Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"Pinoy Humor"

The remarkable feat involved in the triumph of Senator-elect Nancy Binay is not that she got elected; her last name all but guaranteed her a seat in the Senate. The real feat was that of the multitude of idiots online who were able to drown out the voices of people trying to call the public's attention to Binay's utter lack of any experience that would make her suitable for the position for which she was running...all by harping on her skin color.

Apparently, it all started when some celebrity cracked jokes about Binay's skin color, and several people, probably too stupid to follow any intelligent conversation about her lack of qualifications for public service, dwelled on that instead, and as a result the whole conversation mutated into a diatribe on how Nancy Binay shouldn't be elected because she's dark-skinned and therefore ugly. Full stop. Internet memes on how the "black Nazarene" would assume public office became all the rage and in a twinkling Binay went from a woman with no notable achievement in public service to speak of who was coasting solely on her father's last name to an underdog being lambasted for the color of her skin. Filipinos love underdogs, and in her television interviews she played up that angle for everything it was worth.

In the end, in a perverse twist, Nancy Binay's apologists ended up hailing her as a champion for the masses, despite the fact that she had done absolutely nothing for them. The one chance people had of derailing her senatorial bid by asking legitimate questions was basically killed by morons who thought that crude jokes about her appearance was the way to bring her down.

We in the Philippines don't have a monopoly on jokes that appeal to the lowest common denominator, to be sure; it's all over the world. The problem with our brand of lowbrow humor is that a great many of our celebrity comedians don't seem to have any boundaries as to what the subject of that humor can be.

Recently, the same celebrity who started the ball rolling on Nancy Binay's skin color got in hot water for a highly inappropriate joke about rape, which is but one of many that have been cracked by various local comedians on different television stations. In short, while this celebrity reaped the whirlwind, many others have been sowing the wind for quite some time now, and I have to wonder when it's going to stop. A few months back I yelled at my son for laughing at the mention of the word rape, only to find out some kid in his school had gone around telling people that the word meant something funny.  Where that kid learned such a horrifying concept is anyone's guess, really, because as far as our local entertainment goes there are tons of places where he could have picked it up.

The ability to laugh is one of God's greatest gifts to us. It makes us feel good in just about every imaginable way, and it apparently has wonderful health benefits as well. Laughter comes naturally, but the choice of what to laugh at is a product of cultural conditioning. Save for perhaps the most rudimentary humor like slapstick, no one really knows what it is what he or she is supposed to find funny until his cultural environment conditions their minds.

Maybe it is possible to tell intelligent, genuinely funny jokes about something as heinous as rape. After all, grisly topics like murder, war, racism and pedophilia have been mined for some reasonably intelligent humor, although the spirit of the humor still retained some aspect of social commentary, rather than coming across as mean-spirited putdowns. In any case, however, humor like this is not the kind on which our children, incapable of understanding satire or nuance, should be raised, and yet it pollutes our televisions on a regular basis. The erring celebrity mentioned gave his act at a live comedy concert, so in a way he is excused from the charge of polluting kids' minds, but the same can't be said for generations of so-called "comedians" who have been around for decades, and some of whom, with due respect, are already even in their graves. A few months ago, another so-called comedian drew public ire for having a little boy gyrate on stage like a male stripper, to much bawdy laughter from the audience.

This particular incident was thrust into the spotlight because of the sheer speed at which communications moves nowadays, and maybe this should cause the purveyors of crude humor here in the Philippines, regardless of their "home network" to take pause and reconsider the kind of jokes they've been telling, and if they really want the children of this nation to absorb their so-called "humor" without context or discernment. Not only that, but the worst part of this brand of jokes is how, even with context it tends to demean every conversation into which it is introduced. A stark example of this, again, is the Nancy Binay phenomenon, where the genuine desire for discourse on qualification for public office was basically squelched by internet memes about skin color.

The thing about us Filipinos is that we are actually very clever people. We can do satire and classy humor along with the very best of them. We can be self-deprecating and come up with humor that is uniquely our own, without having to be crude or crass.  This unique brand of Filipino humor may offend some people, but it doesn't have to be so universally offensive that it demeans not only the people we mock but us as well. We're better than Tito, Vic and Joey and their scores of imitators.

We can be genuinely funny.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Image and Likeness

I have, in the past, basically shouted myself hoarse over the virtual deification of the fair-skinned individual in this country, and though I have heard voices of assent over on social media, our collective self-loathing continues virtually unabated. I take some consolation knowing that some offensive advertisements and media, such as the series of commercials promoting a skin-lightening product for men some months back, as well as a cover for a racy magazine were pulled from the market following social media outrage, but the latest barrage of stupidity, this time from a TV network, has my hackles rising all over again.

This time, the guilty party is ABS-CBN, who will soon be launching a show in which the protagonist, a dark and therefore "ugly" girl, to be played by an actress in blackface, will be "beautified" by a magic candle which, surprise, surprise, will lighten her skin. Not too long ago, rival station GMA aired a whole slew of shows featuring several of its fair-skinned mainstays in various stages of blackface. One of the shows was even called "Nita Negrita" if you can believe it. While social media may kick up a fuss, ultimately, most people will probably watch this new TV show, and will probably even continue to buy the skin-whitening products that currently flood the market in the hopes that they can achieve the same effect.

Now, some people have dismissed this extremely unpleasant attitude as a case of the grass being greener on the other side, considering that many Caucasian people basically color themselves orange trying to get tanned, but I have yet to hear of a film or television show in the West starring Asians, Latin Americans or people of African origin playing "whiteface" and yearning to be darker-skinned, so basically our aversion to our own skin color still trumps theirs.

