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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

On mourning and the digital space

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I cannot help but to think how our newsfeed is somehow transforming into an online obituary. Every day, a friend or two would post sad news about a relative dying. And these deaths are either directly caused by COVID, a COVID related death -someone who died with symptoms but never get tested-, or other kinds of deaths (cases that include the death of someone not necessarily due to sickness but the inability of our overwhelmed hospitals to accomodate them especially in emergency cases). Long posts and shared posts about these tragic events run over our social media accounts like the virus itself outside the digital world. It never stops, it just persists on continuing and multiplying. And people just kept on liking and sharing these stories online. The netizens’ never ending online consumption of mourning narratives.

Non-stop updates from DOH (Department of Health), local government social media accounts, and other news media outlets are also circulating online. Data from these posts are all showing how the number of positive cases continues to rise but the interpretation of these numbers is sometimes being tweaked to downplay the severity of the cases in the country. Even to the extent of playing the rhetoric of devil and devaluing the number of deaths. The number of lives we have lost in this so-called “war”. A metaphor that legitimizes killing or losing someone through the flavor of heroism. A metaphor that is politically used to condition our minds and downplay the number and the causes of deaths as if it is natural because it is a “war”. While, in all honesty, this crisis from the lens of public health should be taken as saving of lives rather than a bloody depiction of “war”. Pandemic should have been a prevention of the “war” rather than its fulfillment.

People are mourning for their losses. We kept on writing these narratives online because we would like to commemorate the lives of the people that we have lost— that by writing these stories, we are reimagining again the happy memories we had with our loved ones. And by writing these narratives, at this time of social distancing and isolation, we can make other people realize how each life matters and how it is painful to lose someone. We, through the stories, can make them understand our pain. So that even if we cannot afford to see each other, hug each other, be physically be there for each other, we know that someone is with us. May nakikiramay at nakikiisa sa pagdadalamhati natin.

However, I felt that these narratives, when we fully understood the pain of each other, should not be the final stage or of the life of the circulation of a viral post or a simple Facebook post. We should learn to ask questions, why we are experiencing these kinds of emotions? Why do we have to lose someone because of sickness? What should we do next time? Do we want it to happen again? How can we, in the future, mend these wounds? How can the government or other public institutions improve their responses to this next time? (Or at this time?) By understanding these narratives through these questions, we are training ourselves to go beyond sympathy and push ourselves to act in solidarity with them. Think about an action for the community of people who have lost someone because of an incompetent system during this time— that through my, yours, and their experiences, we can reimagine this system and make it better especially for future generations. This should be the power of shared mourning from the online world reorganizing affects, non fetishistic, non-capitalistic, but infectious, sympathetic, and retrospective.

JP Sarce is a lecturer at Ateneo de Manila University and Polytechnic University of the Philippines. He teaches courses on cultural studies, literature, and pedagogy. His projects are focused on postcolonialism, queer theory, medical humanities, digital humanities, and pedagogy. On his free time, he likes to watch RPDR and anime and then cram for his writing projects. Zodiac sign is his guide to life while reading books is his way of breathing life.

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