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A question

Today, I met some friends from Cebu and they were all up in arms about something the actress Judy Ann Santos is supposed to have said in some movie. Something like, ‘teach the kid to speak tagalog, para talagang pinoy.’ Apparently, so the umbrage goes, if a person speaks any language other than tagalog, she isn’t a ‘true’ filipino. Arrant nonsense, obviously.

But then it got me to thinking: that might not have been the most politically correct thing to say, but it did ring authentic. It was something I could imagine a tagalog would say, especially in the privacy of her own home.

Let’s face it. We all have our non-p.c. moments. I’ve laughed at Visayan accents from time to time, just as my Visayan friends have rolled on the floor laughing at my attempts to mangle their language. So why criticize the actress for mouthing lines that her character would have said?

They tell me it’s because a movie is a pulpit. Things the characters do (if good) acquire the patina of acceptability and will inevitably influence some movie goers to act or feel or think the same way – such as consider a Visayan not a real Filipino.

But, I counter, that objectionable scene seems to have been a ‘record’ of a private conversation. It being a private conversation, cultural biases must be considered fair game.  Even if the bias is politically incorrect, it is authentic and as such should be reflected.

Unacceptable, they say, because of the power of the movie as a pulpit … and so on and on in a circle our arguments go. At the end of the night, we had distilled the argument to what we felt was it’s purest form: should art imitate life? Or should art deodorize life?

I think it should imitate life, warts and all. Art, particularly cinema, that is a faithful reflection of how life is forces us to accept that offensive beliefs and biases – such as bigotry – continue to exist. And when we know that these things exist, we can act to correct them or at least instruct our children not to emulate them. Cinema that does not faithfully reflect life is either escapist or just plain propaganda (like that Maharlika movie of the Marcoses).

As a matter of fact, I believe that movies where characters are unequivocally good (and therefore free of biases) or unequivocally bad tend to dichotomize the universe. As far as impressionable minds are concerned, this even increases the tendency towards bigotry.

Of course, by 11:30 pm, I was too tired to argue the point with my friends, and they were all getting hot under the collar anyway. So, I let it slide. Still, I do think the matter needs serious consideration. Cinema as a mirror of life? Or as an idealized version?

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Filed under: movies, musings, , ,

7 Responses

  1. cvj says:

    I think both questions proceed from the assumption that it’s only a movie. Your Cebuano friends don’t see it that way, rather they see the movie as being on the same plane as (or at least as an extension of) real life, hence their reaction.

  2. rom says:

    cvj: but that’s just it. if it is real life, then it should reflect life’s imperfections and idiocies: including bigotry. if we insist on reflecting only what is politically correct, then they can’t be said to see the movie as an extension of real life but as a cleaned-up version of life.

  3. cvj says:

    If movies are an extension of real-life, then we cannot question the way the audience reacts because that’s the way they will react when they encounter such behavior in real life. It’s a case of hitting too close to home.

  4. rom says:

    cvj: i’m not questioning how they react. i’m trying to decide whether movie makers should ignore these reactions – and go on portraying life authentically – or take them into consideration – and deodorize the work. Remember, the reason these hostile reactions are taken up by columnists and pundits is basically to deplore the objectionable scene and either have it deleted or to make the people responsible apologize for the perceived insult (like in the case of Desperate Housewives).

  5. cvj says:

    I think that would depend on whether the target of political incorrectness is a dominant or dominated sector. It’s ok to target the dominant (e.g. Whites, Men, the rich) and not ok to target the dominated ones (e.g. Blacks, Women, the poor). If it’s ambiguous then that’s where the problem normally arises. IMHO, you can get away with more things depending on the quality of execution as shown by the example of Borat.

  6. rom says:

    cvj: hmmmmm. i think it’s the context that matters. f’rinstance, if you’re trying to portray an authentic tagalog, it’s inevitable that the anti-bisaya bias will show. people can bitch about it, but i don’t think that should be a factor in deciding whether or not to include the bias in the finished work. on the other hand, if the work is going to be used as a platform for a diatribe against some group – like Bisayas for exampe – then that would be truly heinous.

  7. cvj says:

    I think i get what you mean since being too politically correct in movies would mean that everyday bigotry can’t be portrayed which does not do justice to reality. It’s just that we should be mindful of the reflexive nature of these things, i.e. its ability to loop back into the real world and shape reality. On balance, i would favor erring on the side of political incorrectness. Here in Singapore, where you’re not allowed to talk about these matters openly, nasa loob ang kulo.

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