Tag Archive | "censorship"

FF Podcast 63 (Audio): Paint Their Hands Black?


FF Podcast 63: Paint their hands black?

Is it censorship if the creator the advertisement itself blacks out part of the image? This week, we talk about the Bench billboard that showed a “sanitized” image of a gay couple holding hands.

You may also download the podcast file here.

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Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

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Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

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FF Podcast 63: Paint Their Hands Black?


This week, we talk about the Bench billboard that showed a gay couple holding hands and how it was censored.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Freedom of Expression, Media, Podcast, Society, VideoComments (0)

Our Government was Hacked: Cyber Martial Law and the Sottovirus


Definitely not a government web page.

The true test of any system is its ability to respond to problems. A system can work most of the time, but you can’t measure its true capacity unless you subject it to stress.

This is what happened to several government websites recently when Anonymous Philippines hacked them to display a message protesting the Cybercrime Prevention Act. While proving their skill as hackers, they also proved another thing: the security system of these government sites has failed. There have been a range of criticisms to this hacking: from petty and ineffective on one end to ultimately counterproductive on the other.

Whatever the case, this serves as a good analog to the larger narrative. The government is designed to self-correct internal problems through a system of checks and balances. There’s a reason there are three branches of government, two houses of Congress, 24 senators, and so on. These bureaucracies make it hard for any single element to make the entire system fail, similar to a computer’s using several layers of protection, such as firewalls and anti-virus software.

So what does the passage of the Cybercrime bill say about our government? Our legislative system has been hacked; its many layers of security have failed. A malicious virus was uploaded, undetected, and resulted in the system behaving contrary to its intended design.

Let me explain the analogy. As part of a democratic government, our legislation was designed to create democratic laws. In contrast, the laws crafted by a dictatorial government would be undemocratic. By now it’s obvious to any intelligent person who has a basic understanding of democracy that the Cybercrime Law is undemocratic. I have yet to encounter someone who thinks otherwise. Despite their responsibility for the law, even our politicians agree, but it will take some explaining.

Most probably, the implications of the Cybercrime Law — particularly on the right to free speech and privacy — weren’t fully understood by most legislators when they first encountered it. I don’t think that any intelligent legislator would think that someone who simply tweets an unflattering sentence about someone should be at risk of government surveillance or spending a decade behind bars. This is just one of the Cybercrime Law’s implications that weren’t so obvious at first. These concerns possibilities may be absurd, but they’re legitimate ones, at least according to every lawyer I’ve read and spoken to so far.

Senator Escudero: Better late than never?

I believe that if you take a poll of our lawmakers, asking them whether they would have passed the bill knowing these implications, the results would show how much each lawmaker understands and values democracy. Only the undemocratic or incredibly stupid would still have passed it.

In spite of everything, I still think majority of our lawmakers are basically democratic. Yet the Cybercrime Law shows that a mostly-democratic legislative branch has created an extremely undemocratic law. The executive branch, which is lead by someone who would especially want to avoid any association with dictatorship, would have vetoed the bill had he known its dictatorial implications.

Sadly, most of them will never admit this. Senator Escudero has been the first and only one so far to have admitted his mistake, but only because he has good reason to. He is the author of a bill that decriminalizes libel. There could be nothing more embarrassing than his having passed a bill that not only perpetuates libel’s criminal status but broadens it as well. An error of this magnitude is better corrected sooner than later.

Which makes me wonder why Senator Angara, who has also authored a bill removing the prison penalty for libel, has yet to admit his mistake. It probably has to do with the fact that he is a principal author of the Cybercrime Law. Admitting that you shouldn’t have passed your own law is understandably more embarrassing. Two more senators, Sen. Honasan and Sen. Estrada, also have pending bills that decriminalize libel. Yet both have voted for a bill that makes libel an even graver crime, and both have yet to admit their grave mistake.

The other senators are not as hard-pressed to admit their error, and it will be interesting to listen to their excuses when (or if) they do. But I highly doubt that many will. Because if more Senators admit that they’ve made a mistake, then the integrity of the entire legislative institution will be jeopardized. Better to perpetuate the story that the Cybercrime Law, flawed as it is, is still the product of a working legislative branch.

P-Noy thoroughly examining something.

Which is precisely the story that the executive one has been telling so far. His spokespersons have said that he endorsed the Cybercrime Law only after studying it thoroughly. Which is a good political move considering the alternative: admitting that he and the people who work for him weren’t doing their jobs (or as his critics love to call it, Noynoying).

Our government may not admit it, but the integrity of the legislative and executive branches has been tested, and it has failed badly. Like the handful of government websites hacked by Anonymous PH, our democratic system has been hacked — the Cybercrime Law is the malicious web page to prove it.

But there is hope. The third branch of government has yet to fail, and it is now being tested. Several citizens have separately filed motions asking the Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) on implementing the law’s undemocratic provisions. Some have even asked that the entire law be repealed. But it will be hard for the Supreme Court to do either. Whichever they choose, it will mean the failure of the executive and legislative branches. Understandably, Chief Justice Sereno would think twice before painting P-noy and his administration as less than competent.

And if there’s any branch who understands how undemocratic and unconstitutional the Cybercrime Law is, it’s the Supreme Court. Regardless of what the SC decides, it’s up to us citizens, the programmers and owners of this system, to make sure that the error is corrected. We deserve some of the blame, having installed these faulty components. But it’s a good sign that unlike the incompetent government we’ve elected, we’ve detected the virus.

CJ Sereno and the SC: The Last Bastion?

What’s left is to deal with it — telling our anti-virus software to put the virus in quarantine (issue a TRO), delete it (repeal the law), and of course, uninstalling those responsible for it (not re-electing them). The Cybercrime Law is testing our country — whether we’re truly a democracy or just a democracy on paper. It is then fitting that some have dubbed it “cyber martial law.” Forty years ago, when Marcos declared martial law, we faced a similar test. I hope it doesn’t take us as many years — or casualties — to pass this one.

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For updates on the fight to junk the Cybercrime Prevention Act (Cyber Martial Law), join the Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance (PIFA) on Facebook. Filipino Freethinkers is a proud member of PIFA.

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FF Podcast (Audio) 007: Lady Gaga vs Bigots and Fundies


Filipino Freethinkers Podcast #7

Our newest podcast (that’s also a video) is up! Here, Marge, Ria and Red discuss the current protest of some Christian groups against the Lady Gaga concert, the difficulties of satire in a country where the news reads like stories out of The Onion, and how beauty queen Miriam Quiambao’s courage in defiance of popular opinion has contributed to the awareness of LGBT rights.



What are your thoughts on these topics? Please comment on this page.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

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Lady Gaga Concert Ends in Flames, Fans Sink Further into Moral Decadence


MANILA, Philippines–The fire was over, but the worst was yet to come. After putting out the last of the flames, firemen began searching for survivors in the rubble of what was once the SM Mall of Asia concert grounds. This was where Lady Gaga performed a concert as part of her “Born This Way Ball” tour.

But what was supposed to be just another concert in the tour became one of the worst disasters the country has ever seen. An eyewitness is yet to be found, but surviving CCTV footage caught the unfortunate series of events.

It all started when Lady Gaga sang “Born This Way,” a song that has become an anthem of the LGBT community. Upon hearing the chorus, straight couples separated from each other and immediately French kissed the same-sex person closest to them.

With only minimal foreplay these same-sex couples fornicated on the ground, and to make matters worse, they used condoms. Soon there were threesomes and foursomes until there were several huge gay and lesbian orgy piles around the arena.

But it was when Lady Gaga sang “Judas” that all Hell broke loose. As soon as the song started, the now fully homosexual audience immediately stood up from the orgy piles.

The lighters, which were to be used for dramatic waving in unison, became weapons of arson, their lighter fluid sprinkled all over the venue, blessing the place with the unholy water of fire.

It is unsure who ignited it and what kind of Satanic lighter fluid they used, but soon the entire MOA concert grounds were engulfed in flames.

Bodyguards escorted the bewildered Lady Gaga out while her Filipino fans rushed like mindless rage zombies toward the exit.

Outside, they trampled and tripped over corpses of Christian fundamentalist protesters, who by the mere sound of Lady Gaga’s voice started to eat each other without even saying Grace.

Those who made it out alive followed a similarly demonic pattern according to consolidated witness testimonies, mostly from close friends and family who were shocked by the demonic transformation.

Married couples, who were now all homosexual, cited psychological incapacity and impotence for straight sex as they filed for annulment.

Pregnant women immediately got abortions and bought several boxes of birth control pills.

Those who were taking care of grandparents or loved ones on life support committed euthanasia shortly followed by acts of necrophilia.

Relatives urged these Lady Gaga fans to go to Church for confession, but all of them had apparently become atheists, preferring to stay home in their sex chapel worshiping their new god, Satan.

The police have captured one particularly violent fan who after the concert started kicking street dogs several times before having sex with them (wearing condoms, of course).

He reluctantly gave us a quick interview before he was taken to the vet for Rabies shots. We asked him, “What’s the reason for your gratuitously evil behavior and that of your fellow Lady Gaga fans?”

“I don’t know,” replied the man. “We’ve heard all her songs and watched all her music videos millions of times. We’ve even seen footage of other Lady Gaga concerts online.

“I guess there’s just something special that happens when you hold a Lady Gaga concert in predominantly Catholic Philippines.”

Image credits

Posted in Humor, Religion, SocietyComments (28)

Lady Gaga vs. the Bible: An Obscene-Off


Lady Gaga will perform in the Philippines, but not if some bigots can help it. Biblemode Youth Philippines has gone on Bible Mode, calling for the blasphemous concert to be canceled. Their protest leader, former Congressman Benny Abante, threatened to file a lawsuit if she sings “Judas,” a performance protesters consider obscene, and therefore, illegal.

Penal Censorship

Former Manila Mayor Jose Atienza agrees, saying that such obscenity is punishable by six months to six years in prison under the Revised Penal Code. According to Article 201 — which was also used against Mideo Cruz’s Jesus-Penis-Juxtaposition in Polyteismo — obscenity applies to immoral displays that

(1) glorify criminals or condone crimes;

(2) serve no other purpose but to satisfy the market for violence, lust or pornography;

(3) offend any race or religion;

(4) tend to abet traffic in and use of prohibited drugs; and

(5) are contrary to law, public order, morals, good customs, established policies, lawful orders, decrees and edicts.

