Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On Gods With Feet Of Clay, And The Filipino Dream (Or,What I REALLY Wanted To Say About Manny And Willie.)

.:Gods With Feet Of Clay:.

The past couple of weeks has been an exercise in rationalization for a culture built upon deifying celebrity and elevating them far above and beyond the standards by which we expect of mere mortals such as ourselves.

Some of the issues seem petty when you look at it, really. A famous celebrity announces that she is leaving the very thing that has made her famous in the first place, and instead of having people wish her well, some of her fans actually feel betrayed, as if suddenly, what she wishes to do with her life no longer takes precedence over what her fans want her to do.

Couple that with the fact that she probably isn’t even leaving but probably setting up for something else, and you can see how the overreactions from certain people, practically calling her a traitor to a cause that doesn’t even seem to be a particularly earth-shattering cause to give up your hopes and dreams over in the first place, becomes rather silly. Maybe even pathetic.

The power of celebrity exists. There is no point in denying that. But just as we cannot allow them to be anything more than human by virtue of their celebrity, neither should they be anything less than human by virtue of their celebrity. They have their own lives to lead, their own choices to make, and if we truly support them or believe in them, we must realize that we have no right to demand from our celebrity to abandon their own wishes just to cater to our every whim.

And one guesses that’s exactly what is at work here: a very disheartening gap between the idol and the worshippers, a chasm that is ever-widened by how much slack we are willing to cut our personal heroes so long as they continue to entertain us and cater to our every whim. And how that gap is made even more insurmountable when the inevitable betrayal happens, our vicarious hopes and dreams shattered in the failure of our erstwhile beloved god, turning the altar we once worshipped upon into the pillar we wish to scourge them upon in the blink of an eye.

And yet, through it all, they will move on and not really give a damn about what we think, say, do, or feel. When we realize that we have lived through someone for so long that we’ve forgotten to live our own lives, what happens? What do we do with ourselves, then?

The Fists Of Fury

As I wrote in my article on Manny Pacquiao, there is no question that he is one of the greatest boxers of all time. He is, without a doubt, the best one of this decade, and he has been more than well-rewarded financially and socially on the back of his fifty-two hard-earned victories inside the boxing ring. Nobody can take that away from him.

Sports heroes tend to get a pass in a lot of things. It’s rather easy to see, and it was quite fortuitous I was reading Michael Leahy’s book while I was thinking about this. It put a lot of things into perspective for me and allowed me to step back and look at the bigger picture. In the sporting world, it doesn’t matter if you philander, gamble compulsively, get into fights, or heaven forbid, rape someone. So long as you persist in your winning ways, all is forgiven.

Is this right? Of course not. But you see, it’s understandable: what does a basketball fan care about what his idol does in his bedroom? That’s not a part of the game, and that’s irrelevant to how many points he can score in a game, or how many assists he can dish out.

What people are forgetting is that nobody was critiquing Manny Pacquiao, the boxer. They were critiquing Congressman Manny Pacquiao, the guy who was not doing his job when he really should have, by not properly casting his vote for or against the impeachment of the Ombudsman.

Being a boxing legend does not excuse him from being a lousy congressman. The ever-predictable Paclanders are too busy blaming @momblogger not only for the embarrassment caused by Pacquiao leaving Twitterlandia, but even for his choice of words. And then they had the nerve to say that he meant it in jest, so lighten up.

Lighten up? Really? Lighten up?!?

Weren’t you the same people who refused to lighten up when Alec Baldwin made an off-hand joke about Filipina mail-order brides? Weren’t you the same people who refused to lighten up when Teri Hatcher made a joke in a comedy show about Filipino med schools? Weren’t you the same people who refused to lighten up when Chip Tsao made a satirical article that was making deliberately inflammatory statements to expose the bullying tactics of mainland China? And now you’re telling people to lighten up? Really?

Look: you can’t dictate how other people should feel. If they took offense, they have every right to take offense. And as a Congressman and as someone who has been trying so hard to maintain a certain modicum of role-modelness, Manny should have known better than to make a flippant statement like that. You don’t get to dictate what should be or shouldn’t be offensive to people and then dismiss them by virtue of your own thick-skinnedness because you’d take any insult from your lord and savior Pacquiao as a validation rather than a slight.

