PGTW: Vhongga in the voondocks

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 30 January 2014, Thursday

Vhongga in the voondocks

So much has been said about the Vhong Navarro mauling case that things, instead of clearing up, have become murkier.

Comedian Vhong said he was beaten up at model Deniece Cornejo’s apartment by Cornejo’s boyfriend, businessman Cedric Lee. He alleges he was invited to the lady’s condominium, that they had some sort of romantic or sexual relationship, that he came bearing food only to be jumped by Cedric and cohorts and so savagely roughed up as to require an operation, and extorted for money to hush the whole thing up.

Cornejo said Navarro tried to rape her, that Lee and friends were defending her honor, that she and Cedric were innocent of extortion.

That’s not the whole story, though. Both sides have subsequently given reams of newspaper interviews and yards of television footage soundbites in a “he said, she said” match that has even more spectators than the Wawrinka-Nadal match did.

Some quarters say Vhong couldn’t do it: others that Cedric is too wealthy to need to extort money from Vhong; or that Deniece is such a sweet person she couldn’t be lying.

The only sure thing is that both sides are sticking to their versions of the incident, and at this point no one knows who is telling the truth and who is spinning a yarn worthy of a movie script.

Because the parties involved are celebrities, they have resorted to media to air their respective sides and gain public sympathy. The incident, which would not otherwise have elicited interest if ordinary folk had been involved, blew up to such a magnitude that it overshadowed more significant news, such as that of the “spin-a-torture” wheel found in a Laguna prison facility.

Staunch fans of the celebs involved have expressed their support. Most netizens, however, are making fun of the incident.

One sports editor said this makes it obvious that no one should add the superfluous and ubiquitous “H” to their name, especially men.

Some who’ve viewed the TV interviews wonder why Deniece, who is supposedly traumatized from the incident, still manages to appear onscreen in perfect, blooming makeup (“pumuputok ang blush-on.”)

One of the many Internet memes goes: Deniece: “Tara sa condo” (Come to my condo). Manny Pacquiao: “Sige bring ako foods” (I’ll bring food). Cedric: “Shet!” The implication is, Cedric wouldn’t have been able to touch PacMan in a fight. The grammatical error makes it even funnier.

The mocking tone many have taken toward Vhong, Deniece, and Cedric smack of the Filipino penchant for indulging in schadenfreude, the pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. Also, social comparison theory says that when people around us suffer bad luck, we look better to ourselves.

This is probably why celebrity antics – that Parokya ni Edgar guy and his girlfriend’s leaked sex tape, Anne Curtis’s slapping spree – attract an immense amount of interest that pushes even national news off the radar.

The story isn’t over, and in the grand showbiz tradition of negative attention being better than no attention at all, it wouldn’t be a surprise if this was dragged out as long possible. Certainly, people who’d never heard of Deniece before and thought Vhong was no longer active in the industry (including me) have now had these two thrust upon their notice.

What’s most disturbing is how celebs can manipulate media for their own purposes, simply because they have the access and the popularity that make their actions (especially the scandalous) newsworthy.

What this says of our society is that it is still gives privileges to the well-connected and the wealthy. This is why there is hardly any public clamor for justice the torture victims in that Laguna police facility that is not on the official list of prisons.

Forty-four inmates were held in that horror house of pain, where since February last year, policemen who wore wigs and masks spun a wheel painted with punishments and durations (a “Manny Pacman” meant continuous punching for 20 seconds) inflicted torture on those who caught their sadistic fancy (napag-tripan).

Ten cops were suspended over that, and 15 inmates who promised to testify against their torturers have been moved to another prison. But why did it take a year before this came to media attention?

The advantages that status, wealth, and prestige confer upon those who enjoy them are not available to the ordinary Juan. This is a cultural norm that is unfair and unjust and for these reasons have no place in a society that prides itself on being democratic and predominantly Roman Catholic.

Until this and other social inequities are corrected, until we leave tiresome and misbehaving celebrities to their own business, until we have a clearer picture of what should and should not be significant news worthy of public attention, media will still make sure we enjoy the scandals and hijinks of society’s idols. *** 

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