Judas vs. Jesus

The music video of “Judas” depicts “Jesus and his disciples as a motorcycle gang and tells the story of Jesus’ betrayal, with Lady Gaga playing the role of Jesus’ girlfriend, who is torn between her loyalty to Jesus and her love for Judas.”

Out of the 5 criteria for obscenity, “Judas” is guilty — by my judgment — of just one: (3) offending any race or religion. (1) doesn’t count (unless the motorcycle gang Jesus belonged to was a criminal one). Nor does (2) because beyond the stunts and gimmicks, many people actually like her music. (4) is arguable but unlikely. And (5) refers to laws, public order, and other supposedly non-sectarian rules — not the doctrines and opinions of a single sect or religion.

Fans vs. Fanatics

Lady Gaga is no stranger to such controversy — South Koreans protested to prevent infecting the youth with “homosexuality and pornography,” and in Indonesia, the Islamic Defenders Front said “they were ready to die to stop the concert.”

But should the concert be canceled — like in Indonesia — or censored — like what could happen here — it’s not Lady Gaga who’ll be affected most — it’s the fans. The right to freedom of expression implies the right to freely access artistic expressions in their uncensored form. To defend their right to enjoy an artist they admire — and to protect the ideals of free speech in general — Lady Gaga’s fans should counter-protest, and I’m suggesting this is how they do it.

Gaga vs. Bible

They should file a case against Biblemode Youth Philippines for giving the youth access to the most obscene artistic expression ever made: the Bible. Compared to the Bible, a Lady Gaga concert looks like an episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. No one will dispute this, at least not anyone who has read the Bible — cover to cover, not just homily material. The Bible is so obscene that other than criterion (4), it is guilty of violating criteria (1), (3), and (5) many times over, and of (2) as well — unless you consider “being terrified of God” as a valid purpose.

The Bible is full of obscenity, filled with verses and verses not only of sex and violence, but every form of injustice, intolerance, and incitement of hatred against women, LGBTs, and even children.

I know many of you won’t read the Bible — especially if you’re a Bible-thumping Christian like Manny Pacquiao — so I’ll list just one example for each criterion of obscenity (except the fourth) to prove that more than Lady Gaga, the Bible is deserving of censorship, if not banning.

(1) glorify criminals or condone crimes

The Bible has many graphic stories that depict and even condone slavery, murder, genocide, torture, infanticide, and other atrocities that any non-psychopathic person would consider criminal. Here’s one.

To gain Saul’s approval, not to mention his daughter, Michal, David and his men not only killed a hundred Philistines, they also performed postmortem circumcisions, offering the Philistine foreskins — the 100 they individually counted — as bride price.

(2) serve no other purpose but to satisfy the market for violence, lust or pornography

Banging on a door, some wicked men wanted to gang rape a man, who was a guest in the house. The hospitable homeowner offered his own daughter and the guest’s concubine to be gang raped instead.

The wicked men didn’t agree, so the homeowner pushed the concubine out from the house into the wicked men. Gang rape ensues. The next morning the homeowner, finding the concubine dead, did the sensible thing and chopped up her body, limb from limb, into twelve parts before mailing them to all the areas of Israel.

Does the story have any other purpose “but to satisfy the market for violence, lust or pornography”? And even if this did teach some moral lesson (pray tell, what?), the violence is just too gratuitous for an allegory.

(3) offend any race or religion and (5) are contrary to law, public order, morals, good customs, established policies, lawful orders, decrees and edicts.

God hates the Midianites because they worship Baal of Peor. He told Moses to kill all Midianite leaders, or else, he’ll keep punishing them with a plague. So Moses ordered Israel’s judges to kill Israelites who converted to Baal worship.

One day, an Israelite man brought a Midianite woman into camp. Phinehas, not a judge, followed the couple into their tent. As they were having interracial interreligion sex, Phinehas thrust a sphere through both of their bodies. (Talk about double penetration.) For taking things into his own hands instead of letting the state (judges) enforce the law, God rewarded Phinehas and stopped His plague.

Child Pornography

Any one of these stories depicts something more immoral than any stunt Lady Gaga could pull, and this is but a small sample of similar stories scattered in both the Old and New Testament. What’s worse, the Bible does more than depict immorality — it condones and even justifies it.

Yet with all the pornography and gratuitous violence in the Bible, it’s probably the easiest book for anyone to access — children included. (It’s a good thing children generally think the Bible is boring. That old copy at home won’t be so dusty if the children knew there was enough sex and gore in it to make most video games dull in comparison.)

Some may argue that the stories aren’t so bad when read in context. But imagine what would happen if a fundamentalist studio were to show a movie depicting these scenes. Would it get a PG rating from the MTRCB? Would it be any different if there was narration that put the scenes into context? And what difference does putting it in book form make? Didn’t fundamentalist groups also call for the censorship of Harry Potter, Da Vinci Code, and the novels of Jose Rizal?

