Missing the point again

This post is antedated. This was my column on the date indicated above.

The cute little girl asks the cute little boy “Girlfriend mo ba ako?” (Am I your girlfriend yet?).

The cute little boy says “Ayoko nga, di pa ko ready eh. Demanding ng mga girlfriends! Gusto ganito, gusto ganyan. Ewan!” (I don’t want to. I’m not ready yet. Girlfriends are so demanding, they have many needs. It’s exasperating).

The cute little girl says coyly “Gusto ko lang naman ng McDo fries, eh” (But I only want McDo fries!).

The cute little boy’s face lights up and then reaches for change in his pocket “Talaga?” (Really?).

The ad was… cute. I have objections to it but they had nothing to do with what our bishops found objectionable.

If you haven’t seen the 30-second TV commercial or if you are wondering why you haven’t seen the ad being shown on TV since middle of last week, that’s because McDonald’s has already pulled it out after certain officials of the Catholic Church protested that it conveyed the “wrong message on relationships” to people. Thereupon, Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Yñiquez crowed “we are very happy that McDonald’s listened to our plea, that it agrees with the sentiment and the reflection of the church on the commercial spot.”

Fr. Melvin Castro, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference Episcopal Commission on Family and Life was even more vitriolic in his criticism of the ad. He said that the ad was “very shallow” and “cheapened human relationships.” He also spewed quite a mouthful on what courtship and wooing should be between the sexes.

Perhaps the Church would have wanted the little children in the ad to declare their fidelity to each other, telling each other to wait until they were of the right age, etc? Would that have pleased the bishops?

And since when did unmarried, supposedly celibate, people (though I know many are not: one priest who continues to celebrate mass lives with a relative and they function as husband and wife and they have children!) become an expert in courtship and wooing and relations between the sexes?

The whole hypocrisy reminded me of a retreat on sex and courtship for young people conducted last week, supposedly in preparation for the Holy Week, by a priest in our parish. A neighbor who was there related that the priest shared “experiences” that he had prior to his becoming a priest, experiences that he said he regretted doing and which he discouraged the attendees from indulging in. It’s disturbing because any psychologist worth his name would easily tell you that that kind of testimonial is the quickest way to encourage people to go ahead and try something. Do kids avoid the mistakes their parents made just because their parents said they regretted doing it?

Anyway. What annoyed me about the position of the bishops was that, as usual, they missed the more pernicious moral implication of ads that target children and use children as models.

They worried about what they children were playacting about. Let’s get real, guys. All kids do that kind of playacting; we build playhouses for children precisely so that they can pretend to be mother and father with their own set of children. Is there someone in this country who didn’t indulge in that kind of playacting when they were of a certain age? Of course children would playact about being husband and wife, or about being lovers – isn’t that the most important part of the whole social structure of our society? I think we are underestimating children and their ability to distinguish what is real from what is fantasy.

Parents tease little kids about having girlfriends and boyfriends—I have a six-year old niece who claims actor Enchong Dee is her boyfriend; she swears she will marry him someday, too. Her parents think it is cute beyond words when she seethes every time Dee is paired with another actress in television shows. I dread what Yñiquez and Castro think of everyone who finds the little girl’s fixation with Dee adorable. Do they think we are reprehensible and unfit to become parents? I wonder what they would think of my parents if they knew that my mom and dad overtly matched me up with someone when I was a little tyke.

But the Church once again missed the more relevant point by about a mile.

The Church gets riled up about the possibility that kids might see malice in a TV ad, or that they might think that it is okay to have girlfriends or boyfriends at an early age, or worse, that children might think that it is okay to go into relationships in exchange for material things such as French fries— logical acrobatic deductions which, really, are more “shallow.” The church, however, does not get riled up with the very real threat that fastfood chains are slowly making children sick.

This is the more important point: French fries are bad for children! They should not be hawking greasy food that has been found to be a leading source of obesity among children; food that will clog up arteries, cause hypertension and other lifestyle diseases eventually.

There’s a global movement against fast food chains, particularly those that target children as consumers. In fact, Ronald McDonald has been retired as the official symbol of the global fastfood chain partly because it is veering away from its old image and packaging and now moving towards being a café with a more balanced fare.

As can be expected, people could not help but draw a connection between this latest tempest in a teacup and the Willie Revillame child abuse issue, which incidentally the Church was noticeably silent on. Apparently, McDonald’s gave up the ad just like that because of the public outcry over the fact that a six-year old was encouraged to gyrate like a macho dancer on primetime television.

One wishes that Revillame and TV5 took the same tack. It would have been a lot simpler and they would have gained more brownie points if they acknowledged their grievous error: That Revillame simply made an error of judgment. They could have reiterated that they meant no disrespect to anyone, that they didn’t really know how to deal with situations like the one that happened, and apologized profusely.

But no, they have turned the whole thing into a battle of egos. Revillame even threatened to get back at everyone who he said “judged” him. My challenge to Revillame is: Go ahead, sue every columnist, blogger, and every citizen with a Facebook or Twitter account who expressed his or her outrage over what he did to that child. Let’s see if he has enough resources to run after thousands of people!


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