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Monday, June 17, 2024

Pompoms and Punchlines

Taking jokes seriously does not only make one a party pooper who shall be ignored, but also a killjoy (KJ) who shall not be taken seriously because he would not just take the fun away but also complicate enjoyment that is supposed to be carefree. Let me take a shot at being the KJ because in the previous days, a few things turn ripe as subjects for tragicomedy. To name a few: 1) TRAIN; 2) the revocation of a media outfit’s registration; 3) the railroading of charter change (Cha-Cha); and 4) the antics of Tatay Digong versus “dilawans,” among many other cast of characters. Needless to say, the enumerated issues divide. Cracking a joke and observing reactions come in handy, as it is revelatory of existing divisions and potential vacillations and positions among the consumers of the joke.

Building up on Mikhail Bakhtin and his formulation of the carnivalesque where laughter temporarily subverts hierarchies, Todd McGowan argues that comedy is not inherently subversive, since it can be “conservative” or “critical” (2014), a categorization that he later developed and revised as “ideological” or “egalitarian” (2017), respectively. For this article and the ensuing analyses of issues deemed of national importance, I shall employ McGowan’s earlier descriptions and show how what I termed elsewhere as “reverse carnival, reactionary laughter” reinforce the status quo, instead of interrogating its lacks and excesses.


Jokes about TRAIN and Cha-Cha utilize punchlines that may be worn-out for some, but still effective in terms of exposing the contradictions of the recently-implemented tax-reforms and the threat to shift to another form of government. The puns exist in the words themselves: the railroaded policy meant to run over the already dispossessed and the dance meant to reward those who presently disco in power; the former is morbid as elaborated in the graphic detail, just as the latter is so perverse that I respectfully suggest an amendment: instead of Con-Ass for “constituent assembly,” why not drop the “c” so it becomes On-Ass for “onanist assembly.”

Skyrocketing prices and plummeting quality of products and services due to the regressive tax reform have the staple “hirit” or “banat” (may be approximated as taunt or banter?): the play with the words “mahal” and “mura.” As an adjective, “mahal” pertains both to someone “beloved” or something “expensive,” while “mura” functions as an antonym to the costly “mahal.” As a noun, “mura” is a cuss word. As a gerund, “pagmamahal” may mean “loving [someone] / love of someone” or “rising prices [of something] / price increase of a commodity”; the gerund form of “pagmumura” is still an antonym to “price increase” and may also mean “swearing” or blurting out expletives.

The negotiations of the multiple meanings of “mahal” and “mura” surface a blush of truth and trigger nervous laughter that may translate (or not) to concrete action against the policy. But the fact alone that it elicits discomfort despite the “hugot” makes it hard-hitting when pointed out by critics and/or the poor who are encouraged to live simpler and healthier lives (there is a joke there somewhere which may be conservative or critical depending on the joke-teller and the delivery). Though some may find the wordplay exhausted to evoke novel emotions on their end, mahal-mura jokes suffice in emphasizing the fraudulent “inclusion” part in the Tax Reform Acceleration and Inclusion Act.


The false dichotomy of the DDS and the Dilawan has been a goldmine of conservative comedy; when the permit of the media outfit considered “dilaw” and “biased” was revoked, the DDS cheered. The noise of the boisterous laughter from both camps banks on simplistic stereotypical sketches of the other: the DDS paints the perceived Dilawan as sourgraping bitter losers who aspire to take back the seat of power (partly true), while the Dilawan mocks the DDS as uncouth buffoons who lack the breeding in ruling and killing the poor (particularly the peasants) with the sophisticated finesse of landed classes (partly true).

Evidently, I am doing something else (winking perhaps) in this, what, paragraph describing the mural of the great battle between equally noble camps of warriors who want nothing but the best for the nation, the respective nations that they are constructing.

For the DDS, anyone against them and their father figure is “dilawan.” For the “real” members of the yellow liberal army, anyone questioning feudal relations including the “basic unit” of the family is a violent black sheep of sorts who have a penchant toward extreme solutions. Of course, a negotiation is possible as their interests easily intersect. They may diverge in terms of methods and distribution and preference of tasks, but both camps aim to keep the basic sectors at the mercy of the bureaucrat capitalists. As Ruben Garcia puts it, “liberals prepare the chopping block from where the toiling masses would be beheaded, but it is fascists, who protect the nation that swings the axe.”


In the previous regime, the crass ones who don’t mind bloodying their hands to protect the nation were the ones following orders. Now, the liberals have to feel good about themselves in oppressing the poor. Too much blood in the streets make them feel nauseous, and the disruption of a news business that serves as a neoliberal space for freedom of expression, no matter how twisted (responsible anti-communism, red-tagging, among many others), does not make their feelings any better. The liberals are so ridiculously delicate for fascists who consequently have to take matters in their own hands to eliminate dissent. Bolstering the government’s war on drugs and cheering for more human rights violations against organizations and individuals critical of Duterte, a cartoonist recycles the reactionary chest-thumping of the DDS horde, rendering his line-work poor and conservative both in form and content.

Not-naming, I think, in this instance, not just makes the reader active and more engaged, but also jams a signal boost to make that cartoonist more famous. So, I will just describe his punchlines showing his Tatay Digong: 1) changing the settings of his iron gauntlet from “pushers” to “terrorists”; 2) loading energy for his brawny body inside a charging station as critics outside ask “nasaan ang pangulo?” (where is the president?); 3) shouting “give us back our bells, Quasimodo” at a hunchbacked Uncle Sam who clings on bells labeled “made in Balangiga”; 4) riding a dragon a la Daenarys of Game of Thrones’ House Targaryen; 5) posing as a decorated general beside a Noynoy dressed like the fat boy Russel from Disney’s Up; and 6) shaking hands with fellow macho president, Putin.

In other cartoons and comic strips, he listed potential spots for the next “Kadamay invasion,” juxtaposed BAYAN’s Renato Reyes, Jr. as “Cheta-eh” beside Ernesto “Che” Guevara, derided nuns who teach students about the havoc wreaked by the drug war, portrayed teachers as entitled humans who whine about low wages amid beasts of burden, welcomed Palparan’s release as a weapon against NPA guerrillas who fled upon seeing the butcher, and glorified the police officers whose names were just tainted by “rogues” hence justifying Operation Tokhang.

These fascist celebrations of graphic bloodlust (pun intended and directed at that arguably liberal-led “new protest poetry” anthology) mouths the state’s rhetoric, laughs at violence inflicted on sectors at the fringes of Philippine society and lauds the testosterone culture fashioned in a nationalist manner of showing a disciplinary patriarch protective of his children, the Filipinos. Obviously, these “comic” performances aim not to question but to condition the populace and awaken the “nationalist” (or maybe “national socialist”) citizens in them, and to cement the authority of the Father, who wants to centralize powers in him and his lapdogs in the guise of “federalism.” In tandem, the tragedy of politics through charter change and the comedy of death through cartoons shed a different light to the words “punchlines” and “trigger-happy.”

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