I’d be interested to see the outcome of such a case should Lady Gaga fans follow my suggestion. If they don’t, maybe it’s FF that should challenge the Bible’s immunity to censorship. In any case, somebody should do it. Think of the children.

Posted in Politics, Religion, SocietyComments (51)

EPIC Meetup Recap: The One with Karen Ocampo Flores, Mideo Cruz, and Carlitos Siguion-Reyna


 

The man on the left is visual artist Mideo Cruz, he of the hotly contested Poleteismo, and to his right is FF President Red Tani, he of the hipster glasses obviously stolen from the other dude. This photo was taken during the very epic FF meetup held last Saturday, wherein all three hours were consumed discussing the hoopla surrounding Cruz’s work, how people have been reacting to it, and what should be done to progress properly in light of the issue.

 

The mere mention of the CCP debacle on our meetup invite apparently piqued a lot of people’s interest. The entire second floor of Starbucks Ansons was packed. There were roughly 50 people in attendance, and the crowd was a great mix of regulars, newbies, and oldies back from the dead. Nowhere did we announce that Mideo and other folks involved more intimately in the issue would be present, so it was very heartening to see so many faces there purely out of the desire for discourse.

 

Nevertheless, we were extremely honored that several persons key to the issue were there to share their thoughts. As mentioned, the artist himself was there, and he disclosed to us the extent of the hateful threats he has received since the whole controversy began, as well as his insights into art-making and putting his pieces out for public consumption. Fortunately, he was quite adamant in standing by Poleteismo. 

 

Also present was Karen Ocampo Flores, the former Museum and Visual Arts Director of the CCP who resigned from her post due to this whole debacle (and whose reaction to the Dakdakan forum can be read here). A very important point she raised during the meetup was the media’s accountability in the issue. She said that the media’s oversimplification and sensationalism were quite detrimental to the whole debate, and drove home the point that Filipinos need to be better educated on the value of art and art appreciation in order for them to think for themselves.

 

Another very special surprise that day was the presence of renowned film director Carlitos Siguion-Reyna. Carlitos is currently working on a project greatly significant to the entire Poleteismo issue — the passage of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB)/Freedom of Expression Bill (you can join the FB group here), which aims to pry the Philippines away from the Dark Ages and better classify which films have true value and are fit for public consumption, and which films do not.

 

Working with Carlitos on the bill’s passage is Dino Manrique, who was also present. A familiar face in the local literary scene, Dino shared his thoughts on educating the masses regarding art, and how art critics could have had a more public voice in the matter to lend everyone a richer perspective.

 

Most of the meetup was thus a very engaging discussion on how art ought to be digested. Should artists be obligated to explain their work? To what extent are people responsible for informing themselves regarding the arts?  Suffice it to say that the topic was very refreshing and made for passionate discussion.

Again, we were thrilled that so many people took it upon themselves to come and participate in our latest meetup. We’d like to think that is a taste of things to come. Since the very first meetup in February 2009, the FF meetups have been venues for richer and richer discussions amongst an increasingly diverse group of people, and we look forward to seeing more of you in the next one.

Photos courtesy of Patrick Charles Rigonan 

Posted in Meetup, Politics, Recap, SocietyComments (5)

UN Affirms Blasphemy as a Human Right


A constant in the unfolding controversy regarding Mideo Cruz is the debate on the right to free speech. The Palayain ang Sining movement has insisted that this isn’t just about Cruz’s work but about the right to free expression. And, ultimately, it is. It doesn’t matter whether you do not find the work aesthetically appealing or even worthy of attention. What is at stake is the right of artists, of human beings, to speak out.

Every conservative with one or two inches of column space has jumped on their rallying cry of “free speech is not absolute.” The claim that Cruz’s piece, which involved a penis on the image of a Caucasian Jesus Christ, was offensive to Catholics (they insist on “Christian” just to bump their numbers up) is being used by the personnel of the CBCP, such as Atty. Jo Imbong, in filing a suit against the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

What is hard to imagine is that something as essential to human rights as free speech even needs defending. It is as if the Catholics have forgotten that, once upon a time, their religion too was in the minority and was persecuted for heresies. The right to free speech is not absolute, yes, but it is abridged only by the risk of actual harm. Offense does not constitute real harm, according to our current understanding of the word. It is quite easy to pretend to be offended and even easier to organize an entire religion around the notion of offense.

This real harm is brought to bear by provable nonsense such as faith healing Masses that are regularly advertised on street banners. This real harm is caused by ex-gay clinics run by fundamentalist Christians. It seems clear that freedom of speech is only limited in the view of conservatives whenever it is convenient for them to curtail it. I wouldn’t be surprised if religious leaders cry persecution should the FDA start regulating these leaders’ therapeutic claims.

It is therefore encouraging that more enlightened bodies such as the Human Rights Council of the United Nations has released General Comment No. 34, which affirms the superiority of the right to free speech over the so-called right against blasphemy. Sorry, Atty. Imbong. General Comment No. 34 was put out by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which the Philippines is a member. As a signatory and ratifier, the Philippines is legally bound by international law to follow GC34. In the comment, it says that, “Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant….”

