A candid and personal examination of the Philippine comics scene from a social, cultural, economic and business point of view.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Third Wave Media, the Knowledge Economy, Inadvertent Content and Alan Moore

The commercial viability and influence of the print medium (i.e. newspapers, magazines, books, and comics) have been diminishing gradually over the years due in part to the introduction of new, accessible, and radical technology otherwise known as "third wave" media.

This "demassification" of traditional media has left players of the old "second wave" media (i.e., mass-based television, radio, movies, and print) in a quandary. For comics particularly--FILIPINO comics specifically--there is an apprehension of how it, as a print medium, can survive in this new media landscape dominated by many capable players such as the internet, dvds, vcds, celfones, cable television, fax machines, photocopying machines, and a host of other high-tech communication gadgets and electronic mediums.

The situation indeed appears hopeless. To recall, a 1989 survey by the Philippine Information Agency found Filipino comics to be the dominant mass medium of communication in the country, outpacing television by only 1% in audience share. More people read Filipino comics than books, magazines, and newspapers, and was the preferred medium instead of radio, movies, and television at the time.

With the fall in the late 1990s of the local comics monopoly owned by the family of the late Don Ramon Roces, the local and marginalized comics scene is now dominated by American mainstream comics and Japanese cartoon anime' influences that are mostly unoriginal, bland imitations, or "inspirations" if you will, of their foreign sources which this blogger mockingly refers to as "globalized Filipino comics".

Though today's comics scene caters to the largely affluent sector of Philippine society, its volume of production or reputation is not at par with the industry-wide or million copy level of its defunct predecessor. Part of the reason is that as a print medium, local comics stand in competition for audience share with other third wave media. As a result, the audience for comics in general and local comics in particular, is marginal. Specifically, audience share for all prevailing media has been "democratized" or almost equally distributed due to the plethora of third wave media about. No one medium of communication today seems to dominate audience share more than the others at any one time. If it does happen, which is rare, it usually doesn't last long.

Given the above prognosis, we ask: is Filipino comics as a print medium, hopeless? Can it ever hope to regain its lost audience share? Arriving at an answer is not easy. For that, we have to first understand the new "third wave" media all around us. What are its characteristics? Why do more people prefer this media from the old "second wave" media? In order to survive, can Filipino comics hope to approximate, if not duplicate, these features of third wave media?


Dr. Alvin Toffler is a renowned social scientist who terms himself as a "futurologist", that is of analysing aspects and developments in society and then from such data, attempt an explanation and prediction of their consequences. He is the bestselling author of "Future Shock", The Third Wave", "Power Shift", and other books that have gained the attention of world leaders and policymakers in entertainment, business, and government from around the world. The predicitions he envisioned in his aforementioned books are happening today.

Briefly, his main observation is that the introduction of new technology will displace the hierarchies established by old technology and disperse power democratically to majority of the populace. In the years to come, such a revolution will greatly impact every aspect of human life in the planet. This new technological revolution is called the "third wave" and Alvin Toffler has discerned its characteristics in his book: "Powershift" as follows:

"The electronic infrastructure of advanced economies will have six distinct features, some of which may have already been foreshadowed. These half-dozen keys to the future are: interactivity, mobility, convertibility, connectivity, ubiquity, and globalization.

When combined, these six principles point to a total transformation, not merely in the way we send messages to one another, but in the way we think, how we see ourselves in the world, and therefore,where we stand in relationship to our various governments. Put together, they will make it impossible for governments--or their revolutionary opponents--to manage ideas, imagery, data, information, or knowledge as they once did." (Source: Alvin Toffler, "Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century", Bantam Books, 1991).

The characteristic of interactivity means more than just the interaction between the viewer and the visuals provided by third wave media. Rather, it emphasizes the ability of the viewer to manipulate the content of third wave media. In this, Toffler points to the example of a merger between television and computer technology which is happening today by way of TiVO and the video Ipods of Apple, wherein the viewer can choose what programs he wants to see and not be dictated by network programming. Such a shift of power from old television networks to the end-users allowing them to reshape the images they wish to see, diminishes (not totally extinguishes) the former's influence as media.

