Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Open Letter re: the "Bebot" Video(s)

[ANOTHER UPDATE: So, folks, there is much ado about this letter in cyberspace at the moment. The undersigned are looking for a spot to collect the responses. Said responses are, as expected, both supportive and extremely harsh. The latter is disappointing, as the letter was written...eh, more on this later]

[UPDATE: Thank you to Luisa Igloria and Aimee Nez for adding their signatures!]

To Apl.de.Ap, Patricio Ginelsa/KidHeroes, and Xylophone Films:

We, the undersigned, would like to register our deep disappointment at the portrayal of Filipinas and other women in the new music videos for the Black Eyed Peas’ song, “Bebot.” We want to make it clear that we appreciate your efforts to bring Filipina/o Americans into the mainstream and applaud your support of the Little Manila of Stockton. However, as Filipina/o and Filipina/o American artists, academics, and community activists, we are utterly dismayed by the portrayal of hypersexualized Filipina “hoochie-mama” dancers, specifically in the Generation 2 version, the type of representation of women so unfortunately prevalent in today’s hip-hop and rap music videos. The depiction of the 1930s “dime dancers” was also cast in an unproblematized light, as these women seem to exist solely for the sexual pleasure of the manongs.

In general, we value Apl.de.Ap’s willingness to be so openly and richly Filipino, especially when there are other Filipina/o Americans in positions of visibility who do not do the same, and we appreciate the work that he has done with the folks at Xylophone Films; we like their previous video for “The Apl Song,” and we even like the fact that the Generation 1 version of “Bebot” attempts to provide a “history lesson” about some Filipino men in the 1930s. However, the Generation 2 version truly misses the mark on accurate Filipina/o representation, for the following reasons:

1) The video uses three very limited stereotypes of Filipina women: the virgin, the whore, and the shrill mother. We find a double standard in the depiction of the virgin and whore figures, both of which are highly sexualized. Amidst the crowd of midriff-baring, skinny, light-skinned, peroxided Pinays – some practically falling out of their halter tops – there is the little sister played by Jasmine Trias, from whom big brother Apl is constantly fending off Pinoy “playas.” The overprotectiveness is strange considering his idealization of the bebot or “hot chick.” The mother character was also particularly troublesome, but for very different reasons. She seems to play a dehumanized figure, the perpetual foreigner with her exaggerated accent, but on top of that, she is robbed of her femininity in her embarrassingly indelicate treatment of her son and his friends. She is not like a tough or strong mother, but almost like a coarse asexual mother, and it is telling that she is the only female character in the video with a full figure.

2) We feel that these problematic female representations might have to do with the use of the word “Bebot.” We are of course not advocating that Apl change the title of his song, yet we are confused about why a song that has to do with pride in his ethnic/national identity would be titled “Bebot,” a word that suggests male ownership of the sexualized woman – the “hot chick.” What does Filipino pride have to do with bebots? The song seems to be about immigrant experience yet the chorus says “ikaw ang aking bebot” (you are my hot chick). It is actually very disturbing that one’s ethnic/national identity is determined by one’s ownership of women. This system not only turns women into mere symbols but it also excludes women from feeling the same kind of ethnic/national identity. It does not bring down just Filipinas; it brings down all women.

3) Given the unfortunate connection made in this video between Filipino pride and the sexualized female body both lyrically and visually, we can’t help but conclude that the video was created strictly for a heterosexual man’s pleasure. This straight, masculinist perspective is the link that we find between the Generation 1 and Generation 2 videos. The fact that the Pinoy men are surrounded by “hot chicks” both then and now makes this link plain. Yet such a portrayal not only obscures the “real” message about the Little Manila Foundation; it also reduces Pinoy men’s hopes, dreams, and motivations to a single-minded pursuit of sex.

We do understand that Filipino America faces a persistent problem of invisibility in this country. Moreover, as the song is all in Tagalog (a fact that we love, by the way), you face an uphill battle in getting the song and music video(s) into mainstream circulation. However, remedying the invisibility of Filipina/os in the United States should not come at the cost of the dignity and self-respect of at least half the population of Filipino America. Before deciding to write this letter, we felt an incredible amount of ambivalence about speaking out on this issue because, on the one hand, we recognized that this song and video are a milestone for Filipina/os in mainstream media and American pop culture, but on the other hand, we were deeply disturbed by the images of women the video propagates.

