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More than an enabler, Gonzaga is a producer of historical distortion

Stanley Guevarra | Oct 10, 2021

For the victims of Martial Law, anything that attempts to distort history is like erasing a part of their identity. With former senator and late dictator's son Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. recently filing his Certificate of Candidacy for the nation’s highest post, campaign activities and media entities covering the son of the late dictator can easily run the risk of sanitizing the atrocious history his name carries. In fact, even before Marcos announced his election bid, this has already happened.

On September 13, a week short of the Martial Law Anniversary, actress and TV Host Toni Gonzaga aroused controversy after releasing her interview with Marcos on YouTube. Boldly entitled “The Greatest Lesson Bongbong Marcos Learned From His Father,” the interview spans almost 30 minutes covering the views of Marcos regarding Martial Law, his father’s so-called legacy, and the criticisms he receives that he claims are natural for every politician.

The divide between the number of likes and dislikes of the video is a possible indicator of the dominating public opinion. With the majority expressing support for Marcos and lauding Gonzaga for her “neutral” approach, the interview stirred sectors, organizations, students and educators, and netizens to condemn Gonzaga’s interview and debunk much of what Marcos had said. Still, many remain steadfast in their support to both Gonzaga and Marcos, which only goes to show the dangers of the video in question.

Until recently, Gonzaga had featured various personalities from the entertainment industry, from the up-and-coming boy band SB19 to the former actress and politician Marjorie Barretto. Named Toni Talks, the series has notably piqued interest among netizens, especially with its intimate and relatable approach to popular and familiar faces. After launching the 2022 Special Series, Gonzaga then started to guest prominent politicians in the local and national scene. In a video entitled “A Friendly Reminder,” Gonzaga articulates the reason behind the production: “May this series help you decide who deserves a seat now that you’ve heard their stories.”

Gonzaga, however, has come under fire for a reason. In analyzing a video as seemingly “neutral” or “innocent” as her interview with Marcos, one can borrow key ideas from the field of cultural studies to deconstruct historical distortion in action as well as properly demand responsibility from Gonzaga. Simply put, Marcos receiving not only screen time but also the avenue to propagate lies is an inexcusable and irresponsible instance of power play. As an interviewer, Gonzaga is responsible for allowing myths to speak over true stories that have long struggled to be heard—myths that carry the malicious intent to distort history. On our part, as we near the election season with Marcos as a candidate, we can strive to demand accountability from media personalities as much as we can be critical of the distortions they might produce.

The defense on Gonzaga

When vlogger Will Dasovich in July 2021 asked Gonzaga regarding the people she interviews, Gonzaga asserted, “This is where I stand—I don’t categorize the people I interview. I look at all of them as people with stories to share no matter how bad a person is, no matter how good a person is, no matter how canceled a person is by the society. Every single person on this planet has a powerful story to tell.” 

Complemented with Gonzaga’s reputation for interviewing political figures such as Manila mayor Isko Moreno, Attorney Chel Diokno, and Vice President Leni Robredo, Gonzaga presents herself as a balanced content creator with a veneer of neutrality agreeable to her supporters. The humanist idea that everyone has the right to have their stories told underpins most of the arguments supporting Gonzaga against her critics.

YouTuber KaCoffee, for example, distinguishes Gonzaga’s interview by highlighting its supposed “unbiased” approach as compared to mainstream media that the YouTuber says are determined to scandalize political icons. Several netizens also agree that Gonzaga is allowed to interview anyone she wants however she prefers by virtue of free speech, especially when she uses her own channel. That people have the choice to simply avoid the video for viewing is used as a defense as well.

While these arguments may sound persuasive, all fail to properly respond to the one thing that critics have been pointing out: responsibility. By giving Marcos a platform, interviewing him with questions that align with his political beliefs and values, and all the while remaining uncritical to the various falsehoods that have been time and time again proven wrong, Gonzaga becomes not only an enabler but also a producer of historical distortion. This becomes much more concerning when taking Gonzaga’s four-million subscriber count into consideration, along with the fact that the video garnered enough recognition to be ranked as one of the top trending videos on YouTube within a few weeks of its release.

In an interview with the College Editors Guild of the Philippines in 2020, GMA anchor Atom Araullo debunked the myth of neutrality in journalism by saying: “Being impartial or neutral is not a core principle of journalism. The final result is never impartial nor neutral because there is only one objective truth, and the truth is never neutral.” Araullo clarified that, while the methods of journalism are objective, journalists can never be free from biases as human beings. Gonzaga’s “neutrality” shows the extent to which she would bend her principles to affirm the beliefs of her interviewee (READ: The danger of neutrality). If anything, this sort of ambivalence is a political bias in itself: that she could be no less “neutral” even in the face of distortion.

Encoding historical distortion

For the cultural studies scholar Richard Johnson,  “culture is a site of social differences and struggles.” He illustrates culture as a circuit in which cultural products are transmitted in conditions determined by asymmetries of resource and power. To demonstrate, consider Gonzaga’s assertion that “every person has a powerful story to tell.” The use of the word “powerful” resonates with the kind of people she interviews: politicians, celebrities, entertainment icons—all of which belong to the upper class. This long-held practice, legitimized through her channel, has also eased the guesting of Marcos. Consequently, Gonzaga’s interview appears “neutral” when she has limited her interviews to “powerful” stories from the get-go.

Gonzaga becomes even more responsible when taking her privilege into account. First, she has enough economic, social, and cultural capital to host the interview and reach out to Marcos. In accumulating that capital, Gonzaga is already in a position of power as an influencer, and anything she puts out can form a significant portion of public opinion. Coming from a history where the late dictator is shamefully buried at the country’s national cemetery for “heroes,” Gonzaga furthers the already unequal discourse between the narratives of Marcos apologists and survivors using the power that she holds.

Most importantly, the dance around power largely manifests in Gonzaga’s interview itself, through which she actively encodes historical distortion with Marcos. Encoding is arguably the beginning of communication exchange, where the producer conveys a message through a certain medium. Needless to say, it is through encoding that people in positions of power assert the status quo. Putting Marcos on camera to share his views is already questionable in the first place. However, Gonzaga becomes more irresponsible for allowing Marcos’ views to dominate the interview with little to no intervention. She turns a blind eye when propaganda overpowers the discussion, which capitalizes on his father’s allegedly “good” qualities—blatantly discounting historians’ efforts in weaving authentic narratives of Martial Law. As Gonzaga refuses to insert criticism, offers her sympathy, and nudges Marcos to give more false remarks, she encodes a message that warps history according to Marcos’ false disposition.

Reading with/against the grain

Fortunately, readers have the capacity to choose what they make out of messages. Recognizing agency within audiences, the cultural theorist Stuart Hall argues that message asymmetries occur from the various reading positions of the receivers, making meaning liable to change from the moment of transmission. Highlighting the contingency of meaning-making, Hall propounds that cultural products are “capable of being interpreted in distinctly different ways by viewers because audiences approach texts with a plethora of experiences and cultural knowledge of signs.” To Hall, this is the process of decoding.

Hall categorized audiences into three hypothetical reading positions: the dominant  position, which accepts the message exactly how it is encoded; the negotiated position, which accepts and filters the message based on personal reasons; and the oppositional position, which focuses on the ideological struggle at work in the message. In decoding Gonzaga’s interview, many occupied the dominant position by subscribing to Marcos’ statements and defending Gonzaga. Critics would fall under the oppositional position by looking into the political implications of the interview. Some would try to reconcile the two by negotiating the interview on their own terms.

Regardless, while receivers have the faculty to make meaning outside the structure of media texts, it would be heedless to curb the call for accountability on the encoder under the reasoning that receivers are capable of reading for themselves. The philosopher Slavoj Žižek notes that “ideology is not simply imposed on ourselves” but is rather “our spontaneous relationship to our social world, how we perceive its meaning.” That is, ideology is our chosen relationship with the world. Though one can read Gonzaga’s interview with Marcos “against the grain,” it is still dangerous as it affirms an ideology that favors Marcos’ views—an ideology that many audiences have long adopted with agency. This is to say that readers are not dupes, but nonetheless fall victim to espousing ideologies reinforced by people who hold power like Gonzaga.

When enabling is also distorting

Historical distortion on the Marcos regime has been long propagated by apologists and trolls alike. Encoded through media, propagandic narratives are circulated to audiences in various reading positions. While cultural studies scholars have proven that meaning can transform in reception, the process of encoding can still reinforce dangerous ideologies. Thus, when the message is encoded in a platform that holds power under a discourse that is already politically uneven, many are encouraged to occupy the dominant reading position as a result of the power discrepancies between the encoder and the decoder. In this context, it would not be a stretch to think that Gonzaga is just as bad as Marcos for distorting history—if not worse.

With elections just around the corner, it is imperative that we approach instances of distortion with the drive to hold mythmakers accountable, the resolve to read messages distributed by power with criticality, and the initiative to resist the ideologies of tyranny.


Discourses of distortion are imperative in interrogating truths. The call for contributions for the first issue (Distortion) of HEIGHTS’ double issue is still ongoing. Read the full statement here: bit.ly/Heights69thCFC

Written by

Stanley Guevarra

Editor-in-Chief, HEIGHTS 2021-2022

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Art by

Ven Bello

Design Staffer, 2021-2022

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