Cordless or mobile celfones are prime examples of mobility which gives the end-user the ability to communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world, while in motion. Pocket size copiers, the vest-pocket video, the laptop computer, portable printer, and the fax machine in the car, are further examples of mobility.

"Convertibility is next--the ability to transfer information from one medium to another. For example, we are moving toward speech-based technologies that can convert an oral message into printed form and vice versa. Machines that can take dictation from several executives at the same time and spew out typed letters are well on the way toward practicality. xxx

The fourth principle of the new infrastructure, connectivity, is a buzzword among computer and telecommunications users the world over, who are demanding the ability to connect their devices to a dazzling diversity of other devices, regardless of which manufacturer made them in what country. Despite the heated political battles over standards, immense efforts are now driving toward connectibility, so that the same mobile, interactive, video-voice telecomputer of tomorrow can tie into an IBM mainframe in Chicago, a Toshiba laptop being used in Frankfurt, a Cray supercomputer in Silicon Valley, or a hosewife's Dick Tracy phone in Seoul." (Source: Alvin Toffler, "Powershift", Ibid.)

The fifth trait of third wave media: ubiquity, means the systematic spread of the new media system around the world and down through every economic layer of society. Here, AlvinToffler expounds on the Law of Ubiquity as follows:

"This law holds that strong commercial, as well as political, incentives will arise for making the new electronic infrastructure inclusive, rather than exclusive." (Source: Alvin Toffler: "Powershift", Ibid).

Toffler elaborates that this equality of access by almost everyone is driven not by compassion or political good sense on the part of affluent elites, but rather by strong commercial, as well as political, incentives that arise and make the new electronic infrastructure to all income demographic levels of a society. This is important and I hope those who think that "you don't need the masses to have a local comics industry", are reading this. Toffler expounds further on the point as follows:

"In its infancy, the telephone was considered a luxury. The idea that everone would someday have a phone was simply mystifying. Why on earth would everybody want one? The fact that almost everyone in the high-tech nations now has a phone, rich and poor alike, did not stem from altruism but from the fact that the more people plugged into a system, the more valuable it became for all users and especially for commercial purposes. xxx There were 2.5 million fax machines in the United States in 1989, churning out billions of pages of faxed documents per year. The fax population was doubling yearly, partly because early users were importuning friends, customers, clients, and family to buy a fax quickly, so that the early users could speed messages to them. The more faxes out there, the greater the value of the system to all concerned. It is therefore, in the distinct self-interest of the affluent to find ways of extending the new systems to include, rather than exclude, the less affluent." (Source: Alvin Toffler, Powershift, Ibid).

The last and sixth trait is globalization. By this, we mean that new electronic third wave media knows no physical or national borders. Money and information zip back and forth from country to country through advanced electronic means in milliseconds providing unequaled convenience and service to the user.

"The combination of these six principles produces a revolutionary nervous system for the planet, capable of handling vastly enlarged quantities of data, information, and knowledge at much faster transmission and processing rates. It is a far more adaptable, intelligent, and complex nervous system for the human race than ever before imagined." (Source: Toffler, "Powershift", Ibid.)


Given the above characteristics, this blogger is of the opinion that the printed comicbook can have the following characteristics of third wave media: mobility, convertibility, connectivity, ubiquity and globalization.

