I’m a fan of Toni Gonzaga. I think that save for selling whitening products, she’s done many-a-Pinay a service by pointing out that they don’t need to fit into a mold, that they can actually have a sense of humor, and command that stage just like the next Ingglesera and mestiza host.
She’s funny, but also because she knows to laugh at herself, how she looks, what she says. This is also about the image that’s been manufactured for us by ABS-CBN, who molds talents and stretches them to their limits, sometimes to their detriment, always with the goal of profit.
All these come into play in the debacle that was Gonzaga hosting the Bb. Pilipinas Beauty Pageant 2015. All these come into play because she has since apologized, pointing out that she was chosen by pageant organizers to host the event, with the directive that she needed to make the show “fun and light.”
All these come into play, because as with many things culture, it seems it is Boy Abunda and Kris Aquino—self-appointed authorities on hosting, apparently—who have the last say on this matter. They’ve spent a good amount of airtime defending Gonzaga, saying that “nakakatawa siya,” and that she can’t please everybody. It’s how Aquino herself deals with criticism, which allows her to imagine she does nothing wrong.
Gonzaga deserves better.
Hosting as erasure
The criticism against Gonzaga’s hosting of Bb. Pilipinas is actually on point. Bb. Pilipinas Universe 2000 Nina Ricci Alagao pointed out that she sensed in Gonzaga an “over-confidence almost to the point of arrogance.” Alagao contextualizes her critique in KC Concepcion’s hosting of the same pageant, but also in the fact that Bb. Pilipinas is the “most prestigious beauty pageant and is not a venue for ridicule and disrespect by a host.”
Alagao is correct. Watch how hosting is done elsewhere in the world, and yes, how Concepcion does it, even in her other hosting gigs. She practices hosting as erasure: she is not the point of the show, she is but secondary character to the people she is presenting to an audience. This kind of erasure is in Ryan Seacrest. It is in Oprah, and even Tyra Banks. It was in Martin Nievera and Edu Manzano, Sharon Cuneta and Janice de Belen when they had their talkshows. These people do not put themselves ahead of their guests, and while they have the power to ask questions, they let their guests shine.
In a pageant, this erasure is even more important. The stars of that show are the pageant contestants after all. When one of the first things Gonzaga said on stage was that this is her Cinderella moment, she effectively upstaged everybody else and made it about her. It was truly downhill from there. It was funny. But it was downhill.
Hosting ala Abunda and Aquino
By the time Gonzaga and co-host Xian Lim were doing the Q&A portion, she was on a roll. And it was hilarious, watching her do this hosting gig the way you would expect her to do any other show: with a lot of stand-up comedy, some self-deprecation, all of which come together in a style that is all hers. It’s a more entertaining version of the Abunda and Aquino style of hosting, where erasure is not the point—because the host is the point.
Alagao’s critique was a reminder that hosting requires an amount of humility. It requires the ability to let another person be the star of the show. Gonzaga, with all good intentions, ended up stealing the spotlight because of her hosting style. And her apology, while a wonderful thing, needs to take that into consideration. After all, she was speaking to girls who dream of winning a beauty pageant title. To have affected their chances of winning—in any way—is just unfair.
But also Gonzaga needs to see that there is more to hosting than just being yourself, and that the approval of Abunda and Aquino of her brand of hosting is to her detriment. Criticism should be seen as a time to take stock, see one’s mistakes, and improve. In the echo chamber of Abunda and Aquino, in a world where Aquino declares that if you’re her friend she’ll support you all the way, how does one improve at one’s job?
Better questions (and answers)
This is not a question of whether it was funny or offensive. It’s a question of whether Gonzaga’s hosting style was appropriate. In the case of Bb. Pilipinas 2015, funny as it was, it was not.
And for those who think that Gonzaga did well because her hosting was an up-yours to the “oppressive enterprise” that is the beauty pageant, you miss the point entirely.
In the past two decades or so, Bb. Pilipinas has chosen winners intelligent and talented, who can engage us in a discussion about the value of the pageant and the notion that it is anti-woman. The discourse on womanhood and empowerment, beauty and intelligence, is now more complex. It deserves more than just a dismissal.
We probably can’t see it because we’re stuck with the dominant discourse of Aquino and Abunda. Gonzaga need not become either of them. Anyone who has followed her career would know that she is better than that.