To begin with, I want to say that I initially had very little idea what Zombadings actually is. In fact, my first encounter with it was when I saw an advertisement for it on the back of a public transportation bus. I hadn’t known then what to think of it, as even now, I choose to focus on a particular aspect of it which I think is also its most powerful, as I continue to mull over the challenges it poses not just to future portrayals of what it means to be a male, gay member of Filipino society, but also to the questions which I think it unconsciously poses to itself.
What I am more interested in discussing, however, is speech as it is articulated in Zombadings–in particular its distinction from what is otherwise deemed as the norm (“straight” Filipino, Taglish, or even English). I don’t really want to talk about the fact of deviant speech as power so much as I want to talk about why it is poweful and why it is a force to be reckoned with. In short, why the language of becky is a relevant discourse not only because it can be found in many instances of langue these days, but also because it is seen only in its humorous aspect.
The Speech, The Unstoppable
Doubtless, Zombadings was full of comic gold, but for me the real flavor of humor was in the way the curse on Remington started to play out in the way he was speaking. I think becky speech here became humorous not simply because it sounds different from the norm, or even because the audience knows that this isn’t normally the way Remington speaks, but because it takes the form of (to use a distinctly Mean Girls term), word vomit.
The fact that Remington finds his becky speech uncontrollable is largely where the humor originates. For, if apart from speech he may get away with wearing too-tight shirts or being clean-shaven, in tandem with words like lolabells, vakler, and balur, they cast his identity in a questionable light–hence his palpable panic and the personal amusement of the audience that he blurts out such foreign-sounding words.
The Other in the Everyday
But in fact the foreign element of such speech is double-edged. For in as much as it is presented as Other (in that it necessitates subtitles), it also rings a sound of familiarity, if not in its heavy usage (“Charoterang sprikitik, umappear ka, vakler! Magpa-feel, mapga-sense, ditey sa baler!”), then because similarly-sounding words are used in the everyday, outside the walls of the cinema.
Chos, chever, charmoos, charot, mudra, madz, kainichiwa–these are all words which many of us blurt out every once in a while, Filipino man o Ingles ang ating sinimulang pangungusap (i.e., “I’m too busy for love life, eh…Chos!” or, “Kainichiwa naman, hindi pala ako makakalabas tonight!”). Sometimes (as in the case of even the dominant “straight” hifalutin words whether in Filipino or English), we resort to using these words as expressions without fully understanding their connotations in gay speak.
So why or how does gay speak then manifest itself as powerful in Zombadings? The answer lies, I think, in a very basic concept which the movie itself tackles. For precisely because it is a film which examines, in the light of humor (and therefore in a very serious and real way), the concept of [sexual] identity, then becky speech is then also posited as a very real indicator of identity. It is the idea that a shift in speech signifies a shift in something inside ourselves–although of course speech is not the sole factor of identity–which is insinuated at when Remington-speaking-becky is presented to the audience.
The System of “Becky”
For me, the more interesting aspect of the issue is anchored on the personal but also has to do with actual understanding. In the months leading up to my graduation from college, I started to notice that I was frequently using becky terms, along with blockmates and friends from other courses. It became a fun (and expected) activity to be able to use such words properly, and even more pleasurably, to understand what it was that they added to a particular sentence.
Being able too speak becky then, itself presented as an ability, became relevant and gained power because it was something to be learned, and not something which people could start saying out of the blue. Case in point, that becky speech is its own system becomes clear when Remington attempts to name the items in his household bathroom without reverting to gay speech. Here we learn, in the instance that Remington loses control of his speech that there’s a distinct way in which bathroom items can be, well, becky-fied.
At the same time, the other edge rears its head when we take into consideration that in having distinct terms for just about everything, in having its own system when it comes to usage, gay speak is also a body of language much like Filipino or English is. To be sure, this does not equate the language of becky to the level of national standing, but it does point out that the emerging manners of speaking tied with specific [sexual] identities are capable of (and I use this term in all its good, emergent sense) infecting the dominant langue, in fact even serving to spice it up, while retaining its own function of unique terms for just about anything that the dominant language also has a term for.
In Humor, In Power
Yet the language of becky is also powerful in the context within and outside of Zombadings because it points out to us that whether or not we are “gifted” with understanding when it comes to gay speak, we are able to enjoy it. Such is the realization when Eugene Domingo’s character admits that she doesn’t understand what Remington is saying, but she finds it just as amusing, with this instance of laughter even serving as a kind of link leading up to Remington becoming more endearing a character to the mother of the girl he had been trying to pursue.
Indeed, humor and the endearment of those around us who speak and understand becky are just two ways in which we ourselves begin a kind of apprenticeship in learning it. But the fact that it surpasses humor is obvious in the way its terms are used even in serious situations–as any so-called valid, dominant way of speaking is able to contain in itself the ability to express more than one aspect of human emotion.
In the end, perhaps that is what drives it. Language is, after all, nothing if not creative, and empty if incapable of relaying both emotion and information. In its ability to occupy the dominant space, offering humor and a kind of refuge for those who celebrate not being part of the norm, becky language works on the very need to be understood–and therefore, to be respected.
And it is therefore a powerful combatant in this ongoing struggle of identifying where heterosexual dominance lies unchallenged, and where homosexual existence is palpable, colorful, alive, and fantastic because it so (in)conscpicuously infects the space of the One.