In Metro Manila, Philippines, the pirated DVD has become a primary means of viewing cinema and television, a mode of consumption that crosses class divides and provides access to the world’s screen media on unprecedented levels. More than simply offering “windows to the world” for Manila’s armchair travelers, the discs also play an active role in shaping the city’s screen cultures. Pirated “dibidis” provide fodder for cultural production through their role in creating the city’s screen cultures.
For instance, pirated DVDs have become iconic of localized cinema culture, featuring in recent, independent Philippine films. The young protagonist of Auraeus Solito’s The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros (2005) dreams of becoming a DVD vendor, so he might watch all the films he wants. John Torres’s experimental feature, Todo Todo Teros (2006), ends with a reflection on the double mediation of the “cam copy,” which betrays its pirated status through audience members’ intrusion into the frame. The protagonist of Raya Martin’s Now Showing (2008) works at a pirated DVD booth in Quiapo, the center of Manila’s DVD trade; the camera follows her through the cacophonous rows of pirated DVD street vendors before she reaches her own stall.
These independent film representations find their counterpart in the televised raids of the government’s Optical Media Board (OMB), a body formed partly in response to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative “Watch List.” OMB heads such as Bong Revilla, Edu Manzano, and currently, Ronnie Ricketts use their status as former action film stars to portray a government tough on illicit trade. Manila pop-punk band Sandwich even used Manzano himself in their video for the song “DVD X;” the Senator appears in slow-motion at the song’s climax, gunning down the camera-toting band members. Importantly, the pirated DVD trade in Manila is dominated by the country’s Moro minority, lending these dynamics an ethnic divisiveness. Rolando Tolentino has written about this in relation to the Philippines’ historical orientalizing of Moro pirates, and I’ve also touched on how this identity informs Manila’s cinema shopping in other work.
In these ways, the pirated DVD becomes more than simply a vehicle for circulating local and global media—it is also an emblem of local screen cultures. Thus, it’s important that theories discussing DVDs, piracy, and global media consider the pirated DVD’s role as an object that informs local cultural production.