[Blogger] Jan-jan’s Abuse and the Middle Class Disconnect



by James Matthew Miraflor

NO DOUBT ABOUT IT. What Willie Revillame made Jan-jan do in an episode of his popular primetime show is wrong. It is very probable that the humiliation and psychological torture Jan-jan experienced under the crowd of Willing Willie may leave an indelible imprint of a hostile society in his young psyche. But even if Friedrich Nietzsche is right, that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (and I do hope than Jan-jan would come out of this a stronger person), it should have been a decision an adult Jan-jan would have to make, not Revillame. Revillame should be dealt with according to our laws.

The dozens of articles I read written by various “concerned citizens” through facebook, blogs, and columns on the topic had a unanimous verdict on the Revillame’s show. That in itself is not interesting. What is interesting is that they were puzzled by the seeming indifferent stance by Jan-jan’s parents. Why did they let their son do that demeaning dance? Are they bad parents? The parents are equally puzzled by the reaction of these “concerned citizens”. “What’s the big deal?” – they seem to be thinking.


Honestly, I am not surprised that Jan-jan’s parents did not know that Jan-jan went through child abuse. It may be desensitization, but it’s not quite it. That you cannot force your child to do “macho dancing” in national TV (against the kid’s will) simply never occurred to them as child abuse. That concept did not become part of their culture or their reality. In fact, wherever l look around, children are being abused worse than Jan-jan, without the viral effect of Jan-jan’s case. They are brought around as props by their parents who beg at the streets or at MRT stairs. Some do the actual panhandling, sometimes even bringing a piece of paper with scribbles saying that they belong to a particular displaced indigenous group. But I do not see enough gasping by those who tread the streets and ride the MRT for these kids to make it to the news.

The disparity of the “concerned citizens” ranting I saw in social and mainstream media with the reactions of the parents and probably the same neighborhood Jan-jan lives only shows the degree of the cultural alienation of our hoi polloi with the English-speaking facebook netizen or those who can afford a copy of an English-language mainstream daily (which costs about a kilo of NFA rice, and would be too much of a financial burden for an average Filipino poor). They see abuse; Jan-jan’s parents shrugged. They see humiliation; Jan-jan’s parents see normality. After all, if Jan-jan was forced to do his dance during an extended urban poor family gathering instead of national TV, would it really be an unusual incident for the average Filipino family? If not, why shouldn’t the same principles apply? And why didn’t the masses in the studio flare up?

More than Abuse

Again, I am not questioning the abuse. Of course, the moral standards of the Filipino should always be pushed up. That a thing is “normal” now doesn’t mean it’s not abuse. Patriarchy, Violence Against Women (VAW), discrimination against LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals), and child labor are tolerated before (some even just recently), but they have eventually been recognized as forms of oppression that should be ended. We should always struggle to end repression in all its manifestations.

But is this the purpose of the “concerned” netizens, most of which belonged to the middle class, that condemned Willie and Jan-jan’s parents? I ask this, for I cannot help but sense a tinge of self-gloating and condescension with every cry of abuse! abuse! at Willie and the masses present at the show of Willing Willie. I can’t help but imagine their thoughts: Look at what those dirt-poor parents are doing to their kid! They and their uneducated peers should be ashamed of themselves! I mean, we wouldn’t do that to our Montessori-enrolled kid right, hon?

For if that section of the middle class is really serious in the struggle for moral uplifting of society, they would have understood or struggled to learn that the condition for this is economic change. It is the economic condition that defines the hegemonic ethic. The middle class can afford education that teaches so-called “sensitivities” and “political correctness”. Poverty demands indifference to abuse, if what Jan-jan’s experience will even classify as abuse in the world of the average Filipino poor. (In fact, the aware but cynical poor may say: Better that Jan-jan experience it now than later. Anyway, being poor as he is, he will always be forced to do things against his will anyway, for that is the life of the poor.)  The middle class can afford a lifestyle that creates for them a sense of “self-esteem” and “pride”. Poverty demands that momentary humiliation, if it can even be defined as humiliation in the world of the poor (after being bombarded by slapstick entertainment that defines self-mistreatment as source of humor), is a little price to pay for food to eat for the next few weeks.


The truth is, it is not just Willie that humiliated Jan-jan. That condescending section of middle class I am talking about is part and parcel of the system that executed the horrible abuse. They too abused Jan-jan. They abuse Jan-jan every time they condemn Willie but refuse to involve themselves in political activities that would have helped in condemning the system that perpetuates poverty, or the fact that Willie exists because they refuse to help in changing the system. They abuse Jan-jan every time they condemn Jan-jan parents but even refuse to visit the poor family’s community to know their needs, and know why these are refused to them by society, because it may be “delikado” (unsecure) or “unhealthy” there.

But alas, I bet some of them didn’t even get to watch a single Willing Willie episode (they may have known it through viral youtube videos made by people like them), because they are probably glued to their cable TV channels showing their favorite American soaps. They may have scored some goodwill points to ease their conscience, because they thought they did their share in ending the moral corruption of mass media.

In the end, unless they get out of their comfort zones to do something more for the suffering classes – more than blogging about a culture they probably do not understand – they would fail to prevent an even more pervasive corruption that is eating our collective moral soul.


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