Members of the ICCPR are required “to guarantee the right to freedom of expression… This right includes… political discourse, commentary on one’s own and on public affairs, canvassing, discussion of human rights, journalism, cultural and artistic expression, teaching, and religious discourse. It may also include commercial advertising.” The comment instructs members to embrace “even expression that may be regarded as deeply offensive….” However, GC34 allows for laws against speech that could incite violence, discrimination, or hostility against a race, nation, or religion.

Certainly, there was no incitement of violence in Cruz’s piece against any person. If only the conservative Catholics offended by his work would extend the same courtesy. With death threats against Cruz and members of the CCP board, and threats against the security of the CCP, fundamentalists are keen on using their Constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech to the point of breaking. The fierceness with which they try to defend their sensibilities betrays insecurity, I think. It reveals a sliver of unsureness, that their beliefs aren’t capable of surviving criticism or a bit of reassessment.

With General Comment No. 34, the Philippine government may be compelled to repeal all the repressive and retrograde blasphemy laws we have in our books that the clerico-fascists keep dusting off and pulling out whenever society dares to go against their medieval aspirations.

The right to free speech protects not the pleasing ideas that we can all agree on, but the ones that we find most outrageous and unappealing. GC34 affirms that “Freedom of opinion and freedom of expression are indispensable conditions for the full development of the person. They are essential for any society. They constitute the foundation stone for every free and democratic society.” But the conservative extremists in the Philippines seem hellbent on eschewing democracy and liberty in favor of their own mangled notion of freedom.

It is not just the rights of Cruz and the CCP that the Church aims to restrict. It is the right of each and every one of us to hear what Cruz and what every other artist, every other person, has to say. And if what we hear is offensive, then we get to decide that, not the Church and certainly not someone who needs to preface every statement with “I’m a Thomasian.”

Image from new.exchristian.net

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Censorship: Why Should You Care?


As the war between the CCP and the CBCP reached fever pitch during the past few days, culminating in the eventual closure of an artist’s exhibit deemed ‘blasphemous‘,  it has effectively polarized those involved into two camps: those who say that freedom of artistic expression should supersede religious sacred cows or vice-versa. If you were an artist, then you’d support the freedom to express yourself. If you were the conservative type, then you’d prefer that religious symbolism be given special immunity against the more radical artistic interpretations.

But what about those of us on the outside – the regular Juan (or Maria…or anyone in between, for that matter) who doesn’t go to artsy-fartsy art museums and discuss the merits of an artist’s work all day? Why should it even matter to us? Shouldn’t it be left to the art connoisseurs and bishops to duke it out till their lungs explode?

 The reason is simple: because art (and artistic expression) is not only limited to painting and sculptures.

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Censorship in Music.

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Early this year, while the rest of the world celebrated the launch of Lady Gaga’s newest pop anthem ‘Born This Way’, a song about acceptance and embracing diversity, Malaysian authorities decided to ban it on the grounds of possibly offending religious feelings.

 

Sounds familiar?

Never mind the fact that not everyone in Malaysia is Muslim, or even if you were Muslim but were open-minded enough not to be offended by the sentiments of the song, the ruling applied to everyone. Public access to the song was banned for everyone, regardless of belief.

That’s the problem with censorship. It’s a blanket restriction that applies to everyone. You don’t the get the choice of watching or not watching, listening or not listening, buying or not buying it because you can’t. You don’t get a choice in the matter, you simply can’t.

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Can’t, can’t, can’t.    Period.

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Somebody else makes the decision of what you can or can’t watch. Even if you’ve read the reviews, heard a clip, or watched the trailer then felt that you won’t be offended by it, you still can’t. It’s not a simple matter of simply putting up a sign that goes:

Warning! Contains images of excessive violence, nudity, or profanity that may be offensive to some people.”

Censorship takes the choice away from you. What is offensive to some may not be to other people. But if you let a few people make that decision for everyone else, then you’ve lost the very essence of a free society. The issue is very simple: If you don’t like it, then don’t watch it. If a song has risqué lyrics that offend you, then don’t listen to it.

In all likelihood, with all the various forms of media out there, there are more things you’ll not like (or at least be apathetic to)  than the ones you’ll actually like. But don’t take the choice away from everyone else. Artistic expression is a highly subjective matter and everyone should at least be free to make up his or her own mind. If you are offended by it, then don’t see it. How much more simple can it get? If an artwork is controversial in nature, put a warning, a disclaimer, or even an age restriction. But unless something is unanimously considered to be hate-speech, total censorship is not the way to go.

Lady Gaga isn’t alone in her censorship woes. Without even going to the realm of Heavy Metal music, mainstream Rock and Rap are already the frequent targets of conservative groups seeking to shut them down for their provocative or liberal lyrics or messages.

 A few weeks back, there was a protest action mounted by a conservative group to block the Manila concert of Incubus because of their perceived demonic influence.

 

There’s a whole bucket list of popular songs where artists have tread the fine line between “artistic expression“ and “offending religious feelings” from John Lennon to Tori Amos:

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Censorship in Movies

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Remember when the Da Vinci Code was the blockbuster summer movie of 2006? Everyone read the book and was eager to see it on the big screen… that is, if you weren’t living in Manila where it was banned by their ultra-moralist city officials.

