There she is on YouTube, ABS-CBN’s president and chief executive officer laughing at the disgusting jokes of the clown who calls himself Vice Ganda.
It’s the smoking gun in a case I wish to file in the court of public opinion that the Philippines’ largest news and entertainment network has become a purveyor of very bad taste. It’s a very important point being missed in all this outrage over the clown’s making fun of Jessica Soho’s body size and the color of Nancy Binay’s skin.
Jessica Soho was right when she said that the storm of indignation stirred up by the clown’s distasteful jokes should not be about her anymore but about rape victims. But with Charo Santos-Concio having the time of her life at the expense of plus-size women and rape victims—and the footage out there for the whole wired world to click on and see—it’s not even about the clown anymore. It’s now about the quality of comedy she finds funny, and therefore about the quality of the news being reported and the entertainment being dished out by the company she heads.
She might as well have issued an executive memo saying sleaze is okay. That it’s fine by top management for Noli de Castro to editorialize the news he reads with snide remarks or a smirk. That it’s all right again for their variety-show hosts to make a contest of how far they can throw little people, as they did some time ago.
And if that’s not enough endorsement of sleaze, here’s another, from advertisers. Despite the storm now swirling around the clown, three of the most reputable corporations in the world are still advertising in his noontime show.
And then there are the network owners. Their silence on the matter is deafening. But silence is a vacuum that human nature abhors, so it fills it with imaginings. The cynical may think: “Why should they care about their employees’ decencies as long as they keep raking in the money?” And the credulous, this: “Surely reprimands have already been given, but privately. There’s no call for a public rebuke.”
Me, I’ll settle for these words of the late Eugenio Lopez Sr. to fill their silence: “The old business tenets have given way to the modern concept, which is not based on profits alone, but rather on the service it can render and the contribution it can make to the prosperity and the progress of the nation as a whole.”
On Facebook, I’m told, the clown has been renamed “Vicious Ganda.” The vicious is patent, but I don’t see the ganda. That I see in those beautiful words, which serve as wrapping for ABS-CBN’s newscasts and shows: touching lives, better future, not based on profits alone, contribution to the progress of the nation, and as a bow, Kapamilya.
It’s an excellent brand for a broadcast network’s programming, Kapamilya. It invites empathy and evokes wholesomeness. But when tied on a box of sleaze, this ganda word turns vicious—like a Venus flytrap, so pretty and so deadly. Or like the sizzle of cholesterol-rich steak, if you’ll allow me a senior’s simile. Except that cholesterol merely clogs up arteries, and sleaze warps the values of our society.
Weeks ago I heard two of my grandchildren snickering at certain people at a mall, and that, I confess, is the reason I can’t let this matter pass without comment. When I asked them why, they said the other people’s clothes were inappropriate for malling. I told them their snickering was much, much more inappropriate than the most ridiculous clothes a maller could wear. And they looked at me with baffled eyes.
It took some time to dawn on me that making fun of other people is grist for the mill in variety shows, and not only on ABS-CBN. It might even have merely borrowed that type of humor from GMA 7, whose noontime variety show used to beat theirs in viewership for many years. Both stations have made comedy out of someone’s unfortunate taste in clothes and makeup and such—and drama out of someone’s misfortunes in life, which is more reprehensible.
And viewers love it, and the money keeps rolling in from advertisers. But if that’s the reason broadcast networks keep serving up television schadenfreude, why stop there? There’s much more money in Internet porn.
In the end, of course, it’s the parents who are responsible and accountable for the values imbibed by their children. But what can a parent do? What parent can always find the time to watch a PG-rated show with their child, not to mention that variety shows are not even rated that? Banning TV-watching altogether would only open a whole new can of other value issues, as well as emotional ones. Imagine your children being unable to join their classmates’ conversations about this child star or that action hero!
Passing stricter censorship laws will not do either. The lawmaking process will only be entangled in freedom-of-speech issues, besides turning into a whole new comedy show. Imagine the kind of lawmakers we have legislating good taste and morality and societal values!
In the end, parents—and our society as a whole—can rely only on the decency of the person who runs the broadcast station. And if she’s someone who finds rape jokes hilarious, we can only appeal to the decency of her boss.
No, it’s not about the clown anymore, nor about ABS-CBN only, but the whole broadcast industry. Fecal matter is fecal matter and there’s nothing it can do about that. The fault, dear brute, is not flushing it just because people find it funny and advertisers are lining up.
Romeo D. Bohol is a retired advertising copywriter.
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