The present format of the printed comicbook is handy and can be carried almost anywhere therefore, it has mobility. Though comics in print cannot be physically convertible into other media such as radio, its intellectual content (i.e., printed word and art) can be transposed to other media such as a movie, video game, animated film, action figures, celfone messages, etc. and in that process likewise obtain (through licensing) the third wave trait of connectivity. As for the trait of ubiquity, the Hong Kong, South Korean, French, and Japanese comics industries for example, are not limited to a rich and affluent market but rather spread out to a large and broader audience base to include the less affluent. This is not the same when we look at the U.S. and globalized Filipino comics "industries" whose copies are now priced relatively high and are promoted as "objets d'art" catering to a small specialized cult following of "comics" or "komiks" readers largely in the high and upper middle income class. From ubiquity naturally follows globalization. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Japanese manga and American comics which are distributed worldwide and have an international following. Each has a distinct cultural identity and integrity all its own, never copying from any cultural source (Well, maybe the U.S. is losing a little bit here nowadays. I've tried to expound on what "globalization" means in the context of the local Filipino comics scene in my previous August 9, 2005 blog entry: "Globalization should be the effect not the Cause").

Five out of six. Not bad. And the Japanese manga industry is the most successful worthy of emulation.


But when we look at the local Filipino comics scene today, particularly at the scant few globalized Filipino comics out in the market, we see them as though exhibiting traits of mobility, have brief and limited spurts of convertibility and connectivity. Why is this so?

In this blogger's personal opinion (which is always wrong), the essential element of UBIQUITY is not being given proper attention. To this blogger's mind, all other five traits of third wave media would develop if ubiquity was given prime consideration and importance.

In this blogger's previous September 25, 2005 entry: "The Return of Filipino Comics' old target C-D-E Market" and October 7, 2005 blog entry: "What do Filipinos spend their Money On?" it was shown that there has been a recent shift of businesses who previously catered to a high or upper middle-income market, to the low income market. Nowhere is this more ably demonstrated than by the success of SMART Communications' "pasa-load" campaign. Part of the reason for such shift is the near saturation of the high and upper middle income market especially today when this particular income class is in extreme savings mode brought about by the recent price increases. It was observed by many local businsesses that the lower income market seems to be unaffected by the ongoing economic crisis as they have less earning power and less money to spend on. But spend they still do, and their collective purchasing power though in the "patingi-tingi" and "sachet" culture, is what's keeping the local retail business afloat.

To be ubiquitous then, must local Filipino comics publishers (few that they are) shift their attention to the now lucrative low-income C-D-E income group? Do these globalized comics publishers have the will and resources to speak the language and feel the pulse of the CDE income class?

Even more crucial, will these globalized comics publishers of the rich and affluent income class continue to churn out mediocre comics works for the CDE income class? Will pale imitations of American or Japanese comics be a lucrative business choice for such publishers? In answer to this, we must first understand the present societal and worldwide milieu in which the CDE income class stands today: the societal milieu of a knowledge economy.


By a knowledge economy we are referring to the development and culture of societies that are fueled more by innovation through a wide diffusion of knowledge.

"If the rise of science marks the first great trend in this story, the second is its diffusion. What was happening in Britain during the Industrial Revolution was not an isolated phenomenon. A succession of visitors to Britain would go back to report to their countries on the technological and commercial innovations they saw there. Sometimes societies were able to learn extremely fast, as in the United States. Others, like Germany, benefited from starting late, leapfrogging the long-drawn-out process that Britain went through.

This diffusion of knowledge accelarated dramatically in recent decades. Over the last 30 years we have watched countries like Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and now China grow at a pace that is three times that of Britain or the United States at the peak of the Industrial Revolution. They have been able to do this not only because of their energies and exertions, of course, but also because they cleverly and perhaps luckily adopted certain ideas about development that had worked in the West--reasonably free markets, open trade, a focus on science and technology, among them." (Source: Fareed Zakaria, "The Earth's Learning Curve", Newsweek Special Edition, December 2005-February 2006 issue).

The wealth of advanced nations today are not fueled anymore by manufacturing or industrialization but by human resource of knowledge, innovation, and creativity.

"The cutting edge of the world economy is concentrating on a relatively small number of regions--places that Bill Gates has aptly dubbed "IQ magnets". The productivity and creativity gains that spring from clustering talented people in one place are feeding the growth of creative hubs, from established capitals like New York and Tokyo to centers of science and technology (Boston, San Francisco), powerful regional centers (Taipei, Singapore) and diverse talent magnets (Sydney, Dublin, Toronto).

