The controversial installment of the “Hello, Billy!” advertisement series of telecom giant Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company, which earned the ire of the gay and lesbian community, has been pulled out. Yet, the hurt of the insult it supposedly directed against male homosexuals remains.
Danton Remoto, author of Ladlad, a gay anthology, said there had been times when they wondered why ad agencies could not focus on the gay and lesbian community as a target market. But now that they are doing it, he pleads, “Please stop insulting us.”
Remoto made this remark while speaking at the forum “The Larger Picture: A Look into the Dynamics of Media and the Business of Gender and Sexuality” held on December 4 at Palma Hall, University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.
He pointed out that the “Hello, Billy!” commercial in question portrays male homosexuals as troublemakers in heterosexual relationships. In an earlier installment, character Joey was shown sobbing after learning that his best friend Billy will soon marry Gracia, the latter’s girlfriend. Thus, the viewing public concluded he was gay.
As the ad series continued, Joey was shown asking Billy who could be spreading malicious gossip about Gracia. Of course, Billy does not know the answer. Joey’s mischievous smile, however, tells it all.
“There was a time na invisble (sa media) ang mga bakla (homosexuals were invisible in media). But when they became visible, mali naman ang pagkaka-portray (their portrayal was wrong),” said Remoto.
Virgin or vamp
Women, on the other hand, are stereotypically portrayed in the media as either virgins or vamps, noted feminist Rina Jimenez-David, who writes a column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
In this polarity of images, she said, a virgin is characterized as the non-sexual martyr woman “who is driven to ecstasy by clean curtains and shining floors.” Those are the types of women portrayed in the commercials as “Lucky Mommies.” Just like the character in Lucky Me noodles ads, these women are too preoccupied with serving their husbands and children.
The vamps, on the other hand, are women who use their bodies and sexuality to exploit other people.
“There is no room for women in between,” noted Jimenez-David. “Media tend to put women in the box in terms of sexuality,” she added. That women are “nakakahon,” or put in a box, seems to be a universal syndrome, she added, as comparative studies in different countries show the same result.
Jimenez-David started getting involved in women’s studies in 1995 in preparation for the Third World Conference of Women in Media. She has since been involved in such activities, being part of the feminist group Pilipina.
She, however, noted some progress in breaking gender stereotypes in the media, particularly in the commercials, and attributed them to the initiative of women practitioners themselves. She specifically cited Emily Abrera, chief of McCann-Erickson, as the person responsible for the Johnson-&-Johnson commercials showing men taking care of their babies, as opposed to the stereotypical mother-child themes.
No gray areas in human sexuality
Jimenez-David also noted media’s reluctance to portray gray areas in human sexuality. “Media don’t want people to have vague sexuality,” she said, as she cited the case of Nancy Navalta, the controversial lady athlete who looked like a man. “Nobody wanted to accept Nancy or what she was. She couldn’t be both,” she added.
Jimenez-David attributes this seeming discomfort media has dealing with sexual ambiguity to an unspoken homophobia.
When the issue of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) came up in the 90s, it was treated as a cartoon story, she said, because at that time, AIDS was perceived to victimize only homosexual men.
She cited former senator Francisco Tatad, a Marcos- and Estrada-friendly former media man, who wrote in so many words, as he practiced his pro-life, pro-Church, anti-contraceptives advocacy, something that could be summarized as follows: “Why are we going to give out condoms to prevent AIDS when it’s just going to kill a few — and homosexuals, at that.”
Meanwhile, the pullout of “Hello, Billy” commercial after the protests against it shows that they (big businesses and ad agencies) are listening, noted Natty Manauat, a professor from De La Salle University.
Lack of lesbian image
Manauat observed the lack of a lesbian image in the media. “May nagre-refer ba sa lesbyana? Mahirap maghanap ng images na lesbyana. Bakit kaya ganoon (Does anyone refer to lesbians? It is hard to find lesbian images. Why is that)?”
“It’s fair to say that the average Filipino is aware that lesbians do exist in the Philippines. But bakit tayo nahihirapang i-portray ito sa media (why do we find it difficult to portray this in media)?” she asked.
She noted the disparity in the perception between gay men and lesbian women: “Pag sinabing gay, mayaman (Gay men are always spoken of as wealthy). It’s a myth. But where are the lesbians? (Lesbians) also spend money,” she said.
Manauat and other participants in the forum mentioned a certain shampoo advertisement that made reference to being a tomboy. The commercial, however, can still be considered homophobic. In the ad, the father of a young girl says something like: “Don’t wear [a] cap, you look like a tomboy. Just use this shampoo so you’ll have good-looking hair!”
In other countries, lesbians and gays are used in advertisements, Manauat said, especially in fashion products. These images are acceptable in fashion, she added, because being different can be perceived as “hip or cool”.
However, she posed a question to the gay and lesbian community: How do they want lesbians to be portrayed in the media?
“Gusto ba natin, may archetype rin (Do we also want there to be an archetype)?” Manauat said.
Calling media’s attention
Tonette Lopez, executive director of Cebu-based Gahum Phils, an organization for the sexual minority, said they are constantly calling the attention of editors whenever the media portray gays and lesbians in a bad light. Reporters even consult them now for proper treatment of such stories, she said.
Pennie Azarcon de la Cruz, managing editor of the Sunday Inquirer Magazine, meanwhile, suggested that the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered organizations themselves provide statements explaining events such as the Gay Pride March, so the media can start to cover the real meaning of events, and not just the often sensational aspects of such activities.
But why are gays and lesbians so concerned about their portrayal in the media, particularly in ads?
Percival CendaÃ±a — the first avowed gay to head the UP Student Council, explains: “Advertisements are the meeting point of media and big business. Malakas ang kapangyarihan at definitive ang images nito (Advertising images are powerful and definitive),” he said.
With ads as popular as the “Hello, Billy” series, it is not difficult to understand why the gay community raised such an uproar about Joey.