I once read an issue of Marvel’s Captain America and I saw a scene where the Red Skull (the villain of the piece) tries to justify the terrible atrocities he has committed over the years. He said something along the lines that “everyone secretly wants to bully and be bullied by others”. For those unfamiliar with the character, he is the long-time archnemesis of Captain America. He’s the guy with the red skull for a head which should be obvious. He is famous, or rather infamous, for being one of, if not the, worst villain Marvel Comics has to offer because of his cruelty and utter lack of empathy. This is a guy who beats his wife to the brink of death on a regular basis, eats an apple in front of starving children and almost kills his daughter for not being a boy. Unlike all the rest of Marvel’s villains such as Magneto (who’s just trying to protect his fellow mutants), Dr. Doom (who only wants the best for his country), Deadpool (who’s simply insane) and Galactus (who’s just hungry), the Red Skull’s justification is just that: He does what he does to bully people because it gives him a purpose and because everyone secretly wants to be bullied. When analyzed further, the Red Skull’s justification takes on a more disturbing implication: bullies do what they do so that they can feel special and the bullied allow it because it also makes them feel special.
Now, to the point, as I was growing up, I noticed something about my classmates over the years. I was a pretty weird kid as I grew up with my American grandfather here in the Philippines and I spoke more English than Tagalog and I was always fiercely inquisitive, awkward and clumsy. It annoyed my classmates and it pissed of my father. As such, I was all too often the victim of bullying. I thought it was just me but then, later on in life, things changed. However, it seems that my classmates, both old and new, always found someone to bully. Sometimes it was that fat girl in the corner, other times it was that campy gay guy in the back and, when they couldn’t find anyone else, they would all go back to bullying me. I will admit that my clumsiness, awkwardness and occasional dickery does bite me in the ass every now and again but there have been times when I think that things just got ridiculous.
Okay now, with the observations above, I can now say that people in the society that I know are almost always looking for someone to bully. What’s worse is that the media isn’t doing anything to stop it. If anything, I noticed they seem to be encouraging it if my following observations are correct. Here are some of the most common stereotypes that would probably be offensive in any other country but are par for the course in Filipino mainstream films, TV series, comic books and books:
- Dark-Skinned People: This is probably the worst offender of all and is why I’m putting it on number one. There’s nothing wrong with being light-skinned but the way the media depicts dark-skinned people is just preposterous. In the United States, depicting someone as a blackface will earn the ire of every African-American citizen in the country. However, here in the Philippines, dark-skinned characters are constantly ridiculed and portrayed as unattractive simpletons. The best you probably get is Bakekang who, unlike her TV persona, was depicted as a dark-skinned woman in the original comic by Carlo J. Caparas but was nonetheless implied to be very unattractive. Here in the Philippines it’s even trendy to call dark-skinned people “itang-gala” which is almost equivalent to calling an African-American “Little Black Sambo” and the dark-skinned people of the Philippines are even expected to take this kind of racism to their face.
- LGBT/Homosexuals: In more progressive countries, the LGBT or Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender communities are an accepted if not recognized part of society. In some recent studies, it’s been shown that LGBT people are every bit as diverse and productive as heterosexual people and it’s not all that surprising to find gays in the British S.A.S. and lesbians among Brazilian supermodels. Here in the Philippines however, if you’re gay, you’re probably something like Vice Ganda with his flamboyant attitude and zero respect for others and himself (to say nothing of his last atrocity of a film) and that all gays want to be women. All lesbians are expected to be manly and unattractive (to both genders) and are always trying to flaunt their non-existent masculinity and there is also the atrocious idea that raping them will turn them into “real” women. Now, minus the rape part about lesbians, there are quite a few of these stereotypes in the Philippines what with the predominance of the gay community and Ms. Gay competitions. However, the remaining LBT of LGBT is often poorly represented and poorly understood by common Filipinos. If there are Ms. Gay competitions, why are there not Mr. Lesbian competitions as well? Do all homosexuals envy the opposite gender and want to become them? As for bisexuals, people who are okay with either gender, most people just pretend they don’t exist and, with the Filipinos’ tendency to create false dichotomies, immediately group them as either gay or lesbian.
- Unattractive People: Okay, here we go. This goes with item #1 above as a lot of Pinoys often consider dark skin unattractive. Not everyone can be Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, that much is certain. However, it’s amazing how people will get down to bullying or traumatizing people who are obese, skinny or just not as cute or pretty as most celebrities. One can say that American actor Steve Buschemi isn’t exactly firecrackers as he is, as some people say, ridiculously average looking but is still considered a good actor much like Brad Pitt or any other Hollywood actor. No one ever makes fun of him because of his looks and while he does comedy roles from time to time such as when he plays a serial killer in Con-Air, a womanizing geologist in Armageddon or a bumbling pilot in the first Final Fantasy Film, he draws laughs from his deadpan attitude and absurd lines and not because he looks funny. However, in a lot of Pinoy media, people with unattractive faces are ridiculed and humiliated just because they aren’t pretty boys like Coco Martin or Piolo Pascual. I have also seen this kind of behavior in noon-time shows when hosts, who are probably given ample make-up and possibly a bit of plastic surgery beforehand, openly make a laughing stock of impoverished contestants and audiences who have weird hair, missing teeth or mismatched eyes. What’s worse is that they encourage said people to degrade themselves further by making fun of even themselves.
The three items mentioned above are probably the most commonly ridiculed, humiliated and bullied people in both media depictions in real life. Bullying is a problem anywhere you go but more progressive countries are trying to minimize if not altogether eradicate the issue of bullying. In many cartoons and anime, you see children standing up for their friends and try to protect their friends from bullies. In Pinoy shows however, it seems that bullying is even encouraged with said dark-skinned people, gays and unattractive people getting abused both emotionally and physically on a regular basis, implying that bullying said people is not just okay but also funny.
Now let’s go back to what I was talking about earlier. In just about every community I was a part of, people always found someone to bully. It’s like everyone wanted someone to be their butt-monkey, their footstool. They all wanted someone they could step and stand on so they themselves would stand out above everyone else. Then, there are those people who allow themselves to be bullied and laughed at for just a few seconds of fame. It’s like for these people, it’s okay to be the butt-monkey of society as long as it makes one famous. You don’t need to date people you find unpleasant, but is it right abuse them? I think that for a lot of people in the Philippines, the answer is not just yes but that we should abuse them at every opportunity. For a lot of Filipino communities, it’s not “Why bully that funny/dark/gay/ugly person?”, it’s “Why NOT bully that funny/dark/gay/ugly person?”.
Now, here’s the question: Is the Red Skull right? Was he right about people’s need to bully and need to be bullied? Would the Philippines make him happy and proud if he ever found himself in it?
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