Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Respect is earned

This is my column today.

Aurelio Gonzales, the honorable representative from the third district of Pampanga, has raised a howl over what he perceives as unfair depiction of congressmen in Philippine movies and soap operas. He filed Resolution 2140 appealing to the local movie and television industry to “minimize, prevent, or stop typecasting congressmen and congresswomen as villains or crooks in movies and television telenovelas, in order not to create stereotypes or negative public perception against members of the House of Representatives.”

I empathize with the congressman. In general, I object to any form of stereotyping, especially negative stereotyping. But I would have empathized with the congressman more and would have joined his advocacy if his resolution were more inclusive. Unfortunately, it seems the guy is also afflicted with an acute case of myopia—his ego is clouding his judgment and he couldn’t see beyond his interests as a congressman. Just like Niel Tupas, he couldn’t keep his mouth shut over matters and in times when not saying anything would have been the wiser course of action. I would have supported him if he riled against stereotyping of the elderly as senile and unproductive people, of women as sex objects and baby factories, of gays and lesbians as promiscuous objects of ridicule, of deaf people as mute and stupid, of… well, I could go and on, but you get the drift. There’s a long list of people in this country, mostly minorities, who have long suffered and continue to suffer from unfair stereotyping and bear the brunt of far more negative repercussions than just “negative public perception.” But Gonzales does not care of about them; he is caterwauling only because he thinks his image as a congressman is affected.

For crying out loud, how exactly does a “negative public perception” against them translate into actual harm? Philippine movies have always featured elected officials— congressmen, governors, mayors, even the President of the Philippines—as villains or as vacuous people from as far back as I can remember. We still continue to elect them into office, get them as sponsors in baptisms and weddings, give them choice seats at public affairs, and tiptoe around them. What exactly is the imminent danger to congressmen who are not exactly underdogs or considered a minority in this country? There is just no way that congressmen can be considered victims—they who wield considerable power such as impeaching a chief justice without the benefit of a hearing and conjuring small ladies and other various tricks to miraculously produce bank statements. Certainly not, if one has millions of pesos of pork barrel at his disposal!

A congressman whining publicly about being stereotyped is absurd because there are many more groups of people in this country that are in far worse situations than the imagined victimization of congressmen.

At any rate, I do not think that the depiction of congressmen as criminals is a norm in Philippine movies and soap operas. I don’t think that congressmen in particular are singled out as default villains in movies and telenovelas the way governors or mayors are. And in movies and telenovelas that do, I don’t think the use of congressmen (or other authority figures) as villains is a reflection of bias against them; rather, it’s a reflection of sloppiness and just plain lack of artistic talent on the part of writers and producers. It’s a trite plot device and everyone knows it. Taking offense and imagining slight is not just indicative of lack of a sense of humor; it is also quite frankly, indicative of a closed and intolerant mind.

So Congressman Gonzales, it’s not really personal, sir. It’s a literary device. It would be absurd if doctors watching, for example, Budoy, would take offense at the fact that the villainess in the soap opera happens to be a doctor. Or if businessmen were to take offense at the fact that almost all movies feature a sleazy and unprincipled businessman. Or what about the fact that there is always a corrupt policeman in every telenovela? Movies and telenovelas need to illustrate ethical dilemmas and the fact that they feature an occasional congressman as crook is not a slap on the face of each congressman. I can point out that my grandfather used to say that whoever says “ouch” got hit, but let’s not go there.

I think it is important to remind Gonzales that respect is earned and that a good image is something that is cultivated and nurtured consistently and painstakingly through hard work. If congressmen do their jobs well and lead clean lives, no amount of typecasting in movies and telenovelas would affect them.

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