Sunday, March 25, 2012

Taylor Kitsch and the Philippines (or is it Indonesia)? (FilAm Star, March 16, 2012)

I don’t know about you, but I make it a point to know the name of the country that I am in. Apparently, someone needs to tell Canadian actor Taylor Kitsch this. He did nothing in a recent interview with late night talk show personality David Letterman to refute that an airport official in the Philippines attempted to solicit a bribe from him in the form of the actor’s iPhone. Kitsch was overseas for the filming of “Savages,” the latest movie by Oliver Stone. There was one glaring problem with his allegation: he got the country wrong.

Actually what happened was that Kitsch acknowledged the bribery took place in the Philippines by not setting Letterman straight when the talk show host brought up the Philippines in the interview. The incident it turned out, occurred in Indonesia.

I’m not sure why the Philippines first came to mind for Letterman. Second that; I do think I know why Letterman first thought of the Philippines. It is a country that has been branded in the past as one of the more corrupt nations in the world.

For years, the Philippines has been hard-pressed by a social, cultural, and political portfolio that languished as a result of inflated corruption and yes, pervasive bribery. I once saw a disturbing scene in an English-subtitled Taiwanese movie where one Taipei policeman said to another, “You shouldn’t accept kickbacks. What are you, a Filipino?” A spate of blind, condescending, and offensive images have been attributed to Filipinos, among which are the shadow of thievery and corruption. To people around the world, this image is a glimpse into what they think is the Filipino culture and character.

Corruption has always been a problem in the Philippines––the ugly, nefarious phenomenon of the Marcos dictatorship proved how bad it could get––but Filipinos now have reason to be cautiously optimistic about it. Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perception Index listed the Philippines as the 129th most corrupt nation compared to 134 the year before. It is too early to guess what this slim ray of light will lead to. It could be the beginning of something good or just a flash in the pan. Anyhow, we have to start somewhere.

However, racial stereotypes and prejudices die hard which leads me to think that David Letterman may harbor patronizingly, bigoted attitudes about Filipinos. I can’t read his mind or look into his heart; yet why else would he impulsively implicate the Philippines in Taylor Kitsch’s itinerant hallucination?

Any idiot who travels abroad should be able to figure it out for themselves exactly what country they are going to. It can be hard to tell Filipinos and Indonesians apart physically. It’s also a fact that the two Southeast Asian countries lie in close proximity to each other in humid climates near and on the Equator. But come on Taylor Kitsch, seriously? You really didn’t know you were in Indonesia and not in the Philippines when you found yourself facing a crooked airport official?

Taylor Kitsch did more than suggest––by his failure to rectify David Letterman’s mistake––that a Filipino airport official tried to finagle him of his precious iPhone. He inadvertently, maybe subconsciously, managed to turn a demeaning generalization into a fallaciously self-fulfilling prophecy about Filipinos all together.

Corruption high and low is often the subject of provocative and sensitive debate in the Philippines. It is a constant feature of life for Filipinos; it runs in their veins, thereby poisoning Philippine society and making a mockery of its democratic institutions. Any Filipino worth their salt is fully aware of what they are up against in fighting the scourge of corruption, that abolishing it is no cinch. That doesn’t mean that Filipinos have to accept being indoctrinated into a culture of corruption as so many of them are. As uphill as the battle against corruption is, it is possible to make exceptions to the rule so that the vast expanses of globalized public opinion will stop peering at the Philippines mainly through the window of its deficiencies.

We can be assured that Filipinos will have discarded the crown of thorns that is riven with the branches of corruption once the Taylor Kitschs and David Lettermans of the world remember not to carelessly equate Filipinos with financial impropriety.


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