Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The shortsightedness of moralists

This was my column yesterday.

This paper featured in its front page last Saturday a news story about the contempt charges filed by a Catholic advocacy group Family Media Advocacy Foundation Inc., against Creative Programs Inc., the cable TV production company of ABS-CBN, for airing the HBO drama series Big Love on its Velvet Channel. The charges were filed at a Quezon City court and cited members of the Board of the television channel including Eugenio Lopez III and Maria Rosario (Charo) Santos Concio, top honchos of ABS-CBN.

The charges stemmed from the continued airing of subsequent seasons of the show despite a supposed standing order issued early this year by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board prohibiting the show’s broadcast “to protect the interest and welfare of the viewing public.” How such a lofty goal is feasible requires major acrobatic deductions but I have long resigned myself to the fact that logic and the MTRCB—or moralists in general—are concepts that just don’t go together.

I came to know about the controversy only last Saturday and was surprised to know that there was a long-standing prohibition order issued against Big Love by the MTRCB. I am fiercely against any kind of censorship, but I wasn’t really surprised that the MTRCB had issued a prohibition order or that certain moralists have protested against the show; reactions like these are pretty expected in a country where hypocrisy reigns supreme.

My surprise stemmed from the fact that the show had been airing late nights on HBO for quite sometime already and nobody had raised a loud howl about it until now. I am not a fan of the show but I have seen a few episodes of it. The truth is that I only became mildly interested in it when I came across an online review of the show which described it as a “Mormon’s Sopranos.” I am a big fan of The Sopranos and the comparison piqued my interest. Now, Big Love is certainly very well written and is relatively more intelligent TV fare than most of the garbage that we have to put up with on the boob tube. But The Sopranos it isn’t—not even close—so I never really felt a compelling need to watch the series religiously.

So here then is the supreme irony of it all: Now that there is a controversy, I am sure the series will attract more viewers. By seeking to prohibit the show from being aired, the moralists have only succeeded in raising curiosity about it. The fact is that Big Love was not popular in the Philippines and I doubt if there was a huge demand for it. But now, thanks to the howl raised by the moralists, I am sure there will be a demand for DVD copies of the show. I, for one, now intend to buy DVDs of the show and watch all episodes of it. Had they kept their mouths shut, the show would have passed by unnoticed by the great majority of the viewing public.

In effect, the moralists have done Big Love a huge favor and have unwittingly become the show’s main endorsers.

And let’s not even delude ourselves from thinking that by prohibiting the airing of Big Love on Philippine cable television people won’t have access to it anymore. This assumption is painfully na├»ve if not downright foolish. Government cannot even stop pirated pornography from being sold openly on our streets. What do they want to do, cut off Internet access to all? Imprison people from burning copies and duplicating the show through their personal computers?

I prowled the Internet for related controversies about Big Love in other countries and came up with very little. There was a minor controversy in the United States over alleged misrepresentation of one of the sacred rituals of the Church of Latter Day Saints in one episode. I also came across a position paper issued by Pro-Life Philippines early this year in support of the protest of the Catholic advocacy group that filed a complaint against the show at the MTRCB. But overall, there has been very little controversy generated by the show elsewhere. When we compare it to the controversies generated by other television series such as Sex and the City, or Desperate Housewives, reactions to Big Love has been relatively more restrained.

I am not going to defend Big Love and endorse it as the next best thing to hit television after May Bukas Pa. Like I said, I am not even a huge fan of it. Like any other show, it comes with its own pluses and minuses. But it is a television show—it is fiction, not real life. People who watch it—or any other television show or movie for that matter—are supposed to engage their minds while watching it and not simply take everything that they see as Gospel truth. That is why we have brains.

This is my problem with moralists. They think that everyone is stupid and cannot discern truth from lies, fiction from reality, the good from the bad. They think that everyone else is incapable of making judgments. Moralists impose their biases and prejudices on others. Worse, they think that everyone who disagrees with them or do not share their opinions are automatically misguided and immoral.

My view is that more harm comes from imprisoning people’s minds and constricting them rather than allowing them to think for themselves. We rile about attempts to curtail other freedoms but not enough about attempts to curtail the right to think freely.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to this question: What makes this people qualified to dictate on other people what is safe or unsafe? What makes this people qualified to impose their moral standards on others?

What I find even more appalling is the seeming simplemindedness of moralists who pick on shows on the basis of their basic plotlines, on their basic premise. Big Love is about a man with four wives, ergo, it preaches polygamy. It is like saying that a movie about a serial killer is automatically an endorsement of indiscriminate murder. It is like saying that a television show that portrays homosexuality positively encourages homosexual behavior. The context of the situations is very often conveniently glossed over.

As a result, they close their minds to what is even more sinister—subliminal messages.For example, shows on “religious” channels don’t seem to get monitored. Nobody is worrying about the negative effects being propagated by people who preach hate under the guise of saving souls. They even engage in open hostility toward preachers of other religious denominations. Nobody is raising a howl about how the plotlines of most local teleseryers or fantaseryes always hint at incestuous relationships. Talk about shortsightedness!

2 comments:

Contents under pressue said...

"Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it." - Mark Twain.

As an avid videogamer and film fan, I never understood the point of censorship. I've always considered it an insult to my intelligence when a group tells me to my face that I can't watch or play certain parts of a game or movie simply because they think it's too offensive.

I'll tell you what's offensive - when some dumbass political appointee from the house of horrors more commonly known as the MTRCB tells me what I can or cannot watch.

Fuck them - as if they knew better.

The first rule my Jesuit film proff once told me was:

"Never attempt to moralize a film. If you must critique it, do so on on its technical aspects."

Bong C. Austero said...

Tim,
Exactly! I hate to be shallow, but that woman who sits as chair of the MTRCB looks and talks exactly like the worst teacher I ever had in my whole life.

Bong