So what’s new, bananacue?

Every semester, I include in my general education Film 10 course a topic which will be researched on and discussed by students themselves to their fellow classmates as part of their group report requirements, and I always start it with the “film and advertising vis-a-vis film and pop culture” group report. I want them to see how film is affected by the advertising industry and vice versa, and I also want them to see how pop culture seeps in within those intersections. I also make them introspect on how these topics directly and indirectly affect their daily lives, and that is the main crux of their reporting. Inevitably, film’s audiovisual cousin, the broadcast industry (especially TV), also comes into play in that discussion.

I do this to infuse a kind of critical thinking to these kids so as they won’t blindly just pop the pop culture pill and wash it down with fun media without batting an eyelash. I guess this is part of my personal advocacy of teaching media literacy, in essence being critical of  the messages the media relays to its audience.  In short, I hope people are aware of how powerful the media could get when it comes with infusing us media consumers with subliminal messages that could run or ruin our lives.

Am I being a hypocrite in doing this, mainly because I was educated at a university where our college specializes on media and I myself have been a longtime media practitioner in the Philippines? Hell no. This is precisely why I have taken up media literacy as a personal advocacy in itself, as applied and intersected with other types of advocacy I also adhere to, namely feminism and LGBT queer rights. And now, another advocacy comes into play here: child rights.

Thanks to Facebook news feeds from friends and contacts, I saw a myriad of reactions about a recent TV variety game show incident which sparked online uproar. This involved a 6-year old kid named Jan-Jan who was apparently a contestant in an early evening variety and game show hosted by one of the more controversial Pinoy pop culture figures in recent history: Willie Revillame.

Revillame as a host always gives promises to people who are in search of quick money. In a country where more than half of its population lives below the so-called poverty line, quick money is always alluring, especially if one only has to smile, dance, be funny or agrees to be made fun of for less than 15 minutes in exchange for winning money worth several thousand pesos. This is why hundreds of people lined up a few years back during the anniversary show of Revillame’s first game show in his original home network, and this incident ended up in a tragedy when a stampede happened and killed people in the process. You would think that with such a controversy, his show and this guy would disappear from the face of the earth, right? But surpise, surprise, Revillame got off the hook and thus continued to host another game show in another channel when he and his original network had a falling out. Welcome to Philippine mainstream media.

I guess there’s nothing wrong if people — rich or poor — want access to easy money without working hard for it. We are always happy with the thought of getting freebies of any kind anyway, be it in the form of gifts or free taste samples in grocery stores. But what’s despicable is the way these game shows taunt these freebies and how they lure people to join their contests to win cash prizes. Mastering the art of despicable luring is how Revillame made a name for himself these past years as a TV game show host.

One might actually wonder why this guy is still alive an on the air, given the kind of inanities he has been practicing over the years, especially with the way he has used people’s poverty to draw in viewers and advertisers. But proper positioning and timing might have actually helped him to gain fame. Noontime shows have always played a huge part in the Filipino’s daily life since the 1980s. Heck, I could still remember the noontime shows I watched before hitting puberty. And this noontime show-watching is still very much alive right now. Add to that the boom in overseas Filipinos who are hungry to watch anything from the Philippines, and you get the popularity of such overseas cable channels like ABS-CBN’s TFC or The Filipino Channel, of course showing Philippine-produced programs like noontime shows.

A typical "Filipino store" in America--like this one where my sister and I dined last year--consists of a mini-grocery shelf section and a carinderia-style eatery where people could sit and watch TV while they dined on Pinoy food fare. Guess what was always airing on TV in all of these stores. Lucky winner gets a free bananacue from me! (taken April 2010 in Anaheim, California)

I guess as a media practitioner and a media consumer, I could ignore such inanities that Revillame makes. I have seen how such bozos operate on a daily basis, running around and prancing about in the different media industries I have been exposed to for more than a decade. I have actually worked with such bozos which actually made me question my very existence in such industries sometimes, making me think of better ways to work in a more fulfilling environment where I could perhaps make a minor, minor dent of a difference in the human race while earning some money to pay the bills. Media and pop culture won’t run out of such bozos anyway, as one fades and another rises, and so on and so forth. Either you put up with it or tune out. Okay, maybe also voice out against such bozos and their works when they are overly damaging already. Good luck if the bozos’ bosses will listen to us, though.

But as an advocate, I can’t ignore Revillame’s inanities sometimes, especially when his antics directly intersect with any of the types of advocacy I bother to involve myself in. This time, it involves children. A specific child to be exact — that Jan-Jan kid, the kid who didn’t smile when showbizly coaxed, who danced to the delight of Willie and the audience, and took home 10,000 pesos cash for his 12 minutes of TV exposure.

Doesn’t sound so bad, ‘no? But if you actually see the video clip of Jan-Jan in that game show segment, you might think twice. The kid was dancing not like Justin Bieber, Michael Jackson or any other pop culture figure we know; he was dancing like a macho dancer.

