By Jessica Zafra
It’s the role of the Catholic Church and its defenders to denounce whatever they regard as blasphemy. For instance, that art exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).
And it’s the role of the community of artists to denounce any attempt to suppress the freedom of expression. For instance, the decision of the CCP, reportedly at the behest of President Aquino, to shut down the said exhibit.
While they perform their designated roles in all the available fora, it’s time for the more objective observers to weigh in on the issue.
That means us, by the way.
1. How often does Art make the front pages of the local news? In the Philippines, almost never. The last time we can recall was when the komiks writer and movie director Carlo J. Caparas was named National Artist for the Visual Arts.
The heated debate that followed was not good for Mr. Caparas, whose accomplishments were questioned (Although his liturgical leanings—The Untold Story: Vizconde Massacre 2—God Have Mercy on Us—were duly noted). It was not good for the artistic community, whose attacks on a creator of komiks much-loved by the masa were seen as elitist. It was really not good for Art, which was relegated to a side issue.
The flap over Mideo Cruz’s exhibit at the CCP has pushed Art into the front pages. People who automatically tune out at the mention of Art are drawn into the discussion of whether the offending installation is in fact, Art.
Points for Art.
2. (If you are one of the 2 or 3 people living who have not read The Da Vinci Code, SPOILER ALERT!) In The Da Vinci Code, the badly-written yet riveting novel by Dan Brown, the mystery is built around the Holy Blood, Holy Grail theory that Jesus Christ had married Mary Magdalene. (The authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail sued Brown, to no avail.) Of course the Catholic Church expressed its outrage, helping push Brown’s potboiler all the way to the top of the bestseller lists and keeping it there.
Experience has shown that an endorsement from the Church is not nearly as effective at moving merchandise as condemnation from the Church. We are seeing this in the case of Mideo Cruz, whom the general public would not have heard of it he hadn’t ticked off the righteous faithful. There’s no merchandise, but there is a reputation to be made.
Seriously, if the protectors of morality had not reacted so loudly to Cruz’s exhibit, most of us would be unaware of his existence (No offense to Mr. Cruz). The show would be viewed by the regular CCP audience, then it would end and likely be forgotten. Not anymore.
Mideo Cruz will now be viewed as a victim of religious oppression, the committed artist who dared violate taboos and challenge the established order etc etc, add your own grant proposal here. With all the yelling, we can’t hear ourselves ask the question: Is the artwork any good?
Points for Marketing.
3. In the late 90s, producers realized that nothing sold a movie more effectively than an X-rating. A movie could be X’d—banned—for frontal nudity, “double breast exposure”, “pumping scenes”, or any of the other no-nos listed in the guidelines. So the filmmakers made sure to include frontal nudity, two breasts, pumping, etc in their movies, to guarantee the X.
Then they would make a ruckus in the papers and on TV (Facebook and Twitter did not exist in the dark ages), invoking their right to artistic expression and implying that they were artists. The media would be compelled to reject censorship and side with the filmmakers, sometimes by default (Oh please, the movies had titles like “Kapag Ang Palay Naging Bigas, May Bumayo”, “Kangkong”, “Itlog”, what our friend referred to as “agribusiness films”). Occasionally there would be rallies in support of artistic freedom.
The outcry would force Malacañang to intervene and the censors to reconsider. When the movie finally opened in theaters, it would be known as “The Movie They Don’t Want You To See!!” Thanks to all the publicity, it would gross (good word!) much, much more than if it had been allowed to screen without a fuss. The (im?)moral of the story is, Sex sells.
Mideo Cruz’s installation features, among other things, a crucifix with a moveable penis. We would never have known that if the conservatives had not pointed it out.
Points for Marketing.
4. Has anyone noticed how the names of Filipinos in the news often provide ironic commentary on the issues involved? As if they were written by an untalented impersonator of Gabriel Garcia Marquez? For instance, the Filipino kidnapped in Iraq some years ago was named Angel de la Cruz (Angel of the Cross). The person who recorded the infamous Garci phone calls is called Vidal Doble (Double Life).
We’re not sure of the etymology of “Mideo” but it’s probably a variation of “Mateo” which means “gift of god”, or “Midas”, as in that guy whose touch could turn anything into gold.
“Cruz” is “cross”. So “Mideo Cruz” is either “God’s gift of a cross” or “Guy who turned a cross into gold”.
Points for Magical Realism.