Thursday, October 04, 2007

Of Desperate Housewives And Wagging The Dog...

.:Balat-Sibuyas: Lyrically Speaking Scribbles, Part VI:.

“Ethnic jokes may seem uncouth, but we laugh because it’s based on truth.”

- Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist, Avenue Q

A recent episode of “Desperate Housewives” saw actress Teri Hatcher making a throwaway joke to a doctor, worried that he got his diploma “from some med school in the Philippines.” Almost immediately, an uproar from bloggers and in a matter of two days, even media outfits and the government, engulfed the country.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard denigrating remarks in reference to Filipinos, but as if on cue, we still react to these remarks in the exact same way we’ve always reacted to any attempt to put the Filipino down: with indignant disdain.

Recall when Clair Danes called Manila “a ghastly place”. Recall when we discovered a brand of cookies called “Filipinos”. Recall when Jay Leno slammed Filipinos after we pulled our troops out of Iraq. Recall movies like “Jarhead” and dictionaries like Oxford, who referred to Filipinas either as mail-order brides or domestic helpers. Recall “Man On The Moon”, where Andy Kauffman went to the Philippines to be healed, only to find out that the faith healer was a quack.

Any which way you look at it, our only course of action is to throw a hissy fit and sic the PC dogs on our so-called oppressor, never mind the fact that any corner you turn to, Filipinos are just as guilty of racism (Chinese-Filipinos, Koreans, and Indians could tell you as much.), and even on television, with the jokes we love to hurl at other races.

Sad to say, a good chunk of us can’t take it the way we dish it out.

When you make an attempt to define the Filipino or particularly, the Filipina, the way Oxford Dictionary did, or the way a cursory Google search bombards people with the wrong notions about what it means to be a Filipina, then you know there is something that needs to be done about it. There’s a huge gap between a throwaway joke in a throwaway segment of some soon-to-be throwaway television show and a completely malicious depiction of the Philippines as characterized by a Google search for the word “Filipina”.

Furthermore, it’s ridiculous to call for Teri Hatcher’s head in a scripted show, when she was just saying her lines. For all I know, racial jokes are being thrown on that program on a regular basis, and it’s only the Filipinos who are too sensitive to take a joke. It’s a bit sad how being PC is slowly eradicating our sense of humor.

But then, doesn’t making a specific issue a general matter constitute a good deal of humor? When we make jokes about how Indians supposedly stink, or about how supposedly money-grubbing the Chinese are, or how supposedly stingy the Ilocanos are, aren’t these stereotypes in place precisely because there’s a smidgen of truth in them?

It’s easy to decry being looked down upon, but did we ever check to see why we were being looked down upon? Or do we gloss over the fact that we have more than an our fair share of stalls in Recto that sell forged diplomas? Or do we forget the fact that quite a few of our medical institutions here are far from stellar? Or do we just ignore that just last year, the Philippine Nursing bar exams were marred by a leakage, thereby staining our reputation internationally, knowing full well that other countries get nurses from our country, and they discover, to their horror, that there was a leakage that marred the results.

We gave the writers of “Desperate Housewives” every reason to make a joke at our expense. And I am willing to bet you that a lot of people would even let it slide if one of the writers claimed Filipino lineage and only used the joke as a shout-out to Filipinos out there. Rex Navarette makes a lot of Pinoy-centric jokes, but he gets a free pass no matter how offensive or raunchy he might get at times simply because he’s Filipino. It’s the same reason Chris Rock gets to make black jokes, because he’s black. For a bunch of people who decry being treated unequally, the special treatment of “one of their own” is just ridiculous… or is it?

It’s not ridiculous because it’s in the context of humor. A throwaway joke with some measure of truth, the kind of truth that people in other countries are privy to because the whole nursing fiasco made international news, and thereby, extending it even to our doctors and other medical practitioners. Is this joke going to mark a decline in regard for the Filipino medical practitioner? No, it already declined the moment the nursing leakage happened. Jokes about it were made precisely because it happened. Call it tacky humor if you will, but it’s the freedom of speech, and it’s not even hateful speech, the way you hear members of the KKK rattle on and on about white supremacy.

So how was this different from the Malou Fernandez issue? Well, allow me to illustrate:

1. Malou Fernandez wrote her diatribe against OFW’s. Teri Hatcher didn’t.

2. Malou Fernandez was “one of our own”, but unlike Rex Navarette, she certainly didn’t act like it. Rex Navarette’s deprecative humor of Filipinos has always been self-referential, which is why he gets a pass. Malou didn’t for that.

3. Malou Fernandez’s statements were clearly hateful, and idiotically enough, targeted to a Filipino market. “Desperate Housewives” is marketed internationally.

4. And, oh. This just in. ABC apologized for the comment. Malou Fernandez didn't until it was way too late.

I can only imagine how many people would decry our programs if they found out that we throw out stereotypes and racial slurs on a regular basis. Anyone remember Michael V’s “DJ Bumbay”? That’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Y’know, the problem right now is we’re too busy trying to find out what other countries think about us instead of trying to fix ourselves so that other countries would have better things to say about us. Do Italians have to raise their arms up in protest everytime someone refers to the “Italian solution?” Do the French have to declare war on America every time they’re called “cowards?” Heck, just to throw in another developing country in there, does Cuba start an uproar when they’re referred to as a smuggler’s haven? No they don’t, so what makes Filipinos so special that they have to throw a hissy fit every single time a negative reference is made to them? The obvious answer, is none. We already stained our legacy with the likes of the nursing exam leakage. If Japan and Germany can’t shake off the WWII stigma sixty years hence, don’t think the Philippines can shake off the nursing fiasco in a little over a year’s time.

I’m proud to be Filipino, all good qualities and bad considered. Just because I'm not offended does not mean I'm ashamed to be a Filipino (Why am I not surprised to hear *that* stereotype everytime something like this happens.) To get mad at some line of dialogue in a television show without so much as asking where it came from is tantamount to wagging the dog. The line, no matter how insignificant, is referring to an issue that the Filipinos have a long way to address, the way Nazi jokes still haunt Germany to this day. Nazism was Germany’s national shame. At this point, the Philippines is riddled with a myriad sources of national shame, and instead of doing anything about it, we just whine when someone calls us out on it. Feel free to whine, but if that's all you're going to do, you're not helping at all.

So in closing, yeah, some of us took offense, and while I respect that, and your right to ask for a public apology from the producers of “Desperate Housewives”, can we just screw our heads on straight and not get lost in our furor?

First of all, Teri Hatcher didn’t write what she said, and when you’re paid close to a million an episode, the last thing you’d want to do is to question an almost insignificant line in a dialogue.

Second, being politically correct kills off our sense of humor. Offensive? Debatable. Funny? Equally debatable.

Thirdly, it’s ridiculous how we protest when we ourselves are guilty of stereotyping. Saying “all Filipinos should be offended, and anyone who isn't offended is not proud to be Filipino” is just ridiculously painting in broad strokes.
Lastly, it’s our own damned fault, what with the nursing board fiasco. Yes, I know nurses are not the same as doctors, but they’re both medical practitioners, and that was the point of the line in the show.

Who was it who recently said, “explain before you complain?” Tsk, tsk.

Everyone’s a little bit racist sometimes. It doesn’t mean we go around committing hate crimes.

P.S. So we got an apology now, and all is good, for the most part. But can I just say that for Nadal to demand “a more substantial” apology in the form of donations and scholarships is just being too heavy-handed?

People already got what they wanted. No need to milk the cow even further and give people a new stereotypes to brand Filipinos with...

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