhelming majority of Filipino migrants in the UK who are not subscribers of TFC (Buenafe, Personal Conversation, 9 May 2007), watching a Philippine newscast would actually constitute a special occasion. Philippine news on TV is something they only get to see when they would attend a get-together at their friend’s house, go to a Filipino restaurant at
The two TFC subscriber families were Family 2 and Family 5. Family 2 claims that they are “addicts” of Filipino soaps. As recent migrants, they said that having TFC made their transition to living in London “smoother”. Family 5 subscribes to TFC for their business, a Filipino shop in Victoria that also functions as a tambayan (“hangout”) for customers, and for their home. Both middle-class families complain about the steep subscription fees, but say that a subscription is “worth it”.
Earl’s Court, visit the Filipino store at Victoria, or sit in the waiting room at the Philippine Embassy. This is Hector, an accountant, non-subscriber of TFC, and away from the Philippines for six years:
“It’s usually when a friend has a party in his place that [my wife and I] get to watch TFC. We’ll all chip in and bring [food such as] kare-kare and sinigang. Then if it’s a Sunday party, we try to get there early to watch [showbiz news] and then [primetime news]. Yes, you can read about Philippine news online, but it’s not the same [as TV]. And of course it’s always a riot to watch the news with fellow Filipinos.”
Hector’s statement is echoed by the other non-subscriber respondents. Consumption of homeland newscasts is generally a collective experience and marked well in advance in their calendars. There were cases where news-viewing practices were “reverential,” in line with Dayan and Katz’s (1992) description of media events, such as in a get-together of Filipina professionals planned for the day of the Philippine elections. They had all planned to leave work early to make it to the primetime newscast, each one pitching in, bringing takeaway food. The viewers, while expressing their frustrations with the Philippine political system and their disdain for celebrity politicians, were nonetheless hopeful about their country—a country that they claimed to love and wish to return to. I also want to focus on another important point expressed by Hector: his assertion that reading about Philippine news online is simply not the same as watching it on TV. And I think that this points to how television, for these migrants (and perhaps even for non-migrant audiences), remains as the medium that is most central to the ritualistic experience of news. While some respondents admit to going out of their way and buying Filipino newspapers in Filipino stores or logging on to gmanews.tv, the sentiment remains:
Boyet: “I don’t feel as connected. It’s still different if you see it on TV. It’s more real.” … Cora: “It’s not as if I have difficulty with imagining things. But the impact is much greater when you can see it for yourself.”
Television as an integral part of the moral economy, of the environment of the household, has been underscored in the literature (Silverstone 1994; Livingstone 1998a). And while recent scholarship has emphasized the role of the Internet in fostering diasporic public spheres (e.g., Mitra 2001), perhaps migrants’ experience with television—and television news, in particular—remains as the most enabling and disabling medium in their everyday symbolic project to integrate with the publics of home and host. Its banality, continuity, and audio-visual force all contribute to its ritual character and its concurrent promise of social cohesion. And when television representations deny migrants and minorities of this promise, the crush of rejection is
perhaps more painful here than with other media.
Ritual of Karaoke: High Holiday of Filipino-ness In contrast with news consumption practices, which connect migrant identities to two national imaginaries, karaoke singing serves as a practice that is more directed to the homeland. Nevertheless karaoke practices contain elements of both ecstatic nationalism for the homeland and banal nationalism for the host country. And like news media, the media’s double economy of inclusion and exclusion is seen in karaoke: The media of karaoke, as integrated to Filipino celebrations that themselves become celebrations of all things Filipino, also come to exclude certain individuals who do not fit essentialist understandings of Filipino-ness. For one, the respondents describe karaoke, or videoke, as a distinctly Filipino activity. In spite of its Japanese origins and widespread popularity throughout Southeast Asia (Mitsui & Hosokawa 1998), Filipino migrants claim for unique ownership of karaoke:
Ricky: “In the parties of white people here, it’s all champagne and nice food and being pleasant. They only allow themselves to have fun if they’re in the pub. That’s the only place they get wild. For us, we’re happy with videoke. The family is here. Complete. It’s good fun.” … Lolit: “Yes, they have videoke as well in the Chinese restaurants. But it’s more fun here at home with all your Filipino friends. It’s quite embarrassing to go out in front of other people, don’t you think? And it’s much cheaper at home!” … Hector: “Yes, they have karaoke in other countries. But it’s only in Manila where you get shot if you’re out of tune with [Frank Sinatra’s] My Way.”
