Paint my ‘Love’

Jam Pascual (The Philippine Star) - February 20, 2015 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Dear Splotch of Paint,

From my experience, whenever two gay people become the talk of the town, it’s either all hushed whispers and nervous throat-clearing, or straight-up finger-wagging admonishment from some institution like the Church or the government. We’re not entirely past that as a society, but it’s good to know that wasn’t the issue involving you.

A lot of talk has been going around about who exactly put you in the hands of Vince Uy and Niño Gaddi. Was it Bench? Was it the Ad Standard Council? When I first saw you on that billboard, crudely blotching a perfectly good piece of portrait photography, I personally thought you were the work of some homophobic gang of vandals, bandanas on their faces and chains on their jean garters, pummeling their paintbrushes onto the billboard with about as much finesse as a spastic child, before parkour-ing into the dark of the night. I mean, what were they thinking, believing that you could really censor two gay men holding hands? If anything, you gave even more attention to the “Love All Kinds of Love” campaign.

No offense, of course. I’m not calling you ugly. It wasn’t your choice to be put there, to be used as a weapon against our ongoing journey as a country towards acceptance of all kinds of love and basic human decency. Why, you could’ve been painted onto an ad that actually deserved it, like those skin-whitening ads you see in Ortigas that go, “Now’s your chance to take an underarm selfie!” You could’ve even been splashed onto the campaign poster of some public official but you weren’t meant for that. No, you became something much greater.

When news of the billboard’s defacement circulated around the net and caught attention, something amazing happened. I hesitate calling people in my age group millennials, overused as it is, but that seems to be the best word for it, considering how we decided to make our voice heard through what eventually became a meme. (A meme so powerful and widespread, in fact, that we managed to get on BuzzFeed.) Though you started out as a censoring mark, you became a canvas. Through the #PaintTheirHandsBack hashtag, you became a chance for photoshop-savvy netizens to edit your digital image in ways that not only supported LGBT love, but gave local visual artists a showcase for their skills and stand up for something important. You became proof that one generation could try — try — to keep mass media in a timelock of closed-mindedness, and that this generation would still bounce back, stronger and more clever, and with a thousand Facebook likes.

Though I keep thinking about what went on in the mind of those responsible for putting you there. If it was really an attempt to make gay love invisible, however poorly executed, then it fell flat on its face. If it was a marketing ploy, well… it was a hell of a marketing ploy. I imagine some lab-coated mastermind stroking a fat cat in a swivel chair, watching the #PaintTheirHandsBack meme gain traction on his feed, going “They’re playing right into my hands!” (Cue evil laughter.) So instead of going against the system, had we unwittingly served it, treating the fight for LGBT rights not as a historical trudge towards a better world but as a hot topic for moneymakers to jump on? What do we do, then, when popular culture behaves the way it behaves, and moves on to the next hot thing?

It seems useless now to try and find out who exactly put you there. Who blames who, what went on, why it happened — it all comes off as a useless back-and-forth that draws attention away from the whole point of the billboard, which is that two men holding hands does not, in any way, contribute to the breakdown of public morals or go against “traditional Filipino family values.” (What does that even mean, anyway? Traditional Filipino family values. I figure ruining a perfectly good couple photo goes against generally all familial and societal values. But I digress.)

Dear Splotch of Paint, what you turned out to be was a symptom of society’s contradictions. You were put there by people who thought the sight of gay love would make the general public queasy, and reappropriated by people who wouldn’t stand for that kind of thinking. In the age of the Internet, we all kind of get our turn in the social media spotlight, and I suppose this was your time. After a while, those billboards will be taken down, you’ll go on living in the smaller annals of history (where all memes go, probably), and considering the modern Filipino’s tendency towards historical amnesia, we’re all going to forget this ever happened. I hope we don’t forget though. I hope you don’t go out of the spotlight as nothing but an excuse to chain-retweet the new “in” thing. It’s a long and arduous road to a world where all kinds of love can be accepted, but you made it interesting, at least for a little while, so thank you.

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