So the erstwhile Manila mayor Lito Atienza had the movie not only banned in theaters, but also made the sale and distribution of the movie in optical media like DVD’s punishable by law, citing that The Da Vinci Code was “offensive to the established beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church“.

Or what about the 1994 movie Priest which also didn’t see the light of day in the Philippines because of its controversial theme of a priest wrestling with his secret homosexuality?

As works of fiction, movies like these weren’t even intentionally made to be offensive to religious belief yet still they fell to the mighty axe of Philippine censorship. But nothing tops the most glaring example of this type of overzealous censorship:

‘The Last Temptation of Christ’, arguably one of Martin Scorsese’s most controversial work likewise did not make it to Philippine cinemas because of implications of religious offense.  Never mind that Scorsese himself was Catholic and never meant to create a movie offensive to his faith, it was taken as a direct attack on religion instead of an artistic interpretation of the concept of free will.

Thankfully, The Golden Compass narrowly evaded similar censorship attempts by religious groups to ban the movie because of its anti-religious sentiments (but only after so much compromise and judicious editing by the movie’s producers to tone it down. But that’s as far as it went. Because of heavy Catholic lobbying to block the production of Book 2 – The Northern Lights, the sequel will never see the light of day. That’s pre-production censorship for you.

One could only wonder what we would be missing if they also succeeded in banning Harry Potter as well because of its “blatant promotion of witchcraft and sorcery”.

Make no mistake, the outcome of the CCP versus CBCP debate can and will be used as a precedent for all future censorship battles in the Philippines on just how much control a vocal minority can exert on what the rest of us can or cannot be allowed to see, hear, or purchase. It won’t stop with mere painting or sculptures. If conservative groups here can threaten, sue, deface, or outright remove an art exhibit, what’s to stop them from doing the same thing to more commercial forms of artistic expression like movies and music?

If you don’t care as to the fate of some artist you’ve never heard of and whose work you don’t particularly appreciate, what happens if this eventually happens to an artist you do like?

Images from Amazon, IMDB, LILI.org, Mideastposts.com

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Conservative Catholicism as Absurdist Art


I recently had the pleasure of watching the absurdist play HARING +UBU-L XXX staged by the Sipat Lawin Ensemble at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Surprisingly, the content of the play wasn’t the most bizarre and surreal part of my day hanging around the CCP. At the open forum held on the Kulô exhibit and Mideo Cruz’s controversial Poleteismo, Catholic conservatives composed of priests, businessmen, and anti-choice activists lectured artists on what art is, in CCP. Apologies to the Sipat Lawin Ensemble but even their hilarious avant-garde piece couldn’t possibly compete with the sheer audacity of these conservatives.

 

What the conservative Catholics kept braying about during the forum was that Cruz’s piece offended the majority of Filipinos, which is still dominated by the Catholic Church, just going by the numbers. They still seem unable, however, to fathom the possibility of dissent among their ranks by naively assuming that every person baptized in the Catholic Church as a baby agrees with their single-minded cause of suppressing individual freedoms.

Yolly Gamutan, National Secretary of the Catholic Youth League of the Philippines, should be commended for saying something in the forum that every other conservative has been thinking these past months but was never brave enough to voice out. She said that “…to be Catholic, we cannot be independent in our thinking….” This brief moment of sincerity perfectly frames all the culture war issues in the Philippines right now—from divorce to the ever-contentious RH bill.

The underlying idea being fought over via church bulletin boards, bumper stickers, and Facebook walls is the seemingly novel concept of freedom. In this issue, the CBCP and its cohorts seem unaware that the concept of free expression is meaningless if it were meant only to protect the agreeable but not the offensive. And it appears that the word “freedom” means entirely different things depending on whether a conservative Catholic says it or whether a proponent of free speech says it.

To the conservatives, freedom is simply the “freedom” to act according to God’s will. This Bo Sanchez-esque cliché pervades each and every action the CBCP and its front organizations present to the public. The whole notion of self-determination and the freedom to act according to one’s own independent thoughts and beliefs is alien to them. The clerico-fascism that is the spirit of our times is crusaded for by the Church under the guise of well-meaning and an honest belief that they know better than everyone else. They’re only suppressing liberties because they know for a fact that people couldn’t possibly willfully disobey God or freely choose to go to hell.

Another absurdity proudly flaunted by the conservatives during the open forum was their call for relying on a so-called “absolute universal standard for art”. Instead of progress and a sign of maturity, they see the acceptance of new things as a sign of relativism, which is a mortal sin. The call for universal standards for art itself betrays a sense of crippling self-doubt on the part of the conservatives that the brain their Creator made for them is incapable of reaching its own conclusions. This Creator who is apparently so thin-skinned that even though he is able to create supernovas and black holes, he is still insecure enough to be insulted by what some insignificant creature built in some tiny planet. I am amazed at the gall and bravado of these mere humans who claim to speak for the feelings of an omnipotent deity, saying that God is offended by some art installation no one else would have seen had they not raised a stink about it. And they say it is the atheist who is arrogant and self-possessed.

