There is a catchlight reflected in Bongbong Marcos’s eyes in almost all of his “BBM VLOGs.” His entries blow all the traditional campaign commercials out of the water: meme reviews, gamer moments, TikTok dances, Mother's Day piano solos . . . It’s refreshing. There are no guilt-tripping infographics telling me “what I can do” in the Corporate Memphis art style; there are no walls of text drowning me with facts and logic. His call for unity is not coercive and hateful. All there is is a ridiculously youthful guy chilling with sparkles in his eyes.
Indeed, the Philippines’ president-elect ran on vibes. Even the op-eds are focusing on his disinformation campaign and shady history instead of any specific policies (he doesn’t really have any). Posted by the BBM Media Bureau and an army of supporter accounts, the content are glossed with smiley face thumbnails and catchy tunes such as the Marcos-Duterte “Uniteam” pop song—all are tailor-made for the platforms that they are shared on.
It is hard to describe just how revolutionary this tactic is. Compare BBM’s online presence with that of Hong Kong’s chief executive-designate John Lee—the latter’s Youtube account has long been terminated due to the sanctions imposed by the United States. On Facebook, he only uploads bureaucratic bullet points and photos of press conferences, adopting the bland hkgov-blue color scheme. In April, a netizen discovered that Lee’s posts are filled with Chinese language mistakes and started an awareness page to mark his speech and correct his grammar daily. Like every man in Hong Kong, he doesn’t make an effort to make us feel special. It’s no wonder that legislator and internet darling Regina Ip has written an article on Hong Kong Free Press to preemptively blast the “obsolescing mode” of the government’s PR strategies ahead of the inauguration.
Another comparison worth making with BBM’s vibes is the diminishing influence of the artworld. In addition to IRL shows, art institutions and media are not afraid to express their political views online, albeit in a heavy-handed manner. Take, for example, the “orange man bad” paintings and the infamous post by Artforum of a portrait of Greta Thunberg in 2021—the latter was immediately attacked as being “propaganda-guzzling” and a “poor piece of art.” Looking at the comments, it is evident that such display was not nearly as effective as the humorous Ted K memes.
This is not to say that artists must consider their roles in political engagement. Recently, I visited a powerful show by artist Xper.Xr at Empty Gallery showcasing the defaced portraits of political leaders on pigskin canvases. The gallerist explained in vivid detail how the artist has ritualistically drawn these figures in a fit of rage in a dark stairwell. It reminds me of the poet and typographer Robert Bringhurst’s remark that the wide columns of early Egyptian scribes emphasize on the moment of their creation rather than the moment that they are read—perhaps some art pieces are never meant to actually influence the world but to affirm the creator’s existence. Still, it pains me that no one in an art fair would ever inspire as many people as the good vibes of BBM.
Curated by an ArtAsiaPacific editor, “Echo Chambers” is a biweekly blog that aggregates links and visual contents from the virtual realm.
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