Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Desperate Humor

This is what started the uproar:

Susan Mayer, played by Teri Hatcher, throws a fit at her gynecologist for suggesting she’s in the early stages of menopause. She says, “Can I check those diplomas, because I want to make sure they’re not from some med school in the Philippines.”

Uproar ensues. Fil-Americans started an online petition, calling the line “unnecessary and hurtful, but... also unfounded, considering the presence of Filipinos and Filipino-Americans in the health care industry”. Filipinos all over the blogsphere banded together crying havoc against ABC, against the show, against poor Teri Hatcher. Here in the Philippines public officials got into the act as well. Call it the Malu Fernandez Effect.

ABC apologizes: “The producers of Desperate Housewives and ABC Studios offer our sincere apologies for any offence caused by the brief reference in the season premiere. There was no intent to disparage the integrity of any aspect of the medical community in the Philippines. As leaders in broadcast diversity, we are committed to presenting sensitive and respectful images of all communities featured in our programs.” They also promise to edit out the offending line from future online and DVD releases.

For some, an apology wasn’t enough. Senator Ramon Revilla, a former actor himself, said, “It is not commensurate to the damage created by the derogatory remark. The makers of Desperate Housewives should formally and publicly express their apology in their next episode to signify sincerity.” Thank god he didn’t stipulate that he should appear in a cameo role.

* * * * *

I am not an avid viewer of the show. I’ve only seen several episodes, in part or full, from the first two seasons. But I am aware of the characters and the premise of the show. It is a comedy that pokes fun at the housewives themselves and their milieu. After all, this is a series whose own title disparages its titular characters, calling them desperate.

Personally, the line does not offend me. If I look at the big picture and put the context in which the line was said, I see that line less an attack on the Philippine medical community but more poking fun at the ignorance and biases of a character. Susan has a narrow worldview outside Wisteria Lane, and she has a low regard for medical training and education outside the U.S. And so far the series doesn’t have a track record of having a derogatory attitude towards Filipinos. So for me it is a joke, with the intention not to malign a group but to make fun of a character. After all, how does a writer establish that a character is, for example, a bigot? He makes that character say “nigger” and “faggot” and “Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world” and shit like that. No wait, that’s Mel Gibson.

However, I also acknowledge that the joke is offense for others. Like taste, humor is subjective. What is funny is a personal standard that’s also affected by the zeitgeist of a culture. But unlike taste, humor can be disputed; in fact, it can be deemed offensive and damaging. I mean, I’ve not yet heard of anyone suing their neighbors for the tacky pink flamingoes on their front lawn.

While the “Desperate” intention may not be to malign (unlike Michael Richards at a comedy club, who clearly wanted to draw blood), it is also understandable that people won’t see it that way and feel insulted and maligned. That’s why ABC, in a rare move for a network, immediately apologized.

But now I wonder: How come people were so quick to cry, “I’m insulted! I’m hurt!”? Did they check first the context in which the line was said? And regarding envelop-pushing humor: Are people nowadays really that sensitive? Or are they just being very careful? Are people really emotionally and morally damaged when risqué jokes are cracked? Whatever happened to discernment and critical viewing? Or do we think that is too much to ask from the audience? What does that say about us?

Our ex-actor-turned-senator insists that ABC’s apology “is not commensurate to the damage created by the derogatory remark.” I say enough already with the OA reactions that are not commensurate to the offense. Can we have a little level-headedness, please?


Anonymous said...

Ah... very well-articulated. I do agree that the succeeding reactions post-apology is a display of OA-ness. Almost seems like a 'desperate' (pun fully intended) attempt to milk the publicity mill. I do agree that one should disect the character of Susan and understand what she is all about. Clumsy, ignorant, and a blabbermouth. Her dialogs are mostly flippant and not be be taken seriously. I recently saw a Filipino movie starring Sam Milby and Toni Gonzaga. In one scene where they were going through the streets of Tondo, Gonzaga told Milby (playing the character of an Am-Boy), "palibhasa kayong mga Amerikano hindi mahilig maligo!". Should Americans take offense to that line and demand an apology from the producers?


My thoughts exactly. Some people just take some things way too seriously. All this sturm and drang for what? -- a line uttered by a bimbo-ish TV character in a comedy show about desperate housewives. Sheesh. said...

it's the Pinoy's victim mentality. he's api and therefore blameless and should get away with everything moreover, other people should help him and give him everything so he doesnt lift a finger.

it's so much easier to fall in line in a gameshow preying on luck, chance and your lifestory than actually finding a regular job.

Raymond said...

Bravo, McVie! Excellent post! I thought that the line was really funny. And, hey, after all the scandal at the nursing board exams, don't we deserve it? I say that the OA reactions are simply a way for these grandstanding politicos to appear like they're doing something worthwhile, when, in fact, they're only displaying their pathetic lack of sophistication.

Anonymous said...

in general sense, i do actually agree with you joel. racial slurs are not funny at all. that's why i am hoping that pinoys can use this as a mirror to reflect their own racial prejudices. we must admit pinoys are racist. look at the jokes we made about the blacks (itim) or even the bisayans or non-tagalogs. or more poignantly, look at the way we treat tribal minorities. we discriminate even in our own backyards. pinoy overseas are no different. i nearly wanted to buttslap a pinoy who called cambodians 'pol pots'. who would want to be called by a name representing forced migration, ethnic cleansing, and genocide? only a pinoy can ever do that with a smile. i've moved around pinoy circles abroad quite substantially and i've been privy to how we treated other nationalities in our own jokes and namecalling. we are so quick to whine when offended, but we have never been careful also with how we treat people from other nations or colours especially those non-whites.