Children, as expected, were used as arguments against Cruz’s work. Think of the children who would see such obscenities and sex-related imagery! But, I think I understand now who the children they keep referring to are. It is the conservative Catholics themselves who are the children—incapable of deciding for themselves what is right, impotent in the face of nuance, and unable to comprehend that other people exist and that they have their own wills and minds.

They called Cruz’s piece “trash” and “pornography” while unwittingly involving themselves in what is itself art—the unending discourse of what art is. And I should love to see a reenactment of the farce that occurred that Friday at the CCP. No avant-garde movement could ever challenge the sheer bombast and ludicrousness of the Catholic Church and the people who speak for it.

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Republic of the Philistines


This article was written prior to the forum held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) regarding the controversy over Mideo Cruz’s artwork, which was conducted last August 5, 2011. 

For a reaction to the forum by CCP’s Visual Arts Officer-in-Charge Karen Ocampo Flores, click here.

— 

I must admit to writing this out of anger and out of fear. Just this morning, two individuals walked into the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ gallery housing the exhibit Kulo and proceeded to do the following:

The culprit/s wrote in BALLPEN on portions of the artworks, a pedestal, and walls, “EMEDEO [sic] SUMPAIN KA! BAKLA!” And then on another (unfortunate) artist’s work that had the word “MOVE,” he or she wrote, “TO HELL.” The culprit/s also hacked off the wooden penises from the cross installation.

– Tony Perez, via Facebook

This is the very same exhibit which the CBCP and its ally Pro-life Philippines’ President Eric Manalang demanded the closure of. When the CCP organized an open forum to discuss the matter with him and the museum going public, he proceeded to threaten to file a lawsuit against them the day before the forum.

I am deeply angry at the barbarians who perpetrated this shameless act of vandalism against public artworks, and I am afraid at the lengths to which people like them are willing to go for their so-called loving faith. If the CBCP or its allies fail to do anything less than totally condemn this barbaric action, then it will confirm my worst fears about how little value they put not only on freedom of expression, but on basic respect for other people’s lives, livelihood and property.

UPDATE: Ah. Color my fears confirmed, then:

Atty. Jo Imbong on CCP vandalism: “Now we see how a disordered act like an exhibit like that can fuel other disorders. Evil leads to more evils in its wake.” Imbong is from a Catholic lay group filing charges against the CCP and the artist. – Jeff Canoy over twitter (continuation)

Despite every effort made at civil accomodation, the CBCP and Pro-life Philippines have shown through their actions that they do not want discourse or discussion; they only want their demands met and their dictates obeyed.

The CCP has made a call for ‘respect and sobriety’, the full text of which can be found here (Facebook link). For this I am thankful, as it reminds me that there are still even-tempered, well-intentioned individuals who are willing to take a step back and consider the consequences of their actions and who those actions might hurt. I am thankful that through all this, there are those that still understand the value and meaning of respect.

It’s because of people like these that I can believe we do not quite yet live in an actual Philistine Republic, though it seems increasingly apparent that that is exactly the sort of country that the CBCP and its allies wish us to become. For what else would their current strategy of promoting anti-intellectualism through throttling free expression be good for, if not to bring about a society where no one may think or dare to oppose them?

(Image taken from here)

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Bastos is in the Eye of the Beholder


It has often been said that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” that is, the things we see around us are interpreted differently from viewer to viewer. But what about the flip-side? Is the “profane” just as subjective as the “pleasing”?

In one of my travels, I found myself tagging along with my sister who was meeting her one-time Arts History professor Mr. Ybañez in Madrid. Now being a numbers guy, art was never one of my strong suits, in contrast to my kid sister who’s an Arts graduate. But thinking this was going to be a rare chance to expand my horizons, I begged to be the third-wheel in their art-tripping escapade.

The first stop was the Museo del Prado, one of the world’s largest art museums. Gazing at literally thousands of the world’s most treasured art pieces and listening to my two art-aficionado companions rattle trivia after trivia about the pieces we encountered was educational, to say the least. Turning a corner into another hall, we heard snickering from a group of teenage tourists who were calling their other friends to come see a painting that had piqued their interests. Curiosity got the better of me and I glanced at the artwork they were giggling at.

And there it was. A huge painting showing what looks like the Virgin Mary baring one of her breast, giving it a deft squeeze, and squirting a long stream of breast milk straight into the open mouth of a kneeling monk.

Kinky, I thought.

Some sort of Catholic breast-fetish perhaps? Surely this must be some sort of poe. The very thought of showing Catholicism’s most venerated symbol of virginity and purity actually flashing her breast and feeding a grown man her own breast milk? Oh, the Freudian implications! The very idea, mixing the sacred with the sexual, soon had me joining in the barely suppressed mirth of the other viewers.

Then my killjoy sister gave me a subtle elbow jab while giving me that “don’t you dare embarrass me in front of my prof” look.  Mr. Ybañez then graciously explained that the painting was one of Alonzo Cano’s best-known work, “The Vision of St. Bernard”. He further explained that the Latin inscription above the Virgin’s head “Monstra te esse matrem” meant “Show yourself to be a mother”. The painting was the artist’s depiction of a rather fanciful myth attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux where the saint was deep in prayer to the Virgin Mary. In response to his devotions, the statue miraculously came alive, pressed her bosom, and fed the devout saint her own milk to symbolize her divine role of motherhood over the faithful.