This clustering of talent is just as prevalent in emerging economies, especially India and China, where economic and technological activity is becoming even more concentrated than in the advanced world. A small number of booming megaregions such as Bangalore, New Delhi, Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou suck in talent from the countryside and use it to connect to the world economy--leaving the rest of their countries behind. (Source: Richard Florida, "Minds on the Move", Newsweek Special Edition, December 2005-February, 2006 issue).

This clustering of talent that fuels wealth is not limited to science and technology but in the arts as well. The same Newsweek article cited above gives as an example the advanced filmaking complex built in Wellington, New Zealand by "Lord of the Rings" director, Peter Jackson, with the objective of turning Wellington into a global talent magnet for the best cinematographers, sound technicians, computer-graphics artists, model builders and editors.

"Jackson's studio in tiny Wellington hasn't factored into recent debates over global competition, but it should. Though most experts are preoccupied with the rise of India and China--which offer huge markets, capital work forces and cost advantages--they overlook the shift away from global old industrial models to one built on knowledge, innovation, and creativity. Creative-sector occupations--in science and technology, art and design, culture and entertainment--have grown since 1980 from 12 percent of the work force to between 30 to 40 percent in most advanced countries today. This makes talent the fundamental factor of production, and attracting such talent the central battle in global competition." (Source: Richard Florida, "Minds on the Move", Ibid.)

To reiterate, wealth and industries today arise and are fueled more by knowledge, innovation and creativity which come from smart, innovative, and creative PEOPLE. The game right now is to bring production to areas in the world where these talented people are clustered and located; who produce the best products at the fastest time, and at reasonably cheap rates (from the client's point of view). This is why business outsourcing in the Philippines is so profitable right now. You see it in the call centers mushrooming in Metro Manila, the local animation houses who do sub-contracting work for foreign clients, and yes, even from some local comics artists who e-mail or FedEX their foreign comics work abroad and get paid in foreign exchange while physically staying in their condominium units in the Phillippines.

"Given the ease with which capital can move to the smartest, most efficient, most reliable work force, having more skilled and capable workers than the next country becomes essential for attracting and holding the best jobs for the longest time. "Decisions can be made relatively quickly now, particularly in business with short product life cycles" says Rose. "You can have a chip factory in Newcastle, it is rapidly depreciated, and in five years it will be gone if the skilled work force is not there or the skill level is not maintained. It will move very fast." Therefore, says Rose, "the key is having more smart communities than the other guy...Singaporeans, for instance, spend all day thinking about how they can be smarter and attract more people, as they have no natural resources other than their people.

Working smarter and smarter rather than working cheaper and harder is really the only strategy for a developed society to compete with a low-wage juggernaut like China. Why? Because we need our workers to leverage technology so that one person can do the work of 20 rather than have 20 cheap laborers do the work of one." (Source: Thomas Friedman, "The Exhausting Race for Ideas", Newsweek Special Edition, December, 2005-February, 2006 issue).

Napoleon Nazareno, President and CEO of PLDT and Smart Communications, Inc. gave a speech last year (October 17, 2005) before the Management Association of the Philippines CEO Conference at the Shangri La Manila Hotel in Makati City. His speech, entitled: "Change or perish: The need for creativity and innovation" gave the insight that creativity and life-changing innovation arises from dealing with the real world through experience and hard work; that is, of KNOWING YOUR MARKET. In Smart Communication's case, it was studying the low-income C-D-E market that made its pasa-load system a success. On hindsight, Smart applied the law of ubiquity that made the pasa-load a success. Those interested in reviving the local comics industry should take note:

"One part of my job that I enjoy is doing the rounds. Together with other Mancom members, I make it a point to visit malls and other marketplaces all over the country. This is a reality check. We get to talk to our people in the field and to dealers and retailers who actually sell our products, and, to customers who buy them.