In the end we decided that we could not remain silent while seeing image after image of Pinays portrayed as hypersexual beings or as shrill, dehumanized, asexual mother-figures who embarrass their children with their overblown accents and coarseness. The Filipino American community is made up of women with Filipino pride as well, yet there is little room in these videos for us to share this voice and this commitment; instead, the message we get is that we are expected to stand aside and allow ourselves to be exploited for our sexuality while the men go about making their nationalist statements.

While this may sound quite harsh, we believe it is necessary to point out that such depictions make it seem as if you are selling out Filipina women for the sake of gaining mainstream popularity within the United States. Given the already horrific representations of Filipinas all over the world as willing prostitutes, exotic dancers, or domestic servants who are available for sex with their employers, the representation of Pinays in these particular videos can only feed into such stereotypes. We also find it puzzling, given your apparent commitment to preserving the history and dignity of Filipina/os in the United States, because we assume that you also consider such stereotypes offensive to Filipino men as well as women.

Again, we want to reiterate our appreciation for the positive aspects of these videos – the history lesson of the 1936 version, the commitment to community, and the effort to foster a larger awareness of Filipino America in the mainstream – but we ask for your honest attempt to offer more full-spectrum representations of both Filipino men and Filipina women, now and in the future. We would not be writing this letter to you if we did not believe you could make it happen.

Respectfully,

Kiko Benitez
Assistant Professor, Comparative Literature
Univ. of Washington

Rick Bonus
Associate Professor, American Ethnic Studies
Univ. of Washington

Lucy Burns
Assistant Professor
Asian American Studies / World Arts and Cultures, UCLA

Fritzie De Mata
Independent scholar

Diana Halog
Undergraduate
UC Berkeley

Luisa A. Igloria
Associate Professor
Creative Writing / English, Old Dominion University

Veronica Montes
Writer

Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Assistant Professor, English
State University of New York-Fredonia

Gladys Nubla
Doctoral student
English, UC Berkeley

Barbara Jane Reyes
Poet and author

Joanne L. Rondilla
Doctoral candidate
Ethnic Studies, UC Berkeley

Rolando B. Tolentino
Visiting Fellow, National University of Singapore
Associate Professor, University of the Philippines Film Institute

Benito Vergara
Asian American Studies / Anthropology, San Francisco State University

5 comments:

cheeky chick said...

Can I groan loudly now at the state of feminism today, especially the sort that pretends to speak for women, that we cannot enjoy MUSIC VIDEOS? Ladies, I am happy that we have Jasmine Trias doing something else right about now and extending her 20+ minutes of fame by increasing exposure for Pinays in the public eye. If you are going to tell me that you have never been to a party with mid-driffed, scantily-clad young teenagers, I have to ask you in what decade you happened to come of age. 1900's perhaps?

It's a fun song; it's a party song. If you would like women to wear business suits or tribal dress to reflect strong Filipina priestesses and role models, chicks, go and get a video camera and record your own music video. You can bitch and moan about them “selling out Filipina women for the sake of gaining mainstream popularity within the United States,” but, chick, give me a break. Even before Fergie’s arrival on the BEP scene, I don’t ever recall seeing a BEP video that used them as a platform for apl.de.ap’s Pinoy pride (loathed as I am to use the term). Now that they are so famous and mainstream, he is doing his part. Some of you listed in the letter are artists yourself – you are doing your thing so why overstep your bounds onto someone else’s artistic boundaries? Because it’s your duty to not remain silent? When were any of you ever silent? Pen a poem, write a dissertation on the sad state of Filipina status everywhere – that’s what you do. This is what BEP does. Get some sleep and lay down the torches for more worthy targets for your outrage in the future.

Protesting aside, who are you helping with this letter? The women who were relieved to see a Filipina on a TV screen other than the singer Cassie? The ones who were happy to see the Generation 1 video with manongs and used that as an opportunity to educate non-Filipinos about history? Did you really refuse to acknowledge progress in some small degree because it was not tailor-made to your demands? Just because you gleaned the message that “we are expected to stand aside and allow ourselves to be exploited for our sexuality while the men go about making their nationalist statements” from the video doesn’t mean that others felt that same way. People are entitled to different opinions, but, dude, what a way to overthink something and be a killjoy!

