[Bodymind] Et tu, Ben Chan?
Dear Mr Ben Chan,
I must admit that this is not the first time you have disappointed me. The first is your never asking your staff to invite me to any of your fashion shows (joke only, of course).
The second has to do with your latest one.
No, I do not mean your giving the go signal for the girl on girl contact while men watched or even the woman on a leash, which outraged so many people.
I can understand how and why such images might shock. If you want an excellent article on the reasons, Danah and Stacy Gutierrez’s is the one to read first. The reason to start there is not only because the Gutierrez twins were one of the first – if not the very first – people to complain about your show, although that alone is sometimes enough to gain kudos, but they also provide a comprehensive list of the most common objections.
I laud the Gutierrez's integrity. These women are not Johnny-come-lately’s jumping on the bandwagon of feminism. These women call themselves body image warriors, and the description fits: They started the first ever body acceptance blog in the Philippines and have pioneered the body love movement that has sparked change from fashion demographics to women's lives at large. Admittedly, the description above is lifted from their blog, but why reinvent the wheel?
Not that I agree with all they said, mind you. In fact, the part of the show that comes across as the most upsetting to them is the only part of the show I found interesting. But that is grist for another column.
One of the reasons I so admire the Gutierrez twins is that they “walk their talk,” which is far more than I can say about you, Mr. Chan.
I read at least one writer who commended you for apologizing – “To his credit, Chan, instead of blaming or hiding behind his collaborators, faced the issue and gave a public apology soon after the social media fuss.”
Funny, because your apology is the very reason you are such a disappointment, as far as I’m concerned. I am disappointed because – despite all the genitalia you hinted at and sometimes even highlighted in your fashion show – it seems that you yourself don’t have the balls to fight for what you believe in.
This, of course, presumes you had your fashion show not just to shock and to get media mileage. This presumes you really believe in art.
In other words, even if, admittedly, you wanted your audience to enjoy the eye candy you so generously provided via the underwear, the models on stage who wore it, the professional lighting and designs, etc., you had another goal you hoped would be achieved.
No, it was not that the ooh-ing, ahh-ing and even the ogling of your latest designs and models would translate into sales (although that, of course, is a reasonable and realistic expectation for any businessman who invests a lot of money in a show).
I also presumed—perhaps wrongly—that you also wanted to challenge your audience to think about fashion and design from a broader perspective, one that also incorporates art, beauty, life. I thought you wanted people not only to see from an intellectual plane, but to respond viscerally and realize how sex, beauty, fashion, desire, lust, indeed all sorts of human emotions tie in together and can never be compartmentalized. And that, I had hoped, was what you considered your greater challenge.
‘You need controversy’
Let’s face it. Bench sells. You don’t really need your fashion shows to get Bench to sell even more. What your fashion show provides is buzz and media mileage and no mere fashion show can provide that. You need controversy.
I know, I know, you have courted controversy throughout all your fashion shows, but these were merely “pretend controversies,” something a high school student might dream up if he wanted to be in-your-face.
People are used to men in their underwear? Well, how about if we wrap their penises in black mesh so it stands out against the white of the rest of their thongs or briefs? People are used to heterosexual couples touching each other up? Well, how about we make them a lesbian couple instead?
I think I get what you were trying to do. While a mediocre fashion show is merely a pedestrian display of clothes to sell, I think you’d hoped for, and spent a lot of money on, a great fashion show, one that could be interpreted as an aspirational fantasy that stretches our imagination. Someone once said ‘’Art pushes products; but great art pushes boundaries."
I really and truly think you had meant to challenge your audience by re-defining beauty and high fashion, perhaps even challenging their sense of propriety and even morality, and by pushing boundaries, continue the discourse the Plump Pinay and other groups started.
I may have read you wrong, Mr Chan. Perhaps all you really are is just another successful businessman, the kind who knows how to charm the media so they write reams about you. The same kind who has an eye for the next latest thing, hires exactly the right PR company and is able to translate that superficial buzz into millions of pesos.
If that indeed is who you are, then read no further. This article is not for mere pretend-patrons of the arts or for phony prophets who actually care nothing about beauty and the cutting edge but merely pretend to.
Your behavior would not have disappointed me then. It would’ve just been another reason to sigh “well that’s par for the course for any businessman, isn’t it?” They do what they have to do to keep the boycott at bay even if you have to apologize on your Facebook page. Hells bells, especially if all you have to do is apologize on Facebook, rather than spending a fortune in full page ads, among other ways.
But if you value integrity and creativity, then I think you should not have apologized. In fact, you could’ve come up with some accusations of your own.
‘Why not say so?’
Make no mistake. I am happy that Plump Pinay and Edna Aquino and that netizens, human rights groups and many others not only felt as outraged as our two “plump Pinay” twins, but actually did something about it.
It would be great if all Filipinos who felt people were objectified and dehumanized spoke up as fiercely and fearlessly as they. If ever I need people on my side, I hope I will have people as stalwart and genuine. Who am I kidding? Should I be in the line of fire, I hope I have the exact same people rooting for me.
If you really believed you had a great fashion show there, then why not say so? Why not shout from the rooftops: “Hey, I am really sorry you’re offended, because that was not my intention."
But no matter what fashion shows are “supposed” to be, my fashion shows are not simply about clothes (in this case, underwear). My fashion shows transcend mere clothes and accessories. They are about a way of life, a firm belief that creativity kicks ass.
In fact, you could’ve gone further and said: “(I will start a foundation which fights discrimination and degradation. I will fund learning modules which teach children the difference between sensual and sexy, etc etc. but) No way am I apologizing.
Think Robert Mapplethorpe, Henry Miller, Anais Nin, DH Laurence.
“No way am I letting my creative department down. I asked them to prepare a show that got into people’s faces. I wanted them to come up with a show that forced the audience to do more than passively clap their hands in approval, but think and feel, and then do something about all that. I wanted to stir up people’s passions, and I am proud of my creative staff. Instead of apologizing for those who conceptualized and implemented my vision, laud them for their creativity, courage, and discipline.”
Instead, you buckled and posted a lily livered apology on your Facebook wall, as if simply to stop the discourse on when we cross the line between private and public spaces, between fetishes and paraphilic disorders, between art and mere titillation.
In the words of Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, “(you) could’ve been a contender,” Ben Chan.
But instead of seizing this opportunity to be the trailblazer you have claimed to be, you have opened yourself to accusations of being just another businessman obsessed with the bottom line who has hung his creative department out to dry when the tide of public opinion turned against him. – Rappler.com
Image from Shutterstock.