Thursday, November 22, 2007

WHAT IS THEIR PROBLEM? The Piolo and Sam Libel Case

American matinee idol Tab Hunter comes to mind while reading the multimillion peso libel suit filed by actors Piolo Pascual and Sam Milby against gossip columnist Lolit Solis for insinuating that they’re gay. In 1956, Tab was at the peak of his career. The handsome “boy-next-door” was the leading man in movies with co-stars like Lana Turner, Natalie Wood and Sophia Loren. His stature rivaled James Dean and Marlon Brando and his studio, Warner Brothers, made a lot of money on him. He went into singing and released his first major nationwide hit “Young Love.” Everyone had a crush on Tab that one Valentine’s Day, he received over 60,000 Valentine telegrams. Everything was on the up for the young star despite the fact he was gay.

Tab wasn’t out then but in his tell-all autobiography released in 2005, (Tab Hunter, Confidential) he talked about a Hollywood peopled with gay producers, directors, writers, and actors. So, there was an unwritten agreement in Tinseltown: If you had a same sex love affair, do it discreetly.

At the height of his career, Confidential, a tabloid magazine ran a story about Tab caught by the police after raiding a private gay party. Tab was worried but his producer, the movie mogul Jack Warner didn’t pay the controversy any mind nor issue retractions nor demand that Tab go on “arranged” dates. He simply told Tab “Remember this. Today’s headlines-tomorrow’s toilet paper.”

Other gay baiting items about him appeared from time to time in the tabloids but Tab continued making more movies and more money while having a discreet two year romantic fling with actor Tony Perkins. There were several more lovers after that and eventually Tab settled down with his current long time partner Allan Glaser. The eventual decline in Tab’s popularity had nothing do with his sexual orientation. It was simply age; In Tinseltown, the search for young fresh faces was a constant. Tab, by then a veteran actor, was able to move into television and later perform in dinner-theaters throughout the country.

Lolit Solis was suppose to have seen, with her own two eyes, Piolo and Sam in an amorous situation at a hotel poolside. The actors’ lawyer, Joji Alonso denied that her clients were there that day. Attorney Alonso contends that such accusations destroys the “bankability” of her clients and fans would no longer watch their movies or attend their concerts if they found out they were gay. The whopping 12 million pesos in moral damages being demanded in the libel suit was to make up for the “mental anguish, besmirched reputation and social humiliation” the actors are now undergoing for being branded gay.

Aside from the movies and the concerts, the two actors, using their grins and bods, have peddled on billboards practically every product known to mankind. If Attorney Alonso now categorically states that her clients can’t sell a can of tuna, and their movies will be boycotted, and they are now mentally distraught because they’ve been called gay, what do you think we gays feel? Suicidal?

Even before Solis and other gossip columnists took aim on the Piolo/Sam affair, there had been for years the constant talk in many circles that Piolo is gay. It may have raised a few eyebrows but no sensible person (except for gossip columnists) was going to raise havoc with an earnest young man making a go of his career. Like actor and gay supporter Paul Newman would say “There are so many qualities that make up a human being…by the time I get through with all the things that I really admire about people, what they do with their private parts is probably so low on the list that it is irrelevant.”

Failed marriages, sex, and checking who’s gay is the redundant theme in show biz gossip. If you’re young and handsome and trying to make it in show biz, you’re automatically grist for the rumor mill. A 12 million peso lawsuit on a hapless columnist with a checkered background and whose writing isn’t worth getting one’s panties in a twist, seems like overkill. It actually raises unduly more eyebrows and even more fevered speculation.

Lawyer Alonso gets the prize though for her reasons on pressing the libel suit. She says the gossip item is a crime against her client’s honor, their purity and dignity now destroyed. “Because up to this day,” she adds “we all know for a fact that again, with all due courtesy to the members of the third sex, it is not still an accepted thing in this country.”

Stating that one’s purity and dignity is ruined for being called gay offends and insults gays. Calling us in the politically incorrect term as a “Third Sex” (does that mean we sport both a vagina and a penis?) and saying our behavior is not an accepted “thing” in this country makes one wonder what country and century she inhabits. Alonso seems to be oblivious to the fact that, barring a few morality crusaders, Filipino gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals live and work in one of the more tolerant and accepting societies in Asia. Caught having same sex in India? Ten years imprisonment. Making your partner orally happy in Singapore can lead to a jail term. In Muslim Malaysia and Indonesia, you’ve virtually no rights being gay. And until recently in Hong Kong, if you happen to love another man, it was life imprisonment. If Attorney Alonso believes that we gays are not an “accepted thing” in this country, I shall tell all my gay friends and supporters to boycott her client’s movies, concerts, and products. Why spare our hard earned gay pesos to people who don’t accept us? I shall also tell all my gay Fil-Am friends the next time Piolo and Sam wants to crash the Fil-Am market. Gay power and gay dollars will teach Attorney Alonso the meaning of acceptance.

