I write better when I smoke. Don’t ask me to reduce it to a science.

Scarlet and Janina

For a country that makes a big deal about how its women are idolized and held in the highest possible regard, we Filipinos sure don’t make life easy for them.

Janina. With over a million hits on youTube, Janina has effectively dethroned Ms. Carolina (was it?) as the poster child of stupidity. Many would agree. I saw one comment that said Ms. Carolina was blond; what’s Janina’s excuse?

Her excuse is that she doesn’t think in english. Nothing wrong with that, really. Her stupidity – and not entirely her fault either – was insisting on talking in english. I’m pretty sure she could have come up with a creditable (if predictably saccharine) response to the question, if she had felt that it was acceptable to speak in tagalog. Watching that clip, I was cringing and repeating over and over ‘speak in tagalog, bitch!’ Even the emcee was whispering to her that she could speak in tagalog. But she marshaled, summoning up her vast vocabulary, letting her valor overcome her discretion.

Newsflash to everyone involved in pageants, everyone laughing at Janina, and everyone applauding the award of an english language course scholarship to her – even Mensa has removed questions from its qualifying IQ tests that create a bias in favor of people who speak english. So why can’t the pageant organizers realize that interpreters are perfectly acceptable?

By giving this insulting scholarship to Janina, the pageant organizers are simply perpetuating the stereotype of a Filipino whose success requires good english. Bullshit. If you were gunning for a job at the U.N., maybe, but definitely not when you’re competing on the basis of looks, talent, and yes, intelligence.

I say it’s time to stop yearning for the good old days when most filipinos were naturally bi-lingual. They couldn’t help it back then. The Americans were occupying us, and so naturally we would’ve had to be able to speak their language. When they left, their most impact-ful legacy (aside from the jeepney) was language. When television hit its stride in the Philippines, people in that little box spoke more english than tagalog. Kids grew up to Sesame Street, and graduated to the Electric Company. More than three-fourths of the music on radio was foreign – and in ENGLISH. Back then, I’ve been told that if you listened to filipino musicians singing in tagalog, you were suspected of being communist. The only acceptable filipino singers were people like Nora Aunor (who sang alot in English) and Rico J. Puno (who even recorded a bi-lingual song). Groups like ASIN were considered radical, and people were mostly in agreement that only potheads listened to Pepe Smith. I mean, come ON. We were practically the 51st State.

Not anymore, bitches. Language wise anyway. Now, in terms of language, we’re just hanging on to the fast disappearing vapor trails of those days. We’re still more influenced by American pop-culture than anything else, but as far as language goes, we’re bombarded daily by tagalog. When was the last time you saw Sesame Street? In fact, when was the last time you saw anything in English on primetime free tv (not counting RPN9’s programming)? FM radio is now 95% OPM, and of that, I figure about 45-50% in Tagalog. Some of our public school teachers were even reported to be reading and comprehending at high school english levels! Given this sorry state of affairs, is it any wonder that Janina bombed so spectacularly?

And it’s not just language either. The fact is, beauty pageants are mainly a way out of poverty in this country. And not even a very well paved way it is.

There’s a whole lot of talk about how pageants are about beauty and brains. Ideally, for sure. But in practice, it’s all about beauty. Brains are just an after thought. If it weren’t why did Janina win at all? She won because, at judging time, they were looking for someone tall and beautiful.  Not someone tall and beautiful and intelligent – or even smart.

Who’s to blame? I’d say the handlers of the contestants. Overwhelmingly gay of the beauty salon sort, these handlers emphasize looks more than anything. How a woman walks is more important than how she speaks. How a woman projects is more important than how she thinks.  All she really has to do is memorize a few key phrases. Which is why people like Janina end up groping around for the closest applicable key phrase. Kabisote. Neither equipped, nor prepared, critical reasoning and articulation, they simply don’t have the tools to answer most questions with any sort of depth. Or, as Janina amply demonstrated, to answer at all.

So stop laughing at her. Especially when you consider that she could have simply ended up like Scarlet.

Now there’s a tragedy.

As far as I know, Scarlet may have had even fewer things going for her than Janina does. All she had was a beautiful body and the willingness to flaunt it. Nothing wrong with that, except that not having more severely limited her options.

I confess I don’t know much about Scarlet or why she died. But I do know she ended up shot and stabbed in the company of a married man, and possibly murdered by a cop. There is no way in hell that was part of her life-plan.

In this NGO I volunteer for, we meet beautiful women all the time. Women who, because they’re uneducated or simply spoiled by the good life that can be had from easy money made peddling their beauty, inevitably end up in the arms of an abusive man – often married and carrying a gun. Many come to us because they truly want to escape the life, but usually, when they realize that life isn’t about lounging around in bed all day waiting for a sugar daddy, they just slink back into the arms of the their torturer. Worse, some go back to their sugar daddies – usually older than they are and unable to be with them most of the time because of familial duties elsewhere – and their romantic boyfriends. When the sugar daddy and the boyfriend happen to be in the same place at the same time, well, let’s just say it’s rarely a good thing.

I don’t know if that’s what happened to Scarlet, but again, I can’t help thinking that it’s not all her fault. We’re to blame too. Maybe not as individuals, but certainly as a society. We promote the objectification of women, we buy into the glamorous soft-pore shell of what passes for modern entertainment, and we elevate material possessions to the status of end-all and be-all.

So, the next time you feel like chuckling over Janina’s english or shaking your head in moral disgust at how Scarlet may have lived her life, kindly think again.


Filed under: musings, society, , , , , ,

4 Responses

  1. BrianB says:

    Nah, Janina has poise. She deserved to win.

  2. cvj says:

    I agree 100%.

  3. BrianB says:

    Come on Rom, The DJ, Celine, Brian Gorrell drama is getting really interesting and profound. Read Celne’s column today. Brian is accusing her of having a ghost writer. You know she’s from my city and I used to suspect she hired a ghost writer. Made me feel guilty for thinking that. It was prejudice, I thought. But read her column on the 16th. I know people just think this is chismis but it is also a study in human nature, or natures. No straightforward denial from the accused camp and this aching piece from Celine herself.

    Didn’t know she was already old enough to read Les Mis at the time of her grandfather’s death. Fernando Lopez? was still in high school and I believe I am a few years older. So of it’s true she was only 13 or 14 when she began reading Les Mis. The abridged version?

  4. BrianB says:

    Wrong math, she was probably 11 or 12.

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