Manny Pacquiao’s recent misadventures were not the fault of the people who called him out on Twitter. It was the fault of a man who chose to run for public office when clearly, he had more pressing priorities than the welfare of his own district.

There’s nothing wrong with being a boxing legend, but there’s something wrong with shirking on one’s responsibility and then expecting everyone to just understand. No, not everyone understands, nor are they required to. Unlike you, Mr. Pacquiao, we can’t just take a month or two off work if we feel like beating a Mexican up for $20M. Your deficiencies as a congressman are not beyond question, because how well you punch has nothing to do with how well you lead your constituency.

So to those Paclanders who can’t get this into their heads: all the people on Twitter ever did was to tell a man to do his job. The one he ran for public office for. I think it’s ridiculous that anyone could possibly obfuscate the issue just because he’s a boxing legend. If he didn’t want to do his job, he shouldn’t have applied for the job in the 2010 elections to begin with. The tone argument is beside the point, and does not erase the fact that Honorable Pacquiao is still not doing his job.

How many of us here can fully expect to be praised for not doing your job? I sure can’t.

Willieng Pawns

It was an issue I felt strongly about, albeit I recognized I was relatively powerless in comparison to the originator of the news to me, Aileen Apolo, or the one whom I passed the news onto, MomBlogger. When I saw Jan-Jan’s video, I was shocked at how callous everyone around him was. The kid was crying. He was frightened. And yet, despite all of that, Willie Revillame did not show any signs of easing up on the kid, and still made him do his schtick, which proved extremely disturbing, as the kid gyrated like “a macho dancer,” as Willie Revillame himself put it.

I have despised Willie’s shows for years already, although he isn’t the only one whose tacky and trashy programming I’ve despised. It’s ironic how much more heart a Jerry Springer ripoff like Amy Perez’s Face To Face has, compared to a show like Willing Willie, that’s supposed to be giving joy and hope to the Filipino masses. Fabucelles shares my sentiments, to say the least.

We’ve heard that line a million times before: nagpapasaya lang kami at nagbibigay ng pag-asa. But at what cost does this joy and hope come?

Ridiculously long snaking lines for hopefuls who wish to get into the TV studio for a remote shot at riches, some of them doing this routine for weeks: weeks that could have instead been spent actually looking for a productive job instead of hoping to get a crack at that money tree Willie has been bandying about?

People of all ages selling their dignity for a few thousand bucks, then once the well has run dry, they’d run right back in line to do it all over again?

A fatal stampede, resulting in the deaths of 78 people. So much for “saya at pag-asa” for 78 lives snuffed out due to poor planning and terrible logistics?

Are all of these sins placed solely upon the head of one Willie Revillame? Of course not. But he is the man fronting the show that has showcased this kind of exploitative behaviour more than any other show, not only as its main host, but as one of its top producers. He is a control freak who would lash out at a cameraman who is so much as out of place, as a perfectionist and a consummate workaholic. Nobody can take that away from the man.

In fact, let’s give credit where credit is due: he has probably given out more money through his sponsors than any three to five different local charitable institutions you can pick at random, combined, almost all of this money going to the poor, the downtrodden, and ultimately, the desperate.

Unfortunately, it’s precisely that desperation that has allowed Willie’s blinded fans to give him a pass on anything he has ever done. With each victory he scores atop his unimpeachable soapbox, Willie’s confidence has turned into outright smugness, knowing full well that he has more clout than anyone willing to call him out on the mockery he has made of the Filipino masses.

The ends do not justify the means. Otherwise, it would be okay to lie, cheat, and steal just to get money. Entertainment is never an excuse for crass behaviour and lewd sensationalism. Giving hope and helping others is never going to wash away the blood of the 78 lives snuffed all in the name of this hope and help. If you made your officemates laugh in the pantry all the time, will that save you from getting fired if you embezzled the company’s money? Can your good intentions undo the hurt you have caused with your thoughtless actions?

