Wednesday, May 4, 2011

All-Too Willing Willie

That the episode of a six-year old child dancing inappropriately on Willie Revillame’s “Willing Willie” television show last March 12, 2011 remains a contentious talking point in the Philippines is not surprising for two singular reasons among several others: one being that Revillame has been a magnet for controversy for much of his television career. The second reason concerns the socio-economic structure in the Philippines that the act of the six-year old Jan-Jan Suan is partially being filtered through.

No one has to tell me that Willie Revillame, as funny and hilarious as he can seem when our intellectual powers are at their weakest and when our lowest cultural denominators ripple across our consciousnesses, can also be a slimy lout who plays on the suffering and hardship of the lower classes that happen to make up the bulk of his fan base. There are a lot of reasons to loathe Revillame, but his exploitation of the disadvantaged might just be the strongest one of all. It’s galling to watch him induce a cascade of tears from the emotionally-vulnerable participants on his show as they forlornly tell a variety of very personal, very heart wrenching stories. Shame on Revillame for feeding off of the bottomless misery of his countrymen and women for the sake of his television ratings.

Often flouting the difference between making a harmless joke and offending certain people to the core, Revillame has a target painted on his back, a target that his detractors have hit the bull’s eye of since the Jan-Jan scandal broke. Revillame claims that there is a concerted effort to ruin his career by those who are passing judgment over him. Revillame may have a point, except that if there is a concerted effort to soil his name, Pareng Willie brought it on himself. It has gotten so that everything that Revillame does on a public stage is intently scrutinized, usually to the warranted detriment of his jocular image. Maybe Revillame wouldn’t be examined under an unsympathetic microscope if he were to comprehend the misery behind the faces of his participants/contestants and stop treating them as frail dupes for his crude humor and shallow empathy.

Did anyone notice that much of the audience in the now-infamous Jan-Jan video was enjoying the regrettable spectacle and were thus oblivious to the nature of the transgression transpiring in front of them? One should appreciate the fact that Revillame’s live audiences are made up of the rank and file of the most common, the most folksy, and sadly, the most ignorant of Filipinos. Therefore, it might be coldly argued by some that these commoners don’t know any better by dint of their inferior social standing.

But it is easy for well-educated, highly-cultured Filipinos to castigate these lower-class crowds for being benighted in finding an unseemly instance amusing. But by descending down the ladder of Philippine society in order to set the Jan-Jan affair against the backdrop of a skewed socio-economic and socio-cultural structure, it becomes clearer that that haughty view is undermined because it does not match the formational and historical reality.

The conspiring root out of which this reality grows is not much of a puzzle: in the Philippines as we all must know by now, social, political, and economic power are in the hands of an elite class, a class whose historical actions have focused on keeping those below them in intellectual darkness. So while more privileged Filipinos dress-down Revillame on the moral and ethical downside of his latest show business-related impropriety, the underdogs of Philippine society who fill his audiences seeking temporary solace from an elite-spawned, unforgiving reality, continue to interpret the world around them looking from the bottom up, unaware that life is not so much leaving them behind as it is being stolen from them.

The Jan-Jan “macho dancing” controversy is in a roundabout way, a mirror to what is really wrong with the Philippines. It is not just that Willie Revillame is an incorrigible opportunist or that a six-year old child was subjected to such humiliating treatment. It is that parasitical individuals like Pareng Willie have legions of impressionable fans to avail himself of, fans that he, I am willing to bet, wouldn’t have if not for the institution of elite domination that is impoverishing the minds and pockets of millions of Filipinos.


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