Vice Ganda, Jose Marie Borja Viceral in real life, started out on television by making fun of himself about being a kabayo (horse) because of his long legs and ability to mimic the kicking stance of a horse. I found that funny. I thought, well, this guy has the wisdom to be self-deprecating, for me a sign of good things to come for him. He had rapport with his audience and his guests seemed to naturally like him.
When I searched for his concert jokes on YouTube, my heart skipped a bit when I heard his jokes about Jessica Soho, a well-respected GMA TV news anchor and official. I listened again, and the words of misogyny came out rushing from his heavily made-up face, his pouting lips dabbed so carefully with colors I dare not wear. The words were searing: rape; gang rape; lechon thrust into Soho; her weight; Soho missing the ubiquitous apple in the roasted pig’s mouth, and so on. He joked about Aiza Seguerra and Charice Pempengco, trivializing their gender identities or, in the case of Charice, cross-dressing.
My Facebook page became an instant hit after I posted this:
Dear Vice Ganda, I used to watch your shows late at night. I found you funny. But the rape joke and the anti-women jokes you uttered during your concert are just foul. Foul to the nth degree. You do not make jokes about rape, about the weight of women. That was tasteless, below the belt and simply unacceptable. I suggest you make a public apology to Ms. Jessica Soho, all the women (and gays) you made fun of, the general public. I work with survivors of rape and other gender-based violence. There are more decent ways to earn your bread and butter.
I was stunned when people I didn’t even know were responding, reposting and agreeing with me. My other profile posts, serious and quite intelligent, did not get this much attention. People were angry, sick of VG’s below-the-belt anti-women “jokes,” and some were simply concerned about their effects on children.
One of his adoring fans posted on my page that God is able to forgive, and why can’t we, mere mortals, do the same? My brain cells worked quickly: Wow. God is now part of this. Amazing how religion is used to justify violence, aggravation, humiliation. One word: arrogance. Another word: patriarchy.
Eventually, VG, perhaps managed by his agents and egged on by his network management apologized to Jessica Soho, but as I said in my Facebook account, “Ok na, sumabit pa …” The apology was wanting in sincerity, and while Ms. Soho acknowledged it, the harm had been done. But Soho wasn’t the only one offended. People called for a public apology not just to Soho, but to all women especially victim-survivors of rape and other forms of gender-based violence.
I despise the ongoing battle for ratings, scoops and exclusives of the major media networks in the country, which is the cause of many foul ups and the fuel for silly, distracting talk shows about movie stars. These ratings magnets are what the women I work with in the poor communities watch and talk about. I am not an intellectual arrogant, and I can live with all the insanity and public laundering of family secrets, sexual indiscretions and professional jealousies vented on expensive airtime. But Vice Ganda’s case takes the cake, at least for now.
His shows’ ratings and money may be flowing in like a non-stop river of fortune, but as a friend says, karma comes back very quickly. I am not surprised that it does in this Internet Age. Ganda needs to give up his sexist and homophobic jokes. He needs to be decent and have GMRC (good manners and right conduct), which I believe has been taken out of school curriculums. In my time GMRC was a foundational course. His Big Bosses must be more respectful of their audiences. They need to know we are not fools, like some in their stables of profit-raking artistas.
Andrew de Real of the well known The Library (Metro Manila’s pioneer and leading comedy bar) posted: ”Siguro naman nakuha ninyo na ang point ko kung bakit lagi ko kayo sinasaway pag over na sa okray. Sa mga naka attend na ng library workshop, simple lang lagi kong sinasabi, 'the secret of comedy is fun. …' have fun … not to make fun of other people, magkaiba yun. (I think you got my point when I kept reminding all of you that when it’s over the top, stop. For those who have attended the library workshop, I have something simple to say, “The secret of comedy is fun … have fun not to make fun of other people, those are two different things.) De Real also called Ganda’s schtick “not comedy … I call it bashing and bullying."
The Vice Ganda controversy offers the opportunity to challenge male-dominated spaces of discourse and the artistic values proffered by media and other sources of information and opinion making. What is rape? What is violence against women? There are still strong opinions against women who are victims of rape and other forms of violence. Popularly held notions persist: She deserves it; she was indecently dressed or in bad company; she’s a loose woman; she wasn’t a good wife: she neglected her domestic and bedtime duties. And these are not only uttered by men, but by some women as well.
Some men have taken on the issue by embracing the feminist perspective, and their online postings are heartening and morale boosting. Others see Ganda’s jokes as a matter of freedom of expression that should remain unshackled, that jokes of this type are to be taken as jokes with no harmful intent or effect. His critics are derided as feminists afflicted by “literalism” and are simply a “corny” bunch of rigid women (and men) with no funny bones left in their politicized psyches. They think taking offense at rape and misogynistic jokes is just a problem of people like me. But in a society still plagued with domestic violence, rape and sexual predation, isn’t it everyone’s?
Aida F. Santos is a poet, researcher, educator-trainer, human rights advocate and a martial law political prisoner. She heads an organization that works with survivors-victims of gender based violence.