Vance Larena: Digital Activism In A Global Crisis & Moving Forward (To An Uncertain Future)
Vance Larena: Digital Activism In A Global Crisis & Moving Forward (To An Uncertain Future)
With one disconcerting headline after another, everything has become overtly political. If it weren’t evident before, the global health and economic crises have revealed the need for courageous, outspoken individuals who advocate for a healthy culture of accountability. If you ask us, this deems more productive than simply “cancelling” others.
There is no denying that the youth—Generation Zs and Millennials—has displayed exceptional courage as of late, from rallying behind laws meant to oppress the ordinary citizen to rectifying destructive generational biases on rape culture. They have banded together using available resources to drive the change they want to see—albeit from a (socially safe) distance.
For famed personalities, it’s no different. We see a paradigm shift, especially with the recent shutting down of a broadcaster giant, endangering the livelihood of thousands of employees. A punch in the gut considering we are, after all, in the midst of a recession.
The Breakout Star
For the month of July, we talk to Vance Larena, one of the breakout stars of Netflix’s original Filipino feature film Dead Kids on his thoughts on digital activism amid a pandemic, empathy to address generational biases and the uncertain yet bright future that lies ahead.
With the steady rising of coronavirus cases locally, the Wonder team decided to prioritize everybody’s safety and settled for a remote shoot from home via Zoom, of course. Vance was creatively directed by a full team of professionals while he, being the trooper that he is, did everything on his own with some friends to help assist.
Being a natural artist, he applied the bright eyeshadows with ease. Meanwhile, we tried our very best to ignore the fact that his bushy brows are better than ours collectively—c’est la vie.
With a lead role in an Erik Matti feature film (a “dirty rom-com” genre, if you will) in the works, the future really is promising for the young actor. On his newfound fame, Vance shares, “I’m glad that Dead Kids was loved and received well by many. The online attention we got was huge, and it was really overwhelming so, in return, I take great effort in interacting with fans as much as possible. I try to express my gratitude to them because they are vital to the film’s success.”
He adds, “The attention that the film brought to the actors, as I see it, only highlighted how we should be responsible in what we say and the values we espouse. I am highly motivated to continue to grow as an artist and as a person, so I can continue to create good work for the people to appreciate.”
Creativity in Quarantine
Almost five months into quarantine—with no vaccine in sight—the unprecedented period has allowed Vance to do some self-reflection and discover new skills. He observes, “I feel like I built a much stronger connection with myself, my family and the people closest to me. Feeling ko rin, mas nakilala ko pa ang sarili ko, ‘yung mga mahal ko sa buhay tsaka mas nabigyan ko ng atensyon everything and everyone that matters (I feel like I got to know myself and my loved ones better, and I was able to pay attention to everything and everyone that matters). Tina-try ko i-keep ‘yung daily routine ko (I try to keep my daily routine) in check and keep busy despite the pandemic. I’ve been able to discover entirely new facets of the craft—acting and the performing arts—and what it means in a time like this.”
He has discovered the video-sharing platform, YouTube, as an outlet during prolonged lockdown, which has challenged him creatively. “We may deal with [quarantine] in our own ways but as for me, I really want to keep doing what I love and keep giving people a break from all the stress brought about by the pandemic. I figured one of the best avenues for this was an online platform. I recently launched my YouTube channel, and I learned many things involved in making the content from editing and branding to [decoding] the YouTube algorithm,” he explains.
Prioritizing Mental Health in a Health Crisis
It’s worth noting that with the barrage of overwhelming headlines lately, we can easily feel overwhelmed. Prioritizing our mental health by creating a daily routine and limiting our media intake is a must. Vance explains how engaging in conversation helps him overcome anxiety. “I really like to talk. I think that one of the best ways to take care of our mental health is to talk about what’s going on, most especially what’s going on in [our minds],” he shares.
He adds, “Know that it is totally okay to worry during this time, and everyone is going through the same thing—albeit some being more privileged than others. I guess it’s also being able to identify the things you can do for others during these times. If you feel you can’t do much, it is also definitely okay. Don’t pressure yourself to be at 100%, pwedeng 88%—ganyan (you can be at 88%). I think that’s the first step naman in confronting these things, [accepting] na hindi tayo magiging 100% every day (we can’t be at 100% every day).”
Driving Change Through Digital Activism
Social media, from Twitter to Tiktok, has empowered the youth to educate themselves and make informed opinions as of late. Vance has been very outspoken about his thoughts on his platforms, hoping this could drive change, no matter how small. He elaborates, “I’m a firm believer that the youth is really the hope of the nation. A lot of our great heroes started young fighting—and dying—for our country. It really is important to get the youth involved in socio-political discourse. Every voice counts so I try to use my platform in my own little way as a conduit for these voices.”
We can actually find a healthy balance between engaging in healthy discourse online and actually doing the work offline, according to Vance. He considers this as “actual work towards change and transformation.” Vance believes it’s indispensable to have a stance and, in order to create educated opinions, we must immerse ourselves with information and, ideally, arguments from both sides.
He shares, “Walking the talk is very important. Doing the actual work offline can be very tiring and sometimes, you’ll get disappointed because it’s a different world outside talaga, but we all know that the first step is always the hardest. So keep moving forward.”
How to Address Generational Bias
There is an apparent generational divide in society, which causes public disunity. It’s easy to generalize a group of individuals to make sense of reality but we need to move beyond our fascination with labels or we won’t progress.
Vance explains, “Generational biases have been around since time immemorial so it’s not surprising that previous generations have misconceptions about us, the Millennials and Gen Zs. I remember one TED talk from Adam Conover [wherein] he says that generations, in general, don’t exist. We made these things [up]. If I were to [address it], it would be [shifting] the lens on how we view each other’s generation.”
He adds how this prevalent form of miscommunication can be overcome: through empathy. “We have to come to terms with the fact that we are all human beings. We are all people who are equally capable of being great and being stupid regardless of any technological or societal changes. It is entirely up to us to determine how we want the generation we belong to, to be remembered. For all the Gen Zs and Millennials who have felt misunderstood, you are not alone, and it’s part of the process,” he says.
Vance believes that it takes great work to address this generational divide but it is not for naught. He shares, “[For people who disagree with us], maybe they are also victims of societal norms or old misconceptions about things. It takes great effort to be patient in trying to educate [them] and trying to make them understand these new learnings that are better than their old misconceptions. It may be tiring but you just have to keep going.”
The Kids Are Alright, After All
Even with a health and economic crisis in our midst, he remains optimistic about the future. We ask: Where do you see us going from here? He answers, “A big part of my hope—not only for my career but for the future of my country—and motivation comes from my fans, [with] a huge number of them belonging to the youth. I’m really glad that most of us are on the same page.”
He ends the interview with a timely lesson on hope: “We are all moving too fast along with our technological advancements, and the youth [is] becoming so much more aware. They are also becoming more capable of adapting and learning, making them stronger for any battle, so the future is bright. Just make sure you do the world a favor and check your sources.”
Truth be told, there was a lot on the line when we picked a cover star for the month of July who represents what it is to be young in the midst of a pandemic. We found this in Vance Larena (even if he’s too humble to admit it). He advocates for a group of technology-powered individuals who have a heightened sense of awareness of what it means to inherit such a broken system—and commit to repairing it.
Even in the face of adversity and uncertainty, we move forward.