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Child abuse and the Macho Dancing Boy

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Poverty has been used since time immemorial as a justification for almost everything–why people beg, why criminals steal, why babies are sold, why girls and boys go to prostitution, why the good become bad, and why countries go to war. But having seen Jan-jan, the 6-year-old boy who appeared on the Willing Willie show recently, who tearfully performed several macho dancing numbers, what comes to mind is child abuse. That was one show which exploited the minor to continuously gyrate like a paid macho dancer over and over again, to the audience’s continued laughter and entertainment.

This may sound as an unfair comparison, but here’s the harsh reality: while a 10-year-old Norwegian boy danced a very impressive robotic sequence that wowed the judges of Norway’s Got Talent, and while a 9-year-old Japanese boy taught an adult the value of sacrifice amid the devastation in Japan, what we have is a 6-year-old innocent boy gyrating his way to P10,000 ($230) at the behest of the show’s host. That’s child exploitation on national TV.

*Jan-jan, the exploited Macho Dancing boy

When this issue first surfaced some days ago through friends’ Facebook postings, I was hesitant to open the video clip. I was certain it was child abuse and I couldn’t stand kids, babies or people being abused. I also thought: here goes host Willie Revillame and his bag of dirty tricks once again. I hesitated to open the video link because it was going to be something nasty, spiteful and wrong. Another Facebook friend posted the video with the message that this should stop. Then another and another. Facebook and Twitter users raged about it and called it foul.

I thereafter mustered the courage to open the link to “Jan-jan, ang batang astig sumayaw”. Expectedly, like a paper bag containing a rotting sandwich, the video showed Jan-jan, a boy from a poor family, dancing like a paid or professional macho dancer before a raving audience who laughed at, mocked and humiliated him. Indeed, it was like a one-week-old sandwich inside a reused paper bag. Once you open it, the stench fills the room.

Jan-jan, as clearly pictured in the video, was crying. It did not appear to me that he wanted to do what he did. It wasn’t a children’s dance; it wasn’t a performance-type dance number; it wasn’t anything a normal 6-year-old kid would do. It was totally and absolutely abnormal. It was painfully watching a boy crying out for financial help by dancing like a gigolo.

He was in the “Kantanong” elimination round of the "Wiltime Bigtime" main segment. The host was supposed to ask questions to the contestants who, after answering, will then have to display a talent by singing, dancing or acting. They receive cash prizes depending on the host’s taste and the audience’s approval. Jan-jan, in short, gyrated and gesticulated for money.

*Something Bizarre, Something “Entertaining”

From time immemorial, people always had a lust to see something bizarre. Ancient gladiators fought and savagely tore the limbs of opponents while Romans cheered the sporting event. Ruthless dog fights entertain certain populations and big bets are placed. Spectators cheer undisciplined, no-rules, and no-holds-barred fisticuffs (not professional boxing or UFC). Many are entertained when someone humiliates himself on the stage. It’s something bizarre.

But what’s bizarre or “entertaining” when it is an innocent child placed on the center stage of a popular TV show and the show’s host pushing him to perform gigolo-like moves and very suggestive gestures. In Tagalog, the child can be said to be umiindak. It wasn’t entertaining or funny at all. It was child abuse in its unmistakable form. And yet, the audience loved it. They were clapping and cheering. Perhaps thousands of others who watched it on TV loved it as well.

Loved it? Now that’s bizarre and anomalous. Children are supposed to be loved. Acts of child abuse should not be loved; they should be condemned. The audience, even the well-dressed men in the front row, should be ashamed of themselves. They were supporting the abuse of a child in front of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of televiewers. They did nothing to stop it. In fact, they encouraged and acquiesced to it by clapping, whistling or simply doing nothing. They could have walked out, they could have said something.

When the always-controversial host Willie Revillame asked Jan-jan some questions, it appeared that he was on the show because their family needed money. His father works at a beauty parlor, his mother is a stay-at-home wife, and his aunt accompanied him to the show. Jan-jan said that it was his dad and his aunt who taught him those macho dancer moves.

Is it worth ten thousand pesos to bare your soul and suffer untold humiliation which you will carry for the rest of your life? Certainly not. Of course, some people will do that for fame or money. If it is an adult doing that, it’s still to be frowned upon but that may be more acceptable in limited circumstances.

If, however, it is a minor or specifically a 6-year-old boy macho dancing and sexually gyrating for money, that is indubitably wrong. That’s wrong in any culture.

*Who Are The Offenders?

The father is, first and foremost, to blame. Willie Revillame was implying on the show that he suspects the father is gay and taught his son these moves. That’s all speculative. Whether or not the father is gay doesn’t change what happened. The responsibility of the father (and mother) is to provide for the children, educate them, personally teach them life-related skills, and feed them. To teach them sexually provocative moves and gestures is unthinkable. Perhaps the father doesn’t think. Or he only thinks of how he can use his child for gain.