Such field trips stimulate the right side of your brain and give you an intuitive feel of what's happening in the market.This helps you make sense of the market studies and the sales and operations numbers that your organization churns out.

In the end, that is the greatest source of creativity and innovation. We need to have a good feel for the market. We need to know how people live in the real world. If you combine your first-hand observations with a sixth sense born of experience, you can acquire the insights that lead to market-shaping innovations. In that way, you become an integral part of people's lives.

Indeed, ceativity is the key to changing our fortunes. And that, I'd like to think is really cool." (Source: Napoleon Nazareno, "Change or perish: The need for creativity and innovation", Philippine Star, October 21, 2005 issue).

It is common knowledge that what is keeping the Philippine economy afloat right now is not the old second wave industries such as export, shoe, film, agriculture, etc. but mainly the dollar remittances of its OVERSEAS CONTRACT WORKERS, a growing number of whom are professionals and I.T. workers who receive very high pay and work in advanced foreign countries or KNOWLEDGE ECONOMIES. This explains why our OFW remittances rose dramatically from $8 Billion in 2004 to $10.7 or $12 billion ($12 Billion that is, if you factor in remittances not made through financial institutions and other authorized sources) in 2005. Our people, our FEW and TALENTED people, are being sucked by I.Q. magnets abroad. Who benefits? Naturally, the advanced knowledge societies abroad. Who loses? Our Third World country of mostly functionally literate and mediocre people who should have been sent abroad in the first place. What do they produce? Well among other things and for the most part, lousy, unoriginal, and mind-numbing comics largely imitative of American and Japanese mainstream comics/cartoons, or the GLOBALIZED FILIPINO COMICS of today that do not really contribute to the development or upliftment of local culture. And you wonder why we still don't have a new, creative, innovative, and vibrant comics industry.

If one continues to produce mediocre comics work, works that are unintelligent, imitative and common, do you think knowedgeable, innovative, and creative businessmen will come in and help prop up a local comics industry? If by some fluke chance, a comics industry based on mediocrity would arise that is largely hedonist in approach and does not even aim to help uplift the literacy level of majority of its readers, or even enrich our culture, is apathetic and does not say anything about our corrupt political and societal status quo, do you think it can last? The Roces komiks monopoly obviously didn't. Culture Crash and Questor are gone. But Pol Medina's PUGAD BABOY is still there with its annual compilations reaching at times, the local bestseller lists of National Bookstore. What does that tell you?


"Humans of course, have always exhanged symbolic images of reality. That is what language is all about. It is what knowledge is based on. However, different societies require either more or less symbolic exchange. The transition to a knowledge-based economy sharply increases the demand for communication and swamps the old image-delivery systems." (Source: Toffler, Powershift, Ibid).

Toffler continues to state that knowledge economies need a labor force with high levels of symbolic sophistication. This means that the "workers" of today are knowledge workers who are worldly, alert to new ideas and fashions, customer preferences, economic and political changes, aware of competitive pressures, cultural shifts, and many other things previously regarded as pertinent only to managerial elites. Being average and mediocre then, is not enough; good comics stories and art are not enough. You need to be knowledgeable of the real world in order to be innovative and creative.

But where can a knowledge worker acquire such ever-expanding knowledge? At this point Tofflers answers it comes from practically all things around us, particularly from the "inadvertent content" seen from entertainment media, to wit:

"This wide-scan knowledge does not come out of classrooms or from technical manuals alone, but from exposure to a constant barrage of news delivered by TV, newspapers, magazines, and radio. It also comes indirectly from "entertainment"--much of which unintentionally delivers information about new life styles, interpersonal relationships, social problems, and even foreign customs and markets."