Now this tale, as well as the art depicting it, is rich in symbolism. If one were to interpret the painting or even the legend behind it literally, it would most certainly be fraught with sexual connotations. A shallow interpretation of this artwork would deem it “bastos” or even heretical. Thus the critical need to look beyond first impressions and try to figure out what the artist is trying to tell us. If there’s one thing I learned from my know-it-all sister and her erudite professor that day was that “art” is the process of relaying abstract ideas through symbolism. Juxtaposing symbolisms of the carnal with the spiritual does not automatically make something “blasphemous”. Compared to analyzing a mathematical formula, which is as straightforward as it gets, art is never interpreted the same way by different viewers.

Interpretation is part of the whole art experience. The artist creates the art… but that’s only half of the process. How the viewer perceives it is “creating meaning” on its own. We apply our own world-views, biases, and personal symbology on the artwork, creating an experience unique to each spectator. (plus, it helps if someone more knowledgeable gives you the cliff notes version of its back-story and history for us noobs).

One then would be led to wonder how this painting would fare if instead of being housed in the hallowed halls of one of the world’s top art museums, it was instead displayed here in the Philippines. Would it suffer the way Mideo Cruz’s works did?

Would the Catholic bishops likewise raise hell over its supposed “blasphemous” imagery?

Would Pro-Life’s Eric Manalang likewise attempt to file charges over its public display?

Would lawyer Jo Imbong likewise call it an obscenity for “offending religious belief”?

and…

Would religious extremist vandals also deface it… and have the CBCP actually blame the victim for the incident (perhaps, in the same way some bigots blame the victims of rape for “bringing it upon themselves” because of the way they dress)?

If art of this nature suffers so in the hands of our self-appointed local “art critics”, then maybe it’s a good thing they’re safely kept half a world away, far from the overzealous pinoy vandals and lawsuit-happy pinoy moral-police.

If this is the level of shallowness we can muster for art appreciation, then is it any wonder we are left with the mundane and banal which passes as “art”? While the rest of the world thrives in diversity and maturity in the appreciation of art, we are left with recycling what is safe and conventional lest someone be “offended” by what he sees.

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Censor This


I recently spoke at a small RH forum in De La Salle University where Carlos Antonio Palad, Philosophy doctorate from UP and ardent opponent of the RH Bill, while accompanied by his companion from Defensores Fidei, said that though he might not agree with what I said, he would defend to death my right to say it.

I therefore would like to humbly ask for the good professor’s promised aid in this latest case of CBCP censorship. Their chosen organization for distancing and deniability this time is Pro-life Philippines, with the effort being personally spearheaded by its president Eric Manalang, who has been demanding that an art exhibit containing, among others, the work of Mideo Cruz in the Cultural Center of the Philippines be taken down.

“By Thursday afternoon, we will file a case if they do not stop the exhibit and if they do not also make amends because stopping is not enough. The damage has been done,” Eric Manalang, president of Pro-life Philippines, said in an article posted on the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines news site on Tuesday.


“Relics”, one of the works by Mideo Cruz

To address their demands, CCP set up an open forum this Friday, inviting the general public and concerned parties to come and openly discuss the issue.

Pro Life Philippines’ response to this invitation has been to ignore it and any other attempts at dialogue, then threaten a lawsuit if the exhibit was not taken down by Thursday afternoon, the day before the open forum which was organized in large part for them.

Since the start of this year, the CBCP and its allies have taken down this fast food commercial with its obviously demonic children, as well as the society destroying pectorals of the Philippine Volcanoes rugby team. Having taken on the imperialist capitalist conspirators Mcdonald’s and Bench Apparel, perhaps they now finally feel confident enough to crush the greatest threat to the cultural heritage of the Philippines: the, er, Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Not that the CBCP or its allies would ever stoop to interfering with free expression and political discourse, of course. They have after all continually assured us that they seek only to create a space for them to practice their faith without interfering with that of others.

Perhaps Defensores Fidei felt that in threatening to sue us if we did not take down a video of their speaker at a public forum saying that the tsunami in Japan happened because the Japanese used artificial contraceptives, they were defending the right of their own to be cruelly insensitive and not be criticized for it.

I am also sure that when Eric Manalang and his friends told the ladies from Catholics4RH at another open forum to have their mothers abort themselves on the steps of Manila Cathedral, he too was expressing his right to be as crassly insulting as he wanted to his fellow Catholics.

Even good old Rizalito David was perhaps only expressing his right to threaten and then smack someone he didn’t like in the face, and then, together with Father Melvin Castro, was only exercising his right to quietly walk out of Congress and get away with physical violence while later calling the whole thing a non-issue.

Given all of this, I am glad that Dr. Palad has apparently promised his support for us in this endeavor to preserve the right of this one artist, Mr. Mideo Cruz, to express himself. After all, its not like there should be one standard for the Catholic church to express itself and another standard for any other Filipino citizen. I look forward to to Dr. Palad’s prompt and sincere reply.

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