The aunt, Jocelyn, who was in the audience and also seen dancing, is another culprit in this affair. She and Jan-jan’s dad taught the boy these moves. The show tried to portray these moves as “astig” or admirably tough, but these are nothing more than sexual gestures rolled in a so-called dance. Why didn’t the aunt prevent Jan-jan from being exploited? Oh yeah, she needed the money as well. She was looking more towards her welfare than the boy’s.

The audience’s behavior was similarly abusive. They were laughing at Jan-jan as if he was some freak in a circus. Like the large crowds watching gladiators duel or dogs fight, the crowd stood up and was entertained at the humiliation the boy suffered. It was like a comedian in a stand-up comic bar picking on and chastising a young boy (or girl) for a significant amount of time–and no one defended him. Worse is that the crowd even mocked him. If it was their own child standing up there and making a fool of himself or herself, they would have instantly pulled the plug by removing such child from the fool’s spotlight.

The new top-rated show, Willing Willie, as well as its network, Kapatid Network TV5, are also to blame. Why didn’t they cut it when Jan-jan was already crying? Those weren’t cries of joy (like those I usually see on another hit TV show, ShowTime). Those were cries of humiliation, pain and involuntary servitude. Those were tears from a poverty-stricken boy forced to sell his soul for a few thousand bucks. The show and its producers did not do a good job, or any job, in preventing child abuse and exploitation. Where was child protection in all of this? It was not as if Jan-jan danced his macho dancer gig for 15 seconds and got rewarded. He was doing that repeatedly during the show at the cue of the host and the rap music he danced to.

And how can you not lay blame on the show’s host, Willie Revillame. He was egging Jan-jan on to dance the way he did many, many times. He even pointed out to the audience the holding-the-table move Jan-jan was doing while gesticulating his dance steps. Willie Revillame had so many opportunities to stop what was happening. Instead, he encouraged the boy to dance on.

He has been embroiled in so many unforgettable incidents, controversies and unethical issues and yet he is still standing tall as a big time television host. People just don’t get it–there’s something wrong with this man. Give him a show, sure; but always be on guard that he might do or say something rude and offensive. Or foolish. Or promote child abuse wittingly or unwittingly. When that happens, impose penalties.

*Where’s the MTRCB?

Marcy Grace Poe Llamanzares, the chairperson of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) issued a Briefer on the issue. The Board stated that:

“In accordance with the Board’s duty to enforce the Constitutional mandate that the State shall defend the rights of children from all forms of neglect, abuse, cruelty, exploitation, and other conditions prejudicial to their development, the Board has referred the matter to the Hearing and Adjudication Committee for appropriate disposition.

The Board further emphasizes that whenever children are featured in television programs, producers are mandated to observe legal standards stipulated in R.A. 7610 to avoid “psychological abuse xxx cruelty, sexual abuse and emotional maltreatment” and ‘any act by deeds and words which debases, degrades or demeans the intrinsic worth and dignity of the child.’”

Jan-jan was debased, degraded and demeaned on the Willing Willie show. No doubt about it.

It is good to know that the MTRCB isn’t allowing this despicable incident of rampant child abuse to slide out of its radar. The MTRCB is the government’s arm in classifying, even censuring, television shows and movies that go beyond the normal community standards of decency, particularly in this predominantly Catholic nation. The MTRCB should not allow anything like this to slide. But it must act soon.

To allow this incident to go without question is to encourage child abuse, child neglect, and the exploitation of minors. It will also encourage Willie Revillame to continue his odd, wild ways when the only reason why people flock to his show is because he gives out loads of money. It will send the wrong signal to the TV5 network that child abuse like this, which is clearly pambabastos ng bata, deserves commendation. Meanwhile, the victim-child is left confused, abused and used.

The MTRCB should crack its whip. For its part, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) should investigate what really happens inside the home of Jan-jan. His tears during the show might not only be attributed to his forced macho dancing on air; it may also be because of other seedy family-related incidents. His father and aunt might be regularly selling Jan-jan’s “talent” to other shows or venues.

The Willing Willie show should be penalized to serve as an example to all those people and entities which played a hand in the televised abuse of the child. 

*Child Protection

Child abuse, in all of its forms, should be stopped. Child or human devaluation should be halted. If we are to live in a civil and egalitarian society, children and all other persons should be protected to the utmost degree.

Allowing TV5, Willie Revillame, the audience in that studio room and those watching on TV, as well as Jan-jan’s father and aunt to disrespect and devalue a 6-year-old boy is unacceptable.

We ought to live in a society which allows humor but bans child exploitation, encourages genuine entertainment but curtails abusive behavior, and seeks to reward talent but not to the point of making children beg for money through sex-oriented dancing. If we don’t denounce this, what’s stopping any TV show from featuring a 9-year-old girl performing sexy pole dancing? 

(The author is a lawyer & writer based in Washington, DC, and educated by Georgetown Law (cand.), the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton (Cert.Bus.), Kyushu University, and UP.)




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