Saturday, February 23, 2008
The documentary Riles by Ditsi Carolino tries to capture the gritty reality of urban poverty through its representation of the life of Mang Eddie Renomeron, a balut vendor living along the railroad tracks. Eddie’s urban poverty is real in the sense of Roger Silverstone’s mediation as it is explained in “Mediation and Communication.” While the audience composed of Ateneo students belong to a considerably way higher status than Eddie, this audience can make sense of real urban poverty through the structuring of meaning and value of things that are found in Eddie’s environment, as this process had been communicated over time to the sensibility of the audience. The viewers’ sense of a poor man’s reality corresponds to the representation of Eddie residing in a riles, which gives the idea that he along with his general neighborhood cannot choose a less risky location since they cannot afford to buy a house and lot in a better neighborhood. He cannot afford a more convenient residence since he works as a balut vendor and does not earn much from the job. In fact, earnings from selling balut are just enough to make him, his sick wife and children survive from day to day. This brutalizing life sometimes makes him stop work temporarily to forget everything with occasional drinking with friends. Encouraged by the spirit of the liquor, he and his drinking buddies will launch into videoke singing of songs that match their daily reality.
How come that these kinds of representations of urban poor are valid in the eyes of Ateneo students who are supposedly sheltered from this brutalizing poverty? It is because the media they access from day to day trickle into their sense of perception meanings and values as they are structured in Eddie’s poverty condition. They may not live on the tracks like Eddie, but the Internet, movies, television and other media have all communicated over time the picture of reality that does not exist in the sheltered world of Ateneo students. The viewers can access these representations because the modern world has rendered realities other than that which Ateneo students live in. They have become so technologically invaded that even without direct exposure to Eddie’s poor environment, they are aware that the film did not represent a falsity but in fact, a reality that fits the picture of urban poverty.
The question of the privileged viewpoint has just one answer: the director who interpreted the film for the viewers. Ditsi tried to capture the urban poor’s reality with the edited sounds, lights, and cinematography and successfully did so by making this reality correspond to that perceived by the viewers as poverty had been relayed to them over time by the media they live with everyday. There is a gap between the poor and the rich, and Ditsi had the power to bridge this gap by representing Eddie’s reality in a documentary that is accessible to the sheltered audience. Without this bridging as well as other bridges made for them before y other such media, the audience had to immerse themselves in the railroad tracks area for them to come to terms with the urban poor’s reality. This power of the media had been explained in Ronald Bishop’s “Good Afternoon, Good Evening, and Good Night: The Truman Show as Media Criticism,” wherein the role media play in the lives of people they invade is so powerful that they are in the position to interpret things for the ones accessing reality from them. In the case of the documentary, Ditsi possesses the power to exploit knowledge of the urban poor to be able to offer, sell, and perpetuate this knowledge to the audience. The correspondence of Ditsi’s representation of the poor with that of the audience’s previous knowledge of poverty confirm’s the director’s power: there is a general agreement that the documentary represents the reality of urban poverty and in no way represents its opposite.
Because of the power play the documentary engages in as it represents Eddie’s real life in the railroad tracks, it tends to exoticize the audience’ “Other” that’s Eddie. This exploitation of the poor man’s reality by the documentary points to the media as the only one benefited from the whole process. We cannot determine the benefits given to Eddie by the film except for the effective endorsement of his balut which the audience bought even at a higher price when he actually appeared after the presentation. The audience, meanwhile, gets the same idea about poverty which, while affirming the kind of reality the poor from the riles live in, does not get any novel perspective from the media. This problematic situation, as tackled by Elfriede Fursich in “How Can Global Journalists Represent the 'Other'?: A Critical Assessment of the Cultural Studies Concept for Media Practice,” shows that the ongoing media practice of representing the “Other” makes the documentary the only beneficiary, especially because it limits itself to conventionally recognized interpretations of the urban poor’s life such as the complacency of Eddie (just laughing at his condition, having accepted his life’s trappings), or the permanence of poverty (no way out of the poor surroundings of riles, while the train of others’ lives hurtles by).
Bishop, Ronald (2000). “Good Afternoon, Good Evening, and Good Night: The Truman Show as Media Criticism.” In Journal of Communication Inquiry 24:1. Sage Publications.
Fursich, Elfriede. “How Can Global Journalists Represent the 'Other'?: A Critical Assessment of the Cultural Studies Concept for Media Practice.” Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA, USA.
Silverstone, Roger (2005). “Mediation and Communication.” In The Sage handbook of sociology. Sage.