I had issues too at first when it came down to apl.de.ap drooling over Fergie's white ass over the brown ones on the dance floor. Then, I remembered that she is part of the band and needs a role in the video so I took my bitch-mode down a notch. Somewhere, someone would have had to see the negative over the positive (which you mentioned in one sentence, wow) and I suppose it had to be you chicks. Chick, chick, chick – I embrace the word as I do the term hot chick, coz mama, if you really knew how it felt to be a hot chick, you would quit your squawking over the word “bebot”.

Oh, and by the way, if you really want to harp on the image of the whore in the videos, check the credits for Kaylani Lei, one of the rising Filipina porn stars out there. Oh, and she starred in one of my fave porn DVD’s entitled “Sweatshop” with Asia Carrere. Chew on that, and find a way to condemn BEP some more!

ver said...

Wow. Talk about needing to relax. If we're not allowed to respond to art--and publicly if we want to--then I can't really figure out the point of why someone would create it in the first place.

What are you most upset about? That we engaged with the work in a thoughtful way? Or is it that we then expressed our opinions in a manner that we felt was both constructive and respectful (a skill which you apparently don't quite have a handle on)? Maybe it was because we felt that a more complex represenation of Filipinas (which, in the context of this particular video, does not mean "Filipina priestesses" or "tribal dress," but simply a variety of skin tones and--gasp!--body types) might not add quite so heartily to the images that continue to make young women of every race feel physically inferior?

I don't know if this is your first look at the letter, but we've compiled a collective review of various reponses over at About Bebot if you want to take a look. I'll be sure to add your comment over there, too.

I have no intention of letting my blog turn into a battleground. You're more than welcome to comment again, but I'll tell you what I tell my daughters: Watch your tone.

cheeky chick said...

Hmm, "engaged with the work in a thoughtful way" to you must mean "overintellectualizing" to me. If you don't feel my voice and my contribution to this overblown situation is constructive, no worries (by the way, I have a college education too but don't need to validate my degree with $1,000 words).

Keep talking and digging your own grave, babe, because you are the ones who look condescending to other women. I'm on the other side of the fence, you see: women can be the virgin, the whore, the shrill mother and all of that because those are all facets of womanhood. Limited you may say but I think you are limiting your view of the videos to see what you want to see, which are degrading images to women. We'll never agree because like I said, I embrace the hot chick in me even when I see videos like that.

Have you ever been to a Filipino Independence Day parade? How about family BBQ's and chilling at the park? The second video is true to life - if you have an issue with how Filipinos depict themselves (as in KidHeroes, and the rest of the Filipino crew), you focus it on the community.

I should thank you for the link to this discussion on Bebot (http://morecomplex.blogspot.com/), because I see what work Patricio has put into his art and that he didn't intend for such heated and DIVISIVE dialogue to result. I have more respect for Patricio and all the crew after seeing that site - I don't know what other link you were trying to send me to because that link did not work. There - one positive from me.

Otherwise, I think my tone has been as respectful as yours. I appreciate the part that this band has given to Filipino exposure and that's all. Deconstruct (oh, I mean be constructive) all you want, but you are missing the party by sitting on your high horse. While you are up there, I'd like to know what thoughtful, engaging women like you would like to offer as viable alternatives to these hypersexualized, degrading images of women and put that in a music video seen by the world. I'll be down-to-earth here watching Shakira bellydance and Beyonce shake her booty in videos sure to offend someone rather inspire.

ver said...

Okay, I'm going to let your last comment remain because it proves my point in, oh, about four thousand ways.

For the record, I am not an academic. Just a writer with a basic state college education. Also for the record, Patricio and I have exchanged e-mails, and have maintained what I believe to be a mutual respect for each other's opinions during this whole blow-up.

Have fun living your life via music videos. Don't bother commenting again, as I'll just delete anything that follows.

cheeky chick said...

Ever hear of sarcasm? I don't even have cable.