CURRENT TRENDS IN

CULTURAL

DIPLOMACY

1/13/2021

Given the physical divisions and digital connections fostered by the current global crisis, it is likely that Cultural Diplomacy has never been so relevant. Stories, stereotypes, brands, icons, shared traumas and shared values: when all our borders where at their most stringent, these are the things that never ceased linking nations together.

CULTURAL DIPLOMACY TO CULTURAL RELATIONS

Keynote: New Trends in western Cultural Diplomacy to concentrate on collaborations may be an opportunity to bolster our growing Online Creative Industries sector. 

According to the Ukrainian Institute, there is an effort in the EU to move away from the "Great Powers" vision of cultural exchange - with its hegemonic tendencies - towards an approach that emphasizes dialogue, cooperation, and collaboration. The trend distinguishes this new approach from classic Cultural Diplomacy as "Cultural Relations" There are great opportunities with this new approach in terms of bolstering and promoting the work of the quickly growing New OFW (Online Filipino Worker) sector 

DEALING WITH MORE COMPLEX CULTURES

Keynote: The New Cultural Diplomacy looks to embrace the diversity of cultures within a nation; how this can be done will be crucial for the Philippines.

As discussed by Ronald Grätz of the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen for the Japan Foundation, Bangkok's "Culture and Diplomacy in the Changing World: Its Relations, Values and Practices," (December 16, 2020) there is also an effort to embrace more complex notions of what comprises a "National Culture." In the German context he presented, this constituted a move to encompass more of Germany's regional and even subcultural identities. This takes into account the importance of handling cultural relations within a country and letting that discussion reflect into how a nation presents itself as a whole. The strategies they formulate may be of interest to our situation given the intrinsic diversity of Filipino culture.

OPPORTUNITIES IN SOCIAL MEDIA

Keynote: The Filipino people can be equipped to do Cultural Diplomacy organically via social media.

Sentro Rizal, the country's primary Cultural Diplomacy platform under the NCCA, does not appear to have a presence on Facebook (#1 Social Media Platform among Filipinos) apart from one regional branch (Sentro Rizal London.) It has some presence on Youtube (#2 in the Philippines) and Instagram (#4 in the Philippines) though both channels have a subscription count of under 1000 subscribers. In comparison, the Philippine contingent of the Japan Foundation has 85k followers on Facebook, British Council Philippines has 133k, and Alliance Française Manila has 102k. Obversely, Sentro Rizal appears to be a pioneer among ASEAN nations. (Social Media statistics from Statista.com)

 

Given the predominance of Filipinos on social media, this may be a missed opportunity. While we may not have the same capacity for on-ground engagement as the UK, France, or Japan, compiling a cache of Filipino cultural content formatted to suit social media platforms and having that form a well-curated nucleus for Philippine cultural diplomacy may be a good match for the internet's most consummate digital sharers. Such a collection seems to exist in the for of a "Virtual Sentro Rizal," a joint project with the CFO, but it appears to exist primarily in DVD form.

FILIPINO REPRESENTATION IN THE GLOBAL IMAGINATION

Keynote: Interest in portraying Filipinos is growing in global popular culture and the representations can be used as a barometer of international opinions on Filipinos. 

While the monitoring and promotion of homegrown output will always be paramount, Filipino representation in globally-accessible popular culture can always be expected to be both a driver of and barometer for what "the Filipino" means around the world. Over the last five years, there has been something of a rise in Filipino representation. While the representation is not altogether as positive or nuanced as one might hope, this does reflect a growing visibility of Filipinos and Filipino culture that can be harnessed.

The following is a list of explicit references to Filipino characters and cultural elements and general notes on how they were represented:

  • The Japanese animated movie Japan Sinks 2020, distributed internationally through Netflix, features half-Filipino protagonists and their Filipino mother. General representation of the Filipina mother: good natured, swimmer, likes taking pictures, maternal.

  • Cebuano heroine Wave (Pearl Pangan) was introduced in May 2019 by Marvel Comics. However, she has not appeared as a major character in any major storylines so far. Representation: Swimmer, works fast food, argues with a China-based superheroine over their respective territory before having to work together.

  • The Crazy Rich Asians book trilogy features both Filipino domestics at the employ of the characters and Filipino luxury escapes.

  • Netflix-distributed TV Series "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" and "The Good Place" featured Filipino-American men as main characters and involved Filipino/Filipino-American cultural elements in the stories. The two shows portray these characters with striking similarity: both are good natured and "sweet" on one hand, dull-witted and unambitious on the other, and both are supposedly exceptional at break dancing. This may be the reigning stereotype.

  • The popular fighting game Tekken added Filipina fighter Josie Rizal in 2015. She fights with an Eskrima-based kickboxing style. Unlike most other characters in the game, she speaks English instead of a language native to her country of origin. She is represented as a crybaby and has yet to feature into any major storylines.

  • The character Lars from Steven Universe has been heavily hinted to be half-Filipino. The show featured a scene in which the character makes a traditional dessert from his youth: an Ube Roll. Lars is represented as mean-spirited, lazy, and unambitious but goes through a major character arc where he embraces his potential in an unfamiliar environment.

  • The Disney UK Christmas ad "Form our Family to Yours" portrayed Filipino cultural elements (the parol) and family dynamics in diaspora.

THE INTERNET REACTS

Keynote: Creative reactions to Filipino work may be the broadest avenue where Cultural Diplomacy can take place.

One of the key distinguishing features of online culture is its mutability as it spreads. The work is not just the work, it is also the various cultural responses to the work and the even greater set of eyes and interpretations this leads."Hayop Ka!", an adult animated film launched on Netflix in 2020, was not the most flattering depiction of the Philippines or Filipino culture but it was generally hailed as an excellent showcase of Filipino visual storytelling. The fact that it was picked up on Netflix meant that it was accessible across the world upon release and, given the internet's penchant for the novel, the movie found a greater global audience through Youtube review channels such as Saberspark (1.2M subscribers, 965,498 views for the review in question.) Whether or not the ensuing impact in terms of Cultural and Public Diplomacy is entirely positive is questionable; what is interesting is how a popular channel that targets a broad global gen Y/millenial base had to research - and present - Filipino cultural norms, economic realities, and political issues in order to review a Filipino work to nearly a million people. The new frontier of Cultural Diplomacy may very well be in the hands of millions and millions of independent creators. The opportunity will likely be in how this may be guided.