Postscript to a vice
I thought it was a little too late to write about it, pretty much everyone had weighed in on it. But a couple of things made me want to add to it anyway. One was Vice Ganda offering his apologies to Jessica Soho for his comments on her but hastening to add that the fiasco would not make him change his brand of humor. Two is the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) sending a letter to ABS-CBN and a couple of other networks expressing “concern over the migration of comedy-bar humor to TV.”
We have laws, said Toto Villareal, such as a magna carta protecting women, a magna carta protecting the disabled, and various laws protecting senior citizens. These should be followed by the networks.
The issue is not light, as those who ask us to lighten up and move on think. I for one am glad the public has weighed in on it, rather animatedly in the social media. The matter goes beyond entertainment.
The MTRCB of course is well within its rights to call the networks’ attention to racy humor in so public a venue as free TV. That is something watched by adults and children alike, and it is the MTRCB’s job to weed chaff from grain. But that is another matter entirely and has little to do with Vice Ganda’s offense. The point is not the type of humor or comedy—which ones are adult and which ones are not, which ones are low-brow and which ones are not, which ones are outrageous and which ones are not. Jokes about rape do not belong to any of these. They’re just unacceptable.
Jokes about rape are not funny. Jokes about rape are not humorous. Jokes about rape are not jokes at all.
The danger in the MTRCB’s intervention in this context is that it could suggest that the problem is the appropriateness of the humor to certain types of audience—a general patronage audience being exposed to toilet humor. That is not the case at all: Rape “jokes” have no place in society, polite or impolite. You do not make jokes about rape. It is not irreverent, excessive, or out of bounds. It’s just foul. I do not particularly care if Vice Ganda wants to change his “comedy style” or not. I do not particularly care if he wants to be gay or straight. But he may not make fun of rape.
This is not being prissy or prickly. This is not being prim and proper. This is not being politically correct or acting like the gender police. I myself love irreverent jokes, particularly about people who take themselves seriously. Satire and parody have a long tradition in this country, Jose Rizal being past master of them, being also weapons of the oppressed. I don’t mind green jokes, or toilet jokes, or sick jokes.
But I do mind rape “jokes.”
Vice Ganda’s “joke” is particularly ill-timed. It comes at a time when the world is cringing at the mind-boggling rapes that have been happening in various parts of it. Not least India. Only some months ago, we were all horrified at the gang rape and mutilation of a young Indian woman in a bus by hooligans, her wounds eventually causing her death. This proved to be merely the tip of the iceberg: As it turned out, that incident was far more common than thought, women living not just in fear of rape but in fear of being known to have been raped, which stood to devalue their marriageability.
The mind-boggling incidence of rape in that country, victimizing even young children, was itself only the symptom of a bigger problem, which was the inferior status of women in society. That inferiority made them fair game, and being fair game made them even more inferior, a vicious cycle in every sense of the word “vicious.” It’s something that currently has various groups in India, not least writers and artists, up in arms.
Making light of it doesn’t make things better, it makes them worse. Far, far worse. It makes them more acceptable. Or at least less reprehensible. Adding yet another disincentive for victims to report it.
That brings me to my other point. Vice Ganda says he has tried to make amends by apologizing to Soho, but that unfortunately, Soho would not take his calls.
In fact he should not just apologize to Soho, he should apologize to the public. The transgression does not lie in merely ridiculing someone who has, by dint of hard work, elevated herself to a position of much respect. And who, as Vice Ganda should have realized by now, is not without a capacity to hit back. The insult is against women in general. The injury is against society in general.
The “joke” could have been made against a less respected, or respectable, individual and it would still be foul. It could have been made against someone society deems to be of loose morals, and it would still be foul. Hell, the “joke” could have been made by a prostitute herself (or himself), and it would still be foul. As Ceres Doyo pointed out here the other day, rape is not a crime against chastity, it is a crime against a person. Rape is not a crime of sex, it is a crime of violence. Making rape “jokes” isn’t just a crime against good taste, it is a crime against good sense.
What’s particularly objectionable about them in our culture, a thing redolent in sitcoms in the past until we started objecting to them, is that it insinuates the “joke” as a left-handed compliment. The “rapable” are attractive, the “nonrapable” are not. If you are fat and old and ugly, you will not be raped. That is not funny, that is frightening. Having known some women who have been raped, indeed having known at least one who was raped and killed, who was a waitress in Sam’s Diner, one of the victims of the epidemic of rape in Marikina in the 1990s, I can’t let this pass without comment. I add my voice to the reprobation of Vice Ganda’s rape “joke.”
It’s not ganda, it’s just a vice.
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