The recent Independence Day rally-slash-birthday celebration held at the University of the Philippines-Diliman was a grand satirical display of dissent complete with balloons, banners, and a Voltes V cake.
The rally culminated in a reenactment of Philippine National Police's National Capital Region Police Office's Chief Debold Sinas’ infamous Mañanita (featuring activist Mae Paner A.K.A. Juana Change cosplaying the police chief). Despite the gloomy weather, anxiety-riddled youth protesters came out in droves, throwing shade at the government through creatively crafted meme protest signs.
We asked some attendees who partied last Friday about their experience storming the streets while dragging the admin. Keisha, 30, joined the party to express her four-year long frustration, “Going through a 77-day lockdown and coming out of it with the Anti-Terror Bill, the protest was like a [breaking] point! It was a risk given the pandemic and police intimidation (Cebu 8 and Piston 6). The mood was eerily festive and vengeful yet [still maintained] order given that people observed social distancing.”
Ruby, 32, enjoyed the colorful event filled with costumes, coordinated dancing, and all things anti-corruption, “[It] was wonderful, because in the face of great frustration and fear, there was music and dancing. The fiesta theme was a weird contrast to the [deep anxiety] that I and several others [felt at the prospect of] some kind of violent dispersal. But in the end it remained peaceful.”
Rue, 28, believes that every protest is a party, “Pride [and the] Black Lives Matter always felt like both. There's always a sense of celebration or support for the people or cause that any protest is fighting for. [But] what made this protest unique was that the main packaging was defiant trolling!” Andrew, 21, shares a similar opinion, “Cultural performances, moving speeches, and satirical and creative artistic outputs are all staples of mobilizations. I hope the Mañanita [can show people that] rallies are a fun, organized, safe, and moving experience—it’s never just mindless shouting.”
The day was a mix of anger, resentment, and defiance expressed through the filter of Millennial and Gen Z humor—with some COVID-induced hysteria thrown in. The streets were filled with irrelevant inside jokes, strange impersonations, surreal skits, and random fandom references. You know, the sort of imagery shared via clickable content, leading down a rabbit hole of links and endless browser tabs? Yet somehow, it made a lot more sense than the times we currently live in. And as the world continued to spiral out of control, absurdism became our go-to coping mechanism.
This chaotic content leaves us cackling because it’s a response to how aimless and unanchored we all feel during these, saying the following words enough times to warrant a drinking game: “we are living in unprecedented times.” This generation is tired, pissed off, and ready to call out the clownery.
“When you’ve got jokes running the country, you can’t help but laugh…and cry," Rue says. "The message is never diminished. In fact, the humor amplifies it.”
Ruby likes how a lot of criticism or observations can be distilled into very pointed, bite-sized, funny statements, and can help promote awareness just by popping up on social media feeds. "They encourage people to look deeply into these issues or formulate their own ideas about them,” she says.
The Internet culture, Keisha explains further, has pushed everyone to be more creative in their rebellion and play the government’s double standards against them. "[The digital space is not enough] because it can be an echo chamber," she says. "Which is why the physical attendance of around 5,000 people [at the rally] was so important.”
But with the increasing number of malicious trolling, dummy accounts, and fake news can we still clearly convey the message?
It’s difficult and almost futile to fight the system, Andrew admits, unless you have your own online army. "But memes are a good start because they infiltrate the same space that trolls do," Andrew says. "As long as people continue generating content, there will always be a way to push back.”
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That feeling of existential dread and disillusionment can be paralyzing because everything feels meaningless and—like with the late 90s to early aughts game show Whose Line Is It Anyway—the points don’t matter. But the latest rally is a testament to how this generation, one that self-deprecatingly talks about avoiding people and instinctively putting the phone on perma-silent (text or chat, please!) have answered the call to action. Yes, a generation that cracks jokes about cancelling hangouts made the commitment to show up despite the rain and physically protest.
Internet-based humor is easily dismissed as mindless entertainment but the message resonates because its sole purpose is to go viral (no, not that kind), a pop cultural reference spreading quickly. Although it doesn’t substitute direct action, it can start the deep dive conversation.