Instead of just joining the angry chorus this time (though I certainly "sang" in some people's "choirs" over on Facebook), I've given some thought to the obsession with lighter skin, and I think one of the biggest problems behind the whole phenomenon is that in this country, people worship a white dude.

The truly galling thing about the Catholic Church in this country and the images that adorn its churches is that they perpetuate the notion that Jesus was/is a white guy, in many instances with ivory skin, rosy cheeks and blue eyes, when in truth his ethnicity has been the subject of a heck of a lot of debate with no conclusive answer, although the fact that he lived in the Middle East would suggest that he is more likely to have resembled Osama Bin Laden than Brad Pitt. Heck, the black Nazarene may be a more accurate depiction of how he looked, though perhaps without the distinctly aquiline nose and other Western European features.

Worse still, a lot of the paintings that adorn our Catholic Churches in the Philippines depict God the Father as an old, white guy.

Now, I'm not an atheist by any stretch of the imagination, but I would think that an omnipotent being that is responsible for all of creation would choose to represent itself as something with a bit more vitality than a doddering, and in some depictions, bald old Caucasian. At least Zeus/Jupiter supposedly had huge muscles (even if many sculptors depict him as having a tiny weiner). Not only that, but there is NO evidence whatsoever that would suggest that God looks like that. I'm pretty sure the phrase "old white guy" is nowhere to be found in the Bible or even in any of our Catechisms, so that image was basically an interpretation of  the Spaniards who brought Christianity here and the local rubes who accepted their codswallop hook, line and sinker.

Finally, as far as Catholics go, it seems the standard image of Mary, the avatar of all that is good, pure and beautiful, is that of an unmistakably Caucasian girl, whose visage was probably borrowed from some Spanish aristocrat hundreds of years ago, notwithstanding the fact that in reality, Mary could just as easily have looked like Mayim Bialik from The Big Bang Theory. Again, no historical records say she was, or even looked like a white girl.

If people argue that these images represent what is ideal, i.e. the appearance of Jesus and Mary in Heaven, rather than what was real, in Israel over two thousand years ago, then THAT is the problem RIGHT THERE: the belief that in Heaven, Jesus and Mary are white people.

Basically, we quite literally WORSHIP someone represented as a WHITE person. No WONDER so many of us want to be white!

Now, in other cultures, like in China, Korea, and Japan, in order to introduce Christianity, missionaries have had to adapt. Jesus and Mary BECOME Chinese, or Korean, or Japanese and their images, whether in paintings or sculpture, are adjusted accordingly. Many of these ethnically adapted images of the Virgin Mary and/or the Holy Family are quite lovely by the way. It's easy enough to find these images with a quick Google search. In contrast, a Google search for "Filipino Virgin Mary" will yield nothing but images of the Virgin Mary that the Europeans introduced to us nearly half a millennium ago. You will NOT see a brown-skinned Madonna wearing baro't saya or her brown-skinned husband and child wearing barong Tagalog.

The thing is, the devotion of Chinese, Japanese or Korean people is not in the least diminished by the appearance of these icons; if anything, it's enhanced by it, because they can identify better with God. God is one of them; they more easily embrace the notion that they came from God, not from some distant entity that looks nothing like them.

The Bible itself talks about the Pentecostal miracle; how remarkable it was that people of different nations could understand the Apostles, all of whom were from Galilee, because they spoke in the language of each of the people present. Adapting religious icons to suit cultures is, to my mind, an extension of this phenomenon.

For all of that, however, we choose to worship Jesus and Mary as filtered through European sensibilities, when there is absolutely nothing that compels us to do so.

I exhort the leaders of the Catholic Church: please take down your icons of lily white Jesus (adult and child versions) and Mary.  Put them in museums if you like.  Replace all of these instead with images of Jesus and Mary with black hair and brown skin, wearing our lovely national costumes instead of those ridiculously ostentatious, gold-trimmed outfits that I'm pretty sure would look just as laughable in Heaven as they do on Earth. Make Venus Raj or Shamcey Supsup your commissioned artists' model for Mary; I'm sure either of those faces will leave a much more lasting impression on people's minds than that of some anonymous white chick who's probably centuries in her grave.

I also exhort you to paint over your murals of old, white (sometimes bald) God. Instead of some decrepit white dude, make the image of God a huge, brawny-looking Filipino dude with long, flowing black hair and beard, and huge, brown muscles, like a hulking Bernardo Carpio, the kind of guy who could kick Satan's ass. Speaking of Satan, whom St. Michael the archangel is always depicted slaying, why not model him after somebody people love to hate, like Kim Kardashian? Or maybe people who are often associated with him, like Ozzy Osbourne. I'm sure he'd be tickled pink at the reference; it could be an extension of his cameo in Adam Sandler's Little Nicky.

This isn't about the RH bill or whatever your cause du jour is; it's about getting the Filipino people to be happy with the skin that God gave them, and to therefore be more grateful, loving and reverent towards God, and ultimately getting them to be better Catholics. Incidentally, it also can reduce the likelihood of any more of your priests getting in hot water for illegally importing ivory statutes.

I know this flies in the face of centuries of tradition, but I am sick of people's collective attitude towards brown skin...their OWN skin...and I know I'm not alone in this. I imagine it has already occurred to some people that worshiping a Caucasian God is part of the problem, but since I have yet to read such sentiments I would like to voice them myself.

Let's say it all together: God DOESN'T have to be a WHITE dude. God GAVE us Filipinos brown skin, and for that reason alone we should LOVE our skin.