a quiet place

Manila, 15 April—People on my feeds have been talking about two movies: Tonet Jadaone's JaDine starrer Never Not Love You and John Krasinski and Emily Blunt's A Quiet Place. They're literally worlds apart—Never Not Love You is set in contemporary Manila, while A Quiet Place takes place in a post-apocalyptic rural town—but common things run the heart of the two movies: Two people trying to make it through their respective, seemingly insurmountable odds.

This is your official spoiler warning.

With Never Not Love You, I'd like to start from that ending, because everything else, I suppose, builds up to that. We see Nadine's character Joanne driving with newly-home-from-abroad boyfriend Gio and they're bickering about something while on the flyover from Makati to BGC. There's a tired, frustrated feel to it; like they're struggling to bring something back and they couldn't quite get to it again. The last scene is just them letting the confused, jarring silence hang heavily between them before the scene cuts to black and the credits start rolling.

I like my open endings; I think they're better than happy ones, although perhaps only when they hint at hope. I can't help but remember the final scene in Minsan Minahal Kita where Sharon Cuneta's character Dianne sees Richard Gomez's character Albert again in the future, while sitting in their respective cars stopped side-by-side in pre-MRT metro traffic. Two characters now in their separate journeys who just happen upon each other's tracks, again.

In Never Not Love You, that same open ending attempt does not feel as satisfying. For all the scene's awkward slowness, the way the time feels like it's peeling slowly and painfully, the whole scene feels somewhat rushed, like when you wrap a present all-too-quickly and the tapes and the bow are all askew. The depiction of pain is deliberate, I could tell, but to end it at that felt a bit... careless. I suppose there's a sequel in the offing (I've heard things and I've heard things) so I guess there's my dose of hope, somewhere.  

A Quiet Place ends in silence as well (and as expected) but for all the movie's general bleak tone, it manages to end on a hopeful note. IMAGINE THAT. Comparisons to the Black Mirror episode Metalhead are perhaps warranted, especially with that final scene where Emily Blunt watches their CCTV while clutching her shotgun close. Goddamn. This was among the very few horror movies I watched at the cinemas, propelled mostly by curiosity and FOMO, and no, I still don't like watching horror/thriller movies with such a big screen, but taking the risk for A Quiet Place was worth it. It feels a bit like Stranger Things, with the lights and the monsters and the kids. I loved how Emily Blunt and John Krasinski portray parenthood here: Fierce, protective, enduring despite the terror. And while the situation does seem a bit unsurmountable, and it does feel like they're always at Death's door every five minutes, they don't seem so... helpless? Idk. It feels like they know how to take care of themselves, and, hardware-related mishaps aside, they'll figure it out.   

tl;dr: Mas hopeful pa ako na magsusurvive sina Emily Blunt sa A Quiet Place kesa sa relasyon nina James at Nadine sa Never Not Love You.

Angry socmed wrapEcho chambers, epistemic bubbles, & the Facebook exodus

This week's best essay is via Ice on Facebook (thank you! :)): Escape the Echo chamber via Aeon Magazine.

These past few weeks I've been trying to wrap my head around how to deal with the extremely polarized and toxic social networks around me, and this article is another very useful one added to my reading list. 

When I was in Cebu for the launch of the Smart Millenniors program there last Saturday, I got to talk with one of my Cebu-based colleagues and our conversation unavoidably veered toward politics. I shared her grief when she told me about her frustration with one of her friends who was an avid supporter of this administration. "She's a doctor, how could she?" 

Since reading this essay on media literacy by Danah Boyd, I am now able to take a step back and ask myself a crucial question whenever I see someone agree with something I vehemently disagree with:

How is that other person arriving at this decision? How did that person arrive at the knowledge that backs this decision to believe?

So far, that question enables me to examine my own knowledge-forming processes, and that has been such good exercise for me, I think. 

New things to ask ourselves

This Aeon essay adds a few more questions to my toolbox. It also adds this important definition of an echo chamber: 

"Here’s a basic check: does a community’s belief system actively undermine the trustworthiness of any outsiders who don’t subscribe to its central dogmas? Then it’s probably an echo chamber."

Echo chambers are born in an atmosphere of distrust, and we are in one. We are gaslit every day, lied to blatantly, and pitted against each other like tributes in The Hunger Games. We are divided, we are hungry and we are almost always stuck in traffic. We are always angry: At the government, at the elites, at China, at our relatives who are on the other side of the political fence, at those who complain about vaccines and not about drug-related killings.
This echo chamber is a cancer that we're not doing a very good job of fighting: 

"The way to break an echo chamber is not to wave “the facts” in the faces of its members. It is to attack the echo chamber at its root and repair that broken trust." 

Instead we make it stronger through some kind of "intellectual judo" "in which the power and enthusiasm of contrary voices are turned against those contrary voices through a carefully rigged internal structure of belief."

Not 'Post-truth' but 'Post-trust'

We decry a disregard for "truth" without examining our own definition of it. 

"The apparent ‘post-truth’ attitude can be explained as the result of the manipulations of trust wrought by echo chambers. We don’t have to attribute a complete disinterest in facts, evidence or reason to explain the post-truth attitude. We simply have to attribute to certain communities a vastly divergent set of trusted authorities. Members of an echo chamber are not irrational but misinformed about where to place their trust. An echo chamber doesn’t destroy their members’ interest in the truth; it merely manipulates whom they trust and changes whom they accept as trustworthy sources and institutions."

Instead, we engage in our own undermining efforts, flaunting our own expertise and superiority, while ignoring what the echo chamber on the other side of the spectrum is executing very well: 

"We should expect that echo chambers would deliver crisp, clear, unambiguous claims about who is trustworthy and who is not. And this... is exactly what we find in echo chambers: clearly articulated conspiracy theories, and crisply worded accusations of an outside world rife with untrustworthiness and corruption."

That Facebook Exodus: Good riddance or dangerous isolation?

The other day, one echo chamber leader denounced Facebook's partnership with Rappler and Vera Files in implementing fact-checking on the social platform, which is now currently under siege after a data breach scandal exposed Facebook's mishandling of user data and its possible effect in elections all over the world, ours included.

My knee-jerk response was, Good riddance, and it is, admittedly, a very selfish response. To put it harshly, maybe I wanted to keep using Facebook for my own echo chamber's purposes—to reach like-minded people, share photos and interests with them, to watch movies with them, and even to sell them products and services through the platform. Life goes on for me, my loved ones. No problem, right?

This reaction, however, does nothing to address the deeper problem of distrust. In fact, reactions like mine likely worsen it. Instead of repairing trust, I am pushing them further away. This makes me just as bad as that echo chamber leader, on a smaller scale (but only because my network is smaller). 

And it's not even that we're isolating each other facts-wise: We can always expose ourselves to more information. But trust takes more than just exposure. Trust is built with engagement. Trust is built with listening. Trust is built with kindness.

We are not kind. I cannot bring myself to be kind to people like F/ran/co M/aba/nta, who openly promotes fat-shaming, for example. But when I analyze what makes him so appealing to his fanbase, I understand that affinity for him is perhaps less about his reckless messages, and more about the brazenness of it, and his relationship with the power that allows it.

People like power—I like it too. And my inability to be kind may be my expression of my relationship with the powerlessness that pervades this aspect of my life. 

I don't have a clean-cut ending for this, because it's an ongoing process, but I guess it bears documenting for future reference.