Thursday, 13 September 2007

Be Anonymous…or be Famous? Be Bench.

Sunday I received a text message from friends asking if I’d be interested in an invitation for two to the Bench Model Search Finals Night at the Araneta coliseum, as they had two extra for the event. Edson and I thought it sounded interesting, and said we’d go. Basically, the model search is a television show much like America’s Next Top Model, only here it is a search done for the Bench brand of clothing. See:

If you haven’t heard of Bench, don’t fret, it’s only because you’re either:
a) not Filipino.
b) not living in the Philippines.
c) not living in areas abroad with high concentrations of Filipinos that may thus have a Bench location.

Bench is basically the Old Navy of the Philippines. Male or female, child or adult; if you need jeans, polos, t-shirts, belts, socks, scents, sandals, hats, or underwear (and we must not leave out the underwear!) and you want to be in style, but are on a budget, Bench is a place you shop.

Why “not leave out the underwear,” you ask? Well, take a gander at their current ad campaign and its model, Jon Mullaly…er, Avila.

Jon had to change his name to something more locally ethnic once he began acting on television. And what’s more locally ethnic than a Spanish surname?! Don’t get me started there…this is about a model search. So, as you can see, the people at Bench have taken some notes from Calvin Klein’s advertising success and have these images plastered all over metro Manila two and three-stories tall.

Anyway, Tuesday, September 11th rolls around and, while the rest of the world is commemorating the sixth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center, Edson and I find ourselves outside the coliseum at 6:20pm with our friends who had given us the invitation and thousands of others waiting in line at the doors. We had our glossy cardstock “Who’s gonna be famous next?” invitation No. 07216 in hand. All around us were scores of twenty-somethings, mostly male, followed by females and female wannabes.

A friend had mentioned to me that Filipino transvestites are among the ugliest, especially when compared to those in Thailand. Not being particularly well educated in comparative transvestite aesthetics amongst nations or cultures I’m just going to have to trust him on this and say that given the half dozen standing in line before us Tuesday night, he is correct. Perhaps only Gene Hackman in drag in The Birdcage (or Milton Berle in drag) could equal these unfortunates on the ugly scale.

At 7pm the gates of the coliseum were open and the dash began to exchange our invitations for tickets and find seats in our assigned level. Fast-forward one bottle of water, a box of popcorn, and an hour later and the show began. Lights, smoke, music, and dancers (minus inspired choreography) welcomed the mega-star hosts, Piolo Pascual

and Kris Aquino,

dressed in a suit and gown made from the same pearl-blue material.

Many musical dance numbers and catwalks by three-dozen dancer/runway models later, with a few appearances by the show’s six finalists, it was time to be serenaded by Piolo, then a duet with superstar Sam Milby

(Who’s from Ohio and has been Piolo’s partner in a sex tape, though all sides deny it. Piolo was married shortly after it surfaced.). Two of the remaining six finalists were eliminated, leaving the two what we thought to be most attractive women and the two least attractive men remaining.

More singing, now by star Christian Bautista

(whom Edson met before he was a star), and catwalks and it was time for the underwear competition. No, not the finalists in their underwear! All the other models; all mostly better looking than the finalists, and better at walking and dancing than the finalists, who’d only been walking and dancing for eight weeks, so I do give them benefit of the doubt. The finalists didn’t come out again until the winners were to be announced.

Kris Aquino had the honors in announcing the winners, shouting as if channeling Oprah Winfrey as an announcer at a professional wrestling match, “You are famous! You are famous! YOU ARE FAMOUS! Regine!”

I think everyone seated above us was related to Regine.

And everyone to our left as well.

And most of the people below us.

And the people below them.

Kris then announced the winner of the men, again shouting “You are famous! You are famous! YOU ARE FAMOUS! Carlo!”

The entire coliseum was related to Carlo, or wants to be, or wants to be in a sex tape with him, or him and Piolo, or him and Piolo and Sam. The people above us almost fell on top of us in their excitement, screaming themselves hoarse at the same time.

Truth be told, if it is touching stories that determine the winners of these things, Carlo has it. He was a chubby kid who has shed the layers of fat to become someone considered worthy of being an underwear model. Aw, doesn’t it make you all teary-eyed?

The one thing that upset me about the whole spectacle was that there were no pure, indigenous Filipinos on the stage. As is typical, only mestizo people are considered of ideal beauty here. Mestizo people are those who can trace a part of their genetic ancestry at some point to some foreign, usually Caucasian, origin. All of the contestants fit this category.

I felt sad that attractive indigenous people like my friend Jerry, seated just nearby me at the event, would never be on that stage wearing a pearl-blue suit or just their underwear. That mestizos account for a small percentage of the population is also annoying. No one really knows what it is, but one study put it at as little as 3.5%. I think they’ve left out a number that should precede the 3, not that I think it’d be any higher than a 2 at most. Because of their lighter skin tone and more sculpted noses, mestizos have a higher social standing and desirability than those without. The indigenous are depicted in television and movies as the poor, the vagrants, the criminals, and rural farmers.

Maybe it’s for the best. Being in a group that is not idealized, they have better things to do than worry about how good they look in their underwear on billboards and television. But in the way society has changed, is that realistic? Shouldn’t they be seeing themselves represented in a positive way in advertising and entertainment? Shouldn’t we be seeing it?

Be anonymous or be famous? Who’s gonna be famous next?

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