We are a nation careless with words.
It is what we are calling out Vice Ganda on, the fact that she even thought to use the rape of a woman as a joke, not a fictional but a real one: Jessica Soho.
Likewise, making fun of her weight is to fall into the concept of beauty according to mainstream capitalist discourse. A woman becomes pretty or ugly as she gains or loses weight.
It is ABS-CBN that put Vice Ganda on that stage and allowed her to get the crowd rolling in laughter at the expense of a woman who is a powerful icon in the rival network. Moreover, she is by all counts intelligent and credible, everything that is not Vice Ganda. That joke was about Jessica’s weight, and the TV network rivalry in this country. Just watch ABS-CBN’s Charo Santos-Concio laughing her head off at Vice Ganda’s jokes, right there on the front row.
It was about this gay act that is Vice Ganda—one that we see every day, that our kids watch on TV at noontime—revealing how careless she can be with words. It tells us that we are at the point when joking about a woman’s weight is no longer funny enough, and we must now imagine what it’s like if she were raped, just for laughs.
This was all about Vice Ganda and how between that moment of thoughtless joking and the even less thoughtful apology, we all proved that we do not know how dangerous it is to use words that are nothing but violent and oppressive.
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To use a title like “The Rape of Jessica Soho,” meanwhile, on a piece that by all counts is taking the side of Jessica, does not do us any better. It is sad that the same essay that critiques Vice Ganda for both the joke and the apology is just as complicit in the victimization of Jessica as joke, if not as raped.
There was no reason to use that title on an essay that is about Vice Ganda. There is every reason to problematize a title that in the end ascertains that doing a google search on Jessica Soho will mean “the rape of” right beside it. There is every reason to believe that this was self-proclaimed “new media” website like Rappler.com going all sensationalist on us, letting its columnist Patricia Evangelista get away with the further victimization of Jessica.
There is no reason for that title, other than that it will capture a reader’s attention. There is no reason to make this about Jessica Soho, when it is and should be about Vice Ganda, and what she did wrong, what she did wrong against Jessica and every Pinay who took offense. That title does not take up the cudgels for Jessica even when the essay does; that title only means that Jessica’s name will now easily be associated with the word “rape.”
It reveals how careless we are with words, how we forget responsibility, how we ignore the repercussions of having a title like that on the Internet forever, with every likelihood of being taken out of context, maybe even without the article being read. The title will be enough. It talks about the rape of Jessica Soho. Full stop.
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That is what Pol Medina Jr. knew to do. He knew to read the comic strip about lesbianism and St. Scholastica’s College, the one that he submitted to the Philippine Daily Inquirer in April, and which was not published then. He re-read it, and on nationwide television apologized to the nuns of St. Scho. He admitted having gone too far, and he said sorry.
He has since resigned from PDI, while the latter has also since apologized for even publishing the strip, asserting that they had not published it in April because they thought it insensitive; that it was published last week was a mistake.
The bigger mistakes have happened on social media and the Internet, as it seems that most of us—including those from St. Scho themselves—are a mess about what was wrong with that strip. The Concerned Artists of the Philippines are calling out PDI for not standing by Medina, many have insisted that this is about free speech, and the threat of libel by the St. Scho administration against Medina is a scary precedent.
St. Scho alumni Risa, Mutya and Jordan have created a Facebook community page called Kulasas for Pol Medina Jr., where they end up insisting that the St. Scho community is “onion-skinned about being singled out,” asserting that time should be spent instead answering the questions: “Is being a lesbian a bad thing? Is trying to find your true identity something that needs to be a shameful secret?” The three also assert that this was about “satirical humor,” something that too many have also asserted about Medina.
All these of course fail to consider the fact that Medina did his apology properly so soon after it dawned on him that he did go too far. If the artist himself has admitted to his mistake, then why would we expect his newspaper to stand by him? In relation to what exactly? Too, if the artist has apologized for a mistake, how then is this still a discussion about free speech?
Medina had it in himself to reassess that strip and find it wanting. He was not a coward, hiding behind his right to free speech. He was being the responsible komikero that he should be, admitting that yes, he had gone too far. To not listen to him is to fail him completely, too.
But, too, we fail an educational institution like St. Scho, whether we went to school there or not, when we insist that this was all just a joke, and was in fact satirical. Yes, Medina does satire, and the community of Pugad Baboy is a satirical one. But this strip by itself, was far far from satirical. In fact, what it had were two characters from the satirical community, talking out to the real world, looking out of the panels of that strip, and delivering not so much a punchline, but a grand sweeping declaration about the students and nuns of St. Scho.
And yes, you might be an alumni of St. Scho, or any other exclusive Catholic girls school, and you might know of how lesbianism does exist to some extent. In which case you would know, too, that none of us knew our selves in elementary or high school, and certainly we will only find words for companionship and friendship and love as we grow into adulthood. To tell the young Pinays in our schools that lesbianism is already what their socialization is all about is also to impose on them an identity that they might not even have the words for yet and may not even be true for most of them. In the same way that we do not have words for sex and love and men at that age, why expect that they have a word for the kinds of friendships that they keep?
Certainly, telling our young girls that who they are in elementary and high school is who they already are for the rest of their lives is the gravest mistake here. As it would be the biggest repercussion of that strip.
Medina at least, had the sense to apologize and admit to the mistake. The rest of us meanwhile continue to spew words left and right, most missing the point entirely.
It would be funny were it not in fact as dangerous as a thoughtless joke about rape, and were it not as irresponsible as purportedly new media using the fictional rape of Jessica Soho to get more hits.