Friday, December 10, 2010

The “Hoohah” Monologues, state censorship, self-censorship, freedom of speech...

By Pasckie Pascua

FIRST PUBLISHED IN The Indie; Loved by the Buffalo Publications. 2007 (Asheville, North Carolina).

Remember how Al Pacino’s Col. Frank Slade proudly spewed martial chic and gruff sophistication to the word (or was it a cuss) as he swooned and tangoed with fine wine and sweet women in “Scent of a Woman”? No wait, that was, “Whoa!” that he haughtily belted... I stand corrected.
Whatever it was, that movie was pretty cool stuff!
So what about “The Hoohah Monologues”? The first time I heard, “Hoohah!”—Mr Pacino crossed my mind, who else? A one-man gig for Michael Corleone, The Godfather, I thought out loud... No, I’m wrong again.
You must’ve already heard the story by now... A couple of months ago, a modified marquee in a theater in Atlantic Beach, Florida drew some attention. “Hoohah” replaced a word in a famous play after a female motorist complained about finding the previous wording offensive. Some thought “The Hoohah Monologues” was the name of a punk-rock or new wave band, or something – after all, said venue books acts of diverse musical genres. Meantime, I’m sure you’ve known of 80s acts with outrageous monickers, in the mold of Butthole Surfers and Piss Factory, right? Honestly though, I didn’t know what “hoohah” meant until my 9-year-old neighbor Colby The Dolby admitted that it actually meant “vagina,” or what he meekly muttered as, “that thing down there.”
“We got a complaint about this play The Vagina Monologues,” said Bryce Pfanenstiel, of the Atlantic Theater. “We decided we would just use child slang for it. That’s how we decided on Hoohah Monologues.” They did this after a driver who saw it complained to the theater, saying she was upset that her niece saw it.
The woman was reportedly enraged because she was forced to respond to her niece when asked what a vagina is. “I’m offended I had to answer the question!”
Uhh, I wonder... has anybody heard of an off-off Broadway play called, “The Penis Offensive”? It’s certainly not as famous and engaging as Eve Ensler’s Obie Award-winning episodic play, centered on various women’s views about the aforementioned part of their body... but, still, this “Penis” one-acter kind of courageously super-navigated “unexplored” terrains of the male genitalia like you’ve never imagined before. I tell you, it was obnoxiously nauseating!
Anyways... what the hell, right? The pristine beauty of living in the US of A—I dearly, deeply believe—is the fact that human beings are afforded the free will to say “Yes” or “No” to any given stimulus. Refuse or agree, conform or object. Or fence-sit, stay on the middle, it’s okay—that’s also a basic human right... But it’s all about Freedom.
But then, the word “vagina” flickering so proudly on a theater’s billboard, offensive? What about a giant full-color poster of half-naked Giselle Bundchen on super-tiny Victoria’s Secret underwear devouring a prominent spot at Times Square’s tourist belt? That’s a simplification, but—ah, contradictions...

