Bayo has announced that it’s most recent ad campaign isn’t over yet.
Anybody can become angry, that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not within everybody’s power, that is not easy. - Aristotle
It’s strange, I think, because what I want to see in people these days is not mere anger–not what many would easily (and, without batting an eyelash) call being negative. What I want to see, is a thorough understanding of what makes them complex and why, when this complexity is simplified or glorified just when particular hybrid celebrities are on the rise, the instance becomes not mere advertising, but an attempt to follow a trend without question, and worse, an attempt to make profit on the concept of hybridity which is admittedly something that not many of us completely understand, or even bother to question at all.
Let me say this, at least, about the continuing Bayo ads: what disturbs me is not so much the ads themselves–not anymore–but the reaction that people have had to it. I feel that whereas Filipinos find it convenient to feel proud about the next international star, we are slow to anger where the questions of identity and nation are provided a reductionist answer.
At the same time, I’m perpetually astonished and disturbed by the ease in which people point out that there is no one of pure Filipino blood anymore, not because this sentiment has more than a grain of truth in it, but because it is used as an excuse not to be insulted. The fact that the copy is badly written is valid, but it is not the point here: grammar and its awkward wording can be forgiven, truly, I think. The greater question is why the copy seems so uncertain of itself; about why it feels the need to downplay what it’s really implying: “This is just all about MIXING and MATCHING…Call it biased but the mixing and matching of different nationalities with Filipino blood is almost a sure formula for someone beautiful and world class.”
People may say: “It’s just an advertisement! Get over it!” They’ll tell you, “You’re the one being unhelpful because you’re not supporting a Filipino brand.” They’ll insist that “You’re going against your own blood.” They will insist on the goodness of the intention–which may still be there; there is no reason to say otherwise. The problem is that when you emphasize the possible goodness of the intention, you tend to forget the actual failure of execution.
By all means, we should support Filipino brands. By all means, this is not to downplay the importance of the advertising industry. This is not even to encourage people to shun those who write copies or help companies with their branding (if so, then I should really just write a self-deprecating piece on all the copies I’ve produced since 2010, concluding with what a “sell out” I am). This is, in fact, to emphasize that advertising is a significant factor in our lives. And precisely because it affects everything–reading preferences, fashion, hygiene, family values, Internet downloads–then all the more should we learn to question its premises, scrutinize its meaning, root out where it went wrong from the depths of an apology that points its finger back to us and calls us too sensitive.
Because otherwise, we let ads about whitening creams fool us into thinking their product has nothing to do with social class. We smirk and move on (another great excuse for those who will not stop to question such matters: “Move on to more important issues!” they insist), until the next ad shocks us and we decide that hey, let’s take pride in this, without stopping to think what “this” actually is.
Don’t be fooled by people telling you it doesn’t matter.
It is your right to feel insulted. It is your right to feel belittled whether or not you are of mixed race or not (because you should not have to labor under the delusion that this ad does not discriminate against hybrids; in fact it reduces their identity in the same stroke which implies that blood is a product that can be improved). It is your right to find out, for yourself, what makes you special (no matter your heritage) and how you can then use that to the advantage of the third world country that you live in.
Make no mistake about it, it is the same right that will allow you to ask, how can Bayo hope to turn this around with its next two phases? It’s the same that will let us ask, how will changing the notion of percentage to local diversity and character traits make the campaign any better–or any different at all? It is a rage that is our birth right, one that cannot be measured by numbers. The fact, I think, that the campaign will continue, on a not altogether different premise but with only a few changes in words, tells us how much the outrage against the initial phase went misunderstood: simply flew over people’s heads.
So I urge you, open your eyes and claim this right to anger. Use it, not to inflict harm on others just as unquestioningly, but to question, ultimately, yourself, and the world around you. Allow yourself to see past celebrations of identity, to point out the struggle that is there, without completely diminishing the value of such celebrations. It’s not easy, and I know because I fail at it, too. But to not even try means to flatline, and I shudder to think that so many of us would be so willing to do that.
Here’s Anthony Bourdain now, because I suspect he has a better-nuanced (note: not a “better-in-all-senses-of-the-word” type) understanding of [post]colonialism, and the kind of hybrid culture it gives birth to, than a lot of us care to admit, and because the irony of his being a white, straight male is not lost on me: