A Formalistic Approach to the 2008 SONA (from my reaction paper in FA 101 class)

Formalism is a paradigm of analyzing literature wherein the critic applying this approach should take note on the structures, the elements, and the style within an art form. A speech, I believe, is a work of art, of literature to be precise. Therefore, is it possible to apply the formalistic approach to the President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s recent State of the nation Address? I think so.

First and foremost, I would like to discuss the President’s choice of using a combination of the Filipino and English languages, more known as Taglish, in the course of the whole speech. Perhaps the idea of using Taglish was to make her speech more accessible and more comprehensible to a bigger audience, whom we assume to be more acquainted with this mix of two languages as against the two homogenous ones. However, by presenting her State of the Nation Address in such a manner, the president seems to be taking the form out of her speech, making her statements a seemingly wobbly harangue without the strength and direction that the formality of the homogenous languages could provide. In short, it would appear as if her very speech was in a crisis, as if English and Filipino statements are battling it out for supremacy in the body of her address. Take a look at this excerpt:

“The result has been, on the one hand, ito [tough choices, i.e. The VAT implementation] ang nakasalba sa bayan; and, on the other, more unpopularity for myself in the opinion polls. Yet, even unfriendly polls show self-rated poverty down to its 20-year low in 2007.”

The glaring, jarring insertion of the Filipino, “ito ang nakasalba sa bayan” between the otherwise English paragraph shows this language tension clearly. I find that I have to actually repeat seeing and hearing the statement (thank goodness for Internet articles and recorders!) to make head and tail out of that declaration. Otherwise, had the President said, “The result has been the security of the country’s financial interest…” I believe that the statement would have been more intelligible.

But enough with the Taglish in the President’s speech. Let us move on with the mood of her State of the Nation Address. We can see (or hear) that throughout the SONA, the President used images such as the housewife taking care of the family affairs, the 41-year-old husband who provides food for the family, and the successes of those who benefited from her technical and vocational course program. These images, of course, are the sample space of the entire Filipino nation, which the chief executive used in the SONA to evoke the audience’s pathos and to have them say, “Indeed, indeed! The President is doing all she can for the common people. Let us then applaud her and support her.” But beware – as the writer Milan Kundera in his Unbearable Lightness of Being pointed out, no one knows the power of kitsch more than the politicians, such as our leaders today, do. Now, what is kitsch? We have, in our classes, defined ‘kitsch art’ as ‘tailor-made’ art, which, due to its tailor-made quality, loses any value. And this is so because kitsch is whatever tailor-made images are all about: evoking tailor-made emotions, just like how we feel so touched whenever we see a politician kiss a baby. And by using the image of the common people in her address, and portraying them in such a way that it makes us feel (or, at least, tries to make us feel) that chief executive is in the right by doing whatever she can for these everyday people amid all the criticism and attack, our beloved President GMA is guilty of employing kitsch.

And not only that. For, despite the many figures that adorn the President’s 2008 SONA, it still seems that she overlooked some elements of logos to achieve her speech’s overwhelming pathos. At one instance the President argued that repealing the VAT law for oil and power consumption would only benefit the well-off, who supposedly consumes 84 percent of the oil products and 90 percent of the electrical power. But let me ask: by what means do we produce the goods in our country? By what means do we transport our goods and commodities? Is it not from the power provided by oil and electricity? True, it is the wealthy who owns the means of production – but even so, this would mean a very grave danger, especially for the less fortunate – have we forgotten about the law of interaction between rising costs of production and the prices of commodities? Whenever the costs of production go up (by higher wages, more expensive raw materials), then the entrepreneurs would tend to increase the prices. And if this is the case, with the addition of VAT, the basic goods would actually be too expensive for the less fortunate to attain! And lastly, take a look at one of her last statements:

“As your President, I care too much about this nation to let anyone stand in the way of our people’s wellbeing. Hindi ko papayagang humadlang ang sinuman sa pag-unlad at pagsagana ng taong bayan. I will let no one – and no one’s political plans – threaten our nation’s survival.”

Surely this is a very emotionally charged, very powerful statement. But far from reassuring, this statement’s very power makes it all the more scarier, for we have always assumed that it is the duty of the police and the military forces to ensure internal and external harmony, and the Ombudsman to check the erring politician. But, unless the President is forgetting her logos, one can actually view her statement as a threat, a threat very much like US Senator McCarthy’s presecution of supposed communists during the Cold War, very much like the President Marcos’ implementation of martial law.

So, as far as my analysis goes, the 2008 SONA delivered by the President has some very big flaws. Now, the formalists would always interpret the meaning of the text in lieu of its structure. Now that I have presented what I think is the structure of the President’s speech, then I guess that by now we very much know what her address truly means.

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