Those of you who miss the sight of the Volcanoes, the members of the Philippine rugby team, in all their glory on the banks of the Pasig near the Guadalupe Bridge just have to visit any mall where there’s a Bench store. I stepped into Robinson’s Galleria last week and almost fell smack on the crotch of a Volcano, whose bigger-than-life image, albeit much smaller than the one displayed on the torn-down billboard, is displayed on the store’s shop window.
In many ways, the sight of the men in briefs so up close and personal can even be more nerve-wracking than the sight of them dominating the Mandaluyong skyline. But I wondered just who the billboards and window displays were targeting. Was it the female of the species? We are certainly attracted to the hot bods and rippling abs, but then we have no need for briefs or desire to buy them. The marketing mavens may be counting on the “aspirational” desires of ordinary men, who may buy Bench briefs in the (mistaken) belief that they could turn into ripped and muscled versions of manhood. But would any straight man spend more than a second eyeing these magnificent specimens? My conclusion is that the Bench ads, and much of the men’s underwear advertising in the past and the future, are designed to appeal to a narrow segment of consumers: gay men. And I suspect that this is so because the ads are conceptualized, created and paid for by other gay men.
No matter their sexual orientation or lifestyle choice, gay men are still men. And men—straight or gay—are “visual” by nature, turned on by the sight of a shapely figure of whatever gender they fancy. Women tend to be more “emotional” or “aspirational,” seeing in, say ads for sexy lingerie, their own images transmuted into more desirable and alluring forms.
Rajo Laurel, a noted fashion designer, admitted as much when, interviewed by a TV reporter for his reaction to the order to tear down the humongous Volcanoes billboard, he pleaded: “Sana naman intindihin nila ang pangangailangan ng mga tulad namin (I hope they understand the needs of people like us).”
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Anyway, all of a sudden, after the billboards of the Volcanoes were torn down, the Mandaluyong city government and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority went on a frenzy going after other billboards that showed actors, actresses, models and other such folk in revealing poses.
Actress Anne Curtis protested that her billboards for a real estate company were counted among the “offensive” structures. “I was endorsing a condominium and I was wearing a gown,” she told the media. But the MMDA clarified that some billboards were ordered torn down not just because of racy content but also because they violated standards pertaining to size, location and safety.
We still have to see where this current obsession with billboards—which surfaces every few months or so—will lead. After every campaign, some billboards disappear only to re-appear in other sites and in even bigger versions.
I must confess to being of two minds on this issue. The billboards do relieve boredom in the face of traffic jams, and can even provoke laughs and jokes aplenty. But in some areas, especially along expressways that cut through the countryside, billboards are a blight, marring the natural scenery and obscuring the otherwise restful vistas.
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What I can’t understand, though, is why we need to go on periodic binges of moralistic umbrage against the billboards resulting in a frenzy of destruction when in the first place they should be governed by rules and standards maintained by local governments and the MMDA.
In the first place, any proposed design or content of a billboard has to pass through the AdBoard or some other self-policing body of the advertising industry. It is the AdBoard, after all, that should rule on the propriety of certain images as well as on the accuracy of any claims made. A spokesman for the AdBoard went on TV to clarify that the Volcanoes billboard passed their own standards, explaining that it was only right to show men clad only in briefs because that was the item being marketed. “If you’re selling a car, you show a car…” he said by way of comparison. But I guess the public can accept seeing a car on a billboard (even with a scantily clad woman sprawled across it) but not an entire team of rugby players in all their macho glory.
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In the second place, don’t billboard advertisers need to get a permit from the local government before they can put up these structures? And don’t the applications contain the dimensions, the location, and the construction materials to be used?
It’s really a puzzle why the MMDA and the city governments express surprise at certain offensive billboards when these supposedly go through a rigid process of clearances and licenses. It would also be very difficult to ignore or miss these structures. They are certainly meant to be eye-catching and while they compete with so many other billboards, each is meant to send a specific message to everyone driving through, riding through or passing through the thoroughfares.
What the current frenzy against billboards shows us is a failure of regulation, a function that should have been exercised by both government and the so-called self-regulatory agencies long before the Volcanoes bared it all on Guadalupe.
It would serve us well to see a drastic cut in the number of billboards along Edsa, along the stretch of C-5, the South and North Expressways, and other major roads in the metropolis. Our eyes and our attentions could use a breather. Maybe authorities could use the time to draft firm standards, and then form task forces to enforce these standards.
Those who still have a hankering for the sight of brief-clad men can meanwhile ogle them in shop windows.