Hector here referred to a case that had been publicized as a novelty item in the British media where a 29-year old Filipino was murdered for apparently singing out of tune in a karaoke bar in Manila. Of course one can look at essentialist discourses, in Philippine media most especially, that assert Filipinos’ “natural” talent for singing as their reference when they claim for cultural ownership of this activity. The respondents cited that karaoke serves as the “highlight” of all Filipino gatherings, pertaining to birthday parties, Christmas parties, Easter celebrations, post-Sunday Mass get-togethers, and Philippine Independence Day events. These events are attended by Filipinos only—usually their friends and coworkers—with some occasional “foreign” guests. This labeling of non-Filipinos as “foreign” is indeed interesting, as they come to map their home (or their friend’s home) as a Filipino space in spite of it being located in British soil, signaling the work of reterritorialization in this ritual.
Party hosts often tell off their Filipino guests to act nicely and sensibly in front of “ibang tao” (distant others)—whom they came to label their “foreign” guests. In a dinner party of a middle-class family that I attended, I recalled that the host had to issue a disclaimer to her Filipino guests to use utensils and not eat with their hands so as to not cause hiya (shame) to their white guests. I later learned from another guest that the disclaimer was a reference to a past incident when a guest “straight from the province” ate with her hands. Clearly, the presence of “others” creates a greater need to differentiate one another in terms of social status, wherein they simultaneously associate themselves with “positive” Filipino traits and dissociate themselves from “backward” Filipino practices. In the two houses that subscribed to TFC, watching Filipino TV programs and movies usually served as a prelude to karaoke. While in the houses without TFC, often the TV was turned off, with ambient music provided by a CD player playing American and Filipino pop music in the background. In both cases, the crucial components of the evening were: food, talk, and song. In both cases, the unveiling of the karaoke machine was left for the third act, with teasers peppered throughout the first two acts:
Ida: [greeting a guest] “Aha! Dear, your outfit is very Regine Velasquez [famous Filipina singer]. You’re obviously ready to hit the high notes later tonight!” … Red: “Sigh. Work was so hard today. Always overtime. I’m hoping I still have energy [for karaoke] later.” … Angel: [to researcher] “O! You have to duet with my daughter tonight, okay? I’m sure you’re a big fan of karaoke. All Filipinos are.”
For the most part, there was great continuity of symbols asserting Filipinoness throughout the three acts. Always a central point of discussion, culinary concoctions were often judged for being “authentic,” even for the Filipina with a British passport who had not visited the Philippines for 20 years. Once a guest asked whether the host family did their grocery in the Filipino store because the food tasted “very much like home.” Even the choice of alcohol became an issue about Filipinoness, as the San Miguel Beer—greatly popular in the Philippines—that is imported from Spain and available in the UK was claimed as not as good as “the original.” But one can argue that banal nationalism for the host country was also evident within this ritual. Aside from some Filipinos’ preference for chips over chicharon (deep-fried pork fat) as their after-dinner snack, there was also some talk about British current affairs, as they compared social issues such as transportation and health care in both countries.
For the most part however, the conversations during these parties revolved mostly around work issues and gossip about Filipino friends and Filipino coworkers, and the language used was mostly Tagalog (the Philippine national language), with only few English phrases used. As Ida said, “My nose bleeds from speaking too much English. At least here we’re all Filipino.” It is crucial to note that this bias for Tagalog as the default language in Filipino gatherings, while allowing a majority of the participants to better simulate everyday life dynamics in the homeland, actually served an exclusionary mechanism for the Filipinos who were not native speakers of Tagalog. The migrants who originally hailed from other regions in the Philippines, where over 180 languages and dialects are spoken, expressed difficulty in speaking Tagalog but then felt forced to do so for fear of being excluded. “If I speak in English, they might think I’m acting superior to them when in truth English is simply easier for me to speak than Tagalog,” Liza, who is fluent in Visayan and English, but not Tagalog, shared. Once all the guests finished their dinner, the host would bring out the karaoke machine and would plug it to the living room TV. It is worthwhile to note here that all seven families interviewed owned karaoke machines, with three out of the seven owning as many as four karaoke machines each. Their preferred brand was Magic Sing, an easy-to-use Filipino-made machine that consists of a microphone and individual microchips that are sold separately. While most bought their karaoke machines from Filipino stores in the UK, a key issue among them was getting newer editions of the microchips that would contain more Filipino songs; the microchips included in the purchase of Magic Sing, they complained, had mostly Englishlanguage songs. In most cases, the host or the celebrant performed first, and anyone could volunteer to sing next. For new friends and guests, especially those who were shy or were not familiar to the rest of the group, the host suggested a duet to alleviate anxiety. And for the most part, everyone was free to select which songs to perform, except for a few cases where “requests” were made (i.e., some were asked to repeat memorable performances from the past). As for song selection, there was always a good mix of English and Tagalog songs, with a bias for classics and pop songs from the ‘60s to the ‘80s. “Mandy,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” and “Dancing Queen” were favorites. While the popularity of English-language songs may indicate how karaoke did not merely connect them to the homeland, it is still notable that a majority of the selected English-language songs were the versions covered by Filipino artists. And while there was much imitative singing, the idols that they imitated were Filipinos.
