Many were outraged when Willie Revillame goaded a child named Jan-Jan to dance in a macho dancer style. Even while he was already crying, he was still goaded to dance. Needless to say, it already caused a Net Rage and it revived initiatives to permanently censure the long-notorious Revillame, who had smears on his name after the MTB incident and the Wowowee stampede, plus more.
But this brings me to a topic I have long thought about: Does Filipino culture really treat children poorly? The treatment of Jan Jan in the show may actually be a barometer of the way Philippine society as a whole treats their children.
I often traced the way children are treated to the family system. Truly, treatment of children in the family may explain how children have been treated in the rest of society. I would suggest that parenting in the Philippines has undergone a deterioration thanks to the deteriorating situation in the country in terms of economy and education. Most parents in the parents stick to the “parents are always right” paradigm, basically an authoritarian approach.
The authoritarian parenting style is likely to evoke rebellion and disobedience in children. Then, when the children go awry, the parents will blame the children, or TV or other adults – anyone except themselves. For me, the parents will always have the biggest share of responsibility for what happens to their children. Thus, like I said in my article about dancing girls, when parents watch Wowowee and Willing Willie and let their children watch, it is already a failure of parental guidance.
Even within families, children are used for adults’ pleasure. At parties, they are sometimes made to dance the Ocho-Ocho, Spaghetti Dance or other funny dances just to make the adults laugh. I find that rather unkind. Adults like these only treat children as a source of entertainment, and not as the future. Thus, the disrespect that media shows in children may or may not be a reflection of treatment in the family.
Media however remains one of the most influential factors in treatment of children. And media has often been disrespectful to children, no matter how positively they tried to portray such on TV.
One children’s advocate before, I believe it was Ms. Feny Angeles Bautista, said that media representation of children was always unkind. Children have always been seen as abused, as “slaves of the adults” or as a source of laughter. Filipino media likes to poke fun at kids, and barely treat them with any sort of equality. She said this in 1997 or 1998. It seems very true today.
The Jan-Jan incident is perhaps only the latest in a long history of poor treatment and portrayal of children in the local mass media. When media releases a “children’s” show, it has be something like Goin’ Bulilit – where children are again the subject of entertainment for adults. Even the old series May Bukas Pa does not show children in a positive light. Barely are children given good treatment in local media, and it helps enforce the idea that children are there for the adults to use as they see fit.
Views of Children
I also believe that according to the old paradigms, children are considered property of their parents, almost is the same sense as chattel. I remember an old documentary in the late 1980s about child labor in the Philippines. One example is when children are made to carry large sacks of cement from the ship down to the harbor. Aside from the physical effects of carrying a heavy load, the child workers are exposed to the hazards of breathing cement dust.
When interviewed on why the children are being made to labor like this, one of the men in charge said that the children are “under their parents.” Thus, whatever the adults tell them to do, the children must obey. Basically, according to this traditional view in Filipino culture, children have no rights. The adults are considered to have the right to make the children do whatever they want. It is like the children are nothing more than slaves of the adults.
We also know that this is prevalent among the poor countries. Go to any country with poverty, there is certainly poor treatment of children. Unfortunately, some wish to gloss over this problem in our own society when this is raised. We have poverty, and we have child exploitation. It is a reality in this country, and deflecting attention to other countries only serves as refusal to address the problems at home. Media mistreatment of children is analogous to how children are treated in real life.
“I’m not a Kid Anymore”
Another observation I have of Filipino culture is that it is contemptuous towards the culture of children. We see it when some Filipinos see an adult who collects toys. Some people may see this adult collector and say, “Ang tanda-tanda mo na, bumibili ka pa ng laruan! Napaka immature mo! (You’re so old, but you still buy toys! You’re so immature!)”
Is an adult who collects toys and watches cartoons really immature? What about those who abuse children? What about those who love seeing sexy dancers on Wowowee and Willing Willie? Thanks to this, the concept of immaturity is twisted, and even useful members of society, just because they have “childish” pursuits, are put down.
Thus, Filipino society seems to have a bad view of childhood. It is seen as foolish and stupid, and thus people want to “grow up” and join a world of hypocritical and sanctimonious adult self-righteousness. They perhaps forgot that they were once children. What they were as children is what they become as adults. That is why treatment of our children is so important; what we make of our children is what we make of the future. If we treat children badly, then no wonder our future is bleak.
Cruel Culture to Children
Is the Filipino culture generally unkind to children? It may seem that way in the case of Jan Jan. He was made fun of by the adults, adults who are supposed to guide children and be good examples. Instead, the adults were corrupt and exploited a child, bringing him to tears for their own personal enjoyment. Very cruel and exploitative.
I consider this to have deep-seated roots in both the authoritarian culture of the Philippines and the view of children in media. Filipino culture, with its poverty and poor education, is likely to be cruel to children, or at least disrespectful of them. I always thought that one of the best measures of a society is the way it treats its children. A society which respects and considers the needs of children as important as adults’ needs is a healthy society. But one which puts down children is backward and decrepit. Unfortunately, the latter seems more true about our culture.
(Additional paragraph – Feb. 9, 2013) What I observe about Philippine culture is that it treats children as objects. Some Filipinos may see children as equal to animals, simply because of their less developed (as compared to adults) state. Thus, the adults would bark commands or expect children to obey them, similar to ordering a dog. This is a dehumanizing aspect of Philippine culture. Or even people who think children are cute may unknowingly treat children as objects. They may find a child cute, and pinch, overdress, bother or do something that reflects their fancies over the child, but puts the child in discomfort. This should be avoided at all costs.
We certainly need to improve our view of children beyond what tradition and convention tell us. Of course, what we need now is to improve our economic situation. Poverty is a strong factor in poor treatment of children. Because of poverty, we have other problems like street children and out-of-school youth. To alleviate this, improving our economy is a necessity. And this will include constitutional reform, because poverty is related to flaws in our laws. With a better economy, there will be less poverty and there will be better treatment of children.
But of course, media reform is necessary to improve treatment of children. In fact, this Willing Willie episode, more people see it as a problem of the whole media industry than just Willie’s problem. And as a reason to return to better programming. I miss shows like Sesame Street and The Electric Company, and even local shows like Batibot. that was more respectful of children and helps educates them. The likes of Bodgie Pascua and Feny Angeles Bautista promote kindness to children, and we certainly need more people like them on TV. We also need to return the kind of shows that see children in a more respectful manner and also emphasize that its the adults that should give more to the children, and not the other way around.