I DON’T REALLY intend to consume my time on such elementary, hypocritical discourse. But I’d like to talk about this thing called “censorship.” It’s a popular notion that censorship is usually, most likely imposed by governmental institutions. That is a given, I guess... but the deeper anomaly rests within our psyche’s workings. We—wittingly and unwittingly—excise ruthless, often wayward, awkward “censorships” upon ourselves by way of acquired racial bias, over-adherence to “political correctness,” ideological/political dogma, and cultural/religious bigotry, that don’t necessarily emanate from State-imposed mores and “moral” statutes.
Censorship is the removal or withholding of information from the public by a controlling group or body. Typically, censorship is done by governments, religious groups, or the mass media, although other forms of censorship exist. The withholding of official secrets, commercial secrets, intellectual property, and privileged lawyer-client communication is not usually described as censorship when it remains within reasonable bounds. Because of this, the term “censorship” often carries with it a sense of untoward, inappropriate or repressive secrecy.
I mean, do we get it? Official/legal definitions tend to appear more complex than the act itself... We are so consumed with extravagant wordplay and lush vocabulary that human reflex (or common sense) gets lost in the dizzying fray.
Meantime, yes—it’s true that media censorship as imposed by governments remains as the one most incurable poison to freedom of speech. Or, it’s the most “popular” form of censorship. In China or Nepal, for instance, a wrong caption equals a warrant of arrest, and until now, an open tirade or passing ridicule against/of a public official is synonymous to jailtime or death wish.
In Turkmenistan, for example... State television displays a constant, golden profile of President Saparmurat Niyazov at the bottom of the screen. Newscasters begin each broadcast with a pledge that their tongues will shrivel if their reports ever slander the country, the flag, or the president.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the ten most censored media in the world are those in North Korea, Turkmenistan, Burma, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Eritrea, Cuba, Uzbekistan, Syria, and Belarus. This means that no one can broadcast or publish anything these governments consider to be “immoral” or “harmful,” or that threatens the countries’ “stability” (which usually means the government’s own power base). This is what we usually think of when we hear the word censorship.
Democratic countries, on the other hand, take pride in upholding the principle of freedom of speech. People are free to say and write whatever they wish, with some carefully defined exceptions.
In America, for example, we can always make fun of the President or any public official like it’s simply one insignificant practical joke, no big deal. But that’s not the real deal – the deal is, it’s FREEDOM. Sadly though, we oftentimes push that freedom to the limit because we have the best of it... and we savor it to the hilt. Sacha Baron Cohen AKA Borat makes it hip and cool, Sarah Silverman gets away with it because she’s “acting” vs a super-smashed Mel Gibson off-cam, but Chris Rock is the Master of them all—he makes fun of anything “white” and earns hefty paycheck for it. Who cares! It’s entertaining...
In the Philippines, it’s “different”—at least, when I was a student (during the Marcos years). One time, a student activist berated presidential daughter, Imee, when she spoke before a University of the Philippines crowd. After the event, Imee’s bodyguards simply grabbed the youngster and threw him out of the 9th-floor window of the building. But, of course, that’s just one of so many bizarre stories emanating from the dictatorship’s genocidal years...

IN A MARKET economy, there is another controlling power at work – the power of money. In North America, most mainstream publications depend on two income sources: subscriptions and advertisers. Both influence decisions about content. Readers must find the content relevant, interesting, tasteful, and entertaining, or they will drop their subscriptions. And advertisers will cancel their accounts if they consider the content to undermine or challenge their messages about the products they sell.
Consider the tobacco industry’s enormous advertising power in the US and Canada. According to the American Federal Trade Commission, annual advertising and promotions expenditures for the US tobacco industry in 2000 were over $9.5 billion. The advertising expenditures for Canadian tobacco companies in 2000, on the other hand, were over $19 million. Yet we all know that the tobacco industry’s economic clout goes beyond tobacco products.
Before it was bought out by British America Tobacco in February 2000, Canada’s largest tobacco company, Imperial Tobacco, was owned by Imasco Ltd – the same company that owned Shoppers Drug Mart and Canada Trust. RJR Macdonald, Canada’s second largest tobacco company, is owned and controlled by American-based R. J. Reynolds Tobacco, which also owns Nabisco foods.
Meantime, forty percent of Canada’s third-largest tobacco company, Rothmans, Benson and Hedges Inc., is owned by Philip Morris Tobacco – the largest tobacco company in North America. Philip Morris also owns Kraft Foods, the largest packaged food company in North America. This combination of tobacco and food products includes 91 brands with annual revenues of $100 million each, and 15 brands that generate annual revenues of over $1 billion each.
With these givens staring down like an imposing dark cloud of control, some media institutions easily succumb to “self-censorship.” The logic is simple—without advertising, there is no publication. No publication, no job.
According to a study by the American Council on Science and Health, popular women’s magazines state that they have a commitment to general health coverage, yet they fail to cover the number one cause of cancer death in women—lung cancer. Women’s magazines continue to publish cigarette ads, but rarely include information on the negative health effects of smoking. Of the 2,414 health-related articles published last year, only 24 articles – less than 1 per cent – addressed the health effects of tobacco. Moreover, the image of female smokers as independent, attractive and lean (or sexy) was portrayed overwhelmingly in the advertisements.
In November 1983, Newsweek ran a 16-page special health supplement written by the American Medical Association. Although the original AMA manuscript included information on tobacco addiction, Newsweek resisted any mention of cigarettes. That issue of Newsweek had 12 full-page cigarette ads. This hasn’t really changed... Most networks seem to propagate health consciousness via talk shows and special features, yet commercials continually run ads by food products that only contribute to the growing rate of obesity, heart failures, respiratory problems, among others, in the country.
“Self-censorship” is also prevalent in writers and artists. Blogs, books, films etc are “censored” or “classified” by the authors out of deference to the sensibilities of others without an authority directly pressuring one to do so. Self-censorship is often practiced by film producers, film directors, publishers, news anchors, musicians, or authors.
Again, I digress...

