Friday, April 15, 2011

Of Willie Revillame, Sexualized Advertising And The Future -- An Appeal To Our Moral Compass

If you were born and live in the Philippines, or if you subscribe to The Filipino Channel (TFC) elsewhere in the world, chances are, you've heard of the name "Willie Revillame." A household name in his own right, Willie Revillame had risen to super-stardom from humble beginnings as a mere "sidekick" to bigger stars in the 80's. His claim to fame was a series of noontime shows which played to the masses of the Philippines. The underprivileged loved Willie's on-screen generosity and heart for the poor in his noontime game shows. It was the masses' chance at an instant rescue from their economic situations. Off-cam, Willie Revillame was also known to help people; his generosity was something he carried from his shows to his private life, it was said.

However, his noontime shows carried a dark underbelly. Time and again, Willie had been called out for his vulgar ways. He can never seem to kick the habit of sexually harassing his staff. He was also known to embarrass people and say tactless, even crass things to people, in the name of humor and entertainment. Yet despite this rough, even evil side of Willie, the masses still loved him. And since the masses loved him, so did his advertisers.

Many a time, Willie Revillame has gotten into scandal after scandal. If it wasn't his vulgar speech and ways, it was his arrogance that got him in trouble. Yet nothing has irreparably put him out of commission just yet. When he parted ways with his former network, ABS-CBN, his arrogance was fanned aflame because ABC-TV5 was there to give him another break, happy that a superstar would now be their asset and pull traffic towards their previously stale programming. Seemingly to Willie, nothing can pull him down; as it seemed that when God closed a door on him, He opened a window for Willie.

True, God is a God of second chances. God is a God of a million chances, even. God is a God of patience. And as patient as God was even to a mass murderer like Saul of Tarsus, who later became Paul, surely God would have patience and mercy even for superstars with boorish behavior.

However, as they say, "You can take a boy out of the country but you can't take the country out of a boy," because, true to his form, Willie Revillame did the unthinkable yet again. And this time, it may well be the first of the final fissures that could prove to be his empire's undoing, unless he repents, of course.

His advertisers should have been tipped off at the first few controversies he got involved with. Heck, they should have watched his shows and seen for themselves how the defunct Wowowee dumbed people down, and at times, demeaned them. But everything was still within legal bounds, and nobody could question the viewer ratings of the show. How could the masses stay away from a show that could be their ticket to a better life?

Maybe things really do need to come to a head for humans to finally sit up and take notice. But does it take the shock that comes from watching a young boy be virtually pimped for sake of entertainment, on daytime TV, before people take action?

Christian authors have stated that the nature of sin in man is such that it asks: where's the "line" (of Moral Law)? And promptly dances as close to it as it possibly can without getting caught. It seems to me like the people who should be flagging Willie we're telling themselves: as long as he hasn't broken any law, he can very well go around demeaning people, debasing them, all in the name of entertainment, and in exchange for easy money.

So Willie finally crossed the line, and we all finally reacted. Though honestly, it should have happened a long time ago. The guy was embarrassing people, making light of their economic background, laughing at them, even, and nobody got offended. After all, it was all in the name of fun. It was all in the name of entertainment. As they say, "Pikon talo."

The long-overdue sanctions for Willie's arrogance, demeaning of other people, and downright evil has finally woken up the Philippines to a need for moral policing.

To bring you up to speed, around a week ago, news of a viral video clip of a segment in Willie Revillame's ABC-TV5 show Willing Willie caught the eye of several bloggers, journalists and mothers. As soon as mothers and citizens who were sensitive enough to realize that the video was actually depicting a child being abused, a public outcry ensued. People who didn't even watch the show finally saw how lurid Revillame could get.

The video depicted Jan-Jan, a young contestant for a game segment, dancing in a lewd manner, not unlike the type of dances that women, even men who are in the flesh trade, do for a living. According to the clip, it was Jan-Jan's parents and aunt who taught him the moves.

What was chilling was the fact that Willie was laughing manically to the child's public display of self-debasement. At one point, he even danced with the child. The sight was beyond horrid. And to top it off, the child was crying all throughout his dance. And Willie even pointed that out.

To reward the child's provision of entertainment, Willie gave him double the money he usually gave to contestants. And he kept kissing the kid's cheeks at several points in the clip.

