Ditsi Carolino’s Riles is a powerful representation of urban poverty as seen in the life of a mere duck egg vendor and his family. Mang Eddie, the balut-tending subject of the documentary, resides along the rail road tracks with five of his children and his wife, a patient who already underwent breast cancer surgery and who works as a washerwoman. Their home along the riles is just rented out to a landlord who himself lives in the area. The neighborhood shows the picture of abject poverty as reproduced by the media for the benefit of those who have and perhaps never will be a part of it: squatter’s area with makeshift houses, improvised bathing places, and cheap thrills like videoke singing by resident tambays. I believe that there is a far extent to which the documentary’s subjects were exoticized and commodified. With superb sound and cinematic editing, the film was able to capture the appearance of urban poverty which, considering the bourgeois upbringing of the audience, is recognizable to Ateneo students only through the perpetration of the media of such social realities. Nonetheless, it was done in such a sleek way as to make it appeal too different from the audience’s domestic reality. As a result, the documentary appeals as interesting, in spite of or precisely because of its foreignness. This is the other-ing in media production as criticized by Elfriede Fursich in “How Can Global Journalists Represent the ‘Other'?: A Critical Assessment of the Cultural Studies Concept for Media Practice.” While the reality of Eddie is perceived true, it is produced and repeatedly manufactured in such a way that the film presents beautifully what is actually a very abusive reality. Ordinarily, the audience should grow disgusted with the represented poverty, but the moment they get fascinated with the projected reality, does it mean the beauty in that harrowing condition should stay as is? One of the goals of media is to be an agent of social transformation, but the purpose becomes defeated when nothing ever happens after the rough reality gets hopelessly recurrent. Also, the film has somewhat commodified the subjects as object of sympathy, for when the subject actually surfaces after the film’s presentation, he sold balut and the audience is too willing to part with their P15 in exchange of an overpriced duck egg. It happened because the depiction of the subject’s life must have been so intense as to elicit compassion from the viewers. For ending in a hopeful way, the documentary can also be perceived as a propaganda to express the idea that poverty can be laughed at, however brutal life lived in it can get. The concept can be best expounded by Ken Sanes in “On the Truman Show.” The film or any media for that matter is a form of agenda with the project of mocking people’s sense of reality. What they see in film is just a representation, but when they get so convinced of the represented reality such that emotions are eventually involved, media has once again conquered viewers. This is an attestation of the power of media over people, aggravated when the sense of reality is further confused by the actual guesting of Eddie, balut and poor man’s clothes and all. The documentary is laudable for making the audience understand that it is true to its form as a representation of reality. Its agenda, of course, was to show that its power as a medium cannot be undermined, however the audience wants to see a different reality. By the audience’s mental reproduction of some previous knowledge of urban poverty, it expects that this will be standard to which the urban poor reality in the film will be set against. And Ditsi does not let down, for captured in the film is that reality no different from the stereotypical projection of urban poverty in most media: limited means, hanging on together, mockery of poverty through singing or laughing, among others. Stuart Hall’s “The Television Discourse—Encoding and Decoding” simplifies this process by stating that Ditsi’s production team took the role of encoding and decoding of codes and symbols attributed to urban poverty in order to carry across the message that yes, this film is about urban poverty and nothing else besides. Media is supposed to have been invented that manner: structured to propagate certain ideologies that sets apart signs or wealth and impoverishment, hope and desperation, truth and reality.
References: 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 Hall, Stuart (1980). “The Television Discourse—Encoding and Decoding.” Sanes, Ken. “On The Truman Show.” From http://transparencynow.com/truman.html
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