Life between the ivory tower and a cardboard box

Overrated or Underrated: Slut Slur on “The Daily Show”

. . . annnnnd, hot on the heels of the Desperate Housewives controversy comes more outrage regarding a skit on the popular satirical news show, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. This time, the Filipino community is angered over a Daily Show skit called “Is America Ready for A Woman President?” During one of Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee’s monologues, a photo of former Philippine president Cory Aquino is inscribed with the word “Slut!”

The skit in its entirety can be seen here:

While the response has not been as large as the one that met Desperate Housewives, many Filipino bloggers have expressed anger about having its first female president be labeled with such a sexist and untrue label. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has put in a request to the Department of Foreign Affairs to forward a complaint to the creators of TDS. Feminist NGO Gabriela has spoken out and condemned the use of comedy that demeans all women. I have read in a few places that Jon Stewart has issued a statement, but have yet to find a reliable news source to link to.

Unlike Desperate Housewives, I am a huge fan of TDS. When I was still living in the U.S., I watched it very religiously almost every night, along with its partner show, The Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert. I watch the delayed telecast here in the Philippines (at least until Jack TV changed the broadcast schedule unannounced), as well as sometimes catching the condensed Global Edition on CNN International. As a result, I am very familiar with its style and sense of humor, and I usually find it side-splitting hilarious.

I would encourage the Filipino community to please view the skit in its entirety, rather than focus on the three seconds it takes to show the photo in question and thereby stripping it of any context whatsoever. First, even if you are a first-time viewer of TDS, I think it’s quite plain that Samantha Bee doesn’t mean to take herself seriously. The whole segment is a parody of Sex and the City, for crying out loud. Samantha Bee gets splashed with a bucket of water while wearing a TUTU, and we see her trying to sip the remnants of her spilled Cosmo off of her laptop. The scene with President Aquino’s photo has Samantha Bee at the gynecologist’s office, with her legs spread open. Come on. If that doesn’t scream exaggeration or comedy to you, then I don’t know what will. Second, the gynecologist’s scene had photos of leaders other than President Aquino, including a “photo” of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in a panty-less shot very much in the style of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Both photos were also a parody of popular gossip blog Perez Hilton, who is popular for defacing paparazzi photos with crudely drawn penises and sarcastic comments. Ultimately, parody does not reflect any malicious intent, but instead has a purpose or statement. In this case, like many TDS skits, many people’s irrational fears and beliefs are skewered and even debunked. By mentioninPerez Hiltong Cory Aquino and saying that she “faced down dictators” as one of the world’s first “girl leaders”, TDS is paying the Philippines a compliment by saying that we are actually more progressive than the U.S. because we have had female leaders while many Americans still have a problem even thinking about electing one. I believe that thinking critically about this skit is actually much more revealing than paying attention to one line that was delivered with irony.

I will add, however, that there is something to be said about differences in context. I will concede that the greater Filipino community has a much more logical basis for complaining about this skit, simply because there is no way that all Filipinos are going to pick up the references in what would otherwise be an obscure TV show.

For one, in the Philippines, TDS is only shown on cable TV channels, already limiting the viewership to a privileged handul. Furthermore, within the demographic of cable TV subscribers, those who don’t have Jack TV will have to catch the heavily edited, weekly TDS Global Edition on CNN International, which only shows highlights of the week’s shows and edits out any profanity or otherwise controversial segments and skits. That already dilutes the TDS style and can understandably cause confusion for those who may have been stunned by the nature of the Samantha Bee skit. This is just in the Philippines alone. I can’t even speak for the rest of the global Filipino community, who may not have even heard of the show or have access to channels that show it. All I know is that the show does not have the kind of impact on the larger community the way that, say, the movie A Walk To Remember did. Already, we have a community who, as a whole, would not understand where Jon Stewart and the rest of TDS are coming from. This is also exacerbated by the numerous U.S. pop culture-specific references, such as Sex and the City (also a cable show) and Perez Hilton’s blog, that would also fly over the heads of those who have never been exposed to it. So, it makes sense that many people would not get the humor and would consequently react with outrage.

In the movie Looking For Comedy in the Muslim World, Albert Brooks’ character asks [paraphrased], “Can’t we find anything that we can all laugh about?” Personally, I don’t know if there is an answer to that. What I do know is that there are some things that some people will find funny, while others will not. That is a social fact. Context can be summed up by saying, “You had to have been there to get it.” It can be as small as an inside joke between two friends, to a TV show that sets up a joke that only their devoted audience will understand, while casual listeners may not. The greater Filipino community may get outraged by a couple of U.S. TV shows, but has it ever thought about how its own comedic works are affecting other groups of people? Why does no one feel any anger or outrage towards Michael V.’s song “DJ Bumbay“, whose video is of a hyper-cartoonish Indian merchant?

If the same people who condemn Jon Stewart are the same ones who patronize these videos, then it would be safe to say that the outrage over TDS is self-serving and hypocritical. I think it is also safe to say that some comedy is not meant to be understood by everyone, and that part of what makes it so funny is because it is a reflection of contexts that only insiders may understand. The only time it should matter is if there are concrete repercussions to comedic performances, such as Blackface and the exclusion and ostracization of Blacks and Black performers in the U.S. And I highly doubt that the majority of Americans are suddenly going to go around believing that Filipino leaders and, by extension, all Filipinos are slutty just because some comedy skit said so.

In the wake of the Desperate Housewives controversy, it is getting more ridiculous and, quite frankly, embarrassing how much the Filipino community is ready to go to battle over a few TV shows. Again, I wish we would re-focus our priorities and show the same kind of anger and proactive-ness towards helping the poor, the unemployed, or the exploited find justice in an increasingly unstable environment. If we are going to continue nitpicking overseas entertainment for every mention of the Philippines or Filipinos, we are never going to be satisfied. So, we might as well focus our energies towards something that can actually be productive.

Final verdict: OVERRATED

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s