What is a macho dancer? In the Philippines, they are considered or usually seen as “male prostitutes” who dance seductively while scantily clad or naked in front of audiences of usually seedy bars in Manila’s so-called red light districts, with its stereotypically primary audience as gay men (since most macho dancers do man-on-man titillating erotic dance moves) and older women (the so-called matrona).  But as to the question regarding free will or being coerced into the situation, that remains tricky. While some might find this kind of adult entertainment deplorable, some might find it entertaining and alright. And whether such male dancers see themselves as prostitutes or sex workers, that’s also a tricky issue still to be resolved in this confused but beloved country of mine. So we won’t go there for now.

Popular films have already been made about them, most notably the first one by our National Artist for Film, the openly out gay filmmaker and human rights activist Lino Brocka.

Lino Brocka's classic 1980s film Macho Dancer infused the "macho dancing style" in Philippine pop culture, eventually seeping into Pinoy daily life and the Pinoy consciousness.

Yes, the 6-year old was dancing like a macho dancer, complete with the accompanying hip gyrations and sensual pelvic thrusts. This was the part which people saw despicable, prompting an online letter-writing petition against Revillame and his network, and later the Department of Social Welfare and Development also released a statement deploring this segment. TV5 then released their own apology statement which doesn’t really sound like an apology if you read it. I don’t know what will come out of this eventually. Let’s just see.

So basically, what happened here was, Revillame made fun of a kid who can dance like a “seedy male prostitute” (for lack of a better term) on national TV, sarcastically saying “oh what a poor kid has to go through to earn money for his family” or something to that effect, a kid who was actually encouraged and cheered on by his aunt and who was taught this macho dancing choreography by his dad, apparently. This was what Revillame used to his defense — that the kid and the parents/guardian have consent. Consent for the kid to dance, even if the kid was obviously not enjoying the moment and was actually crying while dancing. We don’t even know how he was motivated by his parents/guardian to dance like that and to appear on TV like that. I shudder at the thought of what they could have “suggested” to the kid to do such a thing, really.

Not that I’m coming to the defense of anyone here, but this kind of thing is not really new to Pinoy pop culture producers and consumers. In the early 2000s, if you could remember, people were also dancing to another tune called the “Spaghetti Song” or something like that, one of those novelty songs with catchy pop hooks that a dance group named Sexbomb Dancers sang. Yes, they dance and they sing, too. These dancers are sexy, almost scantily-clad girls who originally danced as “background” while things were going on in a popular noontime long-running TV game show. When they came out with this song, even small children could dance this Spaghetti Song dance, and the kids were also dressed in sexy outfits by their parents. Please search samples on Youtube right now if you think I’m pulling your leg.

Media analysts also deplored such pop culture practices and trends when children begin to mimic them in moves and wardrobe. But again, this is nothing new. We always (consciously or subliminally) look at pop culture, especially film and television, to see which trends we could mimic, employ and imbibe in our life.  It’s just that some trends are more despicable than others. Especially when it concerns children who can’t tell time yet can already dance sexy choreography and are dressed in a disturbing “sexualized” manner even before they hit puberty.

So who do we blame for this? Do we blame the parents of such kids when probably such parents also subscribe to such pop culture trends and therefore propagate them in their lives, usually for fun? Should we begin dishing out media literacy modules to such parents so that they could become better-informed media consumers? Or should we look at the media producers who are responsible for what they air on television during crucial hours of the day?

In this 24/7 media-infused culture we have today, there seems to be no clear-cut answer to such questions. I do believe that we have to be responsible media consumers, but not everyone could be that responsible and they will just be happy to pop the pill for escapist entertainment. Unless Jan-Jan’s parents were also educated about the finer points of being responsible media consumers and being more media literate, then Jan-Jan might not be dancing that dance in that TV show in the first place. Sadly, media literacy is not part and parcel of the Philippine educational system and could only be found in select private schools’ grade school or high school curricula. I doubt if Jan-Jan or his parents actually went to such schools. Maybe we have to look into that.

More than just a medium, it becomes the message. Let's be more critical in terms of watching and producing. (framing Telly the TV, a character I created as part of my script duties for Happy Land, shot while taking a break while directing this episode as well / Sept 2009 GMA7 chroma studio)

But I still believe that media producers should be extra, extra careful in the way they present their media messages to people since, in a way, they should know better, right? The medium is the message, as Marshall McLuhan said before. Whatever people see on TV becomes the gospel truth sometimes, just because they saw it or heard it on TV. And when profit takes over social responsibility, media messages could easily get waylaid, much more advocacy. But without profit, there might be no TV show to begin with. So hmmm, where do we begin…

Aye, there’s the rub. Chicken and egg. This is the media-pop culture world we are embroiled in, with a bozo like Revillame orbiting within in and taking advantage of situations that aren’t actually funny anymore, yet people still buy it and they believe in him. Frankly, I don’t know which to blame — the society that somewhat “permitted” him to become who he is, or the media culture that picked up on society’s pulse and forged him from such a pulse to directly pander on such society’s pop media-(brain)washed sensibilities?

Hay naku, I don’t know. Yes, sometimes I just want to tune out. But in this context, it’s hard not to think about it, since it also calls to mind what we have become as a  people, really. And this disturbs me more than anything.

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~ by leaflens on March 28, 2011.

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