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LP and the Playgirls

Must be because I just adopted “dual citizenship” lately, which may mean I’ve seen too much of life to be surprised or shocked by it. But I just can’t work up the seemingly requisite outrage and anger over the “twerking” dance number and naughty game performed by the dance group “The Playgirls” at a Liberal Party rally recently.

For one—another indicator of my senior status—I couldn’t seem to get the videos of the event downloaded, and had to be content with still photos and brief glimpses of the action on TV news. But the reactions of women whose opinion I respect indicate that the action was rowdy and lascivious enough to go beyond the usual fare we see in noontime variety shows and MTVs.

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The reactions of the rally host and candidates, party officials and even Malacañang spokespeople have ranged from the studied and judicious to the politically correct, if not incensed. One LP stalwart, Rep. Kaka Bag-ao, has gone so far as to call for the removal of MMDA Chair-on-leave Francis Tolentino from the senatorial slate of the LP. His sin? “Inviting” the dance group, which apparently is his family’s suki in all its campaigns. Tolentino’s denials, as well as those of his LP colleagues, are belied by shots of him obviously enjoying the “dance” number, and by shots of a rally for his brother Bambol, now mayor of Tagaytay, featuring the self-same sexy dance group.

A staffer of a congresswoman tried to justify the presence of the sexily-clad women at the LP event. “That’s how it is in the provinces,” she explained. “In our campaigns, we have to offer the people some entertainment, even the presence of celebrities, or none of them would bother to attend our rallies.”

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Electoral exercises, then, are mostly forms of entertainment for the great majority. Already reduced to a horse race, political campaigning is seen as a means to distract the folks from everyday realities, with song and dance, sometimes from the candidates themselves, taking the place of substantive rhetoric and platforms of action. What are earnest pleas for votes and discussions of local issues compared to sexily-clad maidens pretending to hump the local officials?

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Perhaps another reason for my lack of passion on the issue is that it’s happened so many times before. So bad has it become that one woman candidate in a previous election even had to warn her partymates that she would leave the rally stage the second the sexy dancers made their appearance.

Protests would be raised about the dumbing down of campaign activities. Feminists would foam at the mouth about the scantily-clad women and double entendres designed to amuse the crowd. These would be met by the wringing of hands and cringing reactions. Everybody would behave—for a while—but when the campaign heats up once more, party leaders would bring out the usual ammunition: celebrities, comedians and the familiar dancing girls (apart from guns, goons and gold, of course).

Maybe it’s time we looked, not at the craven candidates and their cynical campaign managers, but at ourselves, and what we’ve come to expect from political campaigns and electoral exercises. If politicians are there only to provide sound bites and amusement, then we deserve the clowns we’ve elected too often to office.

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Still, it’s time politicians woke up to the fact that the times, they are a-changin’, especially in this era of cell phones, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and other iterations of the instant communication age.

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Any word misspoken, any act beyond the norm, any gesture apt to be misinterpreted, can not merely be recorded instantly, but spread throughout the Net in a matter of seconds. By the time enough “eyeballs” behold the offensive content, it’s often too late for a rear-guard action. People would not only have seen the questionable video, but also have reacted to it, posted their knee-jerk reactions, and “shared” these with friends around the globe.

Time was, too, when bikini-clad women lying on top of automobiles were thought of as the best way to sell cars, even if their curves had nothing to do with the lines of the vehicles they were selling. It took the rise of feminism, the increase in awareness of the sensibilities of women, as well as the emergence of outspoken women and their sons and allies—to finally break the link between sex and advertising. Although, to be sure, that hasn’t stopped a few Neanderthals in marketing to seek to revive the trend.

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If the “LP and Playgirls” fiasco has accomplished anything, it may be to make campaign managers more conscious of the diversity of their rally audiences.

No longer is it just male voters who troop to town plazas or compounds of party leaders to listen to the candidates and seek to be entertained. Women and girls, too, are part of the crowd, as are men and boys who could be offended by the raunchy numbers. And everybody carries a cell phone.

We might yet see more “town hall” campaigning in these parts, with political parties no longer seeing the need to mount extravaganzas that draw huge crowds and instead engage voters in sincere and rational discussions about issues that affect their lives.

I remember a trip to the United States during campaign season, and jumping at the chance to watch a “rally” at a nearby mall. Boy, was I disappointed! Instead of a massive crowd and a rowdy stage, all we saw were about 20 campaigners holding up neat placards and waving them at passing motorists. How tame! How corny! And they didn’t even have half-naked dancers atop local officials prone on the floor!

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TAGS: Benjamin Agarao, Francis Tolentino, Liberal Party, The Playgirls
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