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In defense of Wattpad

Stefan Punongbayan (The Philippine Star) - December 13, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Many of us know Wattpad, that online writing platform for digital reincarnations of the romance pocketbook. The site has spawned novels that Star Cinema and TV5 have deemed fit for adaptation — Diary ng Panget, She’s Dating the Gangster, and Diary ng Hindi Malandi (Slight Lang!), to name a few. It’s so popular, that a telecom company is giving its users free access to the site.

Recently, news broke of a group of Filipino teenagers proposing to include Wattpad stories in their high school curriculum, and this ignited a burst of vitriol on my Facebook feed, much of it coming from my friends in the academe. “Kaya lumalandi ang kabataan ngayon, eh!” one said. “Ano namang ituturo niyan sa mga estudyante bukod sa kababawan at kabaduyan?” said another.

Now, I’m not a big fan of Wattpad; cheesy, juvenile love stories just aren’t my style. But something about my academe friends’ hatred of the platform got me thinking. (Perhaps it’s that the news article about teaching Wattpad in schools was, in fact, satirical, and my academe friends failed to notice.) It seems to me that our collective baduy-shaming of Wattpad literature is symptomatic of a bloated sense of intellectual and cultural superiority. It’s time for us to question elitism in culture, and bust the myth of the cultured “thinking class.”

CULTURAL ELITISM

Elitism starts when we uphold certain standards and try to establish them as the canon by which the value of cultural products is to be gauged. It then raises the question of who has the ascendancy to curate and referee literary works in this age of social media and self-publication. If it’s not obvious enough, this poses a threat to the democratic process of modern writing.

Some argue that cultural elitism in this country largely stems from centuries of being ideologically colonized. To this day, we constantly look to the West for validation. Our current ideas of how literature should be are generally foreign. And isn’t the concept of being “cultured” just another western pseudo-intellectual excuse to hierarchize things? Why are we always shying away from settling the dichotomy between so-called high and low art?

What we don’t realize is how the tables can be easily turned. At the end of the day, Wattpad literature is still what appeals to the masses and it says a lot about us as a people that what we deem baduy and mababaw has taken over the bestseller rack. It ultimately places the burden on the academe, whose confinement within the classroom has made it too dismissive and self-important to fulfill its responsibilities to the world outside.

REACHING OUT

Keeping things in perspective at all times is key. Maybe one productive way to critique Wattpad literature is to evaluate them as individual stories while not losing sight of their contexts. Those stories, after all, were not conceived in a vacuum; neither were our ostensibly personal tastes and notions of profundity which had already been decided for us by self-styled cultural tastemakers.

An even more scholarly way to look at Wattpad is to examine its possibilities as a tool to modify our cultural landscape. Rather than dismiss it as a mere fad, literati should take advantage of its user-generated content and perhaps even employ its signature cheesy romantic themes to engage readers in a discourse.

All things considered, literary appreciation in this country still has a long way to go — and it’s actually a good thing. I’m not one to fall prey to the defeatist mindset that we should just take what we can get — in this case, that at least the present crop of teenagers is starting to flip pages again. Rather, we all need to start somewhere, and for them it might be the best place. Eventually, horizons will stretch and we’ll come to know that the high horse can only move aimlessly.

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Tweet the author @watdahel_marcel.

ANO CULTURAL DATING THE GANGSTER FACEBOOK HINDI MALANDI KAYA SLIGHT LANG STAR CINEMA WATTPAD
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