By way of example, Toffler cites the "inadvertent content" unintentionally obtained by the viewer from television:

"It is true that the intentional content of a television show--the plot and the behavior of the principal caharacters--often paints a false picture of social reality. However, there is in all television programs and commercials, as well as in movies, an additional layer of what we might call "inadvertent content". This consists of background detail--landscape, cars, street scenes, architecture, telephones, answering machines, as well as barely noticed behavior like the banter between a waitress and a customer as the hero seats himself at a lunch counter. In contrast with the intended content, the inadvertent detail frequently provides a quite accurate picutre of quotidian reality. Moreover, even the tritest "cop shows" picture current fads and fashions, and express popular attitudes toward sex, religion, money, and politics.

None of this is ignored or forgotten by the viewer. It is filed away in the mind, forming part of a person's general bank of knowledge about the world. Thus, good and bad alike, it influences the bag of assumptions brought to the workplace. (Ironically, much of the worker's image of the world, which increasingly affects economic productivity, is thus absorbed during "leisure" hours.) For this reason, "mere entertainment" is no longer "mere"." (Source: Alvin Toffler, "Powershift", Bantam Books, 1991).

One will observe this noticeable absence or insufficiency of "inadvertent content" in many mainstream comics titles especially in most local comics being published today. In other broadcast and print media such as newspapers and magazines there is "inadvertent content" all about. However, when we pan to comics in general, and local comics in particular, we see an inexplicable absence of this element.


Could it be that part of the reason why the audience for American mainstream comics and local comics is marginal, is because of this insufficiency of "inadvertent content"? Could it be that in today's societal milieu powered by knowledge economies in advanced countries and dominated by third wave media, this absence or insufficiency of "inadvertent content" in comics is what is making it so irrelevant, inconsequential, and inaccessible to many people?

Alan Moore, comics publisher and renowned writer of graphic novels/comics works with inadvertent content such as Watchmen, From Hell, V FOR VENDETTA, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Swamp Thing, and Marvelman, is of the view that writing for American-style mainstream comics is in danger of being outmoded when placed within the context of an ever-changing outside world.

Here, Alan Moore emphasizes, and this blogger is assuming that he's referring to American mainstream comics, that the more "comics" people reject the changes still being wrought in the non-artistic aspects of the comics industry, the more it will be irrelevant and ignored by the general public. To wit:

"Certainly, in terms of the general standard of writing in comics at the moment I tend to see the same mechanical plot structures and the same functional approach to characterization being used over and over again, to the point where people find it increasingly difficult to imagine that there could ever be a different way of doing things. As our basic assumptions about our craft become increasingly outmoded, we find that it becomes more of a problem to create work with any relevance to the rapidly altering world in which the industry and the readers that support it actually exist. By "relevance", incidentally, I don't just mean stories about race relations and pollution, although that's certainly a big part of it. I mean stories that actually have some sort of meaning in relation to the world about us, stories that reflect the nature and the texture of life in the closing years of the 20th century. Stories that are useful in some way. Admittedly, it would be fairly easy for the industry to survive comfortably for a while by pandering to specialist-group of nostalgia or simple escapism, but the industry that concerns itself entirely with areas of this sort is in my view impotent and worthy of little more consideration or interest than the greeting card industry." (Emphasis Mine) (Source: Alan Moore, "Alan Moore's Writing for Comics", Avatar Press, May, 2003).

Today, efforts are being made to "revive" our local comics industry generally through works of "simple" escapist fantasy and nostalgia, without however, giving more concern to the present milieu in which local comics is placed in; that is, the era of third wave media, the rise of knowledge economies, inadvertent content, and the way businesses are trying to adapt to this milieu. Once more, Alan Moore:

"If comics are to survive they need both to change and become flexible enough to withstand a process of almost continual change thereafter. Changing the trappings of the comic industry isn't enough. New printing techniques, new characters, new computer graphic facilities...none of these will make the slightest scrap of difference unless the fundamental assumptions upon which the artform itself rests are challenged and modified to fit times for which they were not originally designed. You can produce a comic about bright and interesting new characters, have a computer draw it, publish it in a lavish Baxter package and color it with the most sophisticated laser scan techniques available, and the chances are that it will still be tepid, barely readable shit." (Source: Alan Moore, "Writing for Comics", Ibid).


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