PGTW: Persona non crustacea

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 21 August 2014, Thursday

Persona non crustacea

When a comedian called the residents of Davao “hipon” – shrimp – was it a big enough offense to warrant his being declared persona non grata by the leaders of the city?

Ramon Bautista was trying to be funny, as per his job description, when he used a street slang term to poke fun at the people of Davao City in his stand-up act last Aug. 16 during the Kadayawan Festival.

“Hipon” refers to people with great-looking bodies but ugly faces.

According to the resolution passed by the local government of the City of Davao, Bautista “shouted his greetings to the crowd by saying, ‘Tama! Ang daming hipon dito sa Davao! Alright!’” He then “goaded the crowd to chant Hipon” twice.

Davao City Vice-Mayor Paolo Duterte asked Bautista to apologize, which he did on stage, “belatedly.”

Also in the resolution is a claim that Bautista subsequently “posted in his Instagram account a picture of himself with his arms draped over three young women attending the event and wrote the caption ‘Ito ang kabataan ngayon hihi #Kadayawan #PasisikatinKitaIhaFoundation’.”

Davao City officials found his attitude “arrogant” and “sexist”, and deemed it a form of sexual harassment that promotes male chauvinism.

“Whereas,” the resolution goes, “there is a need to make Mr. Bautista understand that as a visitor of a place he should be mindful of decency and propriety… and a need to let the world know and those that employ Mr. Bautista, that he is an extremely corrupting influence to the youth and his abusive behavior should not be tolerated.”

Bautista took to Twitter to air his reaction. On Aug. 18, he posted an apology, acknowledging that what he said was offensive to the people of Davao and that he was ready to accept the consequences.

The next day, after learning that he was declared persona non grata, he Tweeted, “I respect the decision of the Davao officials and I will abide by it.”

Now, what’s funny and what’s offensive in comedy?

Much of stand-up in the Philippines is either slapstick or derogatory against the audience. Comedians show off their ad-libbing skills by picking a random spectator and reeling off jokes about their appearance and personality.

Some performers are downright cruel, so much that I have friends who swear that they’ll never watch another local stand-up show again lest they be the butt of the evening’s gags – an unwanted experience, especially if you paid hard-earned money to watch the show and expected to have a good laugh.

In contrast, successful comedians like the late Robin Williams are self-deprecating. This is not to say that there haven’t been comedians who poke fun at others who weren’t able to pull it off, but they do it in small doses, because in general, audiences want to have a good time, and not to get hurt.

Bautista showed poor judgment indeed. To echo the Davao resolution, his hashtag ‘pasisikatin kita, iha’, is sexist and arrogant, as if the three women fans were “lusting for popularity.” If this is genuinely how Bautista perceives himself and his fans, then he has a mighty big opinion of himself and a very low one of his fans.

However, he made a humble apology and so far has not spoken further on the incident. That’s classy.

Did the Davao officials overreact? To declare persona non grata a comedian who made a bad joke is rather extreme. In diplomatic usage, such a person is forbidden from entering the country that issued the declaration. Does this mean that Bautista is banned from visiting Davao until this is lifted? While the incident occurred in their city and such matters are left to their discretion, shouldn’t such a punishment be reserved for more heinous acts or behaviors?

On the other hand, Davao’s over-the-top reaction is a lesson to Bautista and other performers that banter about personal appearance are below the belt. Jokes that demean other people are arrogant and self-serving. Gags that perpetuate the patriarchy and male privilege and legitimize such attitudes as the norm do not serve society’s best interest.

A truly funny man finds his punchlines elsewhere, and has no need to stoop to offensive remarks to entertain his audience.

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