Liberalism and the Desperate Housewives Slur
When you get sick, would you call a Filipino doctor very quick? Atty. Emmanuel Q. Fernando in Liberalism and the ‘Desperate Housewives’ Slur, wrote about the stir created by the scripted line of Terri Hatcher about checking the doctor’s diploma to be sure that it is not “from some med school in the Philippines.” The remark meant to elicit laughter but the Filipinos and the Filipino doctors did not find it funny at all. They were offended instead.
In an attempt at objectivity Fernando tried to balance it out with another joke at the expense on another Filipino, former President Aquino when she was called a “slut” in the Daily Show of Comedy Central. The article tried to distinguish between a joke and a slur by suggesting a more liberal approach to the issue of freedom of speech and political correctness. Whichever of freedom of speech or political correctness, either one must be exercised with a certain amount of restraint and consideration when the sensitivity of persons or groups, important or insignificant, are concerned.
Fernando wrote that the comedy sitcom’s take on the Philippine medical schools was “a remark made only to draw laughter … involves racial stereotyping … perpetuates a negative image of inferiority.” The remark collectively involved the doctors and the Filipinos. It could cause the doctors their practice because of the insinuation of their incompetence and the credibility of Philippine medical schools. The case of Comedy Central on President Aguino was where Fernando took exception as one with “no stereotyping.” The offense was directed on President Aquino alone and did not include her gender and her countrymen. Owing to Aquino’s stature as a popular political figure, Fernando thinks that such comes with the territory. Those in the public eye must be open to being made fun of and on the receiving end of unkind labels. Fernando suggests that the issues cited above should be taken in a more liberal context of the freedom of speech.
ABC’s comedy sitcom meant the racist line as nothing but a joke. A slur in any form against a person or a group is an affront, no ifs and buts about it. Hatcher could have uttered “some med school from Germany” but perhaps that would not elicit laughter, so they chose the Philippines instead. It happens that there are many good Filipino doctors practicing in the US. They were not given the respect due them by the remarks, instead the supposed comedic lines ridiculed them and the school they were from. No profession deserves to be made fun of and no school must be rated unjustly, undeservedly. Fernando was correct to take the irreverence as substantially harmful to the reputation of the Filipino doctors and the Philippine medical schools. With regards to the slut joke on the revered Cory Aquino of the Philippines, Fernando has turned his other cheek. Firstly, that Cory Aquino is no slut qualifies the label as a pure and simple joke. Secondly, that she is supposedly to be in good company with the likes of Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher who were equally lampooned is acceptable as a mere joke.
Thirdly, according to Fernando, their being public figures make them open targets for ridicule and malice, for the fun of other people. In the case of President Aquino, Fernando thinks the joke was simply centered on her public persona and it did not reflect on Filipinos and Filipino women, so their was no racism here. That makes the joke acceptable for Fernando. Here, Fernando makes the distinction on when a joke is a joke and when it is not. He says when it is funny and when it is not. He tells us whom to make fun of and whom not to. He called the approach as liberalism which is to be understood as seeing the similar situations in different contexts. Simply, the joke from Desperate Housewives is an affront to the doctors from the Philippines, while the joke at the expense on Aquino was not to demean her, even if she was humorously tagged as slut. Some of the statements he used as evidence to support his contentions are presumptions like that the Desperate Housewives slur is in some way connected to the cheating scandal of the board exams for Philippine nurses and the alleged hilarious reaction of the Muslims in the Philippines on Naked Gun. Owing to his legal orientation he appeared logical in presenting his arguments like when he compared the format of the two shows, Desperate Housewives is art imitating life and Comedy Central is outrageously comic and should not be taken seriously.
The author’s informal style in presenting his arguments was both appropriate and effective in that he was able to argue for a more liberal way of looking at humor and freedom of speech. The author’s apparent bias against political and public figures is slightly inappropriate in a discussion of liberalism, which is just like saying that is not alright for Filipino medical schools to be maligned in jokes, but poking fun on the Ayatollah of the Muslims is downright funny. He was unclear in some of his choice of words, like when he said that Comedy Central was “able to find fault against” Meir and Thatcher. He was confusing when he mentioned about professors who lost their jobs because of politically incorrect remarks, as to how this is related to the issue on hand was never mentioned or discussed in detail. When he wrote about those Muslims in the Middle East who were “deprived … of a good laugh,” he used manipulative language to convince his readers that it was alright to ridicule the Ayatollah because even the Muslims outside of the Middle East found the movie hilarious.
Despite some inconsistencies and unconcealed partiality, overall, Atty. Emmanuel Q. Fernando was able to deliver a balanced distinction on what should be considered a joke and a slur, freedom of speech and political correctness. Everything considered, fair is fair when the sensibilities of others are respected , when honest and noble professions are not made a subject of jokes.
Fernando, Emmanuel. “Liberalism and the Desperate Housewives Slur.” The Manila Times.
13 October 2007.
Rich, Katey. “Filipinos Protest Desperate Housewives Joke.” 7 October 2007.
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Nepales, Ruben V. “ABC Studios Sorry for Racial Slur on Desperate Housewives.”
Global Nation. 4 October 2008 from
Gumbel, Andrew. “Desperate Housewives in Diplomatic Row Over Filipino Doctors Slur.”
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