'Are You Not Entertained?' Filipino Film Project Tackles Violence as Entertainment

'Are You Not Entertained?' Filipino Film Project Tackles Violence as Entertainment

What you need to know

Have we wanted this type of entertainment all along? Is our thirst for violent entertainment getting out of hand? Have we been betrayed by the television and internet media in the long run?

I had just returned to my seat. It was May 27, 2016. Bands and performers had gathered at the Tomato Kick bar calling for the release of activist, film student and political detainee Maricon Montajes. No one really gave any thought as to why Baron Geisler — a well-known actor in the Philippines who is no stranger to drunken controversies and bad-boy antics — and Kiko Matos — prominent in many independent films — had graced the event with their presence.

Geisler, true to his reputation, soon took to the stage and started spewing an assortment of statements about his drunken state. Matos was flirting with disaster by loudly goading Geisler from a nearby table. One thing led to another and a supposed handshake for truce was called. Just as their palms met for a handshake, Matos released his hand and sucker-punched Geisler. Chaos ensued, Matos was escorted out by a few patrons. I was left dumbfounded and admittedly a bit irritated by the rich-kid altercation that had somewhat tainted and overshadowed the solidarity of the event.

A video of the fracas that transpired hit the internet the following day. Within hours it had reached a fever pitch of memes along with hateful and agitated comments. Sides were taken and lines were drawn between the two actors.

It then took over a section of the public consciousness. Six months later when the trailer of “Beastmode” came out, I learned that the hysteria the video had created was done to prove a point.

‘Are you not entertained?’

Beastmode” is a social experiment initiated by film director Eshei Mesina that took over a year to complete. It is not a documentary in the traditional sense and most participants have referred to it as “the project.” Mesina and his crew took two actors, built on their ruffian personas through various scenarios, uploaded it on social media and allowed the hype to take a life of its own. The catch was nobody outside the project knew it wasn’t real.

The largest mainstream news outlets took the bait and streamlined massive coverage on the verbal tirades. Catch phrases were born, tee-shirts made, mobile phone games — the works. It was a frenzy of pop culture notoriety.

The media and public attention led to a mixed martial arts organization, Universal Reality Combat Championship (URCC), inviting Geisler and Matos to a one-on-one fight inside the ring. None of those involved in the project ever thought it would reach these heights.

The end result chronicles the entire trajectory of the social experiment. In the film, Geisler’s hesitations about pushing through with the project were brought to the fore since he would be making himself a target for more ridicule. He later builds his own confidence as a man with nothing to lose and also genuinely believing in the project — a hoax, which parodied the reality we adopt or consume from the television and internet.

The project proves violence sells; the public and the media literally bought into the ideas and the imagery. The film shows when violence becomes a commodity, we call it entertainment. Khalil Verzosa, one of the participants who allowed himself to be roughed-up on camera, asks, “Why doesn’t peace or justice sell?”

The thin line between entertainment and war

Between the “fight scenes,” the film regularly cuts to a multitude of violent and repressive acts in Philippine society. From cockfights to forced demolitions in urban poor communities; from peasant activists being shot at to protesters being beaten by the police.

Geisler and Matos acknowledge their actions satirize how ridiculous the fixation on “violent entertainment” is, while real injustices are happening outside our doors every day.

“Beastmode” tackles sensationalism by luring the media into the type of narrative they would easily blow out of proportion, proving how spectacles are actively sought out at the expense of more pressing issues and stories.

The actors attempted to mention the case of Maricon Montajes in their television interviews, yet her unjust detention was discarded amid the media circus. The organized fight between Geisler and Matos was supposed to raise awareness and funds for Montajes’ legal battles, yet that part was noticeably absent from all the coverage.

URCC President Alvin Aguilar comments in the film how surprised he was with the conduct of the media during one of the press conferences for the fight. Many of them were provoking the pair to take a swing or hurl more insults. Others in the film note how addictive the anticipation and thrill of certain acts of violence can be when put into more controlled environments or frames, such as a show.

It also compels the audience to question the hierarchy of things we want our minds to consume. Have we wanted this type of entertainment all along? Is our thirst for violent entertainment getting out of hand? What kind of pleasure do we get out of this? Have we been betrayed by the television and internet media?

The Filipino public has been bludgeoned by decades of this kind of reportage. People are either annoyed by the state of affairs or indifferent, but they are still definitely entertained to some extent.

The height of the publicly drawn-out spat came when the 2016 elections had just concluded. President Rodrigo Duterte had won and most Filipinos had banked on a promise for change. Throughout his campaign, Duterte had promised the “war on drugs” would result in killings on a massive scale. This and other aspects of his “man of action” bravado won the hearts and minds of a section of the population. Duterte’s win both accompanied and buoyed the spike in hate speech online. The internet has become an environment for inciting violence and anger — the same sentiments that egged on Geisler and Matos.

Mainstream media in the country has a tendency to sensationalize the commotion. In the case of progressive social movements, much of the attention is given towards the scuffles between the police and protesters but not the reasons behind protests. The power play and social contradictions are not given the light of day. The incidents are reduced to a disturbance, a disservice to the grievances of people’s movements. Only the spectacle is deemed newsworthy.

It seems only fitting that some of most attractive forms of distraction in such a vicious and exploitative social system are ones that show bruises, kicks, punches and humiliation. This is where “Beastmode” does its best. It exposes the media’s grand and near-subliminal coverup of social issues in the Philippines’ collective consciousness.

That night at Tomato Kick, I remember feeling bothered by what had transpired. But most who witnessed it would probably say, “That was an interesting turn of events. Good thing I came out tonight.”

We all bought into the lie, and now we must deal with the truth.

Editor: Olivia Yang