Hasa and the Beauty Pageant: A Critique [1]

Beauty pageants traditionally claimed for itself the role of representing the essential Woman and celebrating her intelligence, talent, and most of all, physical attractiveness. This is not the case with Hasa, a pageant featuring straight men comically dressed up and acting as girls. In Hasa, both male and female student spectators come together in a gaudy night of merriment at the University of the Philippines Visayas Iloilo City Campus.

While outwardly outlandish when compared to its more wholesome counterparts, the existence of Hasa can still be traced to a fixation with pageants conditioned not only through the corporate media, the stronghold of a seemingly all-encompassing showbiz culture patterned after Hollywood, but even by community affairs like barangay fiestas where fundraising usually take the form of beauty pageants.

The spectacle of men wearing exaggerated evening dresses and skimpy bikinis in Hasa is a testament to how the country has become obsessed with beauty contests. The mania for pageants has expanded to encompass not only young women but also new categories that include contests specific for men, for queers, for children, for teenagers, for grandmothers, and even for pregnant women.

This predominance of the pageant can be traced back to the era of direct colonization by the United States when the Filipinos, by means of the public educational system and the mass media apparatuses, were molded to become little brown Americans.

Historically, the origin of the pageant in the U.S. was part of the American project of nation-building with the display of female beauties in public celebrations at the onset of the 1800s. [2] By the 1920s and 1930s, Hollywood films and newsreels began spreading the idea of beauty pageants to different countries that fed the American taste for the exotic. [3]  The rise of the pageant in the country can thus be located within a predatory colonial project that sought “to level down everyone who stands out in any way.” [4]

Beauty becomes defined by and associated with “institutions which were seen as necessary for the implementation of the American Mandate”[5] of bringing “civilization” to the native Filipinos. Pageants, even today, are thus “filled with instances of stylistic and verbal discourse that are clearly embedded in colonial ministrations. Beauty is about education and the mastery of the English language. Beauty is about good citizenship and professional orientation.” [6]

At present, the world pageants that local contests like Binibining Pilipinas imitate are “dominated by major corporate sponsorship arrangements with close ties to media empires.”[7] It remains to be one expression of a patriarchal and consumerist culture that works to reproduce an unjust system that subordinates women to the demands of the global market: No petite or overly exotic Filipinas are expected to win. You have to be 5’8” and own Caucasian features even if your skin lacks whiteness. [8]

In a way, these pageants present the narrative of the fantastic transformation of an ordinary woman into the ideal beauty queen who possesses the appropriate body (tall, sexy, appealing) and the capacity to seize the moment (especially in the Q&A portion). [9] And if these pageants are vehicles of the practice of using the body to rise in society, [10] then Hasa stages the spectacular transformation of otherwise typical and harmless straight men into an altogether sinister and abnormal category.

The candidates of these pageants thus ultimately function as packaged commodities that serve the purpose of satiating the gaze of their spectators. In Hasa, for instance, the talent portion saw the male candidates and their backup escorts outdo each other in pleasing the crowd with the most uproarious insinuations and outright portrayals of sexual taboos onstage. The interview part, far from exemplifying the avowed combination of grace and intellect, put a premium on wit and green humor.

Both subtle and undisguised references to the sexual act denigrate females and other marginalized gender groups. The play-acting of gang rape and sadomasochist bondage, pumping scenes, the microphone as phallic symbol, sexually-aroused moaning, the lampooning of famous celebrities and the conservative position on abstinence all serve to flout the rules of social decency on the part of the organizers, the pageant contestant themselves, and the audience who enjoyed the show.

The seemingly transgressive elements in Hasa only renders clear the obscene underside of the “official” moral norms. The audience’s viewing of supposed illicit acts on stage assumes a color of voyeurism, a form of perversion which is itself mirrored in the exhibitionism of the pageant. In a way, these transgressions are simply the other side of the strict, ascetic, saintly appearance of conservative morality. While commanding us to follow propriety, the official mores bombards us with various hints that encourage us to break these rules. Perversion thus loses its subversive value: “such shocking excesses are part of the system itself; the system feeds on them in order to reproduce itself.” [11]

And with every spectacle of warm bodies presented on the TV screens we begin to forget the greater scandals that hound Noynoy Aquino: his unresolved promises of bringing meaningful reforms, his seemingly endless series of scandals, his shameless puppetry to U.S. political and economic impositions, his neglect of education and other basic social services, his brazen violation of human rights under the new Oplan Bayanihan, and his aggravation of the people’s hardships in general. The pageant forms part of a larger cultural apparatus that objectively conceals the brewing tempest besetting the crisis-ridden Aquino regime. ■

Notes

1. This piece is a rehashed version of an earlier blog on the same subject matter: https://karlomongaya.wordpress.com/2009/09/12/hasa-a-different-kind-of-pageant
2. Colleen Ballerino Cohen, Richard Wilk, and Beverly Stoeltje, “Introduction: Beauty Queens on the Global Stage,” in Beauty Queens on the Global Stage: Gender, Contests, and Power, Eds. Colleen Ballerino Cohen, Richard Wilk, and Beverly Stoeltje (London: Routledge, 1996), 3.
3. Ibid., 5.
4. Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, The Dialectic of Enlightenment (New York:
Continuum, 1968), 236.
5. Mark Johnson “Negotiating Style and Mediating Beauty: Transvestite (Gay/Bantut) Beauty Contests in the Southern Philippines,” in Beauty Queens on the Global Stage: Gender, Contests, and Power, Eds. Colleen Ballerino Cohen, Richard Wilk, and Beverly Stoeltje (London: Routledge, 1996), 96.
6. Ibid., 95.
7. Ibid., 96.
8. Rolando Tolentino, “Interview Portion sa Beauty Contest at Katawang Kapital,” Bulatlat,
March 22, 2008.
9. Rolando Tolentino, “Major, Major,” Bulatlat, September 1, 2010.
10. Rolando Tolentino, “Lakan ng Parokya 2009,” Bulatlat, May 17, 2009.
11. Slavoj Žižek, The Fragile Absolute or Why the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For? (London: Verso, 2000), 24-25.

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