There is something about the hoo-ha around pine trees being uprooted from SM property in Baguio City that kinda just bores me. Last I heard there were some “flash mobs” organised by some “activists” in one or the other SM mall in Metro Manila to protest this latest atrocity. Perhaps these “cause-oriented” groups derived some inspiration for these stunts from their counterparts elsewhere. “Flash mobs” after all are creations of the West and, from what I read in one news report or another, most of the participants were typical latte-sipping iPad-tapping mallrats. Quite ironic, if you ask me.
A flash mob (or flashmob) is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression. Flash mobs are organized via telecommunications, social media, or viral emails.
The term, coined in 2003, is generally not applied to events and performances organized for the purposes of politics (such as protests), commercial advertisement, publicity stunts that involve public relation firms, or paid professionals. In these cases of a planned purpose for the social activity in question, the term smart mobs is often applied instead.
The first flash mobs were created in Manhattan in 2003, by Bill Wasik, senior editor of Harper’s Magazine. The first attempt was unsuccessful after the targeted retail store was tipped off about the plan for people to gather. Wasik avoided such problems during the first successful flash mob, which occurred on June 3, 2003, at Macy’s department store, by sending participants to preliminary staging areasâ€”in four prearranged Manhattan barsâ€”where they received further instructions about the ultimate event and location just before the event began.
In a previous article, I expressed how pointless the whole protest over these trees really is. Baguio City, after all, had been in the process of a slow succumbing to the ravages of Filipino habitation and management for the last several decades. Despite the city being the summer pilgrimage site of Filipinos from all over — but mostly from Manila — not a single effort to highlight (much less halt) the irreparable damage the city had been sustaining all through those years had made a significant mark on the national awareness.
The flash mobs over the SM uprooting of Baguio trees, however, apart from being showy and shallow, are a frivolous form of protest action. That such stunts would gain so much media and “social media” attention while initiatives around deeper, more serious, and more systemic issues that have a broader impact across society languish in obscurity highlights the glib nature of Philippine activism today.
“Donâ€™t cut the trees, cut the greed” was one of the slogans bandied by the anti-SM activists. A clever slogan, perhaps, until one considers that this “greed” is fuelled by Filipinos’ pathological obsession with the acquisition of Chinese-made branded clothing and trinkets made “affordable” by the awesome purchasing muscle of the biggest retail chain in the land and its fat umbilical cord to its owners’ ethnic motherland. Ultimately the power to bring SM to its “senses” (if refraining from building a parking lot to support the size of its facility in Baguio doesn’t make business sense) rests on the Filipino consumer. SM expanded to its present size today on the back of the oodles of OFW dollars that Filipinos quite easily part ways with when dulled by the airconditioned atmosphere and eye candy they feast their senses upon when they pass through the doors of their local SM mall.
A concern for the hundred-odd Baguio pine trees being uprooted to make way of the SM expansion is nice — much the same way as activism in the West over where fur coats come from and how seal cubs are being treated in the arctic is nice. The difference, however, is that prosperous societies in the West have earned the right to wage such frivolous activist campaigns — because much of the deeper and bigger challenges there have already been relatively solved. In contrast, there are much bigger more obvious issues and challenges that beset the Philippines that warrant far more attention than trees being balled in Baguio City. In fact, it is these very problems that are also at the ultimate root of the SM Baguio issue itself.
I forgot where I read this metaphor — could’ve been from a friend or a commentor in one of our blogs — and it kinda goes like this:
Protesting SM’s uprooting of trees in Baguio is like noisily lamenting the falling off of the final hairs in what has for so long been a bald scalp.
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