IS it simply another proxy battle in the decades-old network wars as one ABS-CBN executive who declined to be identified in a Philippine Daily Inquirer report would like us to believe, or is this latest controversy symptomatic of something deeper–a sick sense of humor that’s a hallmark of the Filipino psyche?
Openly gay comedian Vice Ganda, one of ABS-CBN’s top draws, now finds himself in hot water among social media denizens after cracking a series of jokes, which many now find tasteless and vulgar, at the expense of leading broadcast journalist Jessica Soho. Vice, in his May 17th concert at the Araneta Coliseum, not only poked fun at Jessica’s weight and hefty build, but appeared quite blasé as he linked her figure to such a serious matter as rape.
I’m pretty sure many of you by now have either read news reports or seen the incriminating YouTube video wherein Vice, dressed in a beaded and sparkly long-sleeved swim suit, deadpanned that if Jessica, a veteran and multi-awarded journalist, were to become an actress and do sexy roles, she would have to be gang raped to appear convincing. He then reverted back to his primary “peg,” which was Jessica’s weight.
Chief rapist: “Ilabas na ang lechon (bring out the roasted pig–in reference, of course, to plus-size Jessica)!”
Jessica: “Eh, ‘asan ang apple (But, where’s the apple)?”
In front of network executives
Vice reportedly began his segment by poking fun at several ABS-CBN talents before training his brand of comedy on Jessica, GMA’s vice president for news and public affairs. After bringing the house down with his make-believe scenario about Jessica and her futile attempts to mount a talking weighing scale–“only one at a time, only one a time,” the comedian segued to his gang rape scenario to the delight of a jam-packed audience, including ABS-CBN executives such as Charo Santos, Malou Santos and Deo Edrinal.
Jessica’s GMA colleagues naturally came to her defense on Twitter and in their respective radio programs a few days later. The veteran journalist herself has come out with a statement saying in so many words that although she was personally hurt by the weight thing, the issue was far bigger than her (no pun intended) because it involved Vice’s seemingly dismissive views on rape.
A friend of mine on Facebook messaged me expressing how “disturbed” she was by what Vice said as well as the presence of ABS-CBN executives and talents who didn’t even bother to hide their amusement during his show. Meanwhile, another Facebook friend, who, after claiming that he was no fan of Vice on his status, bewailed the undue attention the joke has been getting from people whom he also took to task for not expressing the same degree of condemnation when an unnamed woman was brutally raped in India sometime in December.
In yet another twist, the ABS-CBN executive who refused to be identified found it “curious” that only GMA talents seemed to be making a big deal out of it, and only now. Well, my Facebook friend and I as well as countless others are offended by Vice’s nonchalant (“casual” in gay speak) attitude on rape, and we aren’t from GMA.
It was plainly a crude way of making palusot (avoiding and/or obfuscating the issue). Instead of addressing the issue, the ABS-CBN executive (whom, I have reason to suspect, is from the network’s corporate communications group) simply dismissed the development as something blown out of proportions by people identified with GMA, ABS-CBN’s rival network. What arrant nonsense!
At the same time, ABS-CBN has been airing stories of how depressed Vice is about missing his family. In a glaring attempt at paawa (to gain public sympathy), a report came out saying that the star hasn’t reported for work for several days now. Instead of making its talent address the issue, what we get is a crude attempt at spin from the country’s supposed purveyors of responsible broadcast journalism.
(This just in: Vice issues a non-apology apology claiming, among other things, that he didn’t mean to make fun of rape. Huh? And that comedy may mean different things to different people. Okay. So how do you answer those, including Jessica, who now find your comedy in poor taste?)
To put things in perspective, what Vice did was par for the course for him and his ilk. Being a graduate of so-called comedy clubs that now dot Metro Manila, Vice has been making countless people laugh by zeroing in on a particular person’s idiosyncrasies and physical deformities. It doesn’t make the approach right, but it has been the way things are in these parts even before Vice burst and entrenched himself in the national consciousness.
Even the late and esteemed Comedy King Dolphy and his then rival Chiquito weren’t immune to it. The easiest way to make the Filipinos masses laugh is to make fun of the obvious. And what could be more obvious apart from playing, say, a gay character in drag or a fish-out-of-water type? It’s to draw humor from another person’s skin color, build, sexual orientation and facial and other physical deformities.
I’m willing to bet that Vice has said much cruder things in the past, and didn’t just get away with it. He most likely even won praise for it.
Welcome to the big time
The only difference now is that he’s no longer playing to a roomful of people without smartphones in one of those crowded comedy clubs. As expected of a star of his stature, he has now arrived and conquered the Big Dome itself. Big time na talaga si bakla!
And, oh, lest I forget. Jessica, as fellow GMA broadcaster Arnold
Clavio pointed out, was quietly minding her own business. Unlike, say, Panchito or Tintoy, Dolphy and Chiquito’s perennial sidekicks, respectively, she has not agreed nor is she being paid to be Vice’s “sounding board” in his attempts to draw some laughs. For Pete’s sake, she’s not even a comedienne but a no nonsense broadcast journalist.
My friend disagreed when I told her that Vice’s popularity could be traced to the Filipinos’ penchant to laugh at (or, at least, be critical of) people who seem different from them. I hate to say it, but it seems ingrained in our psyche. Stating the obvious by calling someone, for instance, as “Pedrong duling” (Pedro, the cross-eyed) or “Mariang sakang” (Maria, the bow-legged) is normal and acceptable in our culture, which seems to put a premium on appearances.
Rape in whatever form
As for my other Facebook friend’s open rant in defense of Vice, lest he forgets, rape in whatever form (meaning whether done to a woman or a man) and in whatever society, is serious. It should never be taken lightly by using it as fodder for a comedy sketch.
And how is he to know how we felt and reacted to something as heinous as the rape and attempted murder of a hapless woman and her male companion in India? It only takes one too many jokes about rape to make a society inured to it before the Philippines witnesses its own India. Should we let Vice’s joke pass just because we didn’t rant and rave like we should over a crime that happened thousands of miles away?
So, is this development simply nothing but an escalation in the never-ending network wars taken to a whole new level? If you ask me, no. But if you ask the people behind the two networks, perhaps. It would now be up to GMA talents and broadcasters to prove the ABS-CBN executive wrong. Should one of their own do a Vice someday, would they, like their colleagues from ABS-CBN stonewall and keep quiet, or would they call attention to the deed for what it truly is: coarse, demeaning, uncalled for and, in this day and age, regressive?