And yet again, people tell us to “lighten up, it’s just a TV show!” Really? Really?!? Just a TV show that has resulted in the deaths of 78 people (Let’s not play coy here: Willing Willie = Wowowee.)? Just a TV show that has made it seem like exploitation and child abuse are just normal things we should come to expect from Philippine television? Just a TV show where people sell their souls for a few thousand pesos, yet not really elevating their lives afterwards? Really? That’s it?!?

No, you douchebags! It’s not just a TV show. It’s a mirror of the kind of society we live in that is not only on the verge of tolerating the abuse of a child on national television, but even making it his fault that he got treated like that, because that’s what he wanted to do when he auditioned! Woooow!

Allow me to educate you for a moment here. When Willie said that it was Jan-Jan’s idea to dance like a macho dancer, Willie has resorted to Victim Blaming, a phenomenon where instead of placing the blame squarely on the offender, we instead point to the victim. If, for example, a woman gets raped, it’s not the rapist’s fault: it’s the woman’s fault, because she dresses too “sluttily”, or she led the rapist on. What kind of backwards thinking is that?!?

Jan-Jan is six years old. The people screening him were far older than that, and Willie’s what? Forty-something? These are people who should have known better. Instead, after seeing Jan-Jan dance the way he did, Willie asked him to do it again, and again, and again! Where’s the concern there? Or is this because it causes so much “joy” and “hope” to see a desperate kid dance like a macho dancer for a few thousand bucks? Ang saya-saya ko naman makita yan! I’m sorry, but I can’t get off of Schadenfreude from a six-year old kid.

And the parents? They’re okay with it? So Jan-Jan has lousy parents, who tolerate having a kid who can dance like a macho dancer for the entertainment of people. Does that suddenly just absolve Willie Revillame? Really? It does? Or is that less an absolution of Willie Revillame, but also an indictment of Jan-Jan’s parents, putting them in the same police line-up as Willie and the vultures backing this mockery of a show?

In all honesty, it’s sad that instead of a call for unity, we’ve had people saying those among us indignant now are hypocrites. Let’s ignore the fact that only now is social media finding the clout to get things done, compared to even just a year or two ago, when it was just next to ignored. Let’s ignore how many celebrities are now on Twitter, whereas they were nowhere to be found online just last year. Let’s ignore that this is a catalyst for action, and not just a knee-jerk reaction of hypocrisy. Let’s even ignore that there is a huge gap between fully consenting adults dancing sexily for a living and a six-year old dancing sexily for a one-time windfall.

Common sense has flown out the window. Iya Justimbaste is probably laughing now, pointing at the folly of the Filipinos who make up excuses for the imperfections of their gods like Pacquiao and Revillame.

Newsflash: they were never perfect. The sooner you accept it, the sooner you will realize that they should be held accountable for their shortcomings when it does worse than just affect themselves.

Our gods have feet of clay. It shouldn’t have been a surprise at all, and it shouldn’t be our fault that we are just pointing out the truth. The truth hurts. The sooner you can accept it, the sooner we can do something about it.

This was never about rich versus poor. Don’t let the Pacquiao’s, the Estrada’s, or the Revillame’s of the world fool you. These people are far richer than any of us so-called rich people, to begin with. It has always been a question of the willingness of the Filipino person to do the right thing and correct the wrong thing, no matter how inconvenient it might be.

Throw away everything and boil down to the essentials, and then ask yourself with all honesty: is it truly impossible to help people without resorting to sexy dancers, exploiting sob stories, and fatal stampedes? And if our answer is “no, it’s not impossible,” then why the Hades are we tolerating the status quo?

Think about it.


skysenshi said...

Shempre I read the comments in the Asian Correspondent and puro ad hominem attacks. Haha! It irks me every time someone defends Willie by saying he's just making us happy. Sheesh.

Sarah said...

I am starting to hate the phrase "lighten up". Hay. Common sense has flown out the window, indeed.

ganns said...

Brilliant, Marcelle.

Kel Fabie said...

@skysenshi: Yeah. People miss the point all the time when it comes to that stuff. Makes me lose faith in humanity sometimes.

@sarah: It's okay! Lighten up! LOL. Just kidding. So long as you hold yourself to a higher standard, you should be just fine. :)

@ganns: Thank you. This means a lot to me, coming from you.