The Magic Sing device also has another interesting function that further promotes feelings of ecstatic nationalism: its visual display consists of still images from the government-sponsored Philippine tourism campaign called WOW Philippines. As the song lyrics are displayed onscreen, the background changes from one Philippine tourist site to the next: pristine white sand beaches, nature resorts, colonial-era houses, even parks with statues of national heroes. Throughout the evening, these striking reminders of Filipino-ness would become the subject of conversation (“We should visit Bohol the next time we come home”). And as long as guests remained, food, talk, and song would flow, marking another holiday with both banal and ecstatic reminders of the homeland.
News, Entertainment and the Politics of Inclusion/Exclusion From my interviews and participant observation with Filipino migrants in their practices of news viewing and karaoke singing, it is evident that they grow to reflect upon their national identity in both media practices. While news, especially television news, is seen to enable a public connection with both home and host countries, karaoke generally functions as homeland-directed media practice. We can surmise that this divergence is a result of the biases of the two media in terms of their technology, content, and context. The television news content that Filipino migrants access more readily is British rather than Filipino after all, and in the few cases that Filipinos are represented in British news media, audiences tend to have a critical reading of how Filipinos and the Philippines are represented. But more than a “rational” critical reading, their expression of anger, hurt, and fear point to how Filipino-ness in the media provoke emotional reactions—emotions directed to the homeland. In contrast, the visual content of karaoke machines such as Magic Sing tend to be cheerful “high holidays” of Filipino-ness, as famous tourist locales from the homeland literally set the scene for their mediated performances. These images come to frame the lyrics of songs both Filipino and “foreign.” Thus in terms of audio content, while a wide selection of songs from different countries composes the playlist of each ritual, the actual performance of the participants tends to be imitative of the versions interpreted by Filipino artists. As media technologies, news and karaoke, I recognize, have the “social behind them, the social in front of them, and the social embedded in them” (Silverstone 1999: 145). From my observation, both media tend to have different forms of sociality embedded in them. While news practices tend to be
practiced as part of audiences’ daily routines, karaoke singing involves an interruption of everyday experience, a red-letter ritual performed by close friends and family. Located in living room space and observing “holiday time,” Filipinos proactively strive to recreate the homeland through symbols and rituals in food, talk, and song. Karaoke, as a more interactive medium than television news, indeed provides the tool, time, and space for the project of reterritorialization. As much as this medium is a “nucleus of reflexivity” (Beck 1992), it is simultaneously a nucleus of reterritorializaiton. It must also be noted that the line between banal and ecstatic nationalism are not as clear-cut when examined empirically in the context of everyday life. Symbols and practices have different meanings and emotive pulls for each individual, after all. Individual symbols and practices of both banal and ecstatic nationalism—directed to dual national imaginaries—constitute the social environment of these media practices and enable/disable identity construction differently for the participants.