Let's say that the kisses on the cheek weren't malicious or sexual at all. That was fine. However, since Willie also gyrated in the same lewd manner with the kid, what other thought would scream in a morally-conscious onlooker's mind than "PEDOPHILIA!!!"?

Since we are on the subject of connotations and implications, if you watch the video closely, you would note that Willie was aware that his own moves were connoted with something perverse, as evidenced by his declaring, "Ayoko na!" at some intervals. He was yelling "Ayoko na!" because he knew for a fact that he was pushing some moral envelope somewhere. And let's not sugarcoat or pretend to be innocent here. All the adults who watched that scene knew very well that those moves were meant to be sexually enticing. But just because a child was dancing it, some people were claiming that "Walang malisya." There was no malice to something arbitrarily, culturally, even inherently defined as sexual, because a child was the one delivering it.

What was more horrifying was how the most of the studio's adult onlookers were cheering both Willie and the child on. Some were covering their faces, understanding what an embarrassing, lurid spectacle was before their eyes. But for those who cheered, were they blind? Were they so morally dense that they did not recognize an act a few shades shy of outright pedophilia?

As the clamor rose to a crescendo, private citizens and civic groups were denouncing Willie and demanding his resignation from the show. People wanted justice, and sanctions had to be imposed upon Willie as a perpetrator of daytime debauchery. Thankfully, some major advertisers finally sat up and took notice. No longer was this a matter of ratings, traffic and money. This is a moral crisis on the Philippines' hands, and something has to be done.

It was a commendable move for Jollibee to immediately pull out its advertisement slots in the Willing Willie program in reaction to and condemnation of the filth that transpired. Soon, Del Monte and Procter & Gamble followed suit and withdrew their advertising from the show. DSWD also filed a case against the game show host. Finally, Lady Justice has taken off her blindfold.

It is about time that advertisers become responsible for what they communicate to the public. True, sex sells a lot of things, but if it crosses moral boundaries, if it hurts and degrades a society, in the future, there would be nothing to sell too but a bunch of lawless, Id-driven fools. Man was gifted with the capacity to think and a moral code to abide by. Take the law away from man and chaos results.

Dr. Sigmund Freud was among the first to advocate that man is an animal, and his driving force is Libido, or the sexual urge. That man's ultimate freedom will come from casting off all moral "chains" that bind him. But what did that bring his advocates but an ever-increasing measure of licentiousness and debauchery? Lawlessness will not break Man free. Rather, Lawlessness will only debase Man to the level of rutting sea-slugs.

Likewise, if we let Lawlessness prevail in our media, if we keep casting aside that innate moral code written in our hearts, we will increasingly become nothing more than blobs of urges. Is that what we want our children to learn? Is that what we want them to live by?

If you hardworking success-obsessed tycoons are wondering why your children run amok living lives that you are not proud of, think back to your executive advertising decisions. Did any of you approve the Globe Tattoo ad campaign that sexualized the use of broadband? Then that's it. That's why your children ran amok. Because we live in a highly sexualized society that was made possible by people giving the go-signal to filth that plays to man's basest desires.

C.S. Lewis said that man's problem is not in the fact that he desires far too much. Man's problem is that he is satisfied with so little.

Are we satisfied by entertainment that stirs our animalistic instincts alone? Are we satisfied by humor that makes light of a child's dignity? Are we happy just following urge after urge? Then we are satisfied with nothing but the basest. We are satisfied with far too little.

This latest controversy sparked by Willie is a barometer of how sick we are as a society. Maybe we needed to be shocked awake that we are headed for a moral cesspit. There is time to turn around and start answering a higher moral call. Start by making better decisions for your ad campaigns.

If Jollibee can succeed with Aga Mulach's wholesome Chickenjoy ads, so can the others. Globe Tattoo does not need to tickle the sexual senses. Frankly, we do not need a sexy broadband. We just need broadband that works and doesn't tank every single day that we're subscribed to it. If Bayantel can succeed with wholesome Lola Techie and GREAT service, I'm pretty sure Globe can and will succeed, if only it improves its product and finds an innovative ad angle.

I'm saying this for all the other products and advertisers out there, too. You need to provide great service or offer a great product. Something that people will be satisfied with. And as for your ad angle, take the cue from C.S. Lewis. Play to man's higher senses. You owe it to the Philippine society. You owe it to the Filipino youth. You owe it to your children.

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