The network studio ABS-CBN, should have repeated Warner Brother’s class act manner and counseled their twink stars to weather the gossip. After all, the studio has made so much money from their gay talents, gay writers, gay producers, gay executives and gay make-up artists, you’d expect a little more gratitude. Why, if the studio was swallowed up by an earthquake tomorrow, there goes half the gay population!

And where are the ad agencies and the companies who’ve overused these two stars to hawk their products? Doesn’t anyone of them have the gay balls to tell Attorney Alonso that it is BECAUSE of their sweet-handsome-probably-gay looks that sells and sells big? Remember that billboard with Piolo baring his gorgeous sexy abs while promoting a coffee brand? Today, so many gays will drink nothing else but that!

Piolo and Sam seem to be cashing in as singers given their concerts. There’s been some incredible singers. From Johnny Mathis to Boy George to Elton John to George Michael. The latter alone sold sixty seven million albums. None of these singers lost their fans or popularity when they lived open lives or came out. As George Michael would say, “I’ve wondered what my sexuality might be, but I’ve never wondered whether it was acceptable or not. Anyway, who really cares whether I’m gay or straight?”

Like Tab Hunter who came before all of them and crooning his hit song inspite all the gossip, it will be the singing (like the song) and not the “singing” (like slang for fellatio) that will ultimately prevail in the marketplace.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


By John L. Silva

The National Press Club’s defacement and censorship of a commissioned mural in their club restaurant recalls to mind a celebrated incident involving the Mexican artist Diego Rivera and the Rockefeller Center.

In 1933, Rivera was commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller to do a mural for the lobby of the RCA Building at New York’s Rockefeller Center. Rivera, a leftist, was well known for his grand murals replete with sinewy laborers in all forms of working poses. He had just finished a large scale mural with a similar theme for the Detroit Museum of Art sponsored by the Ford Motor Company, and despite the bias for proletarian vistas, the liberal, art loving Rockefellers decided their center should have a Rivera mural too.

Rivera though added a portrait of Lenin in the mural and this was over the top for Nelson Rockefeller. Despite his wife Abby’s lament, who collected Riveras, Rockefeller confronted the artist demanding he remove the offending Lenin. Rivera, already paid for the mural, refused, was summarily fired, and the mural destroyed. Rivera would have his revenge by recreating the same mural back in Mexico with Lenin in his glory and the patriarch John D. Rockefeller inserted elsewhere drinking martini at the expense of the toiling masses.

The National Press Club is in a similar imbroglio, having commissioned the Neo-Angono artist collective to do a mural with a press freedom theme. But the tack the Club undertook was downright abhorrent. They decided the mural was “leftist” and proceeded to have it altered without artists’ permission. They altered the mural to censor texts which included the current plight of a mother seeking an abducted son, defacing well-respected journalists, and painting over sections deemed offensive to the current Philippine president.

Paintings, particularly murals, if well done, have changed people, norms, and societies. We only need to recall Juan Luna’s Spoliarium which would influence a medical student named Jose Rizal to alter his career and write his devastating anti-colonial novels and become our national hero.

Paintings often reflect the times and if the Neo-Angono mural reflects the current state of Philippine affairs and the unpopularity of the current President, so be it. One would shudder to think if the National Press Club lived in the 19th century and found the Spoliarium to be offensive to the Spanish monarchy.

The cavalier and contemptible manner by which the National Press Club blithely desecrated a work of art is evidence enough that these so-called journalists haven’t a clue about freedom of expression. In a free society, contending thoughts, contending works of art are allowed and respected despite its inherent inclinations and viewpoints. The National Press Club’s actions has just put their profession to ridicule, painted themselves as cowards, and now insinuates itself as being in-the-pay of the powerful. Fellow journalists who abide in the freedom of expression should call for the immediate dismissal of the club officers.

Despite the destruction of his mural, Diego Rivera secured even more artistic commissions, gained world fame and lived financially comfortable to a ripe old age. Abby Rockefeller continued collecting Riveras, later donating them to the Rockefeller funded Museum of Modern Art for the public to see and appreciate. Rivera’s works are now revered and have a universal appeal transcending its leftist themes.

The Neo-Angono artists collective have the last laugh. In the current booming Southeast Asian art market, the moronic act by the National Press Club has just increased the appeal and selling cachet of current and future works of the Neo-Angono collective by ten fold. And, if it has universal appeal, a work of theirs could probably hang proudly in the National Museum, along with the Spoliarium.

John L. Silva is senior consultant to the National Museum of the Philippines