[OPINION] Nostalgia, conspiracies: The politics of recalling the Marcos 'golden age'

Nostalgia is a kind of memory that makes us prioritize pleasant memories over painful ones. It often gives us mixed feelings about the past. It allows us to go back in time to relish an old feeling temporarily, and it also elicits a sense of loss and despair as it stimulates a hopeless yearning for something no person can ever get back.

Politicking that involves nostalgia neither promises change nor assures us of a better future. Quite the contrary, it creates an illusion of a possibility that life could return to the "good old days." But chances are, those "good old days" may not have been as good as some people may imagine it since nostalgia screens out painful memories. 

This is what makes nostalgia problematic as a core campaign message. It promises to achieve the impossible – the promise to relive the life that never was. The promise to return to an era that never was. Like resurrecting the dead who never lived. But somehow, this empty promise to end an empty yearning has worked wonders in bolstering the popularity of some politicians in recent years. (READ: #AnimatED: Selling our memories to thieves)

In particular, Filipinos today have witnessed the rise of politicians like Bongbong Marcos whose campaign strategy used a great deal of nostalgia. During the 2016 election, when Marcos critics demanded from Bongbong a public apology and an admission of all the sins of the Marcos family, he responded, "Our family has nothing to apologize for.... Will I say sorry for the power generation [facilities that Marcos built]? Will I say sorry for the agricultural policy that brought us self-sufficiency in rice? Will I say sorry for the highest literacy rate in Asia?" (READ: Why is it difficult for Bongbong Marcos to apologize?)

When nostalgia offers an illusion of a "golden" past, we must be critical when politicians use it to promise a better future.

Nostalgia for a Marcos "golden age" is linked to the truth-claims of "conspiracies" circulated by pro-Marcos (and pro-Duterte) people. Such conspiracies help further the division of Philippine society into two opposing political camps. (READ: Marcos apologists, don't tell us to move on

A case in point is the "conspiracy" that the pro-Marcoses spread on social media against the Aquinos and their supporters (dilawan or yellows). Central to the arguments of the pro-Marcoses is the idea that "biased" journalists and historians distorted the memories of Marcos' regime. These "biased" writers are accused of collaborating with Marcos' political rivals, the Aquinos, or "yellows." Marcos supporters claim that it was the Marcoses who were victimized by the "yellow" propaganda. They also claim that the traditional "biased" historical narratives that have been imparted to Filipinos in schools are the "sources of misinformation." (READ: Ateneo professors to Bongbong Marcos: 'Stop distortion of history')

Hence, while nostalgia fuels the pro-Marcos propaganda, conspiracies make critical discourse an impossibility. 

It is for this reason that posts on social media, which offer a positive recollection of the Marcos Martial Law, would receive a comment like "Maybe the purported abusive soldiers during Martial Law were those held by the opposition, paid to be violent to the people." (READ: LIST: False claims of Juan Ponce Enrile on Martial Law

In recent years, this conspiracy has been widely and regularly circulated within pro-Marcos and pro-Duterte online communities. Mostly, the belief in the conspiracy of "yellow propaganda" is present in the comment section of many Martial Law-related posts.

In a Headstart interview with Washington Sycip on ANC that was shared on Facebook, a pro-Marcos netizen commented: "The new generation just cannot accept that Marcos was the best which is why the historians keep on poisoning the minds of the Filipino people. Why not remove the jealousy and greed in each hearts (sic) for the development of the country that the mighty President Marcos strived to develop."

Note that the interview first appeared on ANC's YouTube channel in 2013. The comment above appeared not in the original posting by ANC, but rather in a reshared version on a pro-Marcos Facebook page in 2016.

It is through unceasing repetition of conspiracy and nostalgia for the Marcos "golden age" that this "golden age" becomes more real than the real. This is especially the case in pro-Marcos (and pro-Duterte) online communities. 

In the grander scheme of things, in today's post-truth world, determining regimes of truth in the realm of memories somehow becomes futile as truth becomes increasingly contextualized in their discourses. Credible historical data can verify the truth-claim of those who remember Martial Law as an era of pain and suffering. However, it appears that the circulation of conspiracies and politicization of nostalgia for a "golden age" that never was can make a pro-Marcos and pro-Martial Law "truth" more "truthful."

What matters is that we understand how truths are articulated and circulated. Only through such an understanding can we better decide which truth deserves to be taken as "the truth." – Rappler.com

Fernan Talamayan is a doctoral student at the Institute of Social Research and Cultural Studies, National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan. He received his MA in Sociology and Social Anthropology from the Central European University, Hungary, and his MA in History from the University of the Philippines Diliman.