Table 3.1: Articulations of the Media of News and Karaoke
Technology • • Television at the center of loving room Philippine transnational TV as costly to access and offering limited choice • • • Content • • • • • Context • • UK news widely available News about Filipinos rarely seen in mainstream UK TV News about Filipinos very one-dimensional and predictable in UK media News media about Filipino migrant not widely available (only in Filipino stores) Philippine news media rarely cover British Filipinos UK news consumption as routine, habitual, everyday Philippine news consumption as interruption of daily routine • • •
Television at the center of living room Karaoke machines: from status symbol to common gadget “Gift” quality of song chips containing Filipino songs Filipino and “foreign” songs available Images of Philippine tourist spots displayed onscreen Greater selection of old songs over new/recent hits
Used on special occasions (birthdays, graduations, parties, holidays, Philippine community events, after-Church service) Culmination of evening of food, talk, and song reminders about the Philippines
Conclusion In attempting to bridge the “public knowledge project” and the “popular culture project,” this study demonstrates how different media—“soft” and “serious”, news and entertainment, national and transnational, mass and particularistic—are all implicated in issues of identity and belonging, inclusion and exclusion. While hardly an applesto-apples comparison, examining the media of news and karaoke reveals how technology, content, and context provide roadsigns directed to either home or host (imagi)nations. From banal, taken-for-granted language calling viewers out as “British publics” in the news to ecstatic, hyperreal images of the motherland in the video of karaoke, individuals reflect on their dual loyalties in their use of both media. But while the media prompt reflection among audiences, audiences themselves actively appropriate media and provide them with meanings that themselves give meaning to their condition. This dialectic is most evident in Filipino migrants’ use of karaoke. In one direction, karaoke displays powerful reminders of Filipino-ness in its selection of songs and images pointing to the homeland. And in the other direction, audiences themselves confer on the medium greater social significance by placing its use at the heart of Filipino community gatherings, indeed, at the hearth of the home(land). As food and décor flag the nation in a more banal manner, high holidays of Filipino-ness find their culmination in the singing of the nation. In reterritorializing the homeland on foreign soil through their creative use of symbols, the emotions of joy and even bittersweet nostalgia simultaneously enable a temporary “lifting out” to the homeland. However, as it is a salient site where symbolic boundaries are drawn, karaoke practices serve to exclude other Filipinos who themselves do not carry traditional markers of the homeland, whether it be by their language, hybrid ethnicity, or social class. My findings also point to a great significance to the role of emotions in connecting and disconnecting to national imaginations across media consumption. Filipino migrants in everyday life, I discovered, are sincere, if not desperate, in their attempt to “fit in” British society. They look to British news as a resource for them to learn about British culture and to give them a common language, even common accent, to speak with their British officemates and friends. Consumption of British media is everyday, routine, necessary, indispensable. And they wholeheartedly, if unconsciously, accept their interpellation as “British publics” by announcers of the evening news. However, certain topics in the news that provoke fearful and defensive responses snap them out from their fantasy to be included in British society and direct them back to the homeland imagination. News items on
immigration and terrorism remind migrants of their not really being part of the “British public,” whether they are contract workers or British citizens, and result in talk where they exaggerate their radical difference with people of dominant white ethnicity. Indeed, literature in media and migration studies (e.g., Gillespie 1995; Madianou 2005) have previously identified that representations of conflict wherein the news media resort to binarisms of us-and-them tend to reproduce this same discourse among migrants’ media talk. And here, this is expressed mostly in growing concern for other Filipinos, rather than as an affront to the dominant ethnic group, such as Cora’s response to a hate crime report: “This is why we have to stick together.” Feelings of hurt and anger often greet British news media representations of Filipinos and the Philippines as well, prompting a dissociation with the host country and an association with the homeland. Complaints about Filipinos being represented as destitute or dangerous or backward or bizarre by British media are all too common, as they are able to compare these with the dominant discourse of Filipinos as modern day heroes in their exposure Philippine news. But more fundamentally, it is in the lack of visibility of Filipinos in international news that they speak with the clearest and strongest voice acknowledging their Filipino-ness. Moments of tension are when they begin to see themselves as representatives of their home country in the foreign space of their host country. Across the media of news and karaoke then, it is emotional, rather than rational, responses that direct migrants to the homeland. It is in the most ecstatic moments of media consumption that they find themselves reflecting, and reflecting on, their Filipino-ness. Future studies should further explore the continuities and discontinuities of identity construction across news and entertainment media. In bridging the “public knowledge project” and the “popular culture project”, we not only gain a more complex picture of the dynamics of mediation—its ability to include and exclude—we also see how audiences engage and disengage, participate and withdraw, associate and dissociate, with national imaginaries. While such efforts are seen in political communication (e.g., Coleman 2006), we need to apply this insight more in media and migration studies, where the politics of inclusion/exclusion is a central theme. Studying migrants’ rational and emotional responses to fiction films about the homeland and even home videos might provide us with greater insight as to the hows and whens of their association with home and host publics. While I was not able to see significant differences in identity construction among the families in terms of social class, future studies will also benefit from a more diverse sample of families. Social class—and its attendant cultural capital—are greatly recognized to enable/disable belonging after all. I feel that my sample was too limited to tease out
its more subtle dynamics, and future studies can expand on this. Lastly, my attention to media as technology, content, and context enabled me to bring together insights from reception, domestication and everyday life traditions in audience studies. However, Livingstone (1998b) reminds us that it is crucial for comparative research to supplement the limitations of such approaches. Other researchers can perhaps be interested to take up this challenge and see how migrant communities in other contexts appropriate news and karaoke in everyday life and with what consequences as regards their roots and routes, their tradition and translation, their being and becoming.
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