This issue has been the subject of heated discussions in every available medium joined in by anybody who feels qualified to talk about art and the freedom of expression.
But I am adding this short and sweet footnote. After all, more than ten years ago I was on the same hot seat because of a film I wrote and directed. The title of the work was "Live Show (Toro)." The indignation of the same sectors of our most chaste and blessed society caused the resignation of Dr. Nicanor Tiongson as Chairman of the MTRCB and had me marching down Mendiola to protest the banning of the exhibition of the movie and the accusation of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo that I was making soft pornography --- whatever that may be.
So I know where these issues go as well as where I stand. Thus, I rattle off the following points:
• I would like to believe that we still live in a democracy. And as far as I remember we are not called the Catholic Republic of the Philippines. Although it is only fair to show mutual respect to all icons, images, rituals and ideas venerated by all existing faiths within a nation, there is such a thing as choice which makes all the difference because, as I said … we are supposedly in a democracy. This leads to …
• Given the fact that we have choices, the controversial Mideo Cruz chose to express himself in a manner that sent convulsions and volcanic explosions to the sensitivities and sensibilities of the Catholics. Understandably so. Mideo had a choice to shock and scandalize --- the viewer also had a choice to look and react as well as look away and be repulsed. In other words, whether you liked or hated Mideo's work, you still had a choice to gape at it or scream at it … or boycott it. Which also leads to …
• When you don't like something, it does not mean that nobody else should have the chance to either like it or hate it. Yes, as some critics pointed out, whether Mideo Cruz created art or trash is something for the academicians, literati and art scholars to discuss. Yes, as more critics voiced out, this was mounted by the government-run Cultural Center of the Philippines --- a sanctuary meant to preserve and celebrate the best of our cultura. Now can we actually call Cruz's works a reflection of our culture? Uhm, why not? Agreement and conformity are not the only measures of culture, right? Are we really back to "The Good, The True and The Beautiful"? Rebellion and reaction stand on equal grounds. And this explains why I am somewhat bothered because …
• Again, we are succumbing to institutional pressures threatening fire and brimstone, eternal damnation and matching criminal charges at the Ombudsman because we are confronted by something deemed blasphemous and immoral. OK, I will not even waste time arguing about that. But when the President calls up the CCP to ask the officers to shut down an exhibit … Teka, teka, teka. Something is not necessarily wrong … but something is not right either. Whatever happened to the alleged autonomy of CCP from censorship? Or is that only applicable whenever it is convenient to apply?
Just for the record: I am not a fan of Mideo Cruz' works but that does not mean I will deprive him of the right to exhibit what he considers as his art. Was I repulsed by the images? Yes, Sir. My years of Christian upbringing conditioned me to do so … and it is not within my capacity to do something as brave and brazen as that. But that does not mean I will deprive others of the chance to experience and react to his work.
I also agree that freedom of expression demands responsibility and accountability. But that does not give license of anybody or any institution to blind, deafen, mangle or render speechless ideas that do not conform to the norm … or become a standard because of the power in numbers of followers. For Mideo, he has learned that: "buntot mo, hila mo". He believed in what he did … and now he, together with other artists, must fight not only for their rights but for their dignity.
Besides, there were thirty-one other visual artists in that exhibit who were also shunned and shut off from the public because of institutional pressures on the works of one of the participants. That, I feel, was unfair. And if I can slight those from the CCP who are now in hot water, it is because they closed down the exhibit and succumbed to the mounting pressure.
More than ten years ago, Live Show was condemned for its so-called use of explicit and gratuitous sex. Even fellow directors went on a high horse talking about morality and the responsibilities of cinema. Recently I reviewed "Live Show" again and I laughed. Compared to the kind of sex scenes in movies being made today, that sparkling example of soft pornography had all the titillation of The Sound of Music.
So much for institutional pressure … and the crusades of living saints.