HAVE I become too jaded, or have I simply seen more shocking and more avant-garde ideas and images in my not-so-young life?
As last week’s brouhaha over a supposedly offending segment in Bench’s “The Naked Truth” raged, I wasn’t even aware initially about what the fuss was all about.
The controversial segment, in turned out, featured Coco Martin and a female dancer-contortionist the actor was pulling on a leash.
Storm of protests
It generated a storm of protests from ordinary people, politicians and women’s groups soon after images of Coco and the unidentified Caucasian woman walking on all fours came out.
Apart from the usual cries denouncing the exploitation of women, not a few protesters took Ben Chan and his collaborators to task for supposedly promoting sadomasochism in the bedroom.
I was abroad when I got wind of the brewing protest against Bench. Since I had no idea what the actual trigger was, I couldn’t think of anything extremely offensive that was featured in the show, which I saw live with thousands of others at the Arena, that might anger people (especially those who couldn’t get in).
Sure, a hefty and butt-naked Jake Cuenca again pushed himself and what was deemed publicly acceptable to the limits, but there was nothing new to what he did (having done a similar routine two years ago in “Bench Universe”) except for the fact that his body was no longer in tiptop shape to perform such a daring stunt.
It was when I got back to Manila a day later when I finally learned the exact reason. What’s my take on it?
To tell you frankly, I was more disturbed by Tom Rodriguez’s suspicious-looking bulge. Not for anything else, mind you. I just couldn’t believe why he allowed himself to parade in his briefs wearing exaggerated padding.
If he was bothered by his supposed, ah, shortcomings, then he could have walked tall in a pair of tight-fitting jeans instead. Let fans’ imagination go on overdrive by leaving them wanting for more. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Tom’s big and shapeless padding, or what costume people call a codpiece, only generated more attention for the wrong reasons. Compared with all the bulges, big and small, that paraded on stage that night, Tom’s number looked too unnatural to put it kindly.
And what about the woman on a leash?
Ben, in an exclusive email to this writer, had this to say: “Actually, the woman on a leash was not playing a woman. She was playing a wild cat. She was playing an animal character. Think ‘Cats’ on Broadway, or ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ or the ‘The Lion King.’”
Why wasn’t I bothered? From the moment Coco stepped on stage with the female performer, I knew instantly that she was a contortionist from the way she moved.
She used the situation in the segment to show the audience her unique and superhuman abilities to stretch and bend. After all, she wasn’t just a dancer. She’s a circus performer! It was for this reason that I never saw it as an occasion to exploit women or advance sadomasochism.
The only area where I differed with Ben was on the feline part. As a nod, perhaps, to “Quiche Lorraine,” a B-52 song about a woman-dog who “left without leaving a note,” I thought the female performer was a cross between a dog and a monkey character.
In fact, the show’s choice to tap a sweet thing like Coco was inspired. His wholesome public persona was in stark contrast to the segment’s novelty and sexually suggestive undertones.
(Yes, sexually suggestive, because, let’s face it, the entire R-18 show’s intention was clear from the start: to promote underwear to be worn by living, breathing human beings with specific needs, wants, desires and fantasies.)
Bad boy image
Had directors Robby Carmona and Gypsie Snider cast
someone like Jake or Pancho Magno, then perhaps the segment’s outcome would have been totally different.
Jake and Pancho’s bad boy image seem like a perfect fit for the many imagined sins critics have found Ben and his collaborators guilty of.
To his credit, Ben, instead of blaming others and hiding behind his team, faced the issue by issuing a public apology.
“We at Bench apologize to the public for all the offensive elements of the show ‘The Naked Truth,’” a company-issued statement said. “We will take all these concerns seriously and will serve as a lesson learned when we plan our next show. We at Bench shall continue to uphold the dignity of women and our commitment will remain so.”
If there’s one naked truth that was probably revealed to Ben after doing the show, it’s this: no matter what you do in the realm of marketing and creative pursuits, there will always be cries of protest from certain people who disagree with or misunderstand your intentions.
In short, as far as freedom of expression is concerned, you won’t get anything done if your aim is to please everybody.