August 22, 2006

Open Letter on Bebot.

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 ones ethnic/national identity is determined by ones 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 cant help but conclude that the video was created strictly for a heterosexual mans 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 mens 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 inthe 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 toFilipino 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,

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 Program & Department of 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
Assistant Professor
Asian American Studies / Anthropology
San Francisco State University

Posted by the wily filipino at August 22, 2006 09:04 AM
Comments

Given the radical feminist critique of "Bebot", I am curious as to why the author of this open letter has not gained the imprimatur of Gabriela? I would very much like their comments and criticisms of the video.

Initially, I have to agree with the premise of the foundation of her/their argument. That being the historical international objectification of Filipinas into the sexualized roles of prostitute, stripper, mail order bride, etc. However, I fail to see how valid its application is to said video.

For example, who in version 2 was the whore and who was the virgin? I don't doubt these identities existed (in fact, I would argue that any fictionalized scenario wherein there were more than two female players you could find such comparisons) it just would have been nice if the author/s could have fleshed (no pun intended) that out a little more. I am afraid it is a little too simplistic and a little heavy handed to say that here the Filipina is sexualized, rather than identifying the dancer's as sexy Filipinas. In addition, I am slightly offended that the mother is considered asexualized by the author/s. It assumes that all full figured mothers over the age of 40 are sexless. I feel that is all too often the intrepretation of most people under the age of 30, and more the author/s' in this instance.

Unless, the authors/s have personally spoken with the actress how do they know that her accent was exaggerated rather than merely unfortunate overacting? I have any number of immediate family members with heavy accents and to suggest that this was feigned in the video for the purpose of amusing others at the character's expense makes a mockery of them.

Finally, the dance halls during this era in central California did exist, and make no mistake, these were church ice cream socials but were there for the pleasure of the manongs. Though historically, I doubt there were many Filipinas present as there were in the video since although immigration law at the time allowed Filipinos to enter the US, the same did not apply for Filipinas (even if they were the spouse or daughter). It could be argued that that intent of the manong's pleasure as a group was more spiritual or social than corporal (esp. considering the miscegination laws) however, I would be surprised if there was no sexual interest. I base this, in part, on past conversations with my now deceased Uncles Tony and Remy who were both Manongs. Granted, I could be wrong about the author/s intent with regard to this section of the letter as I have no idea what "unproblematized light" means. Such wording is best left to dissertations.

To close, I did not see any bleached blonde Pinay in Generation 2. I will go back and take a closer look, and try to make more sense of the open criticism presented here. I would agree that there are many inadvertant or unintentional conflicts in the content of the videos, but I would argure there is just as much in the open letter of criticism presented here.

I believe we should commend the Black Eyed Peas and in particular Apl de Ap for their groundbreaking attempt to introduce Filipino culture, community, and history into popular American culture. It would be patronizing to say that they expected more airplay by using "hoochie-mama dancers". Because you, me, and Apl de Ap know that sadly mainstream America still has shown little to no positive interest in songs sung in anything other than English no matter who any of us believe is being exploited.

Sincerely, Chris Danguilan

Posted by: chris danguilan on August 23, 2006 01:55 PM

Isn't this the double edge sword of representations? How come nobody hollers when black artists do the same thing; featuring "pinay hoochie" in their videos? Sounds like crabs in a barrel to me. What's the responsibility this mediocre hip hop group has to the community? Aren't they reflecting their vision of what club life is in their eyes and presenting their inclusive-ness to "reprezent" their people in the videos. What about the INTENTIONALITY of the "hoochies" in the video themselves? Nobody asked them to do a "hoochie" thing. This is old identity politics, same old shit, and why Ethnic Studies is just so ho hum, tunnel vision and frankly boring!

Posted by: brown on August 25, 2006 10:27 PM

kudos on the 'open letter'

i'm speculating that the two above comments were made by male 'flips'

Posted by: milkphish on August 28, 2006 11:35 AM

This is a tempest in a teapot.

Scantily clad women in rock / rap videos,
male oriented (sports / automobile / motorcycle)
softcore (Maxim, FHM etc) magazines sells
magazines.

Women AND men like looking at images of
attractive women.

And let's not forget the fashion runways
dominated by attractive, unrealistically thin
women in the latest fashions.

As long as that reality continues, whether
it's filipino, hispanic, black, white women,
there will be scantily clad women defying
reality everywhere.

In America, news of filipino related issues,
like news in general of asia/asian related
issues is in short supply. Like Hispanic,
black, arab, jewish, indian, ukranian,
russian news limited to either dedicated channels
like BET or "The One" or International channels
such as TFC which are watched almost exclusively
by the targeted group.

Most americans don't know that Gloria Macapagal
Arroyo (GMA) is the president of the Philippines
or before her Joseph Estrada, or before him
Fidel Ramos.

I tend to know about things Philippine because
my wife is Philippine.

This is the mouse trying to get the elephant's
attention as far as America and big business are
concerned.

Black eyed peas are big business.

Business (rock, hip-hop, rap) is more concerned
about creative license and bottom line than about
politically correct social commentary.

I don't buy or listen to black eyed peas music.

I'm aware of this because my wife subscribes to
TFC and it's a hot news story.

Unfortunately, when American Troops pulled up
stakes and left the Philippines after the eruption
of Mt Pinatubo, interest in the Philippines, has
all but disappeared. Just as it will, when we
leave Iraq or Afghanistan.

That same level of interest which has us so
interested in African affairs, or the conflict
in Sudan or in Kosovo, Croatia - since we left.

You REALLY want to influence decisions and concerns here in America?

Get a lobbyist and buy a politician.

Posted by: Mike on August 28, 2006 11:45 AM

I'm not a male flip. Thanks for assuming on the Internet.

Posted by: brown on August 30, 2006 02:46 PM

Hey guess what! I am not a male "flip" either, but a Pinay w/ a graduate degree in women's studies. How else would I know who Gabriela is? Of course, I am 40 years old, and therefore, look at everything with some skepticism, left or right. BTW, dig the Ninotchka look.

Posted by: chris on September 2, 2006 11:08 AM

Hey Chris, you don't have to have a degree in women's studies to know who Gabriela are.

They're an amusing communist comedy troupe who turn up at every protest that takes place in the Philippines. They're against everything, and in favour of nothing. Which is why your question is an excellent one: Why weren't they invited to complain about Bebot?

Posted by: Thingfish on September 3, 2006 12:24 PM
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