OVER-ADHERENCE to political-correctness is another example of self-censorship that isn’t just confined to media circles, but to educational institutions, as well. Political correctness makes people stupid, said Elizabeth Kantor of The Boston Globe.
After interviewing 14,000 undergraduates at 50 colleges across the country, researchers from the University of Connecticut have determined that “seniors actually know less about American history and government than entering freshmen.” That’s because they spend four years with professors who no longer teach them English literature, the classics, or any of the other pillars of Western civilization, Kantor claimed. If modern college students study “dead white men” such as Homer, Lincoln, and Shakespeare at all, it’s to expose and condemn their patriarchal oppression, racism, and imperialism, she added.
A new book by University of Pennsylvania professor emerita Phyllis Rackin, for example, attacks “Macbeth” for promoting “the domestication of women.” Not a word about the beauty of Shakespeare’s language, or his “peerless insights into human nature.” Ms Kantor adds that colleges now prefer to give courses in comic books, “queer theory,” pornography, or Erica Jong. These days, we tend to easily reject a reading material, film craft, or musical effort—if they do not conform with our political beliefs or sexual orientation. Forget about good writing... Or, well, “good writing,” I guess, has to be politically-correct. Then, again we have to define what “political-correctness” is.
One other very significant and powerful “self-censorship” is done in historical circles. Until now, the world recognizes a hero that “colonizers” imposed in a “colonized” culture’s mindset. University scholars and history researchers in respected educational institutions recognize, for instance, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo as THE hero in the Philippine-American War. Volumes of documents obtained by the University of the Philippines’ cultural anthropology department contend otherwise.
Aguinaldo, who ordered the execution of revolutionary leader Andres Bonifacio, “represented” the Filipino people in selling (or “ceding”) the islands to the US for a mere $20 million under a Treaty of Peace between the United States and Spain on December 10, 1898. Bonifacio and his brother Procopio were slain by Aguinaldo’s men because they objected to the treaty that were forged following the defeat of Spain by the US in the “mock” Battle of Manila Bay.
I don’t think that “censorship” of historical records will ever be corrected, at all, though. Day after day, the so-called media cover political and cultural upheavals all over the world—and fed to the unsuspecting public like tobacco or paracetamol. Over and over again... After all the hundreds of TV hours that major networks spent on Anna Nicole Smith, we may never know the “truth” behind her untimely death. What we get are the sweetened fillings and deodorized morsels that litter the periphery of her glamourized ruin. Or how one souvenir photograph by Joe Rosenthal—iconized as the Flag Raising at Iwo Jima—could alter or blur valuable pages in World War II history.
Most of the time, it only takes common sense to find out why “censorship” of the truth continues to exist unabated. In my novel, “Waiting for Winter,” I touched several significant events that took place in the Philippines from 1980 to 1992 that I wasn’t able to fully explore because of “state censorship” and my own, admitted “withholding of facts” because these could put the so-called revolutionaries in a bad light. Still, I was called a “revolutionary journalist” by my peers back home.

AH, DAMN, I talk too much, don’t I? I was just going to rant about “Hoohah” when all these just came out of my head. As if you don’t already know about all these that I just babbled about...
Oh well, this is the pleasure of self-publishing, I guess. I can always write and write and write—as long as it’s within the legal boundaries of whatever I am wading on. I don’t even know... I may get a letter from Immigration one of these days for being too “political, radical”? Or my purportedly quiet benefactors may cut their contributions to this madness—because I just printed a “politically-incorrect” story? I don’t know. Freedom in America is still very beautiful and glorious to me—such a gift. This, coming from a survivor of a regime that shoots down, literally, a hardheaded fool who dare question an “official” pronouncement from the hallowed halls of power.
I really don’t know. Tell me if I am pushing my acquired freedom too far. All I know is I am writing, and it’s cool. I am safe... Am I? You see, my subject isn’t even about a vagina.

No comments:

Post a Comment