Harpooned: A class war over perfume

Buencamino writes political commentary for Action for Economic Reforms.  This article was published in Business Mirror September 5, 2007 edition, p. A10.

By now everybody knows about the controversy surrounding Malu Fernandez, the magazine columnist who wrote an essay called “From Boracay to Greece,” a diary of her uneventful holidays and the harrowing plane trips she took from one destination to the other and back.

Malu offended OFWs when she wrote, “I wanted to slash my wrists at the thought of being trapped in a plane with all of them.”

Her sardonic remark—“I had already resigned myself to being trapped like a sardine in a sardine can with all these OFWs smelling of AXE and Charlie cologne while my Jo Malone evaporated into thin air.”—started a class war in cyberspace.

“The offended ones” didn’t understand how horrible it must have been for someone who grew up in Forbes Park to fly in economy.

“The offended ones” didn’t haul her 17 kilograms of make-up and accessories to the plane, they didn’t see her bruised thighs, they didn’t smell her Jo Malone cologne, and they didn’t hear themselves yelling at her “HOY! Kumusta ka na? At taga saan ka? Domestic helper ka rin ba?” (HEY YOU! How have you been? And where are you from? Are you also a domestic helper?)

People would have been more sympathetic to Malu if they understood the pain felt by someone who tries so hard not to look like a maid to be mistaken for one.

I was disappointed by the reaction to her “travailogue,” not because those who felt slighted took offense but because they turned it into a campaign to have her banned from print.

Malu wrote something politically incorrect. She did not write hate speech.

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, explains the difference between those two forms of speech:

“Politically incorrect speech” is used to refer “to language or ideas that may cause offense to some identity groups, or, in a broader sense, that are unconstrained by orthodoxy.”

“Hate speech,” on the other hand, is a term for language intended “to degrade, intimidate, or incite violence or prejudicial action against a person or group of people based on their race, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, language ability, moral or political views, socioeconomic class, occupation or appearance (such as height, weight, and hair color), mental capacity and any other distinction-liability.”

It’s obvious Malu did not incite violence or prejudicial action against OFWs who preferred Axe and Charlie to Jo Malone so she didn’t deserve to be banned like some hate-mongering swine.

Political incorrectness is offensive when it’s not making us laugh but its opposite, political correctness, is lethal when it’s not merely stifling.

Take the case of Joma Sison who tried to impose political correctness on his party during the 1980s. His rigor may not mean much to us non-communists but imagine censors board chief Consoliza Laguardia and Manoling Morato with guns instead of scissors and you’ll see the diabolical side of political correctness.

Political correctness is the reason why so many people were outraged by Malu’s mocking remarks about OFWs.

Our government says OFWs are the Bagong Bayani (new hero) so, in a manner of speaking, Malu was guilty of the most extreme case of political incorrectness – lese majeste.

But I don’t buy this Bagong Bayani stuff. OFWs are Filipinos who were faced with a choice between a job and no job, a measly salary at home and a better-paying job abroad.  There is nothing heroic about the choice they made. Sorry.

Besides, the concept of Bagong Bayani does disservice to Filipinos, who, for whatever reason, continue to work here at home.

Bagong Bayani is a cheap political gimmick concocted by cheap inept politicians who can’t create jobs so they make heroes out of the victims of their incompetence.

For every “hero” abroad, there is a heel in Malacañang who lies and steals credit for the “strong peso.”

The truth is money will flow from abroad whether it’s Gloria Arroyo, Noli de Castro, or Kim Il Sung running the show because OFWs will not allow their loved ones to starve to death.

OFW remittances are neither a sign of sound economic management nor a show of faith and confidence in government.

OFW remittances are merely a symptom of something gone horribly wrong at home. Period.

Anyway, back to Malu.

Although I’m bothered that her superiority complex became casus belli between different classes in our society, my real concern is with her journalistic integrity.

Something tells me Malu was not totally candid when she wrote, “I had serious trepidations about going to the beach. You see, I hate the sand, the bugs and the mosquitos…”

It’s as if she would not think twice about lying on the beach and sunbathing in a thong bikini if there were indeed a beach without sand, bugs, and mosquitoes.  It’s like she has no fear of harpoons.

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