After the apology and resignations over the news last night, I of course realize that we must write finis to the whole Malu Fernandez brouhaha. This is just by way of a quick rejoinder to a statement made by blogger Sassy Lawyer in her blog entry which I just read yesterday.
As a preliminary point, it is incorrect to assert that “Every publication and every network will do anything to retain its audience. And that includes humor, even the kind made at the expense of others, if it will translate to readership/ audience.”
The fact is that there are regulatory mechanisms in place, both in penal provisions and in various Codes of Ethics of Journalists. And perhaps more important than that, basic universal standards of good taste and civility. I really do not see the Philippine Daily Inquirer cracking politically-incorrect jokes against Muslims for the sake of readership (even the premise is wrong, actually: that the vast majority of readers find insensitive and off-color remarks funny). And one certainly cannot excuse Isagani Cruz’s homophobia by saying, “well, he writes for a certain demographic, let him be.”
But I think what is in greater need of rebuttal is this statement —
The sadder truth is that we, migrant workers and non-migrant workers alike, are all part of this twisted culture of cracking jokes at the expense of others. Haven’t you laughed at and disseminated Erap jokes via SMS and e-mail? Don’t you watch Bubble Gang and guffaw at the impersonations of politicians and media personalities? Don’t you giggle at the local version of Candid Camera hosted by Michael V. which victimizes unwary people on the street, subjecting them to embarrassing and humiliating situations all for the sake of entertaining the show’s viewers? See, everything is funny until we find ourselves to be the subject of the jokes. Then, it isn’t so funny anymore.
No. No. No. No. No. No.
On the surface, it sounds reasonable enough. And indeed, some people do a good job out of appearing reasonable (James Jimenez, the COMELEC spokesperson is one of them..) and that actually makes them more dangerous than, well, self-proclaimed divas who dish out ludicrous out-of-this-world remarks.
The statement is wrong because the comparison is false. There is a difference between the scenarios she mentioned above, i.e., the Erap jokes, bubble gang impersonations, Wow Mali stunts, and making fun of overseas foreign workers.
The Wow Mali stunts are characterized by a certain degree of randomness. It has a man-on-the-street flavor. The situations themselves are funny. I sometimes wince when I see people subjected to too much humiliation or are put in compromising positions, but unlike the People Asia comment, they are not made fun of because of who they are, or because of a perceived built-in characteristic. There are no power relations involved; and one is a victim only by happenstance.
Impersonations of politicians and Erap jokes are likewise incomparable with the Malu Fernandez quotes. Again, there are no embedded and implied power relations between sender and recipient. In fact, impersonations of political leaders may well be considered an “everyday form of resistance” (to borrow from, and slightly alter James Scott). There is subversion, albeit oftentimes subtle, in political parody — wherein humor is used a “weapon of a weak” (another James Scott) against a deeply-entrenched hegemony, wherein laughter is an activism all its own.
Parody is power inversion, plain and simple.
On the other hand, the Malu Fernandez articles smacks of a bigotry that not only reinforces the class arrangements but gleefully slaps it in the faces of those against whom the “arrangements” are tilted. To call them loud, uncouth, smelly, is to call them — quite simply — poor. And the system that keeps them poor, the structures that keep them “loud, uncouth, smelly”, are exactly the same system and the same structures that nourish the class to which Ms. Fernandez belongs and assure the continued hegemony of her and her kind.
They whose personal hell is nothing more than a few hours in economy class have no right mocking those whose personal hell is a dingy jail in Iran, a drunken and lascivious employer, a fly-by-night recruitment agency, or more simply but just as sadly, being forced to take care of children not their own while their own